276: Imp. Caes. M. Claudius Tacitus Aug. II, Aemilianus (II?) coss.

At the beginning of 276 Tacitus could not put off his departure for the East and the Gothic campaign any longer. From Rome he went to northern Italy to take his place at the head of the army assembled there. He took the opportunity to give the troops an imperial donative before their departure; the second issue of Tacitus from Ticinum celebrated with pomp both his second consulship, taken in January 276, and at the same time the German victory which he had won before his accession, for which our only evidence is the coinage. A gold donative was struck for the occasion, consisting of both a spectacular issue of denarii, quinarii and medallions, as well as the 2nd issue of aureliani from Ticinum. Gold and base silver coins of this issue are marked out by the use of a variety of obverse legends and exceptional busts that indicate an important imperial victory: this celebratory issue exalts the military virtus of Tacitus through the use of armed busts with spear, or spear and shield, or heroic busts with spear and wearing an aegis, and celebrate the consulship that Tacitus entered into in 276, in reality for a second time, but for a third time according to the mint’s incorrect computation. As with the aureliani of the issue 2, the aurei show a spectacular revision of the portrait which shows that Tacitus was present in person in northern Italy.
A series of bronze quinarii displays the reverse Adventus Aug, with the emperor on horseback left, raising his right hand in salute, a design which also occurs on medallions ; these coins have a consular bust of Tacitus facing left on the obverse. Other medallions have the bust of the victorious emperor, holding in his right hand a statue of Victory and, in the crook of his left arm a pugio (ceremonial dagger), decorated with the head of an eagle. These medallions show a reverse Adlocutio Taciti Aug with the emperor addressing the troops, a type that is normally a prelude to the distribution of largesse to the soldiers. One should also add to this exceptional series, a number of hitherto unpublished aureliani that establish without possible doubt the fact that the victory celebrated by the mint of Ticinum was by Tacitus over the Germans in the west. These coins bear an elaborate military portrait of Tacitus with the obverse inscription Imp C M Cl Tacitus P F Aug Ger(manicus).

The title Germanicus Maximus had not hitherto been attested for Tacitus: these coins of Ticinum prove that he held the title Germanicus before that of Gothicus, which hitherto was the only title previously known for Tacitus: it occurs on an inscription from Narbonensis (CIL XII, 5563 = CIL XVII, 174).
The mint of Ticinum alone attributes a third consulship to Tacitus: he was consul for the first time in 273 and, according to the Fasti, was consul for the second time in 276. The Cos III coins cannot be explained as die-engravers’ errors: both aurei and aureliani, in fact all the coins struck at Ticinum, have this consular dating and no coins from this mint bear any mention to the second consulate.
The attribution of a third consulship is a particular feature of the mint of Ticinum and it seems that in northern Italy Tacitus was incorrectly given a third consulship because of this great German victory. There is a precedent for this mint computing the emperor’s titles incorrectly just a short time before this: fourteen months earlier the mint of Ticinum alone of all imperial mints gave Aurelian a seventh tribunician year on the occasion of his triumph and the celebration of his fifth anniversary (Quinquennalia), although under the correct computation he only held six tribunician years.

Tacitus, senior senator or vir militaris?

The coins do not support the picture that Tacitus was an elderly emperor taken from the Senate, dragged out of retirement as the result of unexpectedly being proclaimed emperor by the senators. Clues from other sources show us Tacitus as a member of the equestrian order and a senior functionary or army officer: what we know of his career is not consistent with his being a member of the senatorial order. Since the time of Gallienus, senators had no longer held military commands. Tacitus, who was given the title Germanicus Maximus at the very beginning of 276 in honour of the victories he won in 275, cannot have followed a senatorial career.
Tacitus was eponymous consul for the second time in 276 and for the first time in 273. If we are to believe Zonaras, who estimates that Tacitus was 75 when he became emperor, he would have been 73 when he was consul for the first time. However, senators tended to be made consul for the first time much earlier, and when they were between 40 and 45 years old at the latest if they were of a plebeian background. Herein lies an anomaly that is difficult to resolve from a prosopographical point of view. It seems that we can exclude the possibility that Tacitus followed a senatorial career: two years before his accession to power, Tacitus reached the highest rank of the equestrian order.

Should we regard Tacitus as holding an extraordinary military command in an expeditionary force, as Aureolus or Marcianus did under Gallienus? Or was he one of those vicarii who, under emergency conditions, took interim command of provinces under threat from barbarians, like M. Simplicinius Genialis in Raetia in 260 and, under Probus in 281, the anonymous governor subject of another inscription in Augsburg (BRGK 37-38, 1958, p. 224, 30). Or was Tacitus one of the prefects of the praetorian guard under Aurelian? This would not be surprising; we know of people with similar careers at much the same time as this, for example, L. Petronius Taurus Volusianus, who after being prefect of the vigiles with the title of perfectissimus in 258, became praetorian prefect apparently in 260 and then became consul as Gallienus’s colleague in 261, thus reaching the senatorial rank of clarissimus. The parallel with Julius Placidianus, Tacitus’s colleague in 273, also becomes obvious: he was prefect of the vigiles in 269 under Claudius II in charge of an expeditionary force in the Alps to counter the threat of the rebellious Gallic Empire under Victorinus, he was praetorian prefect under Aurelian and entered the senatorial order by becoming the eponymous consul in 273. It is most probable that Tacitus followed the same type of equestrian career, crowned by achieving the rank of praetorian prefect and joining the ranks of the clarissimi when he was nominated as consul.
Thus, the period of Severina’s regency should not be seen simply as the papering over of what was in reality a power vacuum during which the Senate of Rome was once again able to play a part, but rather it provided a means of fixing Aurelian’s succession to the advantage of the army. Negotiations within the general staff took many weeks before they concluded with the choice of Tacitus, who at that time was leading a German campaign on the Rhine-Danube limes, as the numismatic evidence shows. Tacitus had reached the summit of an equestrian career, crowned by an eponymous consulship in 273; he also enjoyed Aurelian’s confidence as Aurelian chose him to replace himself in leading the German campaign. Tacitus had to bring the German campaign rapidly to a close in order to travel to Rome to receive official recognition. On arriving in Rome, his consular and senatorial status allowed Tacitus a theatrical entrance which became engrained in memory and on which Zonaras insists, following his Latin source: entering the Senate wearing a toga, as a private citizen, Tacitus emerged ‘wearing the imperial mantle, following the decision of the Senate and the People.’

The campaign against the Goths and the death of Tacitus (spring - June 276)

The principal event of Tacitus’ reign was the war against the Goths, which was being led by the army gathered by Aurelian before his death, while awaiting the arrival of the new emperor. Some victories were won by his generals before Tacitus joined the theatre of operations, since the reverse Victoria Gotthi(ca) appears on coins from the end of 275.

The war took place in Anatolia: Zosimus reports that Scythic bands from the Maeotian marshes had crossed Asia Minor from the Hellespont as far as Cilicia; Zonaras adds that Cappadocia and Galatia were also invaded; the biographer of the Historia Augusta also speaks of invaders coming from the Maeotian marshes. These were the same Pontic Goths who, as allies of the Heruli in 267, had reached the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov and had ravaged the provinces around the Black Sea before passing through the Hellespont and spreading out across the Aegean Sea.
Tacitus’s passage through Lycia-Pamphylia and the use of the city of Perge as the rear base of the Roman army have recently been attested by two inscriptions found in the town itself, to the north of the agora and in close proximity to one another. In one, the city boasts about having received the status of metropolis from ‘Zeus-Tacitus’. The other inscription has a long series of hymnic acclamations and boasts the city’s title of neokoros (temple guardian), renewed for the fourth time, emphasising the political, military and economic roles that Tacitus allowed it to play. During the campaign against the Goths, Perge held the military pay chest and the military detachment charged with its safekeeping.
In Asia Minor, parallel campaigns took place, one led by Tacitus himself, others by his generals, one of whom was his praetorian prefect Florian. At the end of the spring, Tacitus assumed the cognomen Gothicus Maximus which appears on an inscription dated by his second Tr P and his second consulship; the type Victoria Gothica appears on the reverse of aurei struck in the mint of Serdica with the mention Cos II.

Tacitus got ready to Europe urgently, either because he believed his victories over the Goths were decisive or because of the situation in the West, as the Alamanni and the Juthungi again invaded the Empire. Tacitus was on his way back to Europe when he died, either of illness, as the Epitome de Caesaribus says, or as the victim of a military plot, as the Greek sources say: these latter are more trustworthy for the events in the East. Tacitus died either in the province of Pontus, or at Tyana in Cappadocia, as a result of a coup in which the future emperor Probus was no doubt involved. The Greek historians indicate that Syria was at that time shaken by troubles caused by the rapaciousness of Maximinus. This man was a relative of Tacitus and was named by him as governor of Syria. He abused his power to such an extent that both the leading citizens of Syria and the military faction responsible for the assassination of Aurelian rebelled against him and he was killed in Antioch. Soon after, Tacitus was killed while he was en route to Europe, as a group of conspirators caught up with him. His death may be dated to June 276.
In this confused situation the provinces beyond the Taurus mountains immediately came out in support of Probus as emperor, while Florian was recognised everywhere else. The division of mints between Florian and Probus confirms the accounts given by the literary sources on the territories held by the two rivals in the summer of 276. Zosimus and Zonaras state that Probus controlled Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine and Egypt and Florian controlled the provinces from Cilicia to Italy. Antioch, Tripolis and Alexandria did not strike coins for Florian: Probus gained control of these mints on the death of Tacitus. Therefore he became a usurper in the East, as Florian received the recognition of Rome and of the Senate.
Florian was Tacitus’s praetorian prefect and was he also his relative? The Historia Augusta, following Aurelius Victor and Polemius Silvius, states that Florian was Tacitus’s brother, although they did not have the same gentilicium - M. Claudius Tacitus cannot be M. Annius Florianus’s brother. The historiographic tradition derived from the lost Kaisergeschichte in fact confuses two pairs of brothers: Claudius II and Quintillus, who were brothers, and Tacitus and Florian, who were not.
Zosimus gives us the more detailed information about the competition for power between Florian and Probus. Florian abandoned the war against the Goths after a partial victory. The two rivals, Florian starting from Bosphorus, a march which took him over a month, and Probus travelling from Syria, met and clashed at Tarsus in Cilicia, where, after several confused military engagements, Florian was captured by Probus’s soldiers and then was finally eliminated by his own troops. These events took place in August 276. Florian must have reigned for a little more than two months, from June to August 276.

Dated coins of Tacitus and Florian, the Vota

The inscriptions in Tacitus’s name accord him two tribunician years (the emperor entered his second year on 10 December 275), and two consulships, the second dating from January 276. The coins give us more information. To the corpus of inscriptions that can be dated to the short period between 10 December 275 and 1 January 276 must be added the hitherto unpublished denarii struck from aureus dies minted at Rome with the reverse P M Tr P II Cos P P. The mint of Siscia issued gold coins dated Tr P (without iteration) and Cos (I). We therefore know of two denarii struck from gold coin dies with the legend P M Tr P Cos P P, the emperor wearing a toga with an olive branch and a sceptre: these are not listed in either Cohen or RIC. We also know of four aurei with the legend P M Tr P Consul, the emperor in toga, sitting on a curule chair.

The aureus of Serdica with Victoria Gotthica / Cos II, quoted by Cohen (Cohen 164: in Paris) and later by Webb (RIC V.1, 337/110, incorrectly attributed to Ticinum) is now well attested from four examples. Webb also lists an aureus with the legend P M Tr Pot Cos Des II, Providentia standing left, citing Cohen (C. 85, on the authority of the work of J. Tanini), and he attributes it to Lyon (RIC V.1, 327/1). This piece, whose existence is doubtful, should be removed from the corpus.
The list of coins from Ticinum that bear a mention of a third consulship of Tacitus, according to the special method of computation at that mint, grows significantly. RIC knew of only two examples (RIC V. 1, 338-339/120-121). RIC 120 is a coin which had never been verified and was cited from Cohen 92. Now more than 20 examples of these coins are known, with very varied legends and two varieties of consular bust. Finally, we must mention the curious aureus of Tacitus, with the ‘impossible’ legend P M Tb P VI Cos II P P , in the Hermitage Museum: it is from the mint of Tripolis and reuses a reverse die made for Aurelian and dated with his tribunician year and consulship, but is coupled with an obverse in the name of Tacitus.
There are no dated coins for the reign of Florian. Inscriptions give him a Tr P, calculated from his dies imperii. An incomplete inscription from Baetica gives him a consulship (CIL II, 1115), while a milestone from Proconsular Africa, gives him two consulships (AE 1960, 104 = 1986, 725), although Florian was never consul.
Allusions to vota, both vota decennalia suscepta, and also vota vicennalia, appear frequently on the coinage of these two ephemeral emperors. The eastern mints of Cyzicus and Antioch struck aurei, radiate in one case, laureate in the other, which mention the decennial vota undertaken by Tacitus at the start of his reign, by placing them under the protection of the god Sol, who is shown in a chariot and named the Conservat(or) Aug(usti). These aurei are not listed either by Cohen or RIC.
In mid 276, at the time when Tacitus’s return was expected by the West, the mint of Ticinum was preparing a donative and three very fine medallions celebrated his tenth and twentieth vota. Their dies had certainly originally been engraved to strike gold multiples. Both the vota and the permanence of the Empire were this time placed under Jupiter’s protection: the same obverse die, where Tacitus appears as Jupiter Promachos, wearing an aegis on his shoulder, links two reverses with a complementary message. One reverse has the legend Aeternitas Aug and shows the emperor sitting on a globe, holding a sceptre, in a facing posture, which usually is used to represent Jupiter; crowned by Victory, he holds the circle of the Zodiac, through which pass the Seasons; Aion, the Genius Saeculi, who normally holds the circle of the Zodiac, is relegated to the background. The other reverse has the legend Votis X•Et XX• and represents the emperor in military dress, holding a spear pointing downwards, crowned by Virtus. In front of him, a seated Victory has on her knees a shield on which she has carved the vota, Vot/X/XX.
The mint of Siscia, in the same way, produced an exceptional issue for Tacitus’s return to the West, which included an extraordinary medallion with the legend Restitutor Saeculi which mentions the vota in the exergue, Vot X. The obverse shows a consular bust of an emperor who is anonymous and is designated only by the formula Domin(o) Inv(icto) Princi(pi) Pio Aug(usto). The reverse die of this medallion was to be reused, a few weeks later, under Florian. The emperor, Restitutor Saeculi, brings to the world a new golden era which the vota would renew periodically. He was above all a Restitutor Orbis: he wears military dress and presents to the seated Oikoumene (Orbis, the inhabited world) a kneeling feminine personification of the provinces reconquered from the barbarians. In the background the embodiment of the imperial military Virtue, Virtus, stands facing Rome. For Florian too, it was the military victory that guaranteed the Eternity of Rome, marked at intervals by the ceremony of the renewal of the vota. Some aurei issued by the mint at Ticinum have the legend Victoria Perpet, with Victory inscribing X/XX on a shield. The Pannonian mint of Siscia issued a series of aureliani dedicated to the imperial Victory,Victoriae Augusti, which show two Victories holding between them a shield inscribed Vot/X.

Summary of S. Estiot, Bibliothèque nationale. Catalogue des monnaies de l’Empire romain (BNCMER) XII.1. D’Aurélien à Florien
(Paris-Strasbourg, 2004), p. 7-38.

The translation of these pages in English is due to Roger Bland, British Museum, whom we would like to thank warmly.