A Brief History of the Gallic – Roman Empire

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by johnmilton, Dec 2, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Many people think of the Roman Empire as a country to existed for hundreds of years during the period before and after the birth of Christ. In truth parts of the empire broke away from the central government on several occasions. These entities functioned as independent states although their leaders were always fearful of their former Roman masters. One of the more interesting of these breakaway states was the Gallic Empire, which existed from 260 to 274 AD.

    Postumus, Gallic Emperor 260 to 269

    Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumas was the governor of Gaul under the Roman co-emperors Valerian and Gallienus. Postumus’ soldiers declared him emperor in 260 during a barbarian invasion. The only barrier that stood between Postumas and his rise to power in Gaul, was Saloninus, the teenaged son of Gallienus, who was stationed in Cologne.

    Gallienus was occupied with a war with the Persian Empire and other problems in the Balkans. During that war, Gallienus’ father, Valerian, had been kidnaped by the Sasanids when he met with them to negotiate a peace settlement. The Sasanids delivered Valerian to the Persians, and he was never seen again. Gallienus was too occupied with his own problems to help his son.

    Postumus put Cologne under siege and quickly took charge of the city. He executed the unfortunate teenager and his praetorian prefect - bodyguard, Silvanus. Postumus expanded his empire to include Gaul, Britain and Spain. The Roman Government was too weak to respond to this usurpation because of its foreign wars and failed economic policies. In a sense the Romans benefited because Postumus was able to control the threat from the barbarians in the west. Yet, Gallienus made two failed attempts to bring Postumus down in 263 and 265.

    In some ways, Postumus was more successful than the Roman Government. The weight of his gold aureus coins was at least 5.5 grams more than their Roman counterparts. The Gallic version of the principle silver coin, the antoninianus, continued to be heavily debased, but it contained more silver than the Roman version of the piece. There was also a robust mintage of copper coinage.

    In 268, Aureolus, who was one of Gallienus’ most trusted generals, revolted against the emperor. Aureolus, from his base in Milan, offered Postumus an opportunity to join him in his attack on Italy. He even went so far as to issue coins with Postumus’ image on them. Postumus declined this offer.

    Ultimately Gallienus led a force that placed Milan under siege. Gallienus’ men, led by the next emperor Claudius II Gothicus, turned on the emperor during this military operation and killed him. Aureolus was killed as well which made Claudius II the next Roman emperor.

    In the meantime, Postumus faced troubles of his own. Ulpius Cornelius Laetianus seized power in what is now the German city of Mainz. After a few months, Postumus laid siege to the city and took control fairly easily. When Postumus refused to let his troops sack the city, they killed him. The death of Postumus brought political instability to the Gallic Empire.

    Acquiring a Representative Postumus Coin

    My interest in Roman coinage rests more in acquiring and overview of the history of the empire than acquiring an extensive collection of coins from any one emperor. Therefore, my goal has been to acquire at least one coin for each emperor.

    My representative piece is a Postumus antoninianus. In the early days of the Roman Empire the principle denomination was the denarius. As debasement and inflation took hold in the monetary system the Rome government introduced the antoninianus was worth two denarii. As inflation and debasement continued, the amount of silver in the antoninianus was reduced and the denarius was no longer issued.

    Postumus Anton All.jpg

    My Postumus antoninianus has a silver color. Like most Roman coins, it is irregularly shaped. At its narrowest point, it is 19 mm wide. At its widest point, it measures 24 mm. The obverse features a profile portrait of Postumus wearing a crown with radiant points above his head. The abbreviated Latin wording surrounding him is “IMP C POSTVMVS P F AVG.” This translates to “Emperor Cassianius Postumus Pius Felix (dutiful and patriotic) Augustus.

    The reverse features a personification, Fides, who is standing, holding an ensign in each hand. Fides stood for good faith and confidence. The legend reads, “FIDES MILITVM,” which translates to “Fides military” which represents faith and confidence in the army or legions. This was a recurring theme on the Gallic coins because the country was dependent upon the military for its independence from Rome.

    Marius, Emperor for a Couple of Days to a Few Months in 268

    Marcus Aurelius Marius was a blacksmith who rose through the ranks of the Roman Army. He probably did not have any special qualifications to become the supreme leader, but he was in the right place (or perhaps the wrong place given subsequent events) to win the support of the soldiers who proclaimed him emperor.

    Accounts vary as to how long Marius held office. Some say that he was emperor for only a few days but, given the number of coins that bear his name, he must have held office for a longer period. The best estimates are that he lasted for about three months.

    Like most leaders during this period, he was slain by his own soldiers. Some say that he was killed with a sword of his own making, although this is probably only a romantic embellishment of the truth.

    Acquiring a Representative Marius Coin

    Marius Anton All.jpg

    Given Marius’ brief time as emperor, his coins are quite scarce. The coin in my collection is an antoninianus which contains very little, if any, silver. It features the standard profile of Marius wearing a radiant crown. The Latin abbreviated legend is “IMP C MARIVUS P F AVG,” which translates to “Emperor caesar Marcus dutiful and patriotic augustus.”

    The reverse features the personification Felicitas who stands for happiness and prosperity. Felicitas is holding a cornucopia and is surrounded by the words, “SAEC FELICITAS,” which translates to “happy age.” Given the turmoil after the murder of Postumus, this was probably wishful thinking.

    Victorinus, Emperor from 269 to 271

    Marcus Piavvonius Victorinus was one of the Gallic Empire’s best generals. He took power after the death of Marius. His highly ambitious mother, Victoria, pushed him to seek higher office. His short reign was marked by rebellions and the secession of various territories that had been under his rule. These problems were undoubtedly fueled by the emperors, Claudius II and Aurelian who were pushed bring the Gallic Empire back into the fold.

    Despite these problems most historians rate Victorinus as competent leader. His greatest weakness was women. He had the unfortunate habit of seducing the wives of the officers who reported to him. One of them took exception to that and killed him.

    Acquiring a Representative Victorinus Coin

    Victorinus Anton All.jpg

    My Victorinus antoninianus features the standard portrait of the emperor with same description: “IMP C VICTORINVS P F AVG,” “Emperor caesar Victorninus dutiful, patriotic augustus.”

    The reverse features the personification Pax, who stood for peace. She is holding an olive branch and is surrounded by the words, “PAX AVG,” peaceful augustus. Given the unrest within the Gallic Empire and the attacks from outside, this was more of the prayer than a reality.

    Tetricus I, Emperor from 271 to 274

    Gainus Pius Esuvius Tetricus became emperor after the surprise assassination of Victorinus. The later emperor’s mother, Victoria, had a hand in helping Tetricus gain power in place of her dead son. She may have been related to Tetricus, but nature of that association is unclear. Perhaps he was her nephew.

    At the time of his elevation, Tetricus was the governor of Aquitania. Tetricus named his son caesar, or second in command, which was a common practice at the time. He may have elevated Tetricus II to co-emperor before he lost his grip on power.

    By this time, the powerful Roman emperor, Aurelian, was pressuring the Gallic states to re-join the empire. After settling his disputes with his enemies in the east, Aurelian turned his attention to the west. The decisive Battle of Châlons-sur-Marne, was fought at what is now Châlons-en-Champagne in northern France.

    Tetricus and his son abdicated. After Aurelian used them as ornaments in his triumphant return to Rome, he allowed Tetricus and his son to live out their lives as officials in the Roman Government, which was highly unusual for the time. Some have speculated that Tetricus cut a deal with Aurelian prior to his capture. The dead of death for Tetricus and his son are not known; they simply disappeared in history.

    Acquiring a Representative Tetricus Coin

    By the time Tetricus came to power, the chaos that was engulfing the Gallic Empire had reached the minting operation. The coins were often carelessly made with the reverse often lacking much of the design details. The antoninianus is my collection is no exception. The coin was struck on an oval shaped planchet, but the moneyer was somehow able to get most of the lettering on the piece.

    Tetricus Anton All.jpg

    As with my other Gallic Empire coins, the emperor is shown in profile sounded by the words, “IMP C TETRICVS P F AVG,” “Emperor caesar Tetricus dutiful and patriotic augustus.”

    The reverse features the personification Virtus who stood for courage. Virtus is dressed in armor and is holding a victory shield and a spear. He is surrounded by the words, “VIRTVS AVGG,” “courageous augusti.”

    It is interesting that “AVGG,” the plural for augustus, is used here. It may have had two meanings. First, it may have referred to Tetricus I and his son, Tetricus II. A second interpretation could be that Tetricus was looking to become a co-emperor with the Roman leader.


    The Gallic Empire coins provide an interesting subset for the collector. Aside from the Emperor Marius, the coins are fairly common and moderately priced. As one can see from my modest collection, the reverse designs offer insights into the hopes and dreams of a nation that was in a great crisis. Ultimately that nation did not survive, but its history provides insights into the weaknesses that racked the Roman Empire in the mid third century.
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  3. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    Splendid write up, and beautifull coins/ thanks for sharing!
    +VGO.DVCKS and johnmilton like this.
  4. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    A while back I tried to complete a small set of the Gallic empire. I made this checklist with my impressions of availability and price range. I checked off a few of these. Still have a few more to go. Particularly Carausius and Allectus.

  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Overall this was a good overview but you lost me with the line below. Please explain the distinction between the Sasanians and the Persians as you used the terms.
    Gallienus was unable to help either generation and his place in history has reflected negatively for both. On Coin Talk, I believe he has suffered more infamy for sporting a neck beard. :)

    Let's see if I followed the story correctly. You post was well written; mine? not so much.

    Valerian I

    was captured by Shapur I (whose coins were a lot better in size and purity)

    but not rescued by Gallienus whose early coins were decent silver for the day

    but later became so debased they required silver wash

    as were the coins of his son Saloninus

    whom Gallienus was unable to rescue and was killed by Postumus

    whose later coins were also lacking in the silver they had once contained

    with the trashiest being issued in his name by Aureolus

    who was taken out by Claudius II but Claudius still was unable to get rid of Postumus until his own men helped out.

    After Postumus was killed, Marius made a brief appearance

    along with a couple others more rare than can be added to my collection. Victorinus is, however, common and cheap but my favorite is the DIVO VICTORINO PIO issued by his mother while they were looking for another leader who turned out to be Tetricus I (whose coins left something to be desired, too).

    Tetricus I and his son Tetricus II (whose official coins are not quite as bad as the commonly seen "Barbarous Radiates" as shown here)

    surrendered and were pardoned by Aurelian bringing an end to the separatist Gallic Empire.

    Quiz: How many run-on sentences can be posted in one thread? I last took a class in English in 1964 but run-ons were wrong then, too.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    You're all talking me into springing for an AE antoninianus of Victorinus that I've been looking at, from a reliable dealer on French ebay. That one has a different reverse than @johnmilton's example. ...Ironically or not, since a Victorinus PAX antoninianus was the first ancient Anything I ever got my hot, little, mammalian paws on, maybe age 6 or 7. ...Sadly, a casualty.
    thejewk likes this.
  7. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Cool topic ! Some of my Gallic Emperors never shown before :



    Tetricus II

    Tetricus I 2D076CFA-BD51-4968-A789-5372087C991C.jpeg
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I only have the common Gallic emperors:


    Postumus SALVS AVG antoninianus.jpg


    Victorinus FIDES MILITVM antoninianus.jpg
    Tetricus I:

    Tetricus I HILARITAS AVGG Antoninianus.jpg

    Tetricus II:

    Tetricus II SPES AVGG.jpg
  9. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Postumus's double sestertii are a good example of this.Gallienus had
    nothing similar.

    Postumus Æ Double Sestertius. Lugdunum, AD 260-269.
    IMP C M CASS LAT POSTVMVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right FIDES MILITVM, Fides standing facing, head left, holding two standards.
    RIC 123
    23.51g, 35mm
  10. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    Nice write up, @johnmilton. I hadn't thought much about Postumus' role in keeping barbarians at bay during this period of crisis for the Empire.

    Rather than take up a lot of space here, I'll refer to my online Coins of the Roman Empire website, where I have a page on The Breakaway Empires (A.D. 260-296). Not much information, just a showcase for some coins from my collection.
  11. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Can anyone recommend a good history which covers this period in depth? Preferably something written in the last 50 years or so. All I've read is Gibbon so far, but I find the period of great interest.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  12. ilmcoins

    ilmcoins Well-Known Member

    Great write up!
  13. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..in my quest for 3rd century emperors, i've amassed a few of the Gallics meself..:) Gallic emperors 001.JPG Gallic emperors 002.JPG
  14. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Great writeup and coins, @johnmilton ...

    Here are mine:

    RI Postumus 259-268 CE Antoninianus Cologne Oriens Ex: @TIF

    RI Postumus struck by Aureolus 268 CE Revolt of Milan Concordia

    RI Laelianus CE 269 AE Ant 19mm 3.4g Moguntiacum mint Radiate cuirassed Victory RIC Vb 9 p373 Ex: @John Anthony

    RI Marius 269 Gallic Usurper BI Ant CONCORD MILIT Clasped Hands

    RI Victorinus 269-270 CE BI Ant Gallic Empire PAX


    RI Tetricus I 271-274 CE Ant LAETITIA

    RI Tetricus II 273-274 CE BI Ant SPES w Flower
  15. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter



    RI Carausius usurper in Britain CE 287–293 BI Ant 4.7g 24mm London radiate cuirassed - PAX AVG Pax stndg l branch scepter S—P RIC V 475


    RI Allectus 293-296 AE Quinarius London Virtus Galley AE17 2-3g S 13870 RIC 55
  16. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    RI Valerian I 253-260 CE AR Ant Felicitas stndg Caduceus and Cornucopia


    Sasanian Shapur I 240-272 CE AE Tetradrachm 10.78g 27mm Ctesiphon mint phase 1a mural crown korymbos - fire altar type 2 SNS IIa1-1a


    RI Valerian II 256-258 CE Silvered Ant PRINCIP IVVENTVS


    RI Gallienus Silvered Æ Ant CE 263-264 AVG rad cuiras R Hercules R lion skin club star RIC 673


    RI Salonina wife of Gallienus 254-268 CE AE Ant 3.61g 20mm Rome mint 267-268 CE crescent Deer Walking delta RIC V 16


    RI Saloninus 259 BI Ant Stndg Globe Spear Captive at feet


    RI Claudius II Gothicus 268-270 CE BI Ant Neptune Stndg dolphin trident


    RI Vabalathus 271-272 CE and Aurelian
  17. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Postumus double sestertius, antoninianus. Victorinus antoninianus. Marius antoninianus.








  18. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Nice writeup and coins!

    My collection:

    Postumus (in addition to the good billon, I like the use of the P M TR P COS II PP titles, bringing some semblance of permanence and normalcy back to the coinage)
    Postumus antoninianus pm tr p cos ii pp.jpg

    Aureolus for Postumus (minted at Milan, which was never part of the Gallic Empire)
    Aureolus for postumus antoninianus.jpg

    (No Laelianus for me yet)

    Marius antoninianus saec felicitas.jpg

    Victorinus with Marius' portrait
    Victorinus marius portrait.jpg

    Victorinus pax avg.jpg

    The rare DIVO VICTORINO PIO that Doug mentioned - I had thought these to be minted by Tetricus, but he makes a good point that these could date from the interregnum during which his mother held de facto power.
    Divus Victorinus antoninianus.jpg

    Tetricus I
    tetricus I hilaritas.jpg

    Tetricus II
    Tetricus II Pietas Avgg priestly implements.jpg

    This one is barbarous, but there are a handful of official coins of Tetricus II as Augustus, which may or may not have been a title he actually held prior to their defeat by Aurelian. On one hand, if he was the legitimate emperor and Tetricus I died in battle, he would legally be able to continue the campaign and command the loyalty of his father's troops. On the other hand, young boys who were elevated to co-emperor were generally killed if/when their fathers died in battle, and Tetricus purportedly knew he would lose the battle against Aurelian, so why would he jeopardize his son's life? It's an interesting point to ponder.
    Tetricus ii augustus pax.jpg
  19. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Tony1982 likes this.
  20. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..wow!..you got 'all'(Gallic) of'em...Kool Brian! :)( we can't count the big D, there's only 2 known examples)
    +VGO.DVCKS and Alegandron like this.
  21. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you. Yeah, doubt if I get a Domitian. But, I never went after the coins as a collection. I just accumulated them. Some time ago, someone posted their Gallic collection. I just started posting the Emperors in my database, and realized that I had them too. Bizzarro for me.
    ominus1 likes this.
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