Featured A most obscure Roman Emperor

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by savitale, Dec 8, 2021.

  1. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    I recently purchased this siliqua of Flavius Victor and researched his quite obscure history.

    Flavius Victor obv.JPG

    Flavius Victor rev.JPG

    Flavius Victor. AR Siliqua, 1.99g. Trier. c 383 - 388 A.D. DN FL VICTOR PF AVG. Pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust of Victor to right / VIRTVS ROMANORUM Roma seated left on cuirass, holding globus and reverted spear, TRPS in exergue. RIC IX 84d.1.

    In fact, one cannot really write much about Victor, as there is almost nothing to say. Historical sources are few and fragmentary. One can tell Victor’s story only through that of his father, Magnus Maximus (c. 335 – 388). Maximus was a capable general of the Roman army, scoring victories in Africa and in Britain, where he defeated the Picts and Scots in 380. Seizing an opportunity while the Emperor Gratian struggled with popularity issues, Maximus accepted the position of emperor when proclaimed so by his army in Britain in 383. He marched into Gaul whence his forces soon met with and dispatched Gratian. After some political back-and-forth, Theodosius I recognized Maximus as emperor in the West. His dominion included Spain, Gaul, Africa, and of course Britain. But apparently not Italy. Now, that would likely chafe any Emperor’s nerves, and - predictably - he headed East with his army securing Milan before pushing his luck a wee bit too far. His forces were defeated by Theodosius I and Valentinian II; Magnus was executed in Aquileia in August 388.

    But this is supposed to be about Flavius Victor, right? Well Victor was the son of Magnus Maximus, this we know from a contemporary source. Paulus Orosius (c. 375 – c. 420) in his Historiarum Adversum Paganos writes, “After the destruction of Maximus and of his son Victor, whom Maximus had left among the Gauls as their emperor, Valentinian the Younger, now restored to his realm, passed over into Gaul.” (VII.35) This text suggests that Maximus specifically made Victor emperor of Gaul, instead of co-emperor of his entire territory. Whether Maximus intended to increase Victor’s share of power as he grew older, or whether he intended to divide his realm up among other heirs, is not clear.

    Fortunately we have corroborating sources about Victor’s status. Nennius, writing in the 9th c., tell us that “Maximus afterwards [after defeating Gratian] associated his son Victor in the government”, (Historia Brittonum, 29). This places the ascent of Victor after the death of Gratian in August 383. In this text we also read that, “in the same year [as Maximus’ death] also his son Victor was killed in Gaul by Arbogastes [a Frankish general], five thousand six hundred and ninety years from the creation of the world.” Nennius’ dating system notwithstanding, this puts Victor’s death shortly after August 388, so his reign as emperor was at most five years.

    Now it was of course traditional to make one’s heir Caesar before promoting him to emperor. To my knowledge there are no coins of Flavius Victor as Caesar. But we do have the following from Zosimus (fl. 390-510) writing about 100 years after the events, “Theodosius, having heard that when Maximus came from beyond the Alps he left his son Victor, whom he had dignified with the title of Caesar, he immediately sent for his general, named Arbogastes, who deprived the youth both of his dignity and life.” (Historia Nova. IV) This is a bit confusing though, as the coin above (and all other coins of Victor) refer to him as AVG, a title which must have been in place well before Theodosius had him assassinated. So it is possible that Zosimus just missed the Augustus part, or that he was using the term “Caesar” somewhat vernacularly.

    Personally, I think Victor was promoted directly to Emperor (of Gaul). Magnus Maximus had two rivals for the throne: Theodosius I, a powerful and relatively capable Emperor of the East, and Valentinian II (371 – 392), a child emperor. Valentinian II was four years old when he was made Augustus, twelve at the time of Maximus’ usurpation, and seventeen in the year of Victor’s death. Though we do not know the year of Victor’s birth, as Maximus was in his 50’s at the time of his death it is probable that his son Victor was at least as old as Valentinian II. There was certainly precent for Maximus to declare his youthful son Augustus, and I think his plan was to replace the young and fairly useless Valentinian II with Victor as soon as practical. Based on the number of coins of Flavius Victor extant, the number issued in his name must have been fairly large; certainly more than one would expect for an obscure young emperor of limited domain and probably no real power. So I think this coinage was likely part of a propaganda campaign to establish Victor as Emperor, and to provide legitimacy for him to replace the equally young if not younger Valentinian II.

    I’ll end this with the last contemporary account of Victor, and that is from Sulpicius Alexander, an historian of the late 4th c. His work has been lost but fragments are preserved in Gregory of Tours’ (538-594) Historia Francorum. Gregory quotes Alexander thus, “And when word was carried to Treves, Nannius and Quintinus the military officers to whom Maximus had intrusted his infant son and the defense of the Gauls, assembled an army and met at Cologne.” (I.9) I include this quote to complete the list of ancient sources on Victor, but also to highlight the phase “infant son”. One can find modern descriptions of coins of Flavius Victor which claim that Victor was a small boy at the time of his death, and the portrait on the coin – clearly of a teenager or young man – was artificially aged for some reason. I can only find this one reference in Gregory to an “infant son” so I assume the theory derives from this sole source. Personally I think “infant son” is potentially a mistranslation, as we are reading in English what Gregory of Tours wrote in Latin when quoting Sulpicius Alexander who wrote in Greek. It is also possible that “infant son” refers to another otherwise unattested child of Maximus. I just don’t find it plausible that a very small boy on the outskirts of the empire was awarded the title of Emperor of Gaul, had a large coinage issued in his name, and was enough of a threat after Magnus’ death to have him immediately assassinated. And if Victor was really a small child when he was murdered, I suspect the other sources would have noted that.

    Gregory of Tours leaves us with one final tantalizing comment, “And in the fourth book, when he [Alexander] tells of the killing of Victor, son of Maximus the tyrant,…” (I.9) which Gregory follows with some words about Valentinian II and leaves Victor in obscurity. So unless someone happens to have a 1500 year old copy of Sulpicius Alexander hidden away somewhere, this is probably all we will ever know of Flavius Victor.
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    I love it!
    I have also been researching Flavius Victor over the last week. I didn't find nearly as much as you did. Great read and even better coin!
    Deacon Ray and savitale like this.
  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice coin and article about a lesser known historical figure. And you certainly did your homework in the literary sources. +1 for making this a featured article.
    7Calbrey and savitale like this.
  5. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian

    Great coin and great history lesson. Thank you!
  6. Alegandron

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

    Nice write up, @savitale . Super coin!

    RI Flavius Victor 384-388 CE AE4 14mm 1.8g Aquileia Camp Gate Star SMAQS RIC IX 55b-2 LRBC1104
    7Calbrey, Spaniard, savitale and 8 others like this.
  7. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums

    That's a spectacular siliqua!

    In some of his portraits he looks quite young (at least by the portraiture conventions of the time), which perhaps hints at his real age.
    flavius victor.jpg
    AE4, ex Frank Robinson collection
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  8. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    Beautiful coin and excellent writeup! A Flavius Victor has been on my want list forever. Here's a matching siliqua of his dad from the same officina:

    Magnus Maximus - AR Siliqua ex Michael Kelly 3010.jpg
    AR Siliqua. 2.06g, 16.8mm. Trier mint, AD 383-388. RIC IX 84b. O: D N MAG MAX-IMVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right. R: VIRTVS RO-MANORVM, Roma seated facing, head left, holding globe in right hand, scepter in left; TRPS in exergue.
    Ex Michael Kelly Collection
    7Calbrey, Spaniard, panzerman and 9 others like this.
  9. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Great coin and super article. I enjoyed that very much.

    In my view, however, Flavius Victor was still very young, i.e. a minor in AD 387.

    Gregory of Tours wrote:
    "Quod ubi Treverus perlatum est, Nanninus et Quintinus militaris magistri, quibus infantiam filii et defensionem Galliarum Maximus conmiserat, collecto exercitu, apud Agripinam convenerunt."

    Which translates as:
    "When this became known in Treveri [Trier], the army masters Nanninus and Quintinus, to whom Maximus had entrusted his underage son and the defence of the Gallic provinces, gathered their army and went to Agrippina [Cologne]."

    I don't think it is likely that this unnamed underage son is anybody other than Flavius Victor, because Gregory is not interested in other members of Magnus Maximus' family except the Emperor and his son, whom he had named Augustus.

    Even if this underage son was somebody else and Flavius Victor was around as effective Emperor of Gaul, we would not expect Magnus Maximus to have entrusted the defence of that province to Nanninus and Quintinus without naming Flavius Victor as well.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2021
  10. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    Sorry about the poor quality. I picked this coin out of a lot of uncleaned LRBs. According to RIC, this coin was minted in Rome. But now, after reading that M.M. never made it that far, I suspect I have to reconsider this:
    (Bronze) AE IV
    Rome mint, A.D. 387-388
    Rev: SPES RO-MA-NORVM - Campgate with star between two turrets
    [RB?] in exergue
    RIC 59
    13mm, 0.9g.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2021
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  11. Alegandron

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

    I have his dad, too.

    RI Magnus Maximus 383-388 CE AE Follis
  12. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    These obscure Late Roman emperor's coins are interesting. With a few exceptions, they would be indistinguishable from their legitimate counterparts. I guess that's true of pretty much all of them though. Shame. I'd like to know what they really looked like.
    savitale likes this.
  13. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Even the legitimate late Roman emperors are often indistinguishable. Imagine, Theodosius I may have looked like this old toad Vespasian in real life :)
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2021
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  14. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    At 1.99 grams yours is a substantial siliqua. The weight of this coin was to fall substantially within a few years. The silquae of Honorius are a good deal lighter and falling rapidly. Perhaps, like the double denarii of the usurper Postumus, which generally have a higher percentage of silver than those of the contemporary legitimate emperors, if one is a usurper one has to put out better coinage than the legitimate emperor in Rome.
    savitale likes this.
  15. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

  16. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    That's a beauty! Thanks for sharing both coin and great write up.
    savitale likes this.
  17. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Need to keep those legions happy!
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  18. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Literally an existential need.
    savitale likes this.
  19. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    Yes, if forced to guess I would say Victor was a teenager during most of this episode. Basically the same age as Valentinian II, plus or minus a few years.
  20. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    "Underage son" seems a much better fit for Flavius than "infant son". Underage is ambiguous though as apparently a boy could wear the toga virilis at 15, but could not hold a military or political post until 18 years old, and one needed to be 25 or 30 to hold a senior political position. [Emiel Eyben, Was the Roman "Youth" an "Adult" socially?, L'Antiquité Classique, 1981 pp. 328-350.] All things considered, teenager sounds about right I think.
  21. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

    Excellent research! Thank you!

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