Carausius AR ‘Denarius’ or Argenteus. London, circa AD 286-293. IMP CARAVSIVS P F A, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust to right / RENOVATIO AVG, she-wolf standing to right, head reverted, suckling the twins Romulus and Remus; RSR in exergue. Unpublished in the standard references, the first known example with this obv. legend and only the third recorded example of the rev. legend; for general she-wolf type cf. RIC V.2 571-577; Shiel pp. 110-12, 65-72; Webb 626-630; Casey pl. 6, 5; RSC 80-91. 3.65g, 19 mm, 11h.
Extremely Fine; small patches of corrosion in rev. fields, bright and lustrous. Unpublished, and possibly unique.
This coin to be published in Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. V.2 (revised edition forthcoming);
Found in Risley, Derbyshire, Thursday 30th July 2020. Submitted for consideration as Treasure, and returned to the finder. PAS ID: DENO-7EB4B2.
Most numismatists still apply the denominational term ‘denarius’ to this solid silver coinage of Carausius, ignoring its far higher intrinsic value and the structure of coinage in a chaotic political and monetary period, consisting of aurei, argentei and billon aureliani (or radiates, tariffed at bronze to silver ratio of 20:1), but no denarii or antoniniani.
Little is known of the imperial monetary system of the late 3rd century and its nomenclature, but from what we can glean from Edictum de Pretiis Rerum Venalium (‘Edict Concerning the Sale Price of Goods’) of circa AD 301 the term ‘denarius’ was by then no more the silver 10 asses of old (= 4 sestertii etc.). The Edict was tariffed in ‘denarii’ (denarius communis), a unit of account set at 72,000 to the Roman pound of gold (324g), 6,000 denarii to the Roman silver pound and 50 denarii to the Roman copper pound, which implies a tariff of 70 denarii could be applied to the above silver coin!
For lack of a better word, argenteus (‘of silver’), although not an official name of a coin denomination, is used by this catalogue for the silver coinage with an average weight of about 3.75g, as it was probably called this at the time. This remarkable issue seems contemporary with the slightly lighter silver tetrarchic issues usually called argentei by numismatists and explicitly tariffed at 96 to the Roman pound (cf. RIC VI p. 282, 20).
The enigmatic RSR exergue-mark found on this series is generally accepted as being unconventional for it does not appear to be a mint mark or statement of value. It has been interpreted as “rationalis summae rei”, an administrative post which dealt with imperial benefactions and donatives. It has been pointed out by Bédoyère, in his paper for the Numismatic Chronicle (158, 1998, 79-88), however that this position is not only unattested to in Britain, it is normally abbreviated as RAT.S.R and does not appear on any Roman coins. Bédoyère made a strong case for a Virgilian reading of the RSR mark, based on its use on a bronze medallion of Carausius (BM 1972-7-17-1), very similar in style to a second bronze medallion with the exergual mark INPCDA (BM 1967 9-1-1), and the reverse legend employed by Carausius of EXPECTATE VENI, ‘Come, long awaited one’ (cf. RIC 554-8, 439-40 and Aeneid ii, 283), which usually appears on the silver coinage. He suggests that the RSR mark is an abbreviation of “redeunt Saturnia regna” (the Saturnian kingdoms return), from Virgil’s Eclogues IV, from which the following line is “iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto” (INPCDA, now a generation is let down from heaven above).
Virgil’s Eclogues text is entirely appropriate for the image that Carausius was trying to promote of the ‘British Empire’ as a haven of traditional Roman values, and the Saturnian age was a commonly used theme of Roman literature to symbolise a lost paradise, both of which are employed here to legitimise Carausius’ rule and appeal to the Romano-British inhabitants of his new empire to support him in his desire to uphold the Roman ideal.
Thank you Roman Numismatics for text and images