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Gallienus and Usurpers in AD 260

The Humiliation of Valerian by Shapur I, French 15th Century, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

When I first noticed the coin in a web auction, I expected that it wouldn’t fit my definition of “inexpensive” and that I might have to wait a bit for another one in lesser condition to show up:

  • None have shown up in ACSearch so far this year

  • <50 on ACSearch since 2002, 2-3 per year

  • Prices range from a low of $100 to a high of $600

  • This coin in nice condition, admittedly not as flawless as the highest end, but quite nice

Why I was interested

There are many ways to bring a set of coins together to tell a story, and I like to accumulate sets that connect to each other by history, theme, time period, or numismatic characteristics e.g. this set of Parthian “Victory Drachms” inspired by a David Sellwood article or a set of the various rulers engaged in the Mithridatic Wars, or the major theme of my collection, coins connected to Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Alexandrian tetradrachms have been a growing side interest recently. Researching a coin from the reign of Gallienus brought me to AD 260-263. In AD 260, Valerian was defeated and captured by Sasanian King Shapur I, as depicted in the opening image, and Gallienus began his sole reign. In the year that spans AD 260-261, there was a lacuna mentioned in the minting of coins for Gallienus in Alexandria related to the usrper, Macrianus, and his two sons.

Gallienus, AD 253-268 AD, BI Tetradrachm, Egypt, Alexandria, dated year 9 (261-262)

Obv: AVT K P LIK ΓAΛΛIHNOC CEB, Laureate and cuirassed bust to right

Rev: ENATOY, Eagle standing left, holding wreath in beak; palm over shoulder, L in right field

Ref: Dattari 5286; Geissen 2908

Egypt, Alexandria, Gallienus, 253-268 Tetradrachm circa 262-263 (year 10)

Size: 23mm, 10.63g

Obv: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: ΔЄKA/ЄTHPI/CKV/PIOV in four lines within laurel wreath; below, L I

Ref: Geissen 2915 (this coin cited) Dattari-Savio Pl. 272, 5273 this coin the same coin that appears in Dattari's pencil sketches. The coin was issued to celebrate Gallienus' tenth year of reign.

Here is a coin of his wife Salonina:

Egypt, Alexandria, Salonina, Augusta & wife of Gallienus, AD 254-268, Tetradrachm, dated RY 15 (AD 267/8)

Obv: KORNHLIA CALWNEINA CEB, draped bust right, wearing stephane

Rev: Elpis advancing left, holding flower and hem of skirt; palm frond before, IЄ/L (date) to right.

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5334

This collage shows the evolution of Salonina portraits over the years.

Gallienus & Salonina had two sons Valerian II and Saloninus:

Egypt, Alexandria, Valerian II, Caesar, AD 256-258, Tetradrachm , dated RY 4 of Valerian I and Gallienus (AD 256/7)

Obv: Π ΛIK KOP OVAΛEPIANOC KAIC CEB, bareheaded, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Homonoia standing left, raising right hand, holding double cornucopia with left; L Δ (date) across field

Egypt, Alexandria, Saloninus, As Caesar, AD 258-260, Tetradrachm, dated RY 7 of Valerian I and Gallienus (AD 259/60)

Obv: ΠO ΛI KOP CA VAΛEPIANOC K CEB, Bareheaded, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Eagle standing left, head right, holding wreath in beak; L-Z (date) across field

To complete the family reunion, here is a coin of Valerian, father to Gallienus, from 4 years before his humiliation by King Shapur.

Egypt, Alexandria, Valerian I, AD 253-260, Tetradrachm, dated RY 4 (AD 256/257)

Obv: A K Π ΛI OVAΛЄPIANOC ЄVЄV C, Laureate and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Nike advancing right, holding wreath and palm frond; L Δ (date) across field

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5165

The Revolt of Macrianus

The coin I was looking for is connected to one of Valerian’s generals, Macrianus, a usurper in the East during the reign of Gallienus.

“We have seen that the mint at Alexandria started coining in the name of the usurpers in September 260. But before the end of August 261 it was issuing coins in the name of Gallienus. Nevertheless some parts of Egypt remained loyal to Quietus until his death. - J Bray (1997), “Gallienus: A Study in Reformist and Sexual Politics”​

And an interesting paper on this revolt describes:

"Further, the much-discussed papyrus POxy 1411 discusses the refusal of bankers to accept τό θείόν των σεβασιών νόμίσμα, 'the sacred coin of the emperors', referring to Macrianus and Quietus, and is dated to Hathyr 28 (25 November 260). Why the bankers did not accept the coins is unclear. They may have objected to the weight standard of the new coins, which average about a quarter of a gram lighter than those of Valerian's year 7 (29 August 259-28 August 260)." - Legutko, P. (2002). The Revolt of Macrianus and Quietus and its effect on Alexandrian Coinage, AD 260-263. The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), 162, 135-168.​

Auction Day

I braced myself for the bidding war, put in my live proxy bid, and watched. I’ve seen prices going far beyond my “willingness to pay” in several recent auctions. My non-coin friends (and perhaps coin friends too) think my “flight to quality assets and stores of value” theory is comical – although bonds with negative yield seem to provide some support for the argument.

As the auction progressed, coins ahead of my coin of interest were going for high prices – even uninteresting coins, from my perspective, going for more than I would expect. Being willing to walk away, wallet intact, to bid on the next coin is a discipline that has served me well. With a lot of high bidding, I lost hope. It seemed unlikely that I would get the coin this time. “Another one will come up in the near future”, I thought.

Then it came up – the digital countdown – the BID button greyed out with my bid on top at opening price. Going once…going twice…fair warning…SOLD. I have to admit – my first reaction was, “that was too fast” – what happened? Then it sank in – I got the coin!

The Coin

Egypt, Alexandria, Macrianus, Usurper, AD 260-261, BI Tetradrachm , Dated RY 1 (260/1 AD); September 260-May 261 AD

Obv: AK T Φ IOΥN MAKΡIANOC E CEB Laureate and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Eagle standing left, wreath in beak; LA (date) in left field

Ref: Dattari 5380 plate 275

Obv Latin Equivalent: IMP Titus Fulvius Junius Macrianus E AVG

The History

This coin is not from Macrinus, the emperor between Caracalla and Elagabalus from April 217 to 8 June 218. It is also not Macrianus Major, who served as a general under Valerian. It is a coin of Macrianus’ son. Macrianus Major and his two sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus fought in the Roman army under Valerian when he was captured by Shapur I (AD 258-259). After the capture of Valerian, Macrianus and Callistus attacked Shapur causing him to retreat beyond the Euphrates River. His soldiers acclaimed him as emperor, however Macrianus was lame and old and instead proclaimed his sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus as joint emperors.

“In 260, Macrianus commanded the remnants of Rome’s army in the east, following the emperor’s capture and eventual death at the hands of the Persians. Titus Flavius Macrianus was a lame soldier who nevertheless secured the ranks of praepositus annonae expeditionalis and procurator arcae expeditionalis from Valerian and thus was quartermaster general in the ill-fated Persian campaign. When word arrived of the Persian victory, Fulviaus Macrianus and a general named Callistus (nicknamed Ballista) initiated a counterattack from the base at Samosata. Ballista defeated Shapur I at Corycus in Cilicia, driving the Persians back to the Euphrates. Roman army having been avenged and the East temporarily saved, both Fulvius Macrianus and Ballista split from Gallienus” - Matthew Bunson (2002) - Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire

And another version:

“When Valerian undertook the Persian war, he committed the chief command to Macrianus, whose valor had been proved as a boy in Italy, as a youth in Thrace, as a man in Africa, and when stricken in years in Illyria and Dalmatia. In consequence, it is said, of his incapacity or treachery, the campaign terminated in the capture of the emperor, after which, Macrianus and Balista having collected the scattered remnants of the Roman army, it was determined in solemn conference, that, neglecting the claim of the effeminate Gallienus, the former should assume the purple. Having assigned the management of affairs in the East to one of his sons, Quietus, he set out with the other for Italy. They were encountered by Aureolus on the confines of Thrace and Illyria, defeated and slain, AD 262.” - Historia Augusta

Macrianus and his older son, Macrianus Minor, marched east to take on Gallienus, and they didn’t last long, in the end Macrianus, his sons, and Callistus were all put to death. Not long after writing this post, I was able to find a coin of Quietus, brother of Macrianus.

Egypt, Alexandria, Quietus, Usurper, AD 260-261, Tetradrachm dated RY 1 (AD 260/261)

Obv: A K T Φ IOVN KOVHTOC Є CЄB, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Eagle standing left, wings open, wreath in its beak; L A (date) to lower left

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5382

This was not the end of unrest in Alexandria as the prefect Aemilianus was next to take the role of "usurper", and I don't yet have a coin from Gallienus year 8...maybe this "set" is not complete...[for the next in this series see: Gallienus RY 8]

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