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Soldier Emperor

Today's coins of interest are from Probus, a soldier emperor, who rose up from the ranks and served four emperors before being proclaimed emperor by his troops. I will not try to recount the life of Probus. I will share this glowing summary from the author of Historia Augusta:

"It would be a lengthy task, were I to enumerate all the exploits of so great a man, which he performed as a commoner under Valerian, under Gallienus, under Aurelian, and under Claudius, how many times he scaled a wall, tore down a rampart, slew the enemy in a hand-to‑hand fight, won the gifts of emperors, and by his valour restored the commonwealth to its ancient condition."
-Historia Augusta, Life of Probus, 6.1

For a more sober summary see De Imperatoribus Romanis. Probus reigned for bout 8 years from about August of 276 - Sept/Oct of 282. Florian was killed by his own troops in favor of Probus. Probus lived about 50 years from AD 232 until Sept/Oct AD 282 when he, in turn, was killed by his troops in favor of Carus. This period of soldier emperors between the last Severan, Severus Alexander in AD 235, and Diocletian in AD 284, had 15 emperors with most of them gaining power with the execution or murder of their predecessor as shown in this table.

I've added the coloring and list of emperors to this table from : FP Retief & L Cilliers, “Causes of death among the Caesars (27 BC-AD 476)”, Acta Theologica , Vol. 26 No. 2 (2006): Supplementum 7. Claudius II died of illness, most likely the Plague of Cyprian, a pandemic that afflicted the Roman empire from AD 249 to 262. Carus, according to tradition, died after a battle in Mesopotamia in which he was struck by lightning, although he too may have died of illness or been killed by his colleagues.

The Coins

These are two very similar coins from the second year of Probus' reign from Alexandria Egypt 276/77. What differentiates them is the way the eagle is standing and facing: standing right facing left on the first coin, and standing left facing right on the second coin. I find both coins to be well preserved and usually nice overall: well struck, good style and pleasing patina.

Egypt, Alexandria, Probus, 276-282, Tetradrachm (Silvered bronze, 20 mm, 8.15g, 11 h), RY 2 = 276/7

Obv: Α Κ Μ ΑΥΡ ΠΡΟΒΟC CЄΒ, laureate and cuirassed bust of Probus to right

Rev: L - B (second year of reign), eagle with closed wings standing right, head to left and holding wreath in beak

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5552

Egypt, Alexandria, Probus, 276-282, Tetradrachm (Silvered bronze, 20 mm, 7.48g, 11 h), RY 2 = 276/7

Obv: Α Κ Μ ΑΥΡ ΠΡΟΒΟC CЄΒ, laureate and cuirassed bust of Probus to right

Rev: L - B (second year of reign), eagle with closed wings standing left, head to right and holding wreath in beak

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5549

The eagle on the reverse perhaps needs no explanation. Eagles were a common symbol of state, an attribute of Zeus, a symbol of the Roman military, and a standard reverse on the coins of the Ptolemaic kings starting from Ptolemy I Soter for whom the eagle was a personal device. The wreath a symbol of victory. Pliny credits Marius for establishing the eagle as legionary standard.

"Caius Marius, in his second consulship, assigned the eagle exclusively to the Roman legions. Before that period it had only held the first rank, there being four others as well, the wolf, the minotaur, the horse, and the wild boar, each of which preceded a single division."
-Pliny, Natural History, 10.5 

Egypt the Emperor's Personal Domain

"Res Gestae Divi Augusti" or "The Achievements of the Divine Augustus" was written up with the death of Augustus. The original was engraved on two columns near the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome and multiple copies known from Anatolia. The most complete surviving copy was from Ankara, Turkiye (ancient Ancyra). In 1883, Theodore Mommsen assembled all the fragments and published the assembled text.

This official biography states (line 27) “I added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people.” The defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, brought Egypt under Roman rule where it was governed by a prefect who reported directly to the emperor. Unlike other provinces that were governed by the senate, Egypt was the personal domain of the emperor and an important source for Rome.

Coins of Probus from other mints

Probus coins were struck by at least 10 mints:

- Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt)

- Antioch (Ankara, Turkey)

- Kyzikos (shoreward side of the present Kapıdağ Peninsula, Turkiye)

- Lugdunum (Lyon, France)

- Rome

- Serdyka (Sofia, Bulgaria)

- Siscia (Sisak, Croatia)

- Ticinum (Pavia, Italy)

- Tripolis (Tripoli, Lebanon)

- an unknown eastern mint

Here are examples for 4 of those mints (bolded above).


This first coin looking much like the portrait that opens this post.

Probus (276-282), AE Antoninianus, Rome, Emission 4, 3rd officina, struck AD 279, 3.03g, 21.5mm

Obv: IMP PROBVS AVG, Radiate, helmeted and armored bust of Probus facing left, seen from 3/4 facing, a spear on his right shoulder and a shield covering the left shoulder. (Bastien bust code: E1)

Rev: ROMAE AETER /-//RᴗΓ, helmeted Roma seated facing left in a hexastyle temple, holding victory in her right hand and a scepter in her left hand. (Type A)

Ref: RIC 186

In 280 AD, Probus made peace with Vahram II, the Sassanian king. Probus overcame usurpers Saturninus, Bonosus, and Proculus and returned to Rome in 281 AD, where he celebrated his many victories. His return to Rome was extensively documented in coins of the sixth emission. A winged head seen from the front is visible on the cuirass (head of Medusa), and a portion of the paludamentum is draped over the left shoulder of the bust.

Probus (276-282), BI Antoninianus (4.09g, 21mm, 6h). Rome AD 281

Obv: IMP PROBVS P F AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust to right

Rev: ADVENTVS AVG, emperor on horseback to left, with right hand raised and holding sceptre, stepping past captive seated to left with hands tied behind back; R(thunderbolt)Z in exergue


Probus (276-282), AE Antoninianus, Siscia, Emission 1 (phase b), 4th officina, struck AD 276, 4.12g, 22mm

Obv: IMP C M AVR PROBVS AVG, radiate and curaissed bust of Probus right viewed from 3/4 behind.. (Bastien bust code : A2)

Rev: FELICITAS AVG /-/Δ//XXI, Felicitas standing with head facing left, with a long caduceus in her right hand, and an cornucopia in her left. (Type B)

Ref: RIC 682

Probus (276-282), AE Antoninianus, Siscia, Emission 7 (phase a), 6th officina, struck AD 280, 4.06g

Obv: IMP PROBVS PF AVG, RAdiate bust of Probus facing left viewed from 3/4 facing, wearing a consular cape and holding an eagle tipped scepter). (Bastien bust code : H2)

Rev: SALVS AVG /-/VI//XXI, Salus (Health) standing right holding a serpent in her right hand and feeding it with her left. (Type A)

Ref: RIC : 748, Bastien coin 4980 (this coin 4.06g)


Probus (276-282), AE Antoninianus, Lyon, struck AD 282, 3.71g, 21mm

Obv: IMP C PROBVS • P • F • AVG, radiate and curaissed bust of Probus right viewed from 3/4 facing. (Bastien bust code: B)

Rev: TEMPOR FELICIT /B/-//-, Felicitas standing with head facing right, with a long caduceus in her right hand, and an cornucopia in her left. (Type C)

Ref: RIC : 129, Bastien : 386 this specific variant with B in left field is ID# 174

Note: there several coins known (~4, Bastien Supplement III 439) that perhaps offer some hint that a 10th emission, signaled by a change in mint mark location, was begun for Probus near the time of his death (late September in Sirmium in modern day Serbia) and before the news reached Lyon/Lugdunum in modern day France. A very nice example sold in a CGB Auction 27 Lot 78 October 2006. An additional example can be found on NumisForum from forum member maridvnvm.

TICINIUM (with secret codes)

A soldier emperor needed the support of the Military. This coin, issued in Ticinium at in the last year of his reign, has impressive details of the emperor's garments and invokes the concord of the military.

Probus (276-282), AE Antoninianus, Ticinum, emission 10, first officina, struck AD 282, 3.41g, 20.5mm

Obv: IMP C PROBVS AVG, radiate and curaissed bust of Probus facing left viewed 3/4 facing. (Bastien bust code : B)

Rev: CONCORD MILIT /E/*//PXXI, Concordia facing left and holding two military standards. (Type B)

Rarity: Common

Note: E in the secret code EQVITI - for more on this click the link to relevant Notes.

Ref: RIC 480

Mistaken Identity

Historia Augusta, an often unreliable source of history, confounds another Probus, Tenagino Probus, with Marcus Aurelius Probus the emperor. Tenagino Probus was a soldier who became Praeses (governor) of the Numidia and prefect of Egypt, (Praefectus Aegypti). Historia Augusta 9.1 confuses the two - see footnote 39 ("There is no reason to suppose that Probus was in Egypt under Claudius").

Did Probus ever visit Egypt? He may have circa 279–280. He is credited with putting down a rebellion in Egypt improvements to bridges and canals in on the NIle:

"On the Nile, moreover, he did so much that his sole efforts added greatly to the tithes of grain. He constructed bridges and temples porticos and basilicas, all by the labour of the soldiers, he opened up many river-mouths, and drained many marshes, and put in their place grain-fields and farms"
-Historia Augusta, Life of Probus, 9.3-4 

However, Zosimus 1.71.1 credits his generals:

"Ptolemais in Thebais having revolted from the emperor, and commenced a war. Probus, by the good conduct of his officers, compelled both that place and its allies to surrender." 

This leaves room to question whether Probus ever was in Egypt or just his generals.


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