Een ‘barbaric’ imitation of Magnentius




AE ‘barbaric’ imitation of a Magnentius centenionalis (350-353)

Irregular mint in Gallia, ca 353

Obverse: DN MAGNENTIVS PF AVG; Dr. & cuir. bust r.

Reverse: VI…IT C (retrograde) IVCC. In field: SP; In ex: TR; Two Victory’s holding shield inscribed …I/V/ TVN/ X

17mm; 2,19 g.


This coin is a so called ‘barbaric’ imitation. This is indicated by the irregular style and the garbled legends. The word ‘barbaric’ is somewhat misleading. This is because the phrase was coined in a time that numismatists thought these coins were struck outside the Roman empire. In the present day there is a consensus that these coins for the most part were minted within the borders of the empire. The reason for this practice was probably shortage of official coinage. If the supply from the imperial mints to the provinces came to a halt for whatever reason, the people began producing their own coins to sustain local economies. These local imitations were not counterfeit coins, made to deceive; they were made because of an economical necessity. As we will be shown below, this coin provides some insight into the methods of ‘barbaric’ workshops in 4th century Roman Gaul.


The first thing to look for is a possible ‘prototype’ for the imitation. Which coin was being imitated by the die cutter of this imitation? The obvious way to do that is looking at the exergue of the coin. There the letters ‘TR’ appear, which points to Trier. And there we have our prototype – a Magnentius from Trier with a ‘Two Victory’s holding shield’ reverse.



A ‘Prototype’ for the imitation above: AE maiorina, Trier mint, TRP in ex. (Lanz auk. 123, lot 932)


If we compare the imitation to this prototype, we see the obverse legend (DN MAGNENTIVS PF AVG) is rendered very well. Although the letters are somewhat irregular, they are all recognizable. The reverse legend, on the other hand, is almost completely ‘blundered’. The letters VICT appear counter clockwise, but that’s about it. (This phenomenon – a very recognizable obverse legend, but a blundered reverse legend – happens quite often with ‘barbaric’ imitations.) The text on the shield (VOT/V/MVLT/X) is also blundered on the imitation (MVLT turns into TVN). These blundered legends are a main feature of imitations of Roman coins, but it is not a law which applies to all imitations. Some pieces have perfect legends and only differ in style from ‘official’ coins.


But this is not the whole story of the coin above. Identifying a prototype from Trier is not enough. This has everything to do with the letters SP in the field of the reverse. As a matter of fact, these letters only appear on coins minted in Lyon. They do not appear on coins from Trier or any other mint. Compare this example:



Second ‘prototype’; same type as the Trier specimen, but letters SP in field, chi-rho above shield, RPLG in ex. (Lanz auk. 106, lot 767)


The thing that makes this imitative coin special is that there was no single prototype. The coin combines a Trier exergue with field letters from Lyon. Pierre Bastien devotes a whole chapter to Magnentius imitations in his monograph on this emperor. The imitation shown here fits his findings very well. Bastien lists several imitations with field letters from Lyon, correctly combined with mintmarks of that city (RPLG), but also with mintmarks from Trier en Amiens. According to Bastien these coins were minted in irregular regional mints in Gaul, which is indicated by several coin hoards.


The die cutters in these local workshops didn’t ‘copy’ one original. They made their own designs and were inspired by several ‘prototypes’. These prototypes were minted in Trier, Amiens and Lyon.