7.28.2009

Rare Coins to be Displayed in British Museum
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One link leads to another, then another, and so we found this tidbit, of interest to Latin buffs. It turns out charitable organizations in the UK purchased 2 gold coins of the usurper Carausius. The design is quite impressive - keep in mind that these objects were entirely handmade. First, a chisel-like iron die was prepared with a carved out inset of the coin's obverse, or head on one end. Then, on an anvil another die was inset, with a carved out version of the reverse. By changing dies, different reverses could be struck, each one communicating something that the political administration wanted known.

Gold coins of this Gallic strongman are quite rare - only 23 are known, so the discovery of a lot of 2 is exceptional. The coins were found in a field in Nottinghamshire disturbed by construction. What makes them notable is the fairly rare design of the helmet the ruler wears - a stylized version of the Greek hoplite headgear, tipped up on the forehead. More unusual is the use of the vocative case in the inscription for this individual's name - CARAVSI instead of CARAVSIVS. (Note: the Roman alphabet originally displayed "V" and "U" identically on inscriptions and coins). Another known instance of the vocative case on portraiture is the emperor Gallienus, as in GALLIENE, which is almost a unique example. (Below)


History of this coin

The vocative case is used to signify declarations in Latin, something like "Omigod!" or "Gosh!" so we can guess that the vocative use here is an acclamation, probably representing the fact that Carausius' troops proclaimed him emperor (of Britain and Gaul) - after which it was customary to issue a bonus to the troops. VIRTVS CARAVSI is approximated as "O, Brave Carausius" in English. This fiscal practice became a dangerous policy for political longevity because each instance of 'regime change' would result in another payment.

Who was Carausius? Read more.

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