Carausius

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This article is about the Roman Emperor. For the Phasmatodea genus, see Carausius (Phasmatodea).
Carausius
Emperor of the Britannic Empire
Antoninianus Carausius leg4-RIC 0069v.jpg
Carausius coin from Londinium mint. On the reverse, the lion, symbol of Legio IIII Flavia Felix.
Reign 286–293
Full name Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius
Birthplace Gallia Belgica
Died 293
Place of death Britain
Predecessor None
Successor Allectus

Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius (died 293) was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. He was a Menapian from Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He did this only 13 years after the Gallic Empire of the Batavian Postumus was ended in 273. He held power for seven years, before being assassinated by his finance minister Allectus (see Carausian Revolt).

History[edit]

Carausius was of humble origin, a Menapian who distinguished himself during Maximian's campaign against the Bagaudae rebels in northern Gaul in 286. This success, and his former occupation as a pilot, led to his appointment to command the Classis Britannica, a fleet based in the English Channel, with the responsibility of eliminating Frankish and Saxon pirates who had been raiding the coasts of Armorica and Belgica. He was suspected of keeping captured treasure for himself, and of allowing pirates to carry out raids and enrich themselves before taking action against them, and Maximian ordered his execution. In late 286 or early 287 Carausius learned of this sentence and responded by declaring himself Emperor in Britain and northern Gaul.[1] His forces comprised not only his fleet, augmented by new ships he had built, and the three legions stationed in Britain, but a legion he had seized in Gaul, a number of foreign auxiliary units, a levy of Gaulish merchant ships, and barbarian mercenaries attracted by the prospect of booty.[2]

British historian and archaeologist Sheppard Frere wonders how Carausius was able to win support from the army when his command had been sea-based, and speculates that he had perhaps been involved in an unrecorded victory in Britain, connected with Diocletian's assumption of the title Britannicus Maximus in 285, and signs of destruction in Romano-British towns at this time.[3] The campaign against the Bagaudae, however, was evidently land-based, and may have been responsible for Carausius's popularity with the army. Equally, if the accusations of larceny are true, he could perhaps have afforded to buy their loyalty.

Maximian prepared an invasion of Britain in 288 or 289 to oust him,[4] but it failed. A panegyric delivered to Constantius Chlorus attributes this failure to bad weather, but notes that Carausius claimed a military victory.[5] Eutropius says that hostilities were in vain thanks to Carausius's military skill, and peace was agreed.[6] Carausius began to entertain visions of legitimacy and official recognition. He minted his own coins and brought their value into line with Roman issues as well as acknowledging and honouring Maximian and then Diocletian. Coinage is the main source of information about the rogue emperor; his issues were initially crude but soon became more elaborate and were issued from mints in Londinium, Rotomagnus and a third site, possibly Colonia Claudia Victricensis.

Carausius appears to have appealed to native British dissatisfaction with Roman rule: he issued coins with legends such as Restitutor Britanniae (Restorer of Britain) and Genius Britanniae (Spirit of Britain). He also used coins for more sophisticated propaganda. He issued the first proper silver coins that had appeared in the Roman Empire for generations, knowing that good quality bullion coinage would enhance his legitimacy and make him look more successful than Diocletian and Maximian. Some of these silver coins bear the legend Expectate veni, 'Come long-awaited one', recognised to allude to a line in the Aeneid by the Augustan poet Virgil, written more than 300 years previously. He was trying to suggest that not only was he, Carausius, a kind of messianic new ruler, but was also showing his association with Roman culture rather than any kind of remote provincial culture.

Some of the silver coins bear the legend RSR in the exergue (an area on a coin below the legend). This was considered a mystery for some time. Two Carausian medallions, now in the British Museum have also been found. One has RSR in the exergue; the other has INPCDA. Since 1998 these letters have been recognised as representing the sixth and seventh lines of the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil, which reads Redeunt Saturnia Regna, Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto, meaning 'The Golden Ages are back, now a new generation is let down from Heaven above'. This poem was as famous in the Roman world as Shakespeare's works are today, so any educated reader would certainly have realized what the initials stood for (it was commonplace in antiquity to reduce slogans and phrases to abbreviations).[7]

No other Roman emperor in history ever made such an explicit reference to famous Roman literature. It is quite extraordinary that in a remote province like Britain a rebel emperor should utilise such a method to appeal to his public. He was claiming to represent a revival of traditional Roman virtues and the great traditions of the Empire as established by Augustus in the last decades of the first century BC, not in Rome but in Britain.

A milestone from Carlisle with his name on it suggests that the whole of Roman Britain was in Carausius' grasp.[8]

This situation continued until 293, when Constantius Chlorus, now the western Caesar, marched into Gaul and reclaimed it for the empire. He isolated Carausius by besieging the port of Bononia, and invading Batavia in the Rhine delta, securing his rear against Carausius's Frankish allies. He could not yet mount an invasion of Britain until a suitable fleet could be built.[9] Nevertheless, Carausius's grip on power was fatally undermined. Allectus, whom he had put in charge of his treasury, assassinated him and assumed power himself.[10] His reign would last only three years, after which he was defeated and killed by Constantius's subordinate Julius Asclepiodotus.[11]

In April 2010 a large hoard of coins was unearthed near Frome, Somerset, United Kingdom, which includes the largest group of coins issued during Carausius' reign ever found; 760 coins from his reign were found in a group of 52,500 Roman coins that also included 5 rare silver denarii. The find was equivalent to four years pay for a Roman legionary and dates from later than his reign, however, as it includes coins struck at a later date.[12]

Legend[edit]

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's legendary History of the Kings of Britain (1136) Carausius is a Briton of humble birth, who by his courage persuades the Roman Senate to give him command of a fleet to defend Britain from barbarian attack. Once given the fleet, however, he sails around Britain stirring up unrest, and raises an army against Bassanius, the historical Caracalla, here a king of Britain. Carausius defeats Bassanius by persuading his Pictish allies to desert him in exchange for grants of land in Scotland, and sets himself up as king. Hearing of Carausius's treachery, the Romans send Allectus to Britain with three legions. Allectus defeats and kills Carausius and sets himself up as king in his place.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ C. E. V. Nixon & Barbara Saylor Rodgers (ed & trans), In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini, University of California Press, 1994, 8:6; Aurelius Victor, Book of Caesars 39:20-21; Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 21; Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 7:25.2-4
  2. ^ Panegyrici Latini 8:12
  3. ^ Sheppard Frere, Britannia: a History of Roman Britain, third edition, Pimlico, 1987, pp. 326-327
  4. ^ Panegyrici Latini 10:12.1
  5. ^ Panegyrici Latini 8:12.2
  6. ^ Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 22
  7. ^ Guy de la Bédoyère, 'Carausius and the Marks RSR and INPCDA' in Numismatic Chronicle 158 (1998), pp. 79-88
  8. ^ Frere, Britannia, p. 327-328
  9. ^ Panegyrici Latini 6:5, 8.6-8
  10. ^ Panegyrici Latini 8:12; Aurelius Victor, Book of Caesars 39.40; Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 22; Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 7:25.6
  11. ^ Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 9.22; Aurelius Victor, Book of Caesars 39.42
  12. ^ "The Frome Hoard". Portable Antiquities Scheme. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  13. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 5.3-4

External links[edit]


Legendary titles
Vacant
Interregnum
Title last held by
Bassianus
King of Britain Succeeded by
Allectus