It’s Binchester season which means happy days are indeed here again and few artefacts make me happier than Roman coins. Over 130 Roman coins were found during excavation last year, most of them from the 4th century. The area around Binchester Roman Fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and it, and its surrounding landscape, is under the custodianship of the Auckland Project, so metal detecting is prohibited, meaning excavations like the current Binchester dig are the only way lovely finds like this come to the light.
This example is a copper alloy nummus of Constantius II (reigned AD323 – 361), dating to the period c.AD353 – 361. He’s shown here draped and cuirassed and wearing a pearl diadem. The legend on the reverse – FEL TEMP REPARATIO – a contraction of the latin phrase ‘Felicium Tempus Reparatio’ can be roughly translated as ‘Happy days are here again’, a sentiment that could be considered rather at odds with the reverse design, which depicts a soldier advancing left with his cloak flying out behind him to spear a fallen horseman who kneels and raises his hand to fend off the blow. The fallen horse can just be seen behind its unfortunate rider.
The Fel Temp Reparatio ‘fallen horseman’ type is common throughout the north-west provinces of the Roman empire. In fact, copies of the type are more common as British site finds than the legitimate issues produced by an official mint. In this case, however, we appear to have an official issue minted in Lyons. By the mid-4th century, mints across the empire were collectively producing c.6 million coins per week, yet this was not enough to satisfy demand. Britain did not have a mint of its own after AD326; it was shut down by Constantine I, so all the coinage for the province was imported, mainly from the mints of Trier, Arles and Lyons.
At 17.9mm and weighing 2.1g this coin is rather diminutive and this helps us date this example. In AD354 Constantius issued a decree outlawing all larger coins. By this time he had seen off several attempted usurpations and executed his own cousin and co-emperor (Constantius Gallus). Outlawing the earlier coinage was an effective way of getting rid of the memories of these upstarts and ensuring that his own coinage – one of the most effective means of disseminating the emperors’ image – was the only one in circulation. This almost certainly led to a shortage of coinage in Britain over the next few years.