Life in Western Europe was perilous in the mid-third century A.D.
Roman civilization in the provinces comprising the territories of modern-day Britain, Spain, France, Germany and neighboring nations seemed on the verge of extinction by threatened Germanic invasions from across the Rhine.
Normally, these “barbarian” raids were limited in scope and eventually could be repulsed by Roman forces in the region. However, by the A.D. 260s, the Roman defensive network in the West had been greatly weakened, a result of civil wars and a dire need for troops elsewhere in the empire.
In the year 260, the Roman world was especially vulnerable: the Juthungi had invaded Italy and the Roman Emperor Valerian I (253 to 260) and his army had been captured by the Persians. The situation wasn’t much better in the West, where local commanders were left to fend for themselves.
In the midst of all this, a rebellion took place in which Postumus, a governor of Germany, set himself up as an independent emperor in the West. From the larger Roman world he carved his own empire, which survived nearly 15 years before finally being taken by force in the spring of 274 and reintegrated into the Roman Empire.
Postumus’ “Romano-Gallic Empire” won broad support within its borders, and its people fared better that one might imagine they would have under the governance of the central Roman authorities, who during that time were distracted by a myriad other threats and concerns. Postumus ruled effectively for nine years, until he was murdered in 269.
All told, eight men issued coins in connection with this short-lived empire. The coins of four issuers — Postumus, Victorinus, Tetricus I, and Tetricus II — were struck in very large quantities and are readily available. A collection of the most common coins of this empire, being the billon double-denarii (antoniniani) of these four emperors, can be assembled with ease for a surprisingly modest sum.
However, coins of the remaining four emperors — Aureolus, Laelianus, Marius, and Domitianus — are decidedly less common, with the last being among the fabled rarities of the Roman world. The “reigns” of these four men, all of which occurred between circa 267 and circa 271, are worthy of individual discussion.
Aureolus: The first of these usurpers is of special interest because he forged a secret pact with Postumus while serving as a cavalry commander for the Roman Emperor Gallienus (253 to 268). He was based in Mediolanum (modern Milan), an important post in the defense of Italy and neighboring provinces.
Late in the reign of Postumus, seemingly in 267 or 268, Aureolus proclaimed his allegiance to the Gallic rebel and led a revolt against Gallienus. Instead of issuing coins in his own name, though, Aureolus struck coins at Milan that bore the portrait, name and titles of his benefactor Postumus.