World Coins

Last gasp of Roman empire includes coins of Majorian

A circa 458 to 461 gold solidus of Majorian highlights Editions Victor Gadoury’s Nov. 14 auction in Monaco. The coin was issued during the Roman Empire’s late history by a ruler who eventually was murdered.

Coin images courtesy of Editions Victor Gadoury.

By the time that Giulio Valerio Majorian came to power in A.D. 457, the Roman Empire was on its last legs.

Though the empire would soon crumble, Majorian, the Western Roman emperor, did his utmost to alter its already scripted fate. 

A gold solidus of Majorian, issued circa 458 to 461, highlights Editions Victor Gadoury’s Nov. 14 auction in Monaco.

The solidus was struck at Arelate, what is modern-day Arles, France. Arelate was a center of engineering ingenuity and success that belied the troubled empire’s fortunes. 

Majorian was born into nobility, and was a skilled military commander under several other rulers before coming to power in 457 by deposing his predecessor, Avitus. Majorian issued a series of edicts aimed to regulate the public administration and the protection of the monuments of Rome.

His political program also included the consolidation of his power in Italy, and then the reconquest of lost territories such as Gaul, Hispania, and Africa that fell into the hands of the Vandals 20 years before.

After a series of initial successes, his intentions were discouraged by the treachery of some members of the army corrupted by the Vandals and because of hostility from some aristocrats and from Ricimer, a former friend in the army, who saw in his actions an obstacle to their interests.

In Gaul in 458, Majorian banished the Visigoths of Teodorico II and then established an alliance with them. It was a sign of the temporary return of Roman authority in this city.

Back in Italy, however, Majorian was deposed by Ricimer, and executed on Aug. 7, 461.

Majorian appears in military uniform on the coins, with helmet, spear and shield.

Arelate, where the coin was struck, was an important port location in what is now southern France. The Roman aqueducts and mill of nearby Barbegal are technological marvels, 16 waterwheels lined up in two rows, water pouring down a slope to generate power for the milling of grain. They were in use late during the Empire, through the fourth century (the Roman Empire ended on Sept. 4, 476, according to historian Edward Gibbons).

Arelate also served as the base for Majorian’s initial military campaigns to restore Roman supremacy in territories that had been under the control of barbarous nations from Eastern Europe since before 400.

Majorian also appears on the reverse of the coin, standing with his foot on the head of a snake that has a human head, and holding in one hand a long cross and in the other a globe surmounted by Victory.

The coin is in Extremely Fine condition and has an estimate of €10,000 (about $11,469 U.S.) 

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