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Coinage of Clodius Albinus during civil war in 193-197 CE

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Coin of Clodius Albinus
Coin of Clodius Albinus

The civil war of 193-197 was presented by ancient writers very one-sidedly. The main focus was on the figure of its winner, Septimius Severus. The other participants of this conflict, i.e. Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Didius Julianus, did not receive such interest from ancient historiographers. Unfortunately, the number of resources available to help recreate their political agendas is very limited. The basis for this type of consideration is, above all, the coins minted by individual purple candidates. The aforementioned Clodius Albinus stood out in this field.

He came from an aristocratic family from Hadrumetum in North Africa. He distinguished himself many times during wars with barbarians, including during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Before the Civil War, Emperor Commodus appointed him governor of Britain. After the murder of Pertinax, he decided to accept the offer of Septimius Severus, under which he was to become his Caesar. This alliance did not last long, however. Already in 195, there was a war between the two politicians, the final winner of which was Sewer.

Even during their cooperation, in Rome, apart from Severus coins, also numismatic items with the image of Albin were minted. Its title in the form of D CLODIVS ALBIN (VS) CAES appears on the obverse. Albin’s monetary portrait seems to match his actual appearance. The slogan PROVIDENTIA AVG (VSTI) appeared on the coins, related to Sever’s prudence, thanks to which he chose Albin as Caesar. The legend of FORTVNAE AVG (VSTI) probably had a similar overtone.

Coins from the time of Albin and Severus’ cooperation clearly indicate that the political program they represent was primarily subordinated to the policy of Septimius Severus. It is hard to imagine that Albin could somehow control what passwords were placed on the coins since he was in Britain all the time. Nevertheless, several monetary types have emerged that are unique to Albin. Particular attention is paid to coins with the legend SAECVLO FRVGIFERO. They represent a deity sitting on a throne surrounded by two sphinxes. Most likely, the composition referred to Albin’s African birthplace – Hadrumentum. The Phoenician Ball Hammon was the guardian deity of the centre. It is his character that was most probably immortalized on the aforementioned coin. An unequivocal interpretation of this monetary type is complicated. The most probable hypothesis seems to be that attempts were made to emphasize the strong ties between Augustus and his Caesar, both of whom came from Roman Africa.

Coin minted in Rome in 194 shows, most likely, Baal Hammon

A coin minted in Rome in 194 depicting, most likely, Baal Hammon

Another slogan emphasizing the perfect agreement between the two politicians was the slogan CONCORDIA appearing on the coins.

Albina’s coins also feature the goddess Minerva with the nickname Pacifera, referring to the peaceful nature of Caesar, and Asclepius, who was probably responsible for Caesar’s good health, on whom much depended, because regardless of his relationship with Severus, Albin was the heir to the throne.

Interestingly, in the Roman mint, Albin was not assigned such important rulers as Victoria or Virtus. They probably did not want to elevate Albin in relation to Severus more than necessary.

Septimius Severus, after defeating Pescennius Niger in the civil war in the East, decided to break the existing political alliance with Albin. Adopting himself to the Antonin family, he became the son of Marcus Aurelius and the brother of Commodus, sentenced to damnatio memoriae. For Albin, it had to be a clear signal to break the contract with Severus. In early 196 CE, the former governor of Britain proclaimed himself Augustus. After breaking the alliance, Albin crossed over to Gaul and began producing coins in Lugdunum. From now on, a new title will appear on his coins: Imperator Caesar Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus Augustus. Particularly noteworthy is Albin’s retention of the name Septimius, which he most likely adopted while still Caesar. But now he was at war with him. Perhaps Albin was trying to convey to the public in this way that he was the victim of Severus’ plots, although he himself remained faithful to him.

There are many interesting elements in Albina’s independent coinage. The first change was a change in the way of portraying since now the image of Albin is decorated with a wreath. His personal qualities are much more often emphasized than in the Roman mint. The coins show Victoria, Pax, Minerva or Felicitas. Albin, through the coinage, also sought the support and loyalty of his troops, the slogan FIDES LEGION appeared on his denarii. This should not be surprising, however, given the situation in which Clodius Albinus found himself. During the Civil War, it was the military power that decided who would eventually become emperor.

Coin emphasizing the solidarity of Albin’s soldiers

Interestingly, the importance of the city of Ludgunum (GEN LVG COS II) was also emphasized. Albin referred at that time primarily to those groups that could help him in the fight against Severus, i.e. the fidelity of the soldiers and inhabitants of the province. Moreover, his mint and headquarters were located in Lugdunum.

Coins from Lugdunum also refer to well-known deities from the Roman pantheon, such as: Roma, Mars or Jupiter.

The courage and bravery of the new August are clearly marked, among others through the legends FORTITVDO AVG INVICTA and VIRTVTI AVG COS II.

Clementia, a reference to gentleness, was an extremely interesting slogan that did not appear in the other purple contenders in the Civil War. Perhaps an attempt was made in this way to contrast the image of the benevolent Albin, in contrast to the atrocities Severus committed in the east during the campaign against Pescennius Niger.

Most likely, the main recipients of Clodius Albinus’ propaganda were soldiers. This is evidenced primarily by the fact that in Ludgunum, denarii were mainly produced, with which the legionaries’ pay was paid. Aurei are very rare and bronze coins have not been minted at all.

To sum up, the coinage of Clodius Albinus can be divided into two periods, which differ fundamentally in the nature of the propaganda or ideological message. Emissions from the Roman Mint 193-195 CE were heavily influenced by Septimius Severus and seem rather should be seen as part of his propaganda. The coins from Lugdunum can be interpreted completely differently during Albin’s political independence, i.e. in the years 196-197 CE. The former British governor then had full independence in creating ideological content on the coins. At that time, he focused primarily on emphasizing his unique virtues such as example, Virtus, and clearly manifested his independence from Severus. He also appealed directly to the soldiers and residents of the city of Lugdunum for the support he needed to win the civil war. As it turned out later, all these actions came to nothing, because in February 197 CE. Albinus was finally defeated and murdered by Sever.

Author: Kacper Derko (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Butor R., Źródła numizmatyczne w badaniach nad problematyką propagandy politycznej Decymusa Klodiusza Albina, Wieki Stare i Nowe, t. 3, Katowice 2003
  • Janiszewska D., Wojna domowa w Rzymie w latach 193-197, Poznań 2010.

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