Diameter: 20.000 mm
Weight: 4.440 g
Room 49: Roman Britain
Gold solidus of Magnus Maximus
Roman, late 4th century AD
Possibly minted at London, England
London gets a new name
Magnus Maximus (ruled AD 383-8) a military commander in Roman Britain, began a rebellion in AD 383. He fought his way to Italy, killing the legitimate Emperor of the West on the way. However, he eventually lost the war and was put to death by the Emperor of the East.
During the rebellion it seems possible that London produced Roman coins for the very last time. We know that in the fourth and fifth centuries London was renamed Augusta, probably granted as an imperial honour, but it is not known exactly why or when. History shows that the name did not stick and, indeed, the fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus explains the honorific name by using the old name when he mentions the city.
The coin shown here is a solidus, the main gold piece of the Late Roman Empire. It was of a lighter standard than the aureus, which had previously been used in the Roman world. The solidus was introduced by Constantine the Great, who produced it in large quantities, partly by using gold taken from pagan temples. 565 solidi were found in the Hoxne hoard, now in The British Museum.
The reverse (back) of the coin shows two emperors sharing a globe. This reflects the sharing of imperial power between east and west at this time. The image of the two emperors and the globe survived in to the ninth century, being reproduced on rare Anglo-Saxon coins. The figure of Victory and the legend VICTORIA AVGG refer to their success in war. The two G's of AVGG show that it is an abbreviation of Augustorum, that is of two emperors rather than one. Beneath the figures is written AVG OB. The OB is a guarantee of the purity of the gold (the Latin word obryzatus meaning 'made of pure gold') and the AVG refers to the mint of Augusta, London's new, but short-lived name.
R.A.G. Carson, Principal coins of the Romans, vol. 3 (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)
C. Foss, Roman historical coins (London, Seaby, 1990)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)