The Pirate Emperor and The London Mint

For two hundred years, Roman Emperors came and went.  Britain was largely sidelined, until the Crisis of the Third Century.  This period saw barbarian raids, plague and civil war ravage the empire.  Britain was attacked by Saxons, France by German tribes…  The people of the western provinces of Rome just did not trust their emperor to protect them.

Imitation coins dating to the Crisis of the Third Century – crude coins like these were produced in Britain illegally, due to a lack of suitable coins reaching the island.

Carausius was a naval commander.  He was popular with the army in Britain and proved very efficient at dealing with Saxon raiders who were fleeing back to the continent with Romano-British silver.  There was only one problem – he was accused of keeping the silver for himself.  A warrant was sent, by the Emperor Maximian, for his arrest and in response, Carausius fled to Britain and was proclaimed emperor!

Carausius’ greatest achievement, besides protecting the people of Britain from barbarians, was the creation of Britain’s very first official mint – the Mint of Londinium.  Based in London, the mint produced coins bearing Carausius’ image, to be distributed to the people.  This was the first time that Roman coins were struck on British soil.
Base silver radiate of Carausius, struck at London.  Carausius’ portrait appears very different than all other emperors of this period – he wanted to make a statement.

Carausius ruled his own private British Empire for seven years.  He was killed by his finance minister, Allectus, in AD 293.  Allectus ruled for a further three years, until an invasion by the Western Roman junior emperor Constantius in AD 296 saw Britain incorporated into the Roman Empire once again.  Remarkably, the London Mint did not close, and continued to strike coins of legitimate Roman Emperors.

Silver-coated nummus of Crispus, son of Constantine.  Coins such as these, dated to around AD 325, were some of the last Roman coins ever produced in London

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By Dominic Chorney

Source: London Mint Office