Mike Markowitz published an articles in his CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series on "Shadow Emperors: Coins of the Fall of Rome." Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online.
THE ROMAN EMPIRE in the West died not with a bang, but with a whimper. A series of short-lived rulers, mostly puppets of barbarian warlords, presided over the accelerating collapse of a state that had endured for five glorious centuries. The coins issued in the names of these so-called
Shadow Emperors help to illustrate this dramatic and melancholy story.
Gold Solidus of Petronius Maximus (455 CE). Image: Classical Numismatic Group.
Things took a sharp turn on March 16, 455 CE, when Emperor Valentinian III was murdered by two hit men when he dismounted his horse on the Campus Martius, a large open field in Rome. The assassins were avenging the death of Flavius Aetius, Rome's last great military commander, killed in a fit of rage by Valentinian the year before. The assassination was arranged by Petronius Maximus, a powerful senator, who proclaimed himself emperor the next day, forcing Valentinian's widow, the beautiful Licinia Eudoxia, to marry him.
Despite his brief tenure, Petronius managed to issue gold solidi at Rome and some very rare examples from Ravenna.
Gold Solidus of Avitus (455-456 CE). Image: Goldberg Auctioneers.
Marcus Maecilius Eparchius Avitus came from a distinguished Senatorial family in what is now the Auvergne region of central France. His date of birth is unknown. A talented diplomat and military leader, he was promoted to the high rank of magister militum (
master of soldiers) by Petronius Maximus. While visiting the court of the Visigothic king Theodoric II, Avitus learned of the death of Petronius. With Visigothic support, he was proclaimed emperor on July 9, 455.
Thanks, Mike. Sad but fascinating history.
The Emperor Valentinian story reminds me of the old joke: "What goes clop clop BANG, clop clop BANG? .... an Amish drive-by shooting.
To read the complete article, see:
Shadow Emperors: Coins of the Fall of Rome
Wayne Homren, Editor
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