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RB69 - The 'Romano-British Empire', Carausius (A.D.287-293) Silver Denarius, 4.36g., 'RSR' mint (probably London), laureate draped and cuirassed bust right, IMP CARAVSIVS P F AVG, rev., the She-wolf standing right, suckling Romulus and Remus, RENOVAT ROMANO (Restorer of the Romans), RSR (Redeunt Saturnia Regna) in exergue (RIC 571, R2), slightly off-centre, otherwise toned, very fine and extremely rare. $2495 REDUCED $2200 SOLD
It has long been evident that the secessionist regime of Carausius sought to fully exploit the potential propaganda value of its coinage. The above coin amply reflects this policy in its iconography, legends and denomination.
The fineness and weight of the new Carausian silver coinage was a statement in itself. It matched standards that had prevailed under the early Empire and that had not been seen for over 200 years. Along with the gold Aureii and silver washed Antoninianii that were also issued, Denarii at 90% purity like the one above, sought to promote the stability of the new regime through the quality of its coinage.
Another very overt reference to the restoration of standards is the employment of imagery from Rome's foundation myth. The she-wolf and twins is a design that was widely employed on Roman coinage from Republican times onwards. Coupled with the legend 'Restorer of the Romans' there can be no doubt that Carausius wishes to be seen as not only a legitimate leader; but as a very Roman one and as one that will restore the lost glory of the Empire to it citizens.
The exact meaning of the exergue legend RSR has been hotly debated for many years. Theories have included: a mint signature in Britain or Gaul and an abbreviation of 'Rationalis Summae Rei' an official title meaning financial minister. However, in a recent paper by archaeologist Guy de la Bédoyère1 it has been proposed, with much supporting evidence, that the letters correspond to the initial letters of 'Redeunt Saturnia Regna' , a quote from Virgil's Eclogues IV.6-7. Meaning literally 'The Saturnian Reigns return' equivalent to 'The Golden Age is back', a message that reflects the iconography employed on this coin and the other types it is found on. Another longer exergue mark 'INPCDA' found on a medallion of Carausius and has also been shown by Bédoyère to be an abbreviated quote from Virgil.
As Bédoyère explains, this interpretation of the RSR mintmark profoundly affects our perception of Romano-British society. Subtle literary illusions like the RSR mark would only work if the intended audience was not only literate, but well read and well versed in Classical culture. It is to the villa owning elite of Britain that he looks to for this level of appreciation and it is they who he sees as the political supporters of Carausius.
1Guy de la Bédoyère, Carausius and the marks RSR and I.N.P.C.D.A.,The Numismatic Chronicle 158 (1998), pp.79-88