Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Roman Triumphalism in 5th century coinage.

During the 5th century AD the depiction of the western Emperors on their coins subduing or with their foot on a "Barbarian" increased, and it seemed to tally with the increase in the real power "Barbarians" had in the western Empire.

I noticed that in the gold coinage of the late Western empire, the emperor was depicted with his foot on the head of a Barbarian.

This type is described as a "Human Headed Serpent".

(There may well be some Christian symbolism, using a Serpent as an "evil emblem", ironic when we recall the "pagan" Salus types were the snake was revered.)

That "Human Headed Serpent" might be just a decapited head of a long haired "Barbarian" such as a Burgundian, of which it is well known they wore their hair long.

The irony was, that it was these "Barbarians" whose feet began to make their impact on the "head" of the western Roman empire, making and breaking "emperors" who became mere puppets, a trend which continued unabated until the forced abdication of Romulus "Augustulus" in 476 AD.

Julius Nepos, a rival western emperor, held out in the province of Dalmatia until 480 AD, when he was killed by his own army, which is likely to have mostly consisted of "Barbarians".

Then Syagrius, the last Magister Militum of Gaul, overthrown by the Franks, fled south to the Visigoths, then sent back north to the Franks and then assassinated by order of the Frankish king in 486 AD.

But I have not seen any "Barbarian" coins with the king depicted with his foot on the head of a Roman, but then the Roman civilians outnumbered the "Barbarians", seeing a coin with a depiction of one of them beheaded, under the foot of a "barbarian" king would have caused a rebellion.

So we see the propaganda power that coins have, and for the "Barbarians", using coinage to show them as the continuators of "Romanitas" was just as an effective weapon in the subduing and control of the former Roman provinces as any levies they could muster.
Gold Solidus of the Frankish king, Theudebert I, circa 534 AD
And so we are left with wondering who were the real "barbarians"? The non-Romans, who lived in structured societies, with laws and an established religion, or the Romans, whose city began as a refuge for bandits and other outcasts in the 8th century BC?

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