Coinage of the Roman Senate under the Ostrogoths

E-Auction 44 Lot 101: OSTROGOTHS. Municipal coinage of Rome. 526-534. Æ 40 nummi – follis. Rome mint.


The Roman Senate issued this bronze follis long after the Rome that ruled so much of the known world had disappeared, sometime in the AD 512-522 period, during the reign of Anastasius in the East. The coin with its image of Roma on the obverse and the she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus was a distinctive use of symbols that were reminiscent of coins of the long-gone Roman Republic.

Theoderic (454-526), an Ostrogoth, had been a hostage in Constantinople when he was young. He had a Roman upbringing there and his appreciation for Roman culture was such that a modern historian, Peter Brown, states that “Theoderic was in the habit of commenting that ‘An able Goth wants to be like a Roman; only a poor Roman would want to be like a Goth.’” He was a fierce leader but he also is credited with restoration of buildings and public structures in both Ravenna and Rome. Heather’s volume comments about an “astonishing manuscript,” a “luxury copy of a translation of the four Gospels into the Gothic language,” a “colossally expensive book commissioned by quite likely Theoderic…in the sixth century.”

His life was a series of battles about ruling Italy. In 471, after the death of his father, he became leader of the Ostrogoths (471-526). In 489, Zeno, the Eastern emperor (474-491) had Theoderic march into Italy to defeat the ruler Odoacer whose claim to kingship of Italy was based on his overthrow of Romulus Augustus. The comprehensive Wikipedia entry on Theoderic notes that he “controlled an empire stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Adriatic Sea” and adds that some of his subjects referred to him by the title augustus. He was tolerant of Roman customs and governance. He had a relationship with Anastasius, Zeno’s successor, that resulted in the issuance of this coin by a temporarily revived Roman senate.



A personal note: This coin came in a consignment and was unfamiliar to all three of us. In following up on the piece, I found myself spending an afternoon revisiting an era that I read about many years ago when I first ran into works by Peter Heather, an historian of this era. This period in history can be fascinating but it can also be confusing with the unfamiliar names and the shifting alliances, borders and battles. Heather comments that “In 453 after a decade of mayhem stretching from Constantinople to Paris, Attila the Hun died from the after-effects of one-too-many wedding nights.” The “frenzied race for power” began not only with his sons but across his empire. Theodoric the Amal (family name) was one of the successful leaders who emerged later in the century. But this period of turmoil was not always clearly chronicled. Nor are many of the names and events familiar to most modern casual readers. During the hours I spent trying to pin the story down I found some consistency but also some variation of opinion. Wikipedia—a reference I discouraged in bibliographies when I was teaching—has what seems a particularly well researched account of Theodoric. David Sear’s authentication certificate has a lengthy discussion of the background of this coin as well. And two volumes by Heather (Empires and Barbarians, The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe 2009. Oxford Univ. Press, and The Fall of the Roman Empire, A New History of Rome and the Barbarians 2006, also Oxford…) are particularly helpful as they place this period in a larger context.

Allan Davisson

Sunday, August 14, 2022


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