The Coins of the Iceni Revolt: Honor and Removal

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Romans honored their leaders by immortalizing their images on minted coins. In spite of his success, Paulinus did not receive that honor. Image by beglib.

Paulinus drew the short end of the stick.

The Iceni tribe had wreaked havoc upon the colonies of Roman Britain, and would do further damage if not stopped. As the Roman governor of Britain, Paulinus’ difficult task was to stop the uprising, and save the colonies at all costs.

Baudicca, also known as Boudica, Boadicea, and Buddug, was the tragic queen, symbol of the resistance.

Paulinus met the queen, and her eighty thousand Briton troops, just east of Wales.

Paulinus and Baudicca: The Battle

Despite being massively outnumbered, Paulinus and his men routed the Iceni, slaying the majority of the opposing force.

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Violence saved the day for Rome; securing its access to tin and other minerals; several thousand Iceni troops were not so lucky.

Paulinus was by all rights a national hero, worthy of the ranks of Scipio Africanus, and was ready for his just reward.

The emperor Nero, upon hearing that Paulinus had soundly secured Britannia, ordered that the remaining legions be removed from the island – Paulinus along with them – essentially firing the victorious governor.

Once again, Nero gave Paulinus the short end of the stick.

Roman Foreign Policy

This made good historical sense to the Romans, however. Nero, despite not being terribly interested in foreign affairs in the first place, was well aware that when one leaves conquerors in place to rule over the conquered, the former exhibit cruel tendencies and the latter sink into bitterness.

So, to let bygones be bygones, Nero removed Paulinus and let the island be. The strategy proved valid, as political relations in Roman Britain returned to normal soon after, and from then on, its colonies grew in importance to the empire.

Romans: Who Gets a Coin and Who Doesn’t?

The forces at work in this event show in portraits of the era. With the rise of Iceni rebellion, queen Baudicca releases a local coin portraying her in traditional Celtic fashion, showing the rejection of Roman rule. It would make sense that in response a Roman hero like Paulinus would be honored with a coin, but like the fate of the real man – Paulinus’ presence on the island’s currency is absent as well.

Politics denies Paulinus both the right to rule and the honor to be minted. Meanwhile, the coins circulating around Rome at the time depict the home-bound Nero, unconcerned about the world outside his Domus Aurea, where he grew fatter and more unpopular.

Roman Coin Images: What Can We Learn?

Archaeological remains like coins very often can give us a reflection of events we are centuries removed from. In the case of leaders like Baudicca or Nero, their coins offer us the perspective of their subjects and themselves, be they a beloved symbol of tradition or an obese lover of luxury.

These preserved perspectives are invaluable when we talk about historical narrative, but they are not always available. We have no coin to mark Paulinus’ success, so instead we must learn from its absence. As Rome celebrated the former of its leaders and thusly coined their images; while ordering the latter into obscurity.

The materials we leave behind tell our story, even if that story is about getting the short end of the stick.

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© Copyright 2014 Brian McConnell, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past


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