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2 August 2010

The Independent July 30th … harks back to the story of a hoard of 52,000 Roman coins found in a field near Frome. Almost 800 of them were minted during thre reign of Carausius, AD286-93. The journalist seems to have set out to find something about this character and has come back with a tale that reckons he was a gangster who was in league with Saxon and Pictish pirates, dividing the booty up between them (but strangely there is no mention of Irish pirates who were active at the same time). Carausius, from Gaul, began his career as a seaman, progressed to steersman, but when the climatic blip/ event struck in the AD260s that caused widespread disruption and rebellion in virtually every corner of the Empire – as well as assassinations and usurpations by emperors and would be emperors, Carausius appears to have rapidly progressed to the position of commander of the Roman navy in the Channel and North Sea. The blip/ event sparked barbarian raids by sea (from Scandinavia, Germany, and in the north, the Picts, and in the west, the Irish) and Carausius was successful in his role, it seems, as he proclaimed himself the third emperor (there were two of them already at the time) and established himself in Britain (presumably with the support of the various political groups and tribal leaders, including Romans in their villa estates – or what was left of them as many disappeared at this time). In effect, Roman Britain was independent under Carausius, and he established a truce of some kind with the Picts in the north, the most dangerous of his opponents, and came to some arrangement with the Saxons. A series of forts around the so called Saxon Shore may have been constructed by Carausius – or at some later stage. It is likely that Saxons were allowed to settle in Britain at this time but to what extent is not known. The Independent piece is so trivialised it cannot be treated as a reliable piece of history, but it does illustrate that here in Britain the mid 3rd century AD was also a time of disruption. In fact, there is evidence all around the Empire of an epidemic of some kind, an additional hazard to the bad weather, poor harvest, rebellions, and barbarian invasions. Carausius was eventually assassinated suggesting he was successful in only a temporary fashion . His assassin ruled for 3 years and then was deposed by the revived Roman state. However, the coins of Carausius found in the hoard were all made of silver – unlike most of the other coins.  

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