Previous Exhibition: Constantius: York’s Forgotten Emperor
Please note this exhibition has now closed.
16 July 2016 – 9 October 2016
Constantius: York’s Forgotten Emperor revealed the story of Constantius Chlorus (250AD – 306AD) who made his name in Britain defeating rebellious generals and fighting Picts north of Hadrian’s Wall. While campaigning in Britain he was based in York (Eboracum), where he died and his son Constantine succeeded him.
This Spotlight exhibition featured several of the most impressive coins from the British Museum’s Beuarains Hoard, found in France in 1922. It dates from 315AD and graffiti on one medallion suggests it belonged to Vitalianus, who was an experienced junior officer in the Roman army.
The hoard contains several coins which commemorate Constantius’ success as conqueror of Britain. One example shows the emperor lifting a kneeling Britannia to her feet. Another celebrates the victory of the army at London, with the emperor on horseback marching into the town which is marked ‘LON’.
The medallion has the legend REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNA, meaning ‘Restorer of eternal light’. The coins and medallions were issued across the empire, helping to spread the word of Constantius’ victory.
The exhibition also featured the Wold Newton Hoard and the marble head of Constantine, Constantius’ son who was declared Emperor in York following the death of his father.
Who was Constantius?
Constantius Chlorus rose from relative obscurity to become the Emperor of the western Roman empire. He was a soldier who had worked his way up through the ranks but his real political break came when in 289 he married Theodora, the stepdaughter of the emperor Maximian. By this time Constantius had already fathered a son called Constantine by another woman, Helena. Both Constantine and Helena went on to earn great renown in their own right.
In 293, the Roman Empire became a ‘tetrarchy’, meaning it was ruled by four different people. Constantius Chlorus was chosen by Maximian to be one of them – he became Caesar (junior emperor) of the northwest.
This was a tricky assignment because much of the territory was in the hands of a break-away empire led by naval commander Carausius and his allies the Franks. That summer Constantius led a military campaign and regained control of Gaul, northern France. In 296 he did the same in Britain.
There followed nine years of relative peace which only came to an end in 305 when the Picts attacked the northern reaches of the empire in Britain. As so often in its history, York became an important strategic centre in a battle for the north of England.
Constantius was by now Augustus, the senior emperor of the west. He called for his son Constantine to join him in Gaul and together they headed to York. They enjoyed a series of victories over the Picts but then, on 25 July 306, Constantius became the second emperor to die in York.
Constantius’s first wife Helena became a saint after being credited with finding the relics of the true cross. St Helen’s Church and Square in York are named after her.
Their son became the next Roman emperor: Constantine the Great.
The Wold Newton Hoard Fundraising Appeal
On 25 July 2016, an appeal was launched to save the largest Roman hoard of its type ever discovered in the north of England. The Hoard of more than 1,800 Roman coins was discovered by a metal detectorist near the village of Wold Newton, East Yorkshire, in 2014.
The hoard dates to 307AD, a period of great uncertainty in the Roman Empire and Yorkshire. It features coins depicting Constantius and also the first coins to proclaim his son, Constantine, Augustus after he was made emperor in York.
The Yorkshire Museum successfully acquired the hoard in October 2016. Following a period of conservation and research, the hoard will go back on display at the Yorkshire Museum as part of the Eboracum Roman Festival 2017.