Constantius Spotlight Exhibition Featuring Beaurains Hoard To Open At Yorkshire Museum
5 July 2016
Constantius: York’s Forgotten Emperor
16 July 2016 – 9 October 2016
The life of the Roman emperor who reconquered Britain and briefly made York one of the centres of the Roman World will be told at the Yorkshire Museum this summer.
Constanius: York’s Forgotten Emperor, will reveal 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.
The new Spotlight exhibition will feature coins from the Beaurains Hoard on loan from the British Museum, including the famous medallions, some of the largest Roman gold coins to survive. These show the emperor raising Britannia from her knees.
The Spotlight exhibition will also feature the Wold Newton Hoard and artefacts from the Yorkshire Museum’s collections.
Andrew Woods, curator of numismatics, said:
“Constantius is York’s forgotten emperor – however his life and death had a huge effect on the Roman Empire and York’s place in it.
“During his lifetime, the emperor visited Britain several times – reconquering it from rebellious generals and fighting North of Hadrian’s wall against the Picts. He made his reputation in Britannia and also died here. The time he spent in the province brought wealth and exotic connections from distant parts of a vast empire.
“His greatest legacy was his son, Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed emperor in York following his father’s death. Constantine strengthened his family’s power, defeated his rivals and transformed the empire forever through the acceptance of Christianity. The events of 306 placed York at the heart of events which would re-shape European history for centuries to come.”
The Spotlight Exhibition
The exhibition will be shown in the Roman galleries of the Yorkshire Museum and is included in the admission price.
It will feature 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 Spotlight exhibition will also feature 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.