Carausius

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Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius (died 293) was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. He was a Menapian from Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He did this only 13 years after the Gallic Empire of the Batavian Postumus was ended in 273. He held power for seven years, before being assassinated by his finance minister Allectus (see Carausian Revolt).

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History

Carausius was a man of humble origin, a Menapian who distinguished himself during Maximian's campaign against the Bagaudae rebels in northern Gaul in 286. This success, and his former occupation as a pilot, led to his appointment to command the Classis Britannica, a fleet based in the English Channel, with the responsibility of eliminating Frankish and Saxon pirates who had been raiding the coasts of Armorica and Belgica. However, he was suspected of keeping captured treasure for himself, and even of allowing the pirates to carry out raids and enrich themselves before taking action against them, and Maximian ordered his execution. In late 286 or early 287 Carausius learned of this sentence and responded by declaring himself Emperor in Britain and northern Gaul.[1] His forces comprised not only his fleet, augmented by new ships he had built, and the three legions stationed in Britain, but a legion he had seized in Gaul, a number of foreign auxiliary units, a levy of Gaulish merchant ships, and barbarian mercenaries attracted by the prospect of booty.[2]

Sheppard Frere wonders how Carausius was able to win support from the army when his command had been sea-based, and speculates that he had perhaps been involved in an unrecorded victory in Britain, connected with Diocletian's assumption of the title Britannicus Maximus in 285, and signs of destruction in Romano-British towns at this time.[3] However, the campaign against the Bagaudae was evidently land-based, and may be responsible for Carausius's popularity with the army. Equally, if the accusations of larceny are true, he could perhaps afford to buy their loyalty.

Maximian prepared an invasion of Britain in 288 or 289 to oust him,[4] but it failed. A panegyric delivered to Constantius Chlorus attributes this failure to bad weather, but notes that Carausius claimed a military victory.[5] Eutropius says that hostilities were in vain thanks to Carausius's military skill, and peace was agreed.[6] Carausius began to entertain visions of legitimacy and official recognition. He minted his own coins and brought their value in to line with Roman issues as well as acknowledging and honouring Maximian and then Diocletian. Coinage is the main source of information about the rogue emperor; his issues were initially crude but soon became more elaborate and were issued from mints in Londinium, Rotomagnus and a third site, possibly Colonia Claudia Victricensis.

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