Grace MacLachlan

Anchoring ‘Secession’? The Role of the Roman Past in the Legitimation Process of ‘breakaway’ Emperors in the Late Third Century CE

Home > Projects > Anchoring ‘Secession’? The Role of the Roman Past in the Legitimation Process of ‘breakaway’ Emperors in the Late Third Century CE

In the late Third Century CE, the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire experienced not one but two so-called “break-away” empires, the Gallic Empire (260-274 CE) and then the Britannic Empire of Carausius and Allectus (286-296 CE). This project views these ‘breakaway’ rules as innovative solutions to the troubles facing the Roman Empire in the Third Century. In doing so, exploring how the lack of precedent for their unique position led to the use of an expressly Roman past as a key part of their language of legitimation.

This project takes place in a period in which usurpation was par for the course in the Roman Empire. These figures, however, shattered and challenged this norm by not following the traditional trajectory expected of a usurper. Instead, they claimed imperium over circumscribed territories in the North-Western provinces. This project seeks to explore the way that these figures, in their innovative positions, used the Roman past as an anchor in the process of legitimation. By examining this process, it is the hope to understand the way that anchoring was used as part of a strategy of legitimation to gain acceptance of this new regime from the disparate sectors of the societies they now ruled over. Yet, also a key part of this analysis will be how this process was necessary for the ‘breakaway’ emperors themselves to comprehend their positions and to provide a familiar frame of reference for them to understand their power and authority.

This exploration will primarily take place through the use of numismatic evidence, in particular the propagation of specific themes on the coins minted and produced by these figures. It is the hope that these coins will provide a focal point through which these processes can be investigated. It will seek to look at how specific themes were utilised not only for the general familiarity and continuity they provided but also how they were perhaps chosen to provide a justificatory narrative that can be related more specifically to the localised contexts and thus a localised audience.