Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius - Victory Over the Germanic Invaders

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In the early 160s Germanic tribes and other nomadic people began launching a series of raids along the northern border of the empire, particularly into Gaul and across the Danube. This new impetus westwards was probably due to attacks from tribes further east. A first invasion of the Chatti in the province of Germania Superior was repulsed in 162. A far more serious incursion happened in late 166 or early 167 when a force of 6,000 Langobardi and Lacringi invaded Pannonia. This invasion was defeated by local forces (vexillations of the Legio I Adiutrix and the Ala I Ulpia Contariorum) with relative ease, but they marked the beginning of what was to come. In the same year, Vandals (Astingi and Lacringi) and the Sarmatian Iazyges invaded Dacia, and succeeded in killing its governor, Calpurnius Proculus.

In 169 the Iazyges defeated and killed Claudius Fronto, Roman governor of Lower Moesia, who was attempting to subdue the tribes living between the Danube and the province of Dacia. While the Roman army was bogged down in this campaign other tribes took the opportunity to raid across the border. To the east, the Costoboci crossed the Danube, ravaged Thrace and descended the Balkans, reaching Eleusis, near Athens, where they destroyed the temple of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The worst was yet to come. In the west the Marcomanni, led by Ballomar, had formed a coalition of Germanic tribes. They crossed the Danube and won a decisive victory over a force of 20,000 Roman soldiers near Carnuntum. The larger part of this host then proceeded southwards towards into, while the remainder ravaged Noricum. The Marcomanni razed Opitergium (Oderzo) and besieged Aquileia - this was the first time hostile forces had entered Italy since 101 BC, when Gaius Marius defeated the Cimbri and Teutones. The praetorian prefect Furius Victorinus was defeated and slain while trying to relieve the city.

The invaders would not be ejected until 171, a ‘victory’ which required stripping various border regions of their forces to concentrate against the Marcomanni, the establishment of a new military command, the fortification of the Alpine borders and the strengthening of the Danubian fleet.

In 172 Aurelius led a counter-invasion across the Danube into Marcomannic territory. Few details survive of this punitive campaign, but it is clear that the Romans achieved success. The Marcomanni and their allies, the Naristi and the Cotini were subjugated, and the chief of the Naristi was killed by the Roman General Marcus Valerius Maximianus.

The reverse of this coin celebrates the successes of Aurelius’ counter-attack, and perhaps to a lesser extent the expulsion of the Germanic invaders that had ravaged the Alpine provinces.

Marcus Aurelius AV Aureus. Rome, AD 171-172. M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXVI, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / IMP VI COS III, Victory standing right, holding shield inscribed VIC GER set on tree. RIC 256; C. 270; Calicó 1865. 7.00g, 19mm, 12h.

Mint State. Extremely Rare. No examples have appeared at auction in over 15 years.