Roman Empire, Vetranio - Not so Loyal After All

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An experienced soldier and officer who had originally served under Constantine I and had risen to become the Master of the Infantry (magister peditum) in Pannonia, Vetranio was raised to the purple for a ten month period in AD 350 in circumstances that remain unclear. After the murder of Constans in the west by the usurper Magnentius, Constantius II was left as the last remaining heir of Constantine I and was occupied on the Persian front at the time of his brother's death. Philostorgius (3.22) tells us that his sister Constantina asked Vetranio to proclaim himself Caesar in March 350 to counter the threat from the army of Magnentius that was marching eastward. Vetranio readily accepted, and struck coins in his own name, but showing the full title of Augustus, rather than the lesser rank of Caesar. Vetranio’s may well have been motivated by his own desire to assume the purple, however in what seems to have been a carefully considered and shrewd political manoeuvre, Constantius apepared to have accepted Vetranio’s elevation by sending imperial regalia and money to Vetranio – this was almost certainly done to upset the possibility of an alliance between Magnentius and the old magiser peditum. Vetranio, in return, sent letters to Constantius professing his loyalty.

Though he reigned for ten months and frequently asked Constantius for money and military aid to fight Magnentius, he appears to have taken no active measures to assail the usurper’s position, and indeed participated in a joint embassy to Constantius with Magnentius wherein he and the rebel tried to convince the emperor to form a triarchy, with Constantius as senior Augustus. He moreover engraged Constantius by putting his garrison at the Succi pass, the entrance to the high-road across the Balkans, on a war footing and closing it to Constantius. That Vetranio was not a scrupulous loyalist of Constantius is also supported by the numismatic evidence, as he here vows to rule for five years, and hopes for ten. This is incongruous with the theory that we was simply ‘keeping the throne warm’ for Constantius until the latter could return.

In the autumn of 350 Constantius II was able to reach Vetranio with his own forces unlooked for, and Vetranio, faced with the sudden an inexplicable arrival of his imperial colleague, was forced first to agree to a joint campaign against Magnentius, and then to abdicate. Vetranio saved himself by at last cooperating with Constantius. In a well orchestrated ceremony on the 25th December at Naissus, both men mounted a platform as imperial brothers and equals, and spoke to their assembled armies. Important parts of Vetranio’s force had been bribed to desert him, and Vetranio himself was a willing participant in the ceremony, since his voluntary abdication provided the means of reward for him and his officers, and Constantius’ authority was enhanced by the submission of his colleague. Constantius formally relieved Vetranio of the purple, called him father, and led him to the dinner table. Vetranio, who was already an elderly man, was gifted an estate in Prusa, Bithynia, to which he retired and was where he died some five years later.

Vetranio AR Heavy Miliarense. Siscia, March-December AD 350. D N VETRANIO P F AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / GAVDIVM POPVLI ROMANI, laurel wreath with a jewel at the apex, containing VOT V MVL X in four lines between two palm branches; SIS in exergue. RIC 261; C. -; Gnecchi -. 5.13g, 26mm, 1h.

Good Extremely Fine, some areas of lustre remaining. Extremely Rare, apparently only the fifth known example, and one of just two in private hands.