Mark Antony and King James II
What does James II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, son of Charles I (AD 1633-1701) have in common with Marcus Antonius, Roman politician, general and triumvir (83-30 BC)?
Sadly, Richard Burton never took on the role of James II, nor did Marlon Brando! The answer is actually warfare: both men had their share of tribulation: James was deposed and exiled to France after his defeat in the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, while Mark Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium by his former ally Octavian. They also shared a common problem, how do you pay your soldiers?
Minting coins in the Roman Republic
Bronze statue of James II dressed as a Roman General
Whilst we are used to the government of a country minting coins for its citizens, this has not always been the case. At various times throughout history private individuals were able to mint their own coinage. This person is known as the moneyer. This practice was particularly prevalent during the Roman Republic, as prominent individuals sought to have their message spread in the community. It also offered them control of their own money supply. Mark Antony was one of these moneyers. While on campaign in what would become the Eastern Empire, he needed to ensure that he would have enough currency to pay his soldiers their monthly salary. In order to do so, he brought a mint with him, so he could make coins as needed. The coins which bear his name and imagery have been found across Europe and North Africa, demonstrating the size and reach of his armies. There is also evidence that the silver denarii he minted were in circulation for a long time after his death in 30BC.
These silver coins are most easily identified by the depiction of a galley on one side and a legionary standard on the other. Here at the Garstang Museum we have four of Mark Antony’s denarii, dating from 32-31BC. Each of the coins is inscribed with the name of the legion which the money was minted for:
Silver denarius minted by Mark Antony with the Galley motif
CC.373 Legio III “Cyrenaica” (Cyrene)
CC.374 Legio IV “Scythica” (Scythia)
CC.375 Legio V “Gallica” (Gaul)
and CC.376 Legio XVII
The name of this last legion is unknown. However, we do know that the legion was raised by Octavian, later the Emperor Augustus. In this case Mark Antony was minting money for the soldiers of his enemy! This suggests that Antony believed he would win the war, and by minting money for this legion would be able to pay them when they crossed to his side.
During the Jacobite/Williamite War in Ireland (1689-1691) James II also needed to pay his forces. The token-coins which made up this payment were minted in Dublin and later in Limerick using base metals, such as copper, brass or pewter. The idea behind these token-coins was that following a Jacobite victory they could be redeemed for silver coinage – though this never happened as James was decisively defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. The name “gun money” comes from the story that these coins were minted using metals from melted down cannons, though records suggest that church bells and pans were also used to mint these coins. Additionally, the coins often included the month of issue on the reverse side. This was included so that the soldiers could claim back their wages to the date given.
Large half-crown dated to 1690 (MC.118)
Small half-crown of James II dating to February 1689 (MC.105)
Despite their stalwart financial efforts both James II and Mark Antony were ultimately on the wrong side at the end of their respective wars!