1. The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire had been a superpower since the 3rd century BCE. Under Trajan (98–117 CE) the Empire reached its greatest extent, and there were even attempts to appoint the king of Persia from Rome (No. 1). Despite some successes, the Roman drive to expand ultimately reached its limits both at the Barbaricum, the region east of the Rhine and north of the Danube rivers, and at the eastern border against the Persians.

The late Roman monetary system used three coins metals: gold – the most important coin, the solidus (No. 2), continued to be struck into the 12th century, and also the rarer multiples (No. 3), silver (Nos. 4–6) and copper alloys (No. 7). Only in 498 CE did emperor Anastasius (491–518 CE) reintroduce larger copper coins in the Eastern Roman Empire (No. 8).

After the mid-4th century Hunnic rider nomads pushed both into Central Asia and toward Europe. Beginning around 375 CE they triggered the Migration Period by displacing the Germanic tribes before them, who then sought refuge in Roman imperial territory on the Balkan peninsula. The attempt to expel them ended in catastrophe for the Romans; the emperor Valens (364–378 CE) lost his life in the battle of Adrianople (No. 9). Only with difficulty was Theodosius I (379–395 CE) able to restore somewhat stabile conditions (No. 10).

In the 5th century both halves of the Roman state, having split in 395 CE, had to grapple with the Hunnic federation under Attila (r. 434–453), which stretched from the Rhine River to the Ural Mountains. They were able to keep the Huns from plundering the empire only by accepting to pay an enormous tribute. In 447 CE as Attila stood before Constantinople, the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (408–450 CE) (No. 11) had to give him 6,000 pounds of gold (1,950 kg) to make peace in addition to the annual sum of 2,100 pounds (688 kg).

Despite these tremendous resources and unlike their relations in Asia, the European Huns never struck their own coinage.

  • A. Fictive portrait medal of Attila as “Scourge of God”

A. Unknown Italian medalist Fictive portrait medal of Attila as “Scourge of God”

Undated (2nd half of the 16th century)

Bronze (cast)

KHM, Inv.-Nr. MK 321bβ

  • B. Obverse, Fictive portrait medals of Attila commemorating the sack of Aquileia in 452 CE.
  • B. Reverse, Fictive portrait medals of Attila commemorating the sack of Aquileia in 452 CE.

B. Unknown Italian medalist

Fictive portrait medals of Attila commemorating the sack of Aquileia in 452 CE.

Undated (2nd half of the 16th century)

Gold (cast), silver (cast)

KHM, Inv.-Nr. MK 13302bβ, 13303bβ

C. The divide oft he Roman Empire in a western and an eastern part took place after the death of emperor Theodosius in the year of 395 AD. The encroachment of the Huns to Europe changed the complete political order. Centre oft he Hunnish sphere of influence were the Pannonian lowlands at the rivers Danube and Tisza. Only after costly battle at the Catalaunian Fields (451) and the death of Attila (453) the collapse oft he Hunnish kingdom began. Already several decades later (475/480) the Western Roman Empire collapsed. The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire however outlasted additional 1000 years until the middle oft he 15th century.

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