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Archaeology

(c) Wessex Archaeology

The inscription on the reverse reads SALUS DD NN AVG ET CAES (which loosely translates as 'for the well-being of the Augustus and the Caesar'). In this it is referring to both Magnentius and Decentius. Their history is inextricably linked. During the reign of Constans (youngest son of Constantine the Great and Fausta) and his elder brother and co-ruler Constantius II, Magnentius rose through the ranks of the army to become one of the foremost generals of the army in the Western Empire. He rebelled against Constans (who ruled the Western Empire) in 350 A.D. Constans heard of the revolt whilst on a hunting expedition and fled from Spain, but was caught and murdered. Upon Constans’ death, he was recognised as Emperor (Augustus) by most of the Western Empire. In 351 A.D. he appointed his brother Decentius to the rank of Caesar (basically a junior Emperor) and adopted him as his heir. He campaigned against Constantius II in 351 A.D, and was heavily defeated by a larger army at the battle of Mursa in September 351 A.D. He withdrew to Gaul in 352 A.D, and subsequent campaigns by Constantius II in 353 A.D. resulted in a convincing victory at Mount Seleucus, after which the legions deserted Magnentius and he committed suicide (probably on August 11th 353 A.D). When Decentius heard of his brother's suicide, he took his own life (probably on 18th August 353 A.D.) The coin from Boscombe dates to a period during which the pair's fortunes were in decline, and its expressions of hope for their safety and well-being are both understandable and slightly poignant.

The recent archaeological work at Boscombe down has identified the possibility of early Christian presence.  A Cemetery dating around 350 A.D. contained graves mostly aligned in an east-west orientation.

The area was near to a pagan cemetery of similar date that had been found earlier. This suggests that pagans and Christians may have been living side-by-side.

(c) Wessex Archaeology

One of these graves contained a coin depicting the ‘Chi-Rho’ the symbol used in early Christian communities.

The 'Chi-Rho' coin was one of three found in the grave of a 30 to 40 year old woman. She must have been of some social standing since the iron nails in the grave suggested she had been buried in a coffin. It cannot be said for certain that she was Christian. Analysts believe the coin may have been struck in Trier between September 352 and August 353 during the reign of Emperor Decentius who ruled from 351 to 353 A.D.

The reverse of the coin shows the Chi-Rho (derived from the first two letters of Christ's name) flanked by the Alpha and Omega (derived from the biblical ‘I am the beginning and the end’).