Skip to content

Bonifatius Comes Africae (422-431AD)

Spread the love


Bonifatius. Comes Africae, AD 422-431. Æ (11mm, 1.06 g, 3h). Carthage mint. Struck AD 423-425. DOMINIS [NOS…], pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / Cross within wreath. Cf. RIC X 3810, 3814, and 3817 (obv. legend). Fine, brown surfaces. The reading of the obverse legend does not appear to match any of the expected types within the series, which would terminate NOSTRONOSTRIS (expected here given the plural ablative form of DOMINIS), and NOSTRORV. RIC lists a fourth possible reading (NOS–[TRIS…]), though this part of the legend is uncertain. Extremely rare.

Bonifatius was a Roman general and comes Africae, a friend of St. Augustine and the rival of Flavius Aëtius. Beginning in AD 413, he was sent to deal with the two main Germanic tribes ravaging Rome’s western provinces – the Visigothic king Ataulf at Massilia in AD 413, and the Vandals in Spain in AD 422. Because of these successes, Bonifatius appears to have been appointed comes Africae shortly thereafter. Upon the death of Honorius in AD 423, Joannes, the primicerius notariorum, seized power in the west. While the remaining provinces acknowledged Joannes as emperor, Bonifatius refused to do so, and prevented African grain shipments from reaching Rome. When Joannes was overthrown and Valentinian III, the son of Honorius’s sister Galla Placidia, was installed as Roman emperor in the west by Theodosius II, Bonifatius supported him, resuming the grain supply. Aëtius’s political intrigues against Bonafatius, however, produced disastrous results, not only for Bonafatius, but also for the empire.

Under the influence of Aëtius, Galla Placidia became suspicious of Bonifatius’s intentions, going so far as to accuse the comes of treason. Refusing to surrender and face execution, Bonifatius sought the assistance of the Vandal king, Genseric, and offered him the right to settle in Africa in return for providing mercenaries for a possible war with the empress. Genseric agreed and the entire Vandalic people migrated across from Spain to settle in Africa. At the same time, however, Bonifatius had returned to imperial favor. No longer requiring mercenaries, he informed Genseric that the Vandals should return to Spain. Angered by this rejection, the Vandals attacked and pursued Bonafatius to the province’s capital, Hippo Regius, in AD 430. There, they conducted a year-long siege of the city, during which time St. Augustine, bishop of the city, perished. Bonifatius, along with a large portion of the citizens were able to flee to Italy, leaving Africa under the rule of the Vandals for the next century.

The arrival of Bonifatius in Italy renewed the political intrigue of Aëtius, who saw his rival’s restoration to imperial favor and promotion as a sign of his own downfall. Fearing dismissal, Aëtius and his Germanic mercenaries marched against Bonifatius, meeting him at the Battle of Rimini in AD 432. Although Bonifatius won the battle, he was mortally wounded and died a few months later.

The attribution of this type to Bonifatius is not certain, but hoard evidence suggests this issue was minted at Carthage, by virtue of its connection to similar issues with legends specifically naming Carthage, and belongs to the early 5th century, almost certainly before the siege of Hippo Regius in AD 430. The obverse legend sequence, moving from DOMINO NOSTRO to DOMINIS NOSTRIS, corresponds to the position of Bonifatius during the usurpation of Joannes and his support of the legitimate Roman emperors: the first legend reflects his loyalty to Theodosius II during the usurpation of Johannes usurped the throne in Rome, while the second demonstates his allegiance to Valentinian III, as well as Theodosius II (see RIC X, pp. 233-4).