Skip to content

Trajan Decius – 249-251AD

Spread the love

Trajan Decius

trajnd t

249 – 251 AD

First emperor from the Balkans

C. Messius Quintus Traianus Decius was born about 201 AD in the Balkans at Budalia of Lower Pannonia. Decius not merely came from a military background but had also attained senatorial rank early in his career serving as consul in 232 AD. Decius was also governor of Lower Moesia. He then served as governor of Hispania between 235 and 238AD followed by urban prefect in Rome under Philip I.

Philip I hardly inspired during his reign. Numerous uprisings along the northern frontier had taken place internally, not to mention the constant threat of the Goths. The failed rebellion of Pacatian in Upper Moesia prompted Philip to dispatch Trajan Decius to restore order to the region. Philip’s great mistake was to appoint Trajan Decius governor of both Moesia and Pannonia making him one of the most powerful men in the empire regarding the number of legions at his command. The dissatisfaction of the troops in the Balkans still remained despite the murder of the usurper. Decius set about to stem the tide of the invading Goths and after his success, the troops convinced Decius to accept their decision to promote him to the office of Emperor.

Trajan Decius and his legions marched on Rome and confronted Philip around September 249AD in Macedonia. Philip was soundly defeated and died in battle. When the news of Decius’ victory reached Rome, the praetorians immediately murdered Philip’s young son – Philip II.

Decius then advanced to Rome, where he took the reins of power. At this time, he took the surname “Trajanus” in memory of Trajan (98 – 117 AD) and his great Dacian victories. Decius then began a series of economic and monetary reforms as well as public works, including the construction of baths and the restoration of the Colosseum. However, Decius is remembered for his severe persecution of the Christians, during which Pope Fabian was killed.

Trajan Decisus Family

In 250AD, the Goths crossed the Danube, once again terrorizing Thrace. Decius raised his son Herennius Etruscus, named after his mother Herennus Etruscilla, to the rank of Caesar. There was also another usurper, Titus Julius Priscus, who was killed shortly thereafter. However, the following year, another usurper, Julius Valens Licinianus, was brought to Rome with the support of the Senate. However, by the end of March 251 AD, Valens was murdered without issuing any coinage.

Trajan Decius raised his son, Etruscus, to the rank of co-emperor in 251 AD and his youngest son, Hostilian, to the rank of Caesar. Shortly thereafter, Trajan Decius and his eldest son Etruscus were both killed in battle against the Goths. Decius was the first Roman Emperor to die in battle by an external enemy. Hostilian died later that year due to the plague.

Monetary System

Trajan Decius AV Aureus 4.64 grams

Gold Aureus

Mints: Rome, Milan, Antioch

Obverse legend:


The normal obverse type for antoniniani, double sesterii and dupondii is radiate bust right draped and/or cuirassed. All other denominations portray a laureate bust right draped and/or cuirassed.

Monetary Reform

TrajanDecius AE Sestertius

Trajan Decius enacted a major monetary reform concerning both the bronze and the gold coinage. This reform is a reflection of the growing hyper-inflationary pressures that were developing during the 3rd century with great momentum. Decius reintroduced a Double Aureus, which had previously made a brief appearance during the reign of Caracalla (198 – 217 AD). We also find the introduction of a Double Sestertius. This spectacular large bronze denomination was in fact close in weight and size to the sestertius of the Julio-Claudian era. The introduction of this denomination suggests that the older sestertii may have been valued on the street at a much higher premium than that of the current issues.

The hoarding of older sestertii was most likely the result, much as was the case in modern times when silver was withdrawn from the coinage during the mid-1960s. The Double Sestertius appears to have been introduced at about 39 grams but quickly declined to 29 grams. The Double Aureus weight appears to vary between 6.2 and 5.6 grams compared to an average weight of 4.5 grams for the aureus itself. Therefore, both these new denominations were in fact an extension of the current inflation by allowing higher denominations to be coined at only a 50% increase in the cost of production.

TrajanDecius Denominations Aureus Antoninianus Denarius Quinarius Double Sestertius Sestertitius Dupondius As Semis 807x1024


AU DOUBLE Aureus (4.64 grams)
AU Aureus (4,64 grams)
AR Antoninianus (3.1 grams)
AR Denarius (2.52 grams)
AR Quinarius (1.3 grams)
AE DOUBLE Sestertius (29.8 grams)
AE Sestertius  (18.6 grams)
AE Dupondius (10.88 – 12.5 grams)
AE As (9.2 grams)

Indian Imitation

Trajan Decius AV Indian Imitation Aureus RIC 10

India was in contact with the Roman Empire from the Republican day. There was significant trade between Rome and India from the first century BC. India was the source of perfumes, spices, and gems, which found a welcome market in Rome. In turn, international trade also saw Rome’s linen, glass, and wine make their way to Asia. Significant quantities of Roman gold and silver coins have been found in South India alongside many examples of local imitations. Yes, the Roman coins from at least Augustus (27BC-14AD) were imitated in India, and that practice continued in the 5th/6th century AD with Byzantine coins.

The Indian Imitations demonstrate a very important point. These are not attempts at counterfeiting. Counterfeits are typically bronze coins, gold-plated. Here, Indian Imitations are just that. They are of similar quality and weight as gold. This demonstrates that Rome was the Financial Capital of the World, and its coinage was worth more than the metal content. This is why taking raw gold and creating imitations of Roman coins made sense, which traded at a premium.


Commemorative Coinage

TrajanDecius Comms

Trajan Decius struck a series of antoniniani commemorating eleven deified Roman emperors, one of his last coinages. They were his famous ‘divi series’ of antoniniani (double-denarii) on which he honored Augustus, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, and Severus Alexander. The series is known to have two reverse styles (1) a flaming funerary altar or (2) an eagle. The last such great commemorative series was struck by Emperor Trajan (98 – 117 AD), but thwas really recalling the old coinage to reissue it with a reduced weight to help mitigate the expense of his war against Dacia.

This series is specifically collected as it is historically interesting and makes a fantastic portrait set of the emperors. I have found that Septimus Severus was perhaps harder to come by.

Monetary History of the World

© Martin A. Armstrong