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Bonifatius, Comes Africae

CNG 112, Lot: 674. Estimate $2000.
Sold for $4250. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Bonifatius. Comes Africae, AD 422-431. Æ (10.5mm, 1.32 g, 6h). Carthage mint. Struck AD 423-425. DOMINO NOSTRO, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / GENT[...], cross within wreath; pellet to left and right of wreath ties. RIC X 3807 (same rev. die as photo); cf. LRBC 580 (for rev. type). VF, Brown and green patina, some red. Well struck. 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’ political intrigues against Bonifatius, however, produced disastrous results, not only for Bonifatius, but also for the empire.

Under the influence of Aëtius, Galla Placidia became suspicious of Bonifatius’ 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 Bonifatius 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, was 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 Joannes in Rome, while the second demonstrates his allegiance to Valentinian III, as well as Theodosius II (see RIC X, pp. 233-4).