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Constantinian Bronze - Throwback Edition!


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Hello everyone! Hope you all are doing well.

Here is an interesting coin type of Constantine I which I have been looking forward to for some time:


These coins were part of a small series which were struck only at Rome and Ostia (and later, at Arelate, when the mint at Ostia was moved there), when Constantine gained control of those cities after his historic victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in October of 312.

Of course, what makes this coin so interesting is the reverse, which is a copy of an earlier type, struck under the emperor Trajan some 200 years before:


(Image from CNG)

(David Sear also adds that perhaps the type was “inspired by one of the follis types issued at Carthage by the usurper Alexander (AD 308-11), rival of Maxentius and ally of Constantine (see no. 15088).” Here is a picture of that rare coin type:


(Image from CNG - hammered for $10,000 😮)

Post-Diocletian, in the age of the Dominate, this design seems rather quaint and out of place - a nostalgic throwback to the good old days, a time when there was peace and prosperity throughout the Empire, a time of secure borders, a time when the military might of Rome was unchallenged. As we will see, in reviving this old reverse design, Constantine was being very deliberate about the message he was trying to convey.

The legend SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI is heavily loaded with historical significance. The first part is an abbreviation for the phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus, which simply means “The Senate and People of Rome” and was an ancient formula intended to represent the whole of the Roman nation. The title OPTIMO PRINCIPI - "Best Emperor" - was first given by the Senate to the emperor Trajan around A.D. 105. Trajan was honored for his respect and deferential treatment of the Senate, which had recently been keenly lacking under the earlier reign of Domitian. Later emperors were inaugurated with the saying Sis felicior Augusto, melior Traiano - “[may he] be more fortunate than Augustus [and] better than Trajan”, showing the great esteem in which Trajan’s memory was held.

Constantine’s message here is clear - by claiming the title, he is not only declaring himself to be in fact “the best Emperor”, he is also comparing himself directly to the revered Trajan - making an important appeal to the local Roman Senatorial class, who after the defeat of Maxentius now found themselves under his authority. In this single message, Constantine made it clear that he was now the undisputed master of Rome, but also that he did not intend to abuse that power and wished to respect the local ruling classes.

The pictorial elements of the design were also very meaningful. The military standards carried by the Roman armies were of great importance to each unit. Not only did they carry tremendous symbolic value, they also functioned as signal devices and a focus point for the soldiers during battle. Battlefield commands were conveyed through the movement of the standards.

On the reverse of this coin we see three distinct standards. The one on the left is called the signum and was composed of an upraised hand mounted on a pole. Below the hand, various decorations, arranged vertically or on crossbars, adorned the staff - wreaths as well as numbered metal discs, which may have been used to identify that particular military unit.


(Image from imperiumromanum)

The standard on the right appears to be an empty wreath atop a staff with similar decorations down the pole. I wasn’t able to find anything quite like it online; perhaps the representation on the coin is not strictly literal. Or maybe it’s just a variation of a common standard. If anyone has any ideas, please share!

The middle standard is - appropriately - the most important, featuring a vexillum - a small flag hung from a horizontal crossbar - and topped with the aquila or eagle. The eagle was the most sacred part of the standard; to lose one in battle was the ultimate disgrace, and wars were often fought to recover them.


(Image from Wikipedia)

For this particular coin type there are three different styles of eagles - eagle left, right, and facing with wings raised.



(Image from asearch)


(Image from asearch)

Of the three varities, the one with the eagle facing left is the most common; facing right is more scarce, and the one with eagle facing with wings spread is the rarest. It is also, in my opinion, the most artistically pleasing of the three varieties. As an aside, in my research I came across this example from Victor Clark’s Forum which is a reverse die match to mine:


(Image from lateromanbronzecoinforum.com)

All in all, a very intriguing coin type from a pivotal moment in the rise of Constantine I!

Please share your thoughts, comments, similar coins, or anything else!

Edited by CPK
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Bronze coin (AE Follis) minted at R S=Rome during the reign of Constantine I, The Great between 312 - 313 A.D. Obv. IMP.C.CONSTANTINVS.P.F.AVG. Rev. S.P.Q.R. OPTIMO.PRINCIPI. Legionary eagle (facing l. to r.) between two vexilla. RCS #3869. RICVI #345 pg.390. DVM #64


Edited by Jims,Coins
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Military standards appear on the lifetime and posthumous issues of Faustina the Younger following her acclamation as Mater Castrorum, "The Mother of the Camps."

Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman orichalcum sestertius, 23.24 g, 29.5 mm, 1 h.
Rome, AD 174-175.
Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: MATRI CASTRORVM S C, Faustina standing left, sacrificing over lighted altar and holding incense-box; three standards before.
Refs: RIC 1659; BMCRE 930-31; Cohen 164; RCV 5280; MIR 23-6/10a.
Notes: BMCRE 929 erroneously gives FAVSTINA AVGVSTA on obverse. The obverse inscription on that coin is in the dative case.

Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman orichalcum sestertius, 25.19 g, 30.7 mm, 5 h.
Rome, AD 176 and later.
Obv: DIVAE FAVSTINAE PIAE, veiled and draped bust, right.
Rev: MATRI CASTRORVM S C, Faustina II seated left, holding phoenix on globe in right hand and transverse scepter in left hand; before her, three legionary standards.
Refs: RIC 1711; BMC 1556; Cohen 162; Sear –; MIR 49-6/19.

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13 hours ago, Alexios said:

Not so far from Rome is Ostia. Why they had a mint at Ostia I am baffled. 

The mint didn't exist for long though - it was created by Maxentius c. 308AD then moved to Arles by Constantine c. 313AD.

RIC speculates that Maxentius' reasons for opening the Ostia mint were related to loss of the Carthage mint to Alexander, and the geographical insecurity of the more northern mints of Ticinum and Aquileia due to Galerius' attempts to recover Italy.


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I've wondered about this type before. It definitely is a throwback and perhaps as you surmise a symbol of Constantine's intent to curry favor with the senatorial class which basically had lost its last vestiges of power under the tetrarchy. Whether Constantine was serious about this or not is unknown and probably not. The last time the Senate had shown up in the political picture was the Interregnum after the death of Aurelian 40 years before.

Also, I wonder if the fourth century army was carrying these classic legionary devices of the old principate. In fact the Draco standard and labara were used. I suppose the only representation of current standard design was on the Constantinian GLORIA EXCERCITVS issues. Just as likely is the fact that soldiers now carried round shields and no longer the rectangular scutum. Similarly, the gladius sword had fallen out of favor and was replaced by the spatha or longsword of barbarian origin.

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15 hours ago, CPK said:

David Sear also adds that perhaps the type was “inspired by one of the follis types issued at Carthage by the usurper Alexander (AD 308-11), rival of Maxentius and ally of Constantine (see no. 15088).

There is clearly a connection between the reverse types of Alexander and Constantine (supporting other evidence for an alliance between them), but I think it was more Alexander copying Constantine (in turn copying Trajan) than vice versa.

Constantine's bronze SPQR type from Rome, Ostia and Arles obviously post-date his Italian victory, but he also issued it in gold from Trier at a date that would seem to have to be c.310 AD (at Constantine's introduction of the solidus) since we see the copying by Alexander who didn't survive much past this date.

Here are Alexander's bronze copies of Constantine's gold types of c.310 AD. One can only suppose that these gold types didn't get to Alexander in Carthage by accident!


The VBIQVE VICTOR (victory everywhere) type is unlisted for Alexander, but here from the Misurata hoard.

The last type shows a minor adaptation by Alexander, from Constantine's GLORIA EXERCITVS GALL to his GLORIA EXERCIT KART.

After Constantine's victory over Maxentius, he doubled down on his copying of Trajan with this unlisted solidus from Ticinum.


Constantine seems to have been a bit obsessed with Trajan, and there is written record of him referring to Trajan as a "wallflower" (herba parietaria) due to Trajan having left his imprint on so many of Rome's walls!


Edited by Heliodromus
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11 hours ago, sunir caM said:

Calling @Furryfrog02

I gave him my example last year in a group lot.

It wasn't the prettiest due to being double struck, hoping he still has it.

Do we have it? Absolutely. 
Has it been properly cataloged and photographed? More than likely, not.  Between new baby, retirement, new job, new house, life with 4 kids, etc... things are shall we say...not quite as in order as they have been in the past or I would like them to be.

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Constantine I
Rome mint
312 to 313 AD
AE Follis
Obvs: IMP CONSTANTINVS PF AVG, right laureate and draped seen from rear.
Revs: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI, Legionary eagle facing left between two vexilla. RS
22mm, 4.48g
RIC VI 348a

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