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Privy marks on the AE2 of the 380s: the death of Gratian in August 383


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Since my main interest in coinage is historic, so its purpose is to date things as accurately as possible, I have a hard time accepting the way RIC IX periods are used by collectors and dealers alike, as they often look something like 'Theodosius I AE2 378-383' -- which is a historical impossibility considering that Theodosius does not rise to Augustus until 379. What RIC IX does is not to date each type, but rather groups of types that were minted and used inside a bracket of time between two relevant historical events, some earlier in the period, some later, most likely overlapping.

Neither RIC (nor DOC for that matter) go into the detail of trying to date each type, considering the degree of complexity of the base metal coinage after the death of Valentinian and Valens and the numismatic problems that start around the death of Valentinian and last until after the rise of Theodosius. These problems are noted in RIC as a possible 'mutiny' in the Eastern mints, refusing to strike the twin AE3 types of Valentinian under Gratian's reign as senior Augustus, until the introduction of the REPARATIO REIPVB AE2 and the CONCORDIA AVGGG Tyche seated AE3 types in 378 to 379. So what starts probably as Gratian's reform in 378/9 will turn into Theodosius' way to ascertain his own claim to independence and dynastic rule and the first steps of the actual break up of the Empire that would conclude in 395.

Probably the flagship of this monetary period (in the East) was the GLORIA ROMANORVM Emperor on galley type, struck in the Eastern mints starting with 378 or 379 and then introduced into the European mints once Theodosius occupies Illyricum after Gratian's death:



AE2 26mm, 5.11g copper maiorina, minted at Cyzicus, ca. August 383-384?
DN THEODO - SIVS PF AVG; pearl-diademed, helmeted draped cuirassed bust r. holding forward-pointing spear and shield
GLORIA RO - MANORVM; Emperor standing  to left on galley raising hand, Victory behind him steering the galley rudder; T in left field.
SMKA in exe.
RIC IX Cyzicus 23


As the first 'Eastern' AE2, it spans to at least around 384 (in RIC it's present in both '378-383' and '383-388' periods) and it would be impossible to date more narrowly, except for some interesting 'privy marks' used by a series of mints in the East: Cyzicus, Nicomedia, Constantinople, Heraclea, Alexandria, possibly even Antioch (see here for a possible exemple), likely to separate issues. RIC (p.249) briefly mentions a relative chronology of these marks and here I am trying to put some tentative dates to this chronology, with a note -- that is if they were struck as yearly issues (as it is possible at least for one of the marks), it would imply that the type is introduced after 380 rather than 378/9 as its 'sister' REPARATIO REIPVB in the West:

1. no marks -- this is the earliest issue and seems to be the most plentiful, struck possibly for more than a year, possibly even to around January 383
2. the wreath -- this is another relatively plentiful issue that spans to August 383; it has a lot of Gratian and Theodosius and no hint of the dynastic ambitions of Theodosius; another clue for the cut-off date of this issue is DO p. 103 table 15 with 2 possible mules from Thessalonica with Arcadius and the reverse of the Emperor on galley type with the wreath privy mark, so these 2 types are relatively contemporary or at least very closely related to each other;  it's possible that soon after Gratian's death his effigy was replaced briefly by an effigy of Arcadius on a short continuation of the wreath mark, from the issue still being minted in August 383.
3. T -- after the death of Gratian in August 383 to probably the introduction of the new AE2 type VIRTVS EXERCITI Emperor and captive in 384 (we know that this new type was introduced at least at Constantinople in 384, as the extremely rare spec for Magnus Maximus suggests); for Antioch this privy mark appears also with a large cross, which is probably part of the design at this mint rather than part of the privy mark.

By raising Arcadius in early 383 as Co-Augustus and minting a separate AE2 type for him, Theodosius has made numismatics a prime source for the convoluted events of the 380s, paralleled by the complexity and extreme variety of the monetary system. This type not only employs a specific reverse just for Arcadius, but also an interesting separate effigy, showing the young Co-Augustus crowned by God, in a posture fit for the dynastic ambitions of Theodosius:


AE2 24mm, 3.48g copper maiorina, minted at Constantinople, ca. January/February to August 383(?)
DN ARCAD - IVS PF AVG; pearl-diademed, draped cuirassed bust r. holding forward-pointing spear and shield, Hand of God above holding wreath.
GLORIA RO - MANORVM; Emperor standing facing, head to left, holding standard in right hand and resting left hand on shield; to his left kneeling captive head to right.
CONΓ in exe
RIC IX Constantinople 53a

Arcadius' AE2 coinage is introduced very early after his elevation in January 383 and was struck for at least 9 months, but likely for more than year and was (as the DO mules from Thessalonica indicate) contemporary or very closely related to the regular Eastern AE2 GLORIA ROMANORVM Emperor on galley type. It also spans two issues of privy marks: the no mark issue and the T issue -- which presents a problem for both the relative chronology and the tentative dating of the three issues: did the mints stay in the 'no mark' period until a bit after Arcadius was raised in January 383 meaning that the year 383 has in its span all three issues? Also, there seem to be no specimens with the wreath mark (which should account for the period of January to August/September 383) for Arcadius, so at least half of the lifespan of his special issue is just not there.



AE2 23mm, 5g copper maiorina, minted at Nicomedia, ca. late 383
DN ARCAD - IVS PF AVG; pearl-diademed, draped cuirassed bust r. holding forward-pointing spear and shield, Hand of God above holding wreath.
GLORIA RO - MANORVM; Emperor standing facing, head to left, holding standard in right hand and resting left hand on shield; to his left kneeling captive head to right; T in right field.
*SMNB in exe
RIC IX Nicomedia 26


This situation is mirrored exactly in the other AE2 dynastic type of Theodosius (that is completely contemporary with the Arcadius type), the coinage for Aelia Flaccilla. The first type minted in her name, the AE2 with Victory inscribing shield, has also just the no mark period and the T period, but no wreath in between them. And since both these coinages (for Arcadius and Flaccilla) are missing the same wreath mark, it makes it more unlikely that coins from the wreath issue have just not been discovered yet but should be expected to exist.



AE2 24mm 5.28g copper maiorina, minted at Nicomedia, ca. August 383-384(?)
AEL FLAC - CILLA AVG; draped, with elaborate pearl head-dress wearing pearl necklace and Imperial mantle bust right
SALVS REI - PVBLICAE; Victory sitting right, inscribing the Christian monogram Chi-Iota on shield placed on column; T at Victory's feet in left field
SMNA? in exe
cf. RIC IX Nicomedia 42

The two types for his son and his wife show a deliberate and well thought out plan by Theodosius to have his own separate Imperium in the East, independent from Gratian and instate his own ruling dynasty and the coins show this very clearly. But that does not mean that there is no confusion left in assessing this period and its coinage.

There is at least one incongruity that plagues this chronology and the dating hypotheses: the lack of the 'wreath period' in the special issues for Arcadius and Flacilla, especially since this period is very well represented for the regular 'Eastern' AE2 type Emperor on galley, is incompatible with the strongest argument of the chronology - the transition between wreath and T a short time after Gratian dies. There are only two exits out of this conundrum:

1. the T marking, although present on three AE2 issues happening likely simultaneously at the same mints does not have the same meaning in the two special issues as in the 'regular' coinage, while the 'no marks' doesn't necessarily fit into the chronology at its beginning

2. the special types had a hiatus period during the first 8/9 months of 383, after enjoying a very strong initial minting (that is if we accept the absence of marks as a mark of an earlier issue date).


If you made it through reading and would like to add something to my almost stream-of-consciousness article, you are very much welcome. I hoped that by writing it, it would help clear my head and come to a conclusion regarding the dating of these types beyond the conventional RIC periodization, but instead I think I might have opened more cans of confusion.


Edited by seth77
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Interesting write-up and a lot I didn't know. It looks like I have the wreath type.


Gratian BI 22mm
Antioch, 379 CE
4.51g, 22mm, 10h
D N GRATIANVS P F AVG, helmeted and pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust to right, holding spear and shield
GLORIA ROMANORVM, emperor standing facing, head to right on ship, raising right hand; Victory seated right at helm; wreath in upper left field, cross in upper right field, ANTB in exergue.
RIC IX 40a

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I often wonder where the dates come from when they're obviously not right. It makes sense that they're general periods based on events. I don't think there's much chance Magnus Maximus was striking coins all the way from 383 to 388 in Augusta, wherever it was.

Magnus Maximus Solidus, 383-388
Augusta/London. Gold, 21mm, 4.59g, 6h. Rosette-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Magnus Maximus right, seen from front; D N MAG MA-XIMVS P F AVG. Magnus Maximus and Theodosius I seated facing on double throne, jointly holding globe between them; half-length figure of Victory above facing between, vertical palm branch under throne; VICTOR-IA AVGG; AVGOB in exergue (RIC IX, 2b; Biaggi 2312 (this coin)).

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Great write up! I love to see information and coins from this period as they don’t get the appreciation they deserve. I have quite a few from this period but few are photographed.



And maybe only somewhat related… is this next type and this note from RIC IX, p 166, Note: The AE 3 VIRTVS AVGGG seems from its exact correspondence in every way with GLORIA ROMANORVM - except, of course, in reverse type, to have been Valentinian’s earliest issue after his flight from Italy. 

Valentinian II VIRTVS AVGGG Thessalonica RIC IX 61

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Fascinating post! Your conclusion that Theodosius I was attempting to establish an independent dynasty early on aligns well with the historical narrative portraying the strained relationship between Gratian and Theodosius. This tension was so pronounced that Gratian effectively left the crisis in Thrace to Theodosius without offering any assistance. Another theory suggests that Theodosius I might have emerged as the sole competent officer in the region following the Battle of Adrianople, possibly leading him to declare himself Emperor in the prevailing power vacuum. Regardless of his path to power, Gratian reluctantly elevated Theodosius I to the imperial throne. Theodosius I had his reasons for disliking Gratian, given that his father, Count Theodosius, had fallen victim to a purge initiated in the early days of Gratian's reign. This circumstance could potentially explain why Theodosius I tolerated Magnus Maximus's regicide of Gratian for over four years, especially considering Maximus's pro-Theodosian military background.

I submit a coin of Magnus Maximus and Theodosius I for this discussion. 


Theodosius I AR Siliqua

Trier mint

A.D. 389 to 392

1.75 grams




Magnus Maximus AR Siliqua

Trier mint

2.25 grams

A.D. 383-388

Edited by Magnus Maximus
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Magnus Maximus is another figure with hard to date coinage. The gold with AVGG has to be early in the reign (or very late, after Victor is elevated in 387 -- are there known Victor solidi with VICTORIA AVGG?) and at least some of the solidi from the continent, those that have Trier or Lyon mintmarks are probably contemporary with the VICTORIA AVGG AE2 type:


These have to be around 384 to 385, when Maximus and Theodosius had an understanding of sorts and Theodosius even briefly recognized Maximus and minted for him (again the extraordinary Maximus VIRTVS EXERCITI AE2 from Constantinople). Both emissions where the two Augusti recognized each other are brief, while the Maximus from Constantinople is extremely rare. Since there is no REPARATIO REIPVB for Victor, it might be that the type which was discontinued soon after the death of Gratian in both the East and in Valentinian II's territory (possibly around 384 in Valentinian's mints) continued not until the end of Maximus reign but to sometime before 387 when Victor was elevated in Italy. If by that time the mints in Italy or the Illyricum were still striking any AE2 type, we would have probably seen some strikes at Aquileia for instance for Victor. There are none, the base metal coinage being struck at that time likely consisted of only AE4 types. So sometime between 384 and 387 the AE2 stop completely in Italia and Illyricum and at the latest in 387 in the West.

Edited by seth77
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