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When mints keep making the same mistake ... (Daia CONSVL PROCONSVL)


Heliodromus

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I recently acquired this interesting coin for Maximinus II but have been slow to post it since I'm lazy and the interpretation is a bit controversial and needs some explanation!

Obv: IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMINVS PF AVG
Rev: CONSVL VII P P PROCOS
Ref: Unlisted reverse type (maybe 4th known)

23.5mm 7.05g

The swaggy bust type is unusual, but that isn't the problem, and Maximinus had already used it once before as caesar on the IOVI PROPVGNATORI ORBIS TERRARVM type that I recently posted.

The reverse type is a familiar CONSVL .. PROCONSVL type, normally reserved for gold rather than bronze, which is noteworthy but not an issue in of itself.

The problem is which (and who's) consulship is actually being celebrated here... The legend says CONSVL VII, but Maximinus never held a 7th consulship! He was COS I as caesar in 307, COS II as augustus in 311 and finally COS III in 313 before being killed later that year.

So, if this isn't Maximinus' 7th consulship being celebrated, then how do we explain the "CONSVL VII" legend? One possible explanation is that it's an error, but an alternate theory that has been suggested (and previously endorsed by Curtis Clay), is that this is actually referring to the 7th consulship of Maximinus's boss Galerius! Galerius had been COS VII in 308, and then COS VIII (in the west) in the year of his death in 311 AD.

So, could this coin have been issued in 308 AD to celebrate Galerius 7th consulship? Well, no, since the obverse has Maximinus as augustus which didn't happen until 310 AD. In fact under this theory it could only have been issued in 310 AD since in 311 AD Galerius would be COS VIII. The theory would therefore have to be that in 310 AD, Maximinus (newly elevated to augustus) saw fit to honor Galerius by issuing a coin type for him, but in lowly bronze rather than gold, without actually putting Galerius on the obverse, or even referring to him directly at all, and instead by hinting at the "honoree" by refering to his 7th consulship of 2 years prior ... All a bit like honoring an employee's 30 years of service with a plastic slab to put on the shelf (except the slab would normally at least have your name on it). I find this explanation tough to swallow!

Let's look at the political backdrop... Maximinus had been highly aggrieved with Galerius since the conference at Carnuntum at end of 308 AD when Galerius had appointed Licinius as augustus out of the blue, over the head of Maximinus who as caesar should have been next in line. Maximinus had shown his displeasure extremely publically by post-Carnuntum issuing coins for Maximianus (who Galerius & Diocletian had just forceably removed from power), and then issuing a series of special coin types for himself only such as the aforementioned IOVIO type comparing himself to Jupiter! Maximinus eventually just tells Galerius that his army had acclaimed him as augustus, and Galerius, already severely sick at this point, capitulates and accepts it. I suppose one could suggest that Maximinus wanted to thank Galerius for not whining about having his hand forced, but realistically there was not much to thank him for, and adding "VII" to a bronze coin legend to recognize him (while showcasing himself in imperial garb on the obverse) would seem an extremely odd way to do it even if he was so inclined ...

OK, so what's the alternative ?

The short story is that this appears to be a mint error. As noted these pro-forma CONSVL .. PROCONSVL types are normally issued in gold, but it seems what happened here is that the mint was told to issue the type in bronze, and were given a gold coin or die to copy that had the Galerian CONSVL VII legend on it, which they copied literally without thinking.

But there's still a twist to this since in fact there is also an aureus for Maximinus II that shares this same (presumably erroneous) CONSVL VII reverse legend. This type/error is extremely rare in gold, and the only picture I can find is one from Depeyrot (who was unable to find a specimen of the coin himself), from a Jacob Hirsch auction in 1909.

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Jacob Hirsch XXIV.2359 (Depeyrot 26-4, RIC VI Antioch 127a var/error - obv legend)

So, rather than assume two copying errors, one in gold and one in bronze, it seems more likely that the gold error was produced first and then copied to create the bronze type. In fact it seems we can perhaps go a step further since as far as I can see the Hirsh coin, above, appears to be a reverse die match to a Munich specimen of the Galerius aureus where this "CONSVL VII" legend originated.

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So, now the chain of events appears to be that an old aureus reverse die made for Galerius COS VII in 308 AD was still present in the mint in 311 AD, and inadvertently used for Maximinus COS II in 311 AD. This error was then propagated to the bronze type.

The error would appear to have been relatively quickly detected resulting in the rarity of these error types seen today.

An interesting point to note, that seems to support this explanation, is that while Antioch had used emperor/date-specific CONSVL designations (CONSVL VII etc) up until 309 AD (last being CONSVL I for Licinius), this stopped in 311 for Maximinus COS II and subsequent consulships for Licinius and Constantine. Rather than correcting the CONSVL VII to CONSVL II, the mint instead decided to omit the consulship number altogether and used this new legend for the remaining 311 AD issue, as well as in subsequent years. Notably the corrected aureii for 311 AD included one (unlisted) with the same special bust we see on this bronze type, as well as the expected simple bust type.

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Leu 87.111 (RIC VI Antioch 127a var - unlisted with this bust type)

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Roma XXVII.751 (RIC VI Antioch 127a)

So, finally, back to my title of when mints KEEP making the same mistake...

Being hand engraved it's not surprising that errors exist on ancient coins, but errors are typically associated with a single die - engravers don't normally keep making the same mistake on multiple dies ... but sometimes they do! It seems this happens when they don't realize there is an error in the first place, and just keep copying the previous die/prototype until, perhaps, someone eventually notices.

I mentioned that my new coin is perhaps the 4th known (as far as I know, and per auction cataloging by CNG and Leu), and have pictures of all four below.

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If you look carefully at alignment of reverse devices and legends (this is what my scribblings are) you can see that there are three different dies here, with only the bottom right coin (ex. Victor Failmezger) possibly sharing a die with mine. With multiple dies we might expect the type to be more common, but it seems the error was fairly quickly caught and the type curtailed.

This post is already way too long (which is why I had procrastinated in writing it), so I'll end it here, and maybe come back to add the two other examples I'm aware of where again the mint kept on making the same mistake over and over ...

In the meantime, please post any Antioch coins of this time period, or any error types that seem relevant to the discussion.

Edited by Heliodromus
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Here is a second case where a mint made an egregious error, and then just kept repeating it!

In 305 AD Diocletian & Maximianus retired with Constantius & Galerius now being appointed augusti. Control of the imperial mints was split between east/west under Galerius and Constantius respectively, and Constantius as senior emperor took the lead with a new coin type celebrating the retirement of their predecessors. Apparently it was Constantius' Trier mint that came up with the design, samples of which were then sent to Galerius mint of Cyzicus so they could copy the design.

How do we know this level of detail of how the design was transmitted from Trier to Cyzicus you may ask (except most of you already know the answer)? Because of an interesting error made by Cyzicus ...

Here's an example of the design that Trier had come up with.

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And here are examples of Cyzicus' first attempt at copying Triers' design.

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As you can see brains were not engaged at Cyzicus, and they copied the design way too literally and included the Trier PTR mintmark in exergue, therefore having to relegate their own mintmark to the field between Providentia and Quies! The examples above are all different dies, so we can see this was not a one-off error. The mint kept on producing fresh dies with this same error until eventually someone realized the mistake and removed the Trier mintmark!

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You might think that mint workers would be aware of the role of a mintmark, or that a supervisor might have inspected a few of the first coins, but evidentially copying was the order of the day, and any checking of finished coins was cursory or non-existent, even for a brand new type.

 

Edited by Heliodromus
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Here is a third example of when the mint made a major error, and then just kept on doing it ...

So, in 305 AD after Galerius has been appointed augustus as part of the 2nd tetrarchy, he decides to celebrate the occasion (one assumes) by issuing a quarter-nummus coin from his Siscia mint. The reverse design would just be the circulating GENIO POPVLI ROMANI type, and of course it would be issued for all four members of the new tetrarchic line-up. What could go wrong ?!

Well, it turns out that Galerius own Siscia mint managed to mess his name up and get him confused with the other Maximianus who had just retired!

Here is the set of coins they issued.

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Full/long names were used for each member of the tetrarchy, which is what let's us see the confusion/mistake. The 2nd tetrachic line-up was Galerius & Constantius as augusti, and Maximinus II and Severus II as caesars, but as you can see on the top left coin we have a legend of IMP C M A MAXIMIANVS PF AVG which is Maximianus (Marcus Aurelius Maximianus), when it should have been IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMIANVS PF AVG (Galerius Valerius Maximianus = Galerius).

Again, as is the theme of this thread, the mint didn't initially realize the mistake, and this erroneous legend for Galerius was repeated on many dies. Eventually there was a second issue of this quarter-nummus type where the error was eliminated by switching to short cognomen-only names which removed the possibility of error.

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There's no way of knowing if the mint had actually noticed the original error and decided to switch to short names because of that, or if this was just a second issue with the change from long legends for a first issue and short ones after that being a common pattern at the time.

We don't see the same error on the regular Siscian coinage, only on this special quarter-nummus type, perhaps indicating that the error was copied from die to die, or coin to die, rather than following any other form of mint instruction. Maybe some die engraver(s) actually knew the full names of Galerius and Maximianus, and were aware this seemed odd, but nonetheless they evidentially just kept on cutting dies copying what they thought they had been told (or maybe were told - maybe a fault of instructions) to do. Mint workers would have been unlikely to speak up and question orders, and the orders were certainly questionable at times, such as post-Carnuntum when Maximinus II had his Antioch mint begin issuing coins for Maximianus who had just been denounced and forced in disgrace back into retirement.

I wonder if anyone is aware of any other mint errors that were systematic over a period of time rather than being one-off die errors? No doubt the tetrarchic time period made it easier for errors to be made in the first place with a bunch of different emperors and titles to get right, but the modus operandi of the mints seems to have allowed repeated errors to go undetected so it would not be surprising to see this happening at other times too.

 

Edited by Heliodromus
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