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Unique Constantine I / Licinius I / Maximinus II triple portrait or something fishy?


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In the latest Leu Numismatik auction is a dramatic and unique coin being offered as a "Offstrike of a Gold Medallion".

https://leunumismatik.com/en/lot/50/2604/[50]

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The following is the auction description:

Constantine I, Licinius I, and Maximinus II, November 312-spring 313. Offstrike of a Gold Medallion (Bronze, 26 mm, 3.06 g, 6 h), Siscia. [CON]STANTIN[VS AVG M]AXIMINVS AVG LICINIVS AVG Facing draped busts of Constantine I, Licinius I and Maximinus II, arranged in a cloverleaf-like pattern. Rev. AE[QVI]TAS AVGVSTORVM NOS[TR] / SIS Aequitas standing front, head to left, holding scales in her right hand and cornucopiae in her left. Cohen -. Gnecchi -. RIC -. Toynbee -. Unpublished and unique. An incredibly important numismatic discovery of the highest iconographical importance. Somewhat rough and corroded and with some edge chipping, otherwise, very fine.

From a European collection, formed before 2005.

Despite being damaged and corroded, this piece remains a discovery of immense historical, numismatic, and iconographic significance. On the obverse, it features the heads of Constantine the Great, Maximinus II, and Licinius I, while the reverse praises the 'equity of our Augusti'. The busts of the three emperors are arranged in a windmill-like pattern, facing forward and engaging the viewer directly. While frontal representations had been experimented with under earlier emperors - not only for gods but also for emperors, such as Postumus, Carausius, and Maxentius - the depiction of three frontal busts is entirely novel and previously unknown in Roman coinage. It evokes the depiction of Diocletian, Maximian, and Carausius on the renowned CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI coins issued by the British usurper.

On these coins, the three busts are stacked one above the other, reminiscent of many double busts seen in Hellenistic coinage and occasionally on Roman medallions and special emissions. In the latter, this arrangement establishes a clear hierarchy, with the figure in the front denoting seniority over the one behind. In the case of Carausius and 'his brothers,' the iconography is notably more complex. Here, it is evident that the centrally depicted Diocletian holds the highest rank, while Carausius claims the place of honor to his right, deliberately relegating Maximian to the considerably less prestigious position on the left. On coins featuring busts opposing each other, commonly found on many provincial coins and some rare imperial issues, the left side of the coin is traditionally the more honorable, while the right side is subordinate.

As evident, Roman imperial iconography leaves nothing to chance, with every depiction adhering to a deliberate ceremonial order. So why are the three emperors on our piece shown in a windmill pattern with facing portraits? To answer this, we must first date the coin. Fortunately, the appearance of these three Augusti together allows for a minting only between the defeat of Maxentius at the end of October 312 and the rupture between Licinius I and Maximinus II in the spring of 313. During these few months, Constantine I, Licinius I and Maximinus II were allied and viewed themselves, unlike the Tetrarchy with its two Augusti and two Caesars, as equals. For a die-cutter tasked with iconographically representing the equality of three emperors, the constraints of Roman iconography provided little room for artistic interpretation. If he were to overlap or juxtapose the busts, a clear hierarchy would be implied. To circumvent this dilemma, he decided to depict the busts a) facing rather than in profile and b) evenly distributed in the circular space of the die. This ensured that the three rulers were portrayed as completely equal, with none claiming even a hint of seniority over the others.

Similarly, the artist handled the titulature, which simply lists the names and Augustus titles, consciously avoiding individual honorary titles. The reverse echoes this sentiment, praising the 'equity of our Augusti'. Overall, we are dealing with an incredibly significant development in Roman iconography preserved solely in this somewhat damaged piece. No other Roman coin pushes the equivalence of multiple rulers, as occasionally attempted since the Tetrarchy, to the extreme like this coin. This is due in no small part to the fact that, even in the Tetrarchy, certain emperors always claimed more seniority and auctoritas than others – indeed, these distinctions in rank formed the very foundation of the system conceived by Diocletian

Why this iconographic experiment was abandoned so quickly cannot be determined today. Our piece was minted in Siscia, which at the time was under the rule of Licinius I. It is conceivable that the coin was struck shortly before hostilities broke out between Maximinus II and Licinius I, who had just met with Constantine in Mediolanum, thus swiftly rendering the iconography outdated and prompting the cessation of the emission. Of course, other factors unknown to us may equally have played a role.

In any case, such an unusual die was surely not made for a simple follis issue, as indicated by the absence of any officina mark on the reverse, a feature typical of gold emissions from Siscia at the time. Therefore, this extraordinary emission was likely originally intended as an issue of gold multipla, which would have been distributed as donativa to important officers. What has survived, however, is only this bronze offstrike, likely a trial piece. Whether any gold multipla were ever actually struck from this die pair and subsequently lost or melted down, or whether the emission was already discontinued beforehand, remains unclear. However, it is certain that this offstrike represents one of the most significant iconographic discoveries in Roman coinage in recent decades, and is of utmost importance for researchers of Roman imperial iconography in general and that of the Constantinian era in particular.

This coin strikes me as fishy.  At a minimum this coin has been heavily worked over, which is to say tooled, and then repatinated. But I recently read an old Celator article about a highly-deceptive fake where Constantine's common camp gate type was tooled/re-engraved to transform it into the rare and desirable SPES PVBLIC type:

SPES_PVBLIC_fake.png.80baed8c5463f1d1ba47ce9c9b6deb8d.png

https://numismaticfakes.wordpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/highly_deceptive_forgeries_of_constantin.pdf

It got me thinking... could this coin be entirely created by a forger's fantasy, re-engraving a common follis into something fantastic?

The lettering on the obverse does not look right. It is very sloppy and not in the style I would expect. There appears be trough around the letters, for example around the T in TANTIN.

odd_leu_lettering.png.39e44f686d0f61a2f3e5d87d94ef49c0.png

The style of the devices is very sloppy and does not strike me as up to what would be required for a gold medallion, for example the crude faces of the emperors and the figure on the reverse with a sloppy noodle arm and indistinct fingers holding the scale.

Maybe I am just wearing my tin-foil pileus, but this coin does not sit right with me. I would be interested in the opinions of those here that specialize in coins of this era. What could this coin have been originally before it was turned into this?

Feel free to post images of your own unique offstrikes of gold medallions 😉 and relevant issues.

 

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Also, what kind of gold medallion would only be 26mm.?  Something so unusual would be surely a larger coin.

Between the totally different iconography, the funny-looking busts, surfaces, lettering, the strange chips, etc., it just doesn't look authentic.  What's left of the busts also look way too crude to have been a gold coin, even for the time period.

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20 minutes ago, Ancient Coin Hunter said:

In my opinion there are too many questions about this coin to procure it.

Just to be clear, this coin is not in my area of interest and I have no plans in procuring it 🙃

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Here is a comparison with a genuine Galerius follis (not my coin). I don't think it's the same die (given the level of tooling who can say), but circled for comparison are where the same letters are in similar positions:

galerius_siscia_comparison_marked_up.jpg.1a3f249c4a9983ad6d1baefb8c70e72b.jpg
Galerius AE follis, 303AD
Weight: 9.98 g
Diameter: 27.50 mm
MAXIMIANVS NOB CAES
SACR MONET AVGG ET CAESS NOSTR
Siscia mint
RIC 141b

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Posted (edited)

Looks repatinated indeed, especially with the corrosion. However, I don't see any obvious tooling and think it's authentic.

Given the size, this would have been a 1½ solidus medallion. If they used the same amount of material in bronze (which is about half the weight of gold) and accounting for the missing parts, the weight is exactly right.

If it was my field of interest I would certainly try to buy it.

Edited by SimonW
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1 hour ago, SimonW said:

Looks repatinated indeed, especially with the corrosion. However, I don't see any obvious tooling and think it's authentic.

Given the size, this would have been a 1½ solidus medallion. If they used the same amount of material in bronze (which is about half the weight of gold) and accounting for the missing parts, the weight is exactly right.

If it was my field of interest I would certainly try to buy it.

1.5 solidi would be around 6.7g. The Leu piece weighs 3.06 grams. 

Rasiel

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I'm in the Barry Murphy camp but the exagium theory gives some room for thought.

I make no claims to be anywhere near the expert that Barry Murphy or some of the experts here are but I've been collecting for 30 years and one gets a sense of red flag coins, and not being Bill Gates, I don't have money to throw away on fishy coins.  I wouldn't touch this thing with a 10 foot pole.

The weight theory is interesting but there's just too many questions about it for me to be comfortable with this coin or ones like it.  Now if it had a bulletproof hoard study along with it, yes...  Happily I'm sure it's above my budget.

This would be a juicy coin for Aaron Berk's podcast. One thinks he might weigh in.

 

I discovered my original, unposted thoughts (below) were still in the editor:

I almost never weigh in on fakes but in my opinion this is such an obvious fake. This is just my personal opinion.  I'm surprised that more specialists of this period haven't weighed in.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, rasiel said:

1.5 solidi would be around 6.7g. The Leu piece weighs 3.06 grams. 

Rasiel

The weight in gold should be about 6.5-7g, that's correct. But if you take the same amount of material (by volume) of bronze, the weight is about 3.5 g. Taking into account the missing parts, 3.06 g is about right.

Edited by SimonW
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3 hours ago, SimonW said:

The weight in gold should be about 6.5-7g, that's correct. But if you take the same amount of material (by volume) of bronze, the weight is about 3.5 g. Taking into account the missing parts, 3.06 g is about right.

No, commercial weights are not used this way. You're confusing this with a volume displacement test which is an analytical process for determining density of an unknown material (and usually of irregular shape). That's more of a laboratory process and not suitable for commerce (which use balance scales). In fact, the liquid displacement from a penny sized coin like this is too small to measure without sensitive equipment because of the offset from surface tension. You can prove this to yourself by taking a cup of water. Fill it to the top and start adding needles. You'd be surprised how many you can put in before the water spills!

Rasiel

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18 hours ago, rasiel said:

There was a post about it earlier today on Facebook. Here is Barry Murphy's thoughts on it as well as my own.

Thanks for sharing. What is the name of the Facebook group?

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, rasiel said:

No, commercial weights are not used this way. You're confusing this with a volume displacement test which is an analytical process for determining density of an unknown material (and usually of irregular shape). That's more of a laboratory process and not suitable for commerce (which use balance scales). In fact, the liquid displacement from a penny sized coin like this is too small to measure without sensitive equipment because of the offset from surface tension. You can prove this to yourself by taking a cup of water. Fill it to the top and start adding needles. You'd be surprised how many you can put in before the water spills!

Rasiel

The Romans knew that the weight of gold is about twice the weight of bronze. If they wanted to make an off-strike that looked as close to the original as possible (same thickness), they simply had to use half the weight of the gold medallion in bronze. So 3.5g of bronze instead of 7g of gold. No need to measure volumes. Now subtract the missing parts from that 3.5g and you get about 3g.

Is this theory really so far-fetched? If I wanted to produce an off-strike, I would probably do it in exactly this way.

Edited by SimonW
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I hope I'm not coming across as needlessly argumentative but the whole point of using these was as a quick, simple method to verify a coin was legit. You put the exagium on one scale and the coin to be checked in the other. Are the two pretty much even? Yes? Ok your money's good at this shop sir! Takes just a few seconds.

This isn't speculation. It's a method that's been in continuous use for millennia. I searched on Youtube "using balance scale" and got this tutorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1KJ2AqWxqE evidently made for 1st graders.

Now, your proposed method, if I get the gist right, would be for a merchant to 1) hold up the weight next to the gold coin, 2) evaluate if the gold one is approximately half the thickness and, 3) ensure the diameter is a close match. Unless they had digital calipers back then this isn't even remotely practical, to say nothing of speedy or accurate.

You're also sidestepping the fact that the solidus had not yet been introduced and there is no such thing as a 1½ aureus (could be wrong on this!) Even if there was such a coin it would be extremely uncommon in circulation. This undermines the necessity for a placeholder against which to compare. It would be the modern equivalent of coming up with a special marker that only works on two dollar bills. Who needs this?? Coin weights were, again, mostly used to check gold and silver coins that traded within a narrow weight range - which by definition excludes the late aureii and exotic denominations.

Rasiel

 

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Posted (edited)

You are assuming it is a commercial weight, which is fine, but I disagree with 🙂 I'm with Leu, I think it's a bronze offstrike that was supposed to be visually as close to the real thing as possible (same size, same thickness), and thus weighed half of what a 1½ solidus medallion in gold would have weighed.

The solidus was introduced right around the time this offstrike is dated (around 312 AD), if I am not mistaken. I haven't found another similarly early medallion, but here's one from Siscia just a few years later: https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=846396 (see size and weight). If you want to make a bronze offstrike of this medallion that is visually as close as possible, you take a bronze flan of about 3.5g (because, as explained before, gold is about twice the weight of bronze) to make sure you have about the same volume of material and the offstrike will eventually be of the same thickness.

Either way, if it's an offrstrike or a weight doesn't really matter. I think we both agree that it's a very interesting authentic piece (given your FB post).

Edited by SimonW
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3 hours ago, Dwarf said:

Thanks - but no access

Klaus

You have to apply for membership and be approved by a moderator. It's a straightforward process, but it won't be instantaneous.

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Looks genuine to me too. And an offstrike seems plausible. When a unique piece looks us in the face from the mist of time, it's hardly ever welcomed with open arms. But that's logical too. I think this 'coin' would be worth much, much more when a similar gold piece was found. Exciting piece, thanks for sharing!

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Allow me to add some observations.

For me it is rather hard to believe in a theory of the “die-cutter tasked with iconographically representing the equality of three emperors” as the comments to the coin in the auction state.

In the time of the tetrarchies we have a clear ranking within the group of rulers with emphasis on the sequence how they are displayed in any formal inscription. The “maximus augustus” leads the listings and is the one who invites for imperial meetings, decides on who joins and areas of their administration. The others follow sequenced by rank and time as ruler. There is no choice in sequence or titles for the rulers.

The whole idea of similar looking portraits and use of few uniform empire-wide reverse depictions is not to equalize the rulers. It is rather to detach them as a group of rulers from the other “normal people” and to show that there still is one empire. Within this group of rulers there always has been clear leadership and hierarchy.

For the time in question (if minted in Siscia after November 312 as indicated by the 3 emperors named) the formal sequence would indeed be Constantine, Maximinus, Licinius as Constantine “usurps the maximus augustus” position from Maximinus. If it would have been minted in Siscia before November 312, the formal sequence would rather be Maximinus, Constantine, Licinius as Maximinus still had the “maximus augustus” position.

The obverse legend of the coin is rather surprising. Unlike all the inscriptions on the medallions known to me from the tetrarchy and time of Constantine which list and depict several rulers, this coin omits the “ET” between the imperial names. Further, the legends on such medallions follow a clear structure in aggregating similar titles mostly at the end (sometimes with a part as well at the beginning). None of the comparable coin / medallion inscriptions and also none of the inscriptions which Timothy Barnes refers to in “the new empire of Diocletian and Constantine …” does so. We should rather expect a legend “[IMPPP] CONSTANTINVS ET MAXIMINVS ET LICINIVS AVGGG”.

Here for illustration some examples for legends of medallions mentioning multiple rulers:

·        IMPP DIOCLETIANO ET MAXIMIANO AVGG

·        DD NN CONSTANTIO ET MAXIMIANO NOBB CAESS

·        CRISPVS ET CONSTANTINVS CC

·        CONSTANTINVS ET CONSTANTIVS NOBB CAESS

Apart from a misfit in legend the size and weight also surprise. The size and what seems to remain from a “Moneta” follis reverse indicate to me a use of a 1st / 2nd tetrarchy follis flan. The low weight is really stunning as we would expect 7-8 grams or even more for such a follis. It however seems to be a very thin object (offstrike or whatever) we are facing. Those opposing the authenticity may say, we are missing most of the obverse of an original Siscia follis which has been grinded down to allow displaying a remaining trisceles of imperial busts. This would help to explain the misconnect of size and weight. Naturally missing an original patina and having it blackened / repatinated does not help to add much credibility either.

It would be great if some information on the metal composition could be provided. A short check with help of x-ray fluorescence could indicate if we see a metal composition fitting a follis or rather something else. If the metal composition equals that of a follis it would increase any suspicion that we have here rather a reworked follis. Alternatively, if the metal composition would clearly differ from that of a follis (i.e. showing higher CU content, less than 1% of PB / SN / ZN, no/even less AG,) it would indicate the production in a precious metal workshop strengthening alternative theories such that of an “offstrike”.

 

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Did anyone receive the email from Leu highlighting this coin yesterday? They are saying that it is a unique new discovery of a heretofore unknown type and appear to be doubling down on the authenticity of the piece. I also would agree a metallurgical analysis might be in order. For me it's just too hard to tell and I've participated in a number of Leu auctions. Pretty much the analysis and presentation are always first rate with the firm, so I am a bit confused. For now I'll remain on the sidelines. I'm assuming a very well-heeled collector looking for something unique and perhaps the only known example in existence will procure it at a high multiple of the starting price.

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