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Persecution Issue

Triton XVI, Lot: 1152. Estimate $1000.
Sold for $2000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

temp. Maximinus II. AD 310-313. Æ Follis (15mm, 1.69 g, 6h). Nicomedia mint. DEAE SANC CERERI, veiled and draped bust of Ceres left, holding grain ear and poppy in raised right hand / GEN CIVI T NICOM, Fortuna Redux standing facing, head left, holding in right hand rudder set on ground and cradling cornucopia in left arm; OPA. Van Heesch, Last 1. Good VF, dark green patina. Very rare.

Following the death of Galerius in AD 311, his Caesar, Maximinus II, who had declared himself Augustus the previous year, took control of Asia Minor and the Levant. Apparently a strident persecutor of the Christian minority (Lactant. De mort. pers. 36-49; Euseb. Hist. eccl. 9), he was compelled under the dictates of the edict of toleration to relax the persecutions. At the same time, he was approached by embassies of various cities now under his control. Among these were delegations from the major cities of Nicomedia and Antioch, who requested that in no way should Christians be permitted to continue to live and their cities and districts. Antioch went so far as to erect a statue of Zeus Philios, which delivered oracles condemning the Christians (Euseb. Hist. eccl., op. cit.). Encouraged by this apparent groundswell of popular support, Maximinus personally appointed pagan priests and sent copies of a document relating the memoirs of Pontius Pilate (cf. Euseb. Hist. eccl., 2.2). He sentenced some of the most notable preachers in his districts to death. Possibly fearing repercussions from Constantine I and Licinius I, Maximinus unexpectedly rescinded his persecutions in December AD 312. Hoping to hold on following his defeat by Licinius in April AD 313, Maximinus in May AD 313 issued his own edict, restoring property and privileges to his Christian subjects. This did not, however, have the desired effect, for in July or August of that same year, after having again been defeated by Licinius, Maximinus died at Tarsus.

From these events as recorded by Eusebius, it is clear that the persecution of Maximinus was prompted not by imperial policy, but by the cities themselves, whose wealth and economy depended on the maintenance of local pagan religious activities, which included oracles, sanctuaries, and games and festivals. In addition, Maximinus relied heavily on these cities for income. Given this situation, it is easy to see why Maximinus acquiesced to persecuting the Christian segment of the local population. The civic issues (of which this coin is part) of Nicomedia and Antioch (and Alexandria) reflect the political arrangement btween the emperor and the cities. Their typology and legend indicate a potential imperial initiative, and the numerous issues that indicate a large quantity being struck (particularly at Antioch), must coincide with the anti-Christian activities there.