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Martinian: Temporary Emperor

CNG 111, Lot: 803. Estimate $3000.
Sold for $4750. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Martinian. Usurper, AD 324. Æ Follis (21mm, 3.05 g, 12h). Nicomedia mint, 2nd officina. D N M MARTINIANVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / IOVI CONS ERVATORI, Jupiter standing left, holding Victory on globe in right hand, eagle-tipped scepter in left; to left, eagle standing left, head right, holding wreath in its beak; to right, bound captive kneeling right; X/IIΓ//SMNB. RIC VII 45. VF, brown patina, some roughness. Very rare.

Ex Nomos 11 (9 October 2015), lot 220.

Proof that history does repeat itself can be found in the sad tale of Martinian, a puppet ruler installed by the Eastern Roman Emperor Licinius in the midst of his second civil war against Constantine I “the Great.” Martinian was of obscure origins, but by the mid AD 320s he had risen to become the chief minister of Licinius, just as it became apparent that a final clash with Constantine was imminent. Though Licinius had a bigger army, Constantine was much the better general and inflicted a heavy defeat on his rival in Thrace on July 3, AD 324. Crossing to Chalcedon, Licinius declared Constantine deposed and raised Martinian to the office of Augustus, with instructions to prevent Constantine from crossing into Asia Minor. Constantine easily evaded Martinian’s blocking force, landed in Asia and cornered Licinius at Nicomedia. Having no choice, Licinius surrendered on terms brokered by his wife (and Constantine’s sister) Constantia. Martinian went into exile in Cappadocia, but was executed a few months later when Licinius was detected plotting a return to power. Seven years before, under virtually identical circumstances, Licinius had appointed Valerius Valens to a similar role, with almost identical results.

Like those of Valerius Valens, coins of Martinian are quite rare and limited to a single issue from the mint of Nicomedia. Surviving examples tend to be heavily worn or damaged, but this specimen is in an exceptional state of preservation. The reverse evokes “Jupiter the Protector,” Licinius’ patron deity, who notably failed to protect him and Martinian from the wrath of Constantine and his Christian god.