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Research Coins: The Coin Shop


Medallion of 4 1/2 Solidii Celebrating Constantius' Decennalia

773905. Sold For $245000

Constantius II. AD 337-361. AV Multiple of 4 1/2 Solidi (37mm, 19.92 g, 6h). Antioch mint. Struck AD 346. FL IVL CONSTANTIVS PERP AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust left / GLORIA ROMANORVM, Constantinopolis seated left on ornamented throne, holding Victory on globe in her right hand and thyrsos in her left, resting her left foot on prow adorned with eagle’s head. Gnecchi 22; cf. Toynbee pl. XXXVIII, 4; RIC VIII 69; Depeyrot -; Bastien, Donativa, p. 86, b; Hurter, Kaiser 55 (this coin). EF, light field marks, slight smoothing on upper edge. Extremely rare.

Ex Sotheby's Zurich (27-28 October 1993) [Athena Fund Sale], lot 142 and cover coin; Numismatic Fine Arts XXX (8 December 1992), lot 311.

The date of this medallion’s issue, as well as its apparently unique reverse iconography, have been sources of periodic academic speculation. Kent dated the piece to sometime after AD 347, the year in which Constantius II celebrated his decennalia, certainly an appropriate opportunity for the distribution of imperial largess to select favorites. Comparing the type with similar contemporary issues from other imperial mints, Bastien argued that the medallion was struck in AD 346 and its issuance commemorated the assumption of Constantius II and his brother Constans to the consulship for that year. Although it was not unusual for late Roman emperors to assume numerous consulships during their reigns, this particular event was all the more important, since it signaled a political and religious rapprochment between the brothers, whose religious and political differences brought the empire to the brink of civil war. Bolstered by a Roman victory against the Sasanians at Nisibis that same year, this new order of events would have been the perfect opportunity to issue such a medallion.

The reverse features the personification of Constantinopolis, supposedly modeled on a statute commissioned for the inauguration of the new imperial capital in AD 330. The iconography of Constantinopolis on this medallion, however, is somewhat unusual. An ivory diptych of the fifth century AD, in which Constantinopolis is depicted, shows the city in its more traditional form: Tyche, wearing the corona muralis. Yet, as the second Rome, the artist here has represented the city as Anthousa, the Greek version of Flora, an aspect of Roma. Here too, she rests her foot on a prow, symbolizing the decisive naval victory of Constantine over Licinius in 324, a victory commemorated by the foundation of Constantinople itself. Curiously, though she holds a thyrsus, an attribute of Bacchus, legendary conqueror of the east, and perhaps a reference to Constantius’ recent victory over the Persians. While it is initially surprising to find a pagan symbol associated with a city which was deliberately characterized as Christian from its very foundation, it is not so unusual when one considers that the new capital was designed to be a blending of Christian and pagan elements and that certain pagan elements continued to be employed in official propaganda well after Christianity became the official state religon of the Roman Empire.

The relaxed, naturalistic pose, supple engraving, and an abundance of imaginative detail in the Constantinopolis reverses of Antioch's large medallions makes them one of the finest works of late antique art.