Coin Relief 36 – Sol’s last dawn

Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Sam Moorhead discusses an enigmatic coin type that continues to generate discussion…

Sol’s last dawn, at Thessalonica in AD 319

Figure 1: A copper alloy nummus of Crispus Caesar with Sol reverse, mint of Thessalonica. Record ID is NCL-D720B2 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY-SA).

In AD 319, the mint at Thessalonica struck an enigmatic nummus type which has engendered a fair amount of discussion. It was issued in the names of Constantine I, Licinius I, Crispus, Licinus II and Constantine II, employing all five workshops (A to ε) at Thessalonica (RIC VII, p. 507, nos. 66-71). The obverses are all self-explanatory, but the reverse will probably always remain a bit of a mystery. Figure 1 can be described as:

A copper-alloy nummus of Crispus Caesar (AD 317-26) Thessalonica, AD 319
Obv. D N FL IVL CRISPVS NOB CAES; Laureate and cuirassed right
Rev. VIRT EXERC; Sol standing, raising right hand and holding globe in left, in middle of cross made up of four lines.
Mintmark: – // TSε
RIC VII, p. 507, no. 69

Patrick Bruun, in RIC VII (p. 494), regards this as a military type. The legend VIRT[us] EXERC[iti] (‘the courageous army’) is self-explanatory. However, the use of Sol, instead of Mars, is unusual. In fact, as Bruun notes, this is the last time that Sol appears on the Roman coinage, having figured prominently on Constantine’s SOLI INVICTO COMITI coins from AD 310 to AD 318. The RIC description states that Sol is standing on the ‘plan of a Roman camp’, hence Bruun claiming that in this case Sol is acting as the patron deity of the army. However, it is quite difficult to perceive a plan of a military camp from the cross formation on the coin. Roman camps did have ramparts and ditches, and sometimes there were multiple ramparts and ditches (as at Ardoch fort in Scotland); but why does this coin have a cross feature rather than a square feature? We have seen in an earlier post that the die-engravers were perfectly capable of designing clearly recognisable architectural features, in this case a camp or town gateway.

Figure 2: A copper-alloy nummus of Constantine I, with Sol reverse, mint of Rome. Record ID is HAMP-8C376B (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

In more recent articles, Peter Weiss and David Woods have argued that this coin does not depict the plan of a military camp, but a ‘radiate cross’. A panegyric of AD 310, delivered to Constantine at the imperial capital at Trier, refers to Constantine having a vision of Apollo (who was easily conflated with Sol) who would grant him a lengthy life. In addition there is Eusebius’ description of Constantine’s vision of a cross and the words in hoc signo victor eris (‘in this sign you will conquer’) before his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312; Lactantius describes a similar story, suggesting that the symbol the emperor saw was a staurogram (a cross with a looped top to make a Greek rho). So, it is possible that this coin type refers to a vision of Apollo (Sol) above a related ‘radiate cross’ which would probably have strong Christian undertones, given Constantine’s vision at the Milvian Bridge? It could also be considered quite an appropriate type for the last appearance of Sol, standing on a symbol heralding the dawn of a new state religion in the Roman Empire, Christianity. Does this coin mark the end of Sol’s role as a bridge between the pagan and Christian world?

Figure 3: A copper-alloy nummus of Constantine I with Sol reverse, mint of Thessalonica. Record ID is SUSS-899073 (Sussex Archaeological Society, License: CC-BY-SA).

Whatever the precise meaning of this reverse, this coin is quite rare. There are only two pieces on the PAS Database, one from East Yorkshire and the other from Sussex. Quite what the people who handled the coin in antiquity made of the reverse type would be interesting to know; they might have been as mystified then as we are now in the 21st century!

References and further reading:

P. Weiss, ‘The Vision of Constantine’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 16 (2003), pp. 237-59;

David Woods, ‘Postumus and the Three Suns: Neglected Numismatic Evidence for a Solar Halo’, Numismatic Chronicle 172 (2012), pp. 85-92.

Pan. Lat. 6(7).21.4

Eusebius, Life of Constantine, I.28

Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors, 44.5

Coin Relief 33 – “Camp Gate” nummi

Welcome to another issue of Coin Relief. In this edition, Andrew Brown examines a rather funky series of nummi – the “Camp Gate” type. These are identifiable by the fabulous depiction of a camp gate on their reverse.

The ‘Camp Gate’ nummus issues of AD 317-330

This piece covers one particular reverse type of the Fourth Century, the ‘Camp Gate’ type, struck between AD 317 and 330 (Reece Period 18). Although most of the coins we will consider fall in the period AD 324-9, some earlier issues were minted at some central and eastern mints. Sometimes, people surmise as to whether it is a camp or town gate, or even a watchtower, but we’ll stick with camp gate for simplicity’s sake.

A search on the database brings up about 1,240 specimens, although further research and editing will probably find some more. So the totals given in this piece are subject to change with further editing. Most of the specimens on the PAS database come from the western mints of London, Trier, Lyon and Arles (just over 95% of the examples). A few come from the Central and Eastern Empire mints and are considered at the end of this article.

Mints recorded for Camp Gate issues on the PAS database.

PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS and VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS types

There are a number of varieties of camp gate types, the major determining factor being the reverse legend: either PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS or VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS. Several mints struck with both legends. However, in the west, London, Trier and Lyon only use the PROIDENTIA AVGG/CAESS legend. Other varieties derive from the number of turrets on the gate (two, three or four) and whether there is just an arched entrance (normal for the Providentia types) or open doors (normal for the Virtus types).

With regard to emperors for whom these types were struck, Constantine takes the lion’s share with 46.5% of the coins. His sons Crispus (11%), Constantine II (25%) and Constantius (17%). As most of the camp gate coins were struck after the defeat of the Eastern emperors Licinius I and II in AD 324, there are very few of their pieces. We will now go on to discuss the camp gate issues by Mint.

Camp gate coins by emperor.

London, AD 324-5

There was only a single issue of Camp Gaate coins at London as the mint closed in AD 325. Only the PROVIDENTIA AVGG/CAESS types were struck here. As there was only one workshop (officina) at London, the mintmark is PLON on all pieces. There are 123 Camp Gate coins from London on the PAS database, about 16% of the total. Although RIC VII is the standard reference for these coins, there is a recent publication which deals exclusively with the Mint of London and which provides more specimens: H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint of Constantius I and Constantine I (Spink 2015). They date this issue to c. AD 325, but we’ll stick with the AD 324-5 date until there is a chance for a major re-edit.

Left to right: Nummus of Crispus Caesar (YORYM-F1BC24, York Museums Trust, License CC-BY-SA); nummus of Constantine II as Caesar (PUBLIC-A09F6B, Leonard Eeles, LicenseCC-BY-SA); nummus of Constantius II as Caesar (CORN-E0D45C, Royal Institution of Cornwall, License CC-BY).

Trier, AD 324-28

Trier has the largest number of coins with camp gate reverses from this period on the PAS database, with 512 entries (66% of all the recorded pieces). Trier struck in two workshops (officinae): P(rima) and S(ecunda). Therefore, coins are found with the core mintmark PTR or STR.

Constantine I is best represented with 210 coins (46%), followed by Constantine II (111 coins) and Constantius II (92 coins). Crispus was executed in AD 326, halfway through the issue period, which probably partly accounts for the small total of 42 coins.

There are four major issues from Trier which are outlined in the table below. All appear to have been of a similar size with numbers in the 70s and 80s, except for the P/STR crescent type which only has 31 pieces. Further editing will refine these totals.

Lyon (Lugdunum)

At Lyon there was only one issue of PROVIDENTIA AVGG?CAESS Camp Gate coins in AD 324-5. The min then closed temporarily until AD 330. This partly explains why there are only 39 pieces. Lyon only struck in one workshop (officina) at this time so all mintmarks are PLG.

Left: Nummus of Crispus (WILT-5731A4, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY-SA). Right: Nummus of Constantine II as Caesar (YORYM-26624C, York Museums Trust, License CC-BY).

Arles (Arelatum)

Arles produces Camp Gate types from AD 324 to 329, striking both PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS and VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS types. Arles struck in four workshops (officinae): P(rima), S(ecunda), T(ertia), Q(uarta). Despite this, there are only 64 pieces on the PAS database.

Central and Eastern Empire Mints

Issues of Camp Gate types from the mints of Rome, Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus are represented on the PAS database in small numbers. The Mint of Rome struck both the PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS and VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS types. The mints at Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus only issued PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS types.

Left to right: Examples of Camp Gate nummi from Rome, Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus.

Coin Relief 31 – Civil War denarii

Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Andrew Brown looks at a rare group of coins from the period of unrest that followed Nero’s demise.

Denarii of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68-70

In previous editions we have looked at the coinage of Nero and his demise, as well as three of the four emperors that succeeded him in the tussle for power in AD 68-69: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. However, we also see the appearance of rare ‘anonymous’ coins without the busts or names of any living ruler but which represent coinage issued during this period of unrest until Vespasian finally wrests control and establishes the Flavian dynasty in AD 69. These are not common coins and their identification is complicated by a number of factors, not least the lack of legends that identify issuers, types that are in some cases rare or unique, and a quite high prevalence of plated examples. Historically, they have been associated with a series of revolts in the period between c.AD 68-70 and were struck outside Rome, lacking the stylistic elements that would suggest they were products of the Rome mint.

C.H.V. Sutherland in his analysis of these coins in RIC I (2nd ed.) divided the anonymous Civil Wars coinage into six main groups, each with various associated mints or historical events. We follow this outline here for ease of identification. An important study of the metallurgy of these issues by K. Butcher and M. Ponting helps to more securely identify the location of the mints producing these coinages, while noting the presence of two basic
stylistic groups, one more closely associated with the coinage of Galba and the other with Vitellius but with some overlap between the two (Butcher and Ponting, 2015: 303). Anonymous coins of the Civil Wars are rare as PAS finds and to date there are fewer than 30 examples that can be securely identified as single finds, although there are examples from various hoard groups (e.g. SF-413CE5, WMID-7AECFC) that add to a growing corpus of material.

In this piece I will focus on the single coin finds while work is ongoing on some of the hoarded material. Although there are examples of aurei struck during this period these are so far extremely rare, especially in Britain, with Bland and Loriot noting only one British example (Bland and Loriot, 2010: no. 74). We are essentially dealing with denarii with a range of obverse and reverse types that can be separated out into the groups outlined in RIC I. Interestingly, Butcher and Ponting’s analysis of the metal composition of denarii from these issues highlights that they were struck with a higher level of fineness than the Neronian issues of the Rome mint (about 90% silver in Nero’s last Rome mint issues), approaching pure silver. The appearance of obverse and reverse types that reference the western provinces, the role of the senate and military, the achievements of Augustus, and the Roman people generally, reflect a sense of the times and push back against Nero’s increasingly autocratic rule. In their parallels to the coinage of subsequent rulers they also help to link these coins to the broad stylistic groups of Nero’s successors.

Group I – c.April to June AD 68, Spanish mint – Galba

Denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68, Spanish mint, with clasped hands on the reverse. Record ID is BH-56A298 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY).

The first substantial group identified in RIC is attributed to Galba in the period between April AD 68 when he was declared emperor by his legions and the death of Nero in June when he accepted the elevation fully. This was the period when Galba supported the revolt of Vindex in Gaul against Nero (see Group II below) and, as governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, was positioned in Spain. Analysis of coins from this group suggests they are likely products of a Spanish mint, adding weight to their association with Galba (see Butcher and Ponting, 2015: pp. 303, 312).

Coin types from Group I highlight the restoration of Rome and of the constitutional freedoms of the senate, as well as the hopeful outcome (‘bonus eventus’) of peace for the people of Rome, presumably against Nero’s tyranny, and of the Genius of the people of Rome. Some types, not represented amongst the single finds of coins recorded through the PAS, reveal strong links with the later coinage of Galba through the use of identical reverse types, while others clearly demonstrate a message of support between Galba and the Gallic revolt by Vindex against Nero.
Sutherland notes (RIC I, p. 198) that this issue highlights the shared goals of Galba and Vindex and that hurried production and shortage of materials to mint coin for his forces in Spain results in some stylistic variation as well as the appearance of plated copies.

This group is represented on the PAS by just five single coin finds with only three types present, at least two of which are plated.

Group II – c.March to May AD 68, Gallic mint – Vindex

Plated denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68, Gallic mint. Record ID is BUC-14ABA3 (Buckinghamshire County Council, License CC-BY.

The largest Civil Wars group has been associated with revolt against Nero’s regime led by Gaius Julius Vindex – a Roman senator and governor of Gallia Lugdenensis. This began in March AD 68 when Vindex sought to free Rome and replace Nero with an individual of better character. He does not appear to have wanted the highest office himself and instead placed his support behind Galba in neighbouring Hispania (see, for example, Cassius Dio, 63.22-23; Plutarch, Life of Galba, 4; Suetonius, Life of Nero 40). However, Vindex was not to see this achieved. Lucius Verginius Rufus, the governor of Germania Superior and loyal to Nero led an army against Vindex, who himself is reported to have had at least 100,000 troops (perhaps hence the need for extensive silver coinage!). Vindex was heavily defeated in battle at Vesontio (Besançon, France) probably in May AD 68, after which he committed suicide. As Butcher and Ponting (2015: 304) note, there is no direct evidence that coins were struck in Vindex’s name, but given their style, manufacture, and timing and location of their appearance this is certainly a possibility even if there are potential other options – for example for Galba after Vindex’s death and before Galba’s acceptance as emperor by the senate. Analysis of denarii from this group shows them to be Gallic in manufacture with silver from the Massif Central (France), making an association with Vindex (or Galba) possible (see Butcher and Ponting, 2015: pp. 305, 312).

This group is the most well-represented amongst the PAS data, with a total of 13 denarii, one of which lacks an image and at least two others that are plated. The most common types carry legends reading SALVS GENERIS HVMANI (‘The Welfare of the human race’), repeated later on coins of Galba, that echo Vindex’s appeal to Galba to restore order to the empire (Suetonius, Life of Galba, 9.2: “humano generi assertorem ducemque”). There are eight PAS examples of this type. Other coins again reference the importance of the Roman people, of peace, safety/welfare, and liberty, and some overtly subvert types proper to Nero. In all instances there is a clear message of freedom for Rome and her people alongside a peaceful transition of power from Nero to something more befitting the empire.

Group III – c.AD 68-69, Gallic/Spanish mint – Augustus and Divus Augustus

Denarius of Augustus, possibly Civil Wars, c.AD 68-69, mint of Spain or Gaul. Record ID is DOR-B346D5 (Somerset County Council, License CC-BY).

In a third group of Civil Wars coinage, we see the revival of lifetime and posthumous issues of Augustus. These are difficult to separate from the official coinages of Augustus, particularly on very worn or corroded examples, and in some instances it is hard to know whether a coin is simply an irregular Augustan example or associated with the Civil Wars. RIC I (pp. 190-200) suggests the Civil Wars issues are generally lighter weight (on Nero’s reformed standard, c.3.5g for denarii) and often slightly irregular in terms of their style and production and with links to the other Civil Wars types. They are separated in RIC into two groups: types of Augustus’ lifetime attributed there to a Gallic mint and likely associated with Group II coins of Vindex; and posthumous Augustan types of suggested Spanish issue associated with Galba. Butcher and Ponting (2015: 306-308) note that many of the Divus Augustus types show greater affinity with the anonymous Civil Wars types than the lifetime issues of Augustus. Their analysis of one group of Augustan types demonstrates probable Gallic production with silver from the Massif Central (France) and metal composition and types that suggest a link to Vitellius rather than Vindex or Galba. However, these types remain a little ambiguous!

At the moment it is unclear whether there are any or many of the Augustus types on the PAS database. Two denarii noted for Augustus may simply be irregular but could just be later products of the Civil Wars rather than official Augustan issues, although this is a little unclear. Examples have appeared in hoarded assemblages, however (e.g. WMID-7AECFC), so they may well appear as single finds. It is worth checking any Augustan denarii you see for recording just in case there are later copies amongst them.

Group IV – c.AD69, Gallic/Spanish mint – ‘Military Group’, Vitellius

Denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 69, mint of Gaul. Record ID is SF-E12920 (Suffolk County Council, License CC-BY).

The last substantial group of Civil Wars coinage is the so-called ‘Military Group’, whose types demonstrate strong associations to the military. These are likely related to the early activity of pro-Vitellian forces in Gaul or Spain prior to Vitellius’ elevation as emperor in AD 69 (see RIC I (2nd ed.), pp. 200-201; Butcher and Ponting, 2015: 309). Analysis of the metal composition of coins from this group allowed Butcher and Ponting (2015: pp. 309-312) to suggest their separation into two distinct groups by type: one with characteristic clasped hands and overt military associations with silver from the Massif Central and therefore of probably Gallic manufacture; the other with Vesta and Jupiter types (Sutherland’s ‘civilian’ section of this group, see RIC I (2nd ed.), p. 201) of Spanish origin. Both groups perhaps sit between the issues of Galba and Vitellius as emperors.

The first group have a very strong military message, appealing to the loyalty of the army and the praetorians (Fides Exercitvvm and Fides Praetorianorvm), characteristically depicted clasped hands on the obverse. The second group references Vesta as protector of the Roman people (Vesta P R Qviritivm) and Jupiter Optimus Maximus (I O Max Capitolinus), again with references also the military. These are the second most commonly seen group in the PAS data, with six of the clasped hands types and four of the
Vesta/Jupiter types.

Group V – c.AD 69-70, Gaul, Batavian Revolt

A group of denarii are linked to the Batavian Revolt in the Lower Rhine in c.AD 69-70 first against Vitellius and subsequently Vespasian. These are very rare and so far not represented amongst the PAS data, but there is the possibility one could turn up. There are no BM examples of this group.

Group VI – c.April-June AD 68, Africa

The final group identified in RIC I is extremely rare and similarities with coinages of Clodius Macer and Galba suggest an African origin for the issue. There are only two entries for this group in RIC and there are, unsurprisingly(!), no PAS examples to date. There is a single example in the BM collection (Fig. 39). It is probably unlikely that one of these denarii will appear in Britain through the PAS, but this of course can’t be ruled out entirely.

References and further reading

BMC I; P.H. Martin Die anonymen Münzen des Jahres 68 n. Chr. (Mainz, 1974); there is ongoing interest and research into these issues based on single finds and hoarded groups that may well provide new interpretations. For the time being, the PAS data reflects the outline in RIC I, but it may be that in the future this needs to be adjusted slightly.

K. Butcher and M. Ponting The Metallurgy of Roman Silver Coinage: From the Reform of Nero to the Reform
of Trajan (CUP, 2015), see especially pp. 301-312

R. Bland and X. Loriot Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland (Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication no. 49, 2010)

K. Butcher and M. Ponting ‘The denarius in the first century’ In Holmes, N., (ed.) Proceedings of the XIV International Numismatic Congress. (Glasgow: The International Numismatic Council, 2011), p. 562)