A Changing World
House of Constantine Bronzes




Constantine the Great AE-3 (20mm, 3.89g), Treveri (Trier), Gaul (in present-day Germany), officina (mint workshop) A, c. 317 AD, Sear 3868, RIC VII 131.

Obverse: Bust of Constantine the Great facing right, wearing a laurel wreath (crown of branches from a Mediterranean evergreen tree that was a mark of honor conferred upon victorious athletes, heroes, generals, and poets) and a paludamentum (large cloak typically worn by Roman generals) fastened at the right shoulder by fibula (pin), with what may be a leather strap connecting the chest and back plate of a cuirass (body armor) at the left shoulder, inscription "IMP CONSTANTINVS AVG" or "Imperator Augustus Constantine."

Reverse: Anatomically correct Sol, the Sun god, standing left, wearing a radiate crown (crown of sun rays) and a chlamys (small cloak) fastened at the shoulder, with his right hand raised, holding in his left hand a globus (celestial orb) decorated with an equinoctial cross (representing the spring and autumnal equinoxes), offering the globus to Constantine (symbolizing Sol granting Constantine the power to rule the Universe), standing on the exergual line, inscription "SOLI INVICTO COMITI" or "To the invincible Sun God, companion of the Emperor," T and F in the reverse left and right fields that may stand for "TEMPORVM FELICITAS" or "The happiness of the age," mint mark of dot-ATR (last letter looks like an H) in the exergue, with TR standing for Treveri (Trier), a Roman mint in eastern Gaul that's part of present-day Germany and that operated c. 291-430 AD, A standing for the primary officina or mint workshop, and the dot differentiating among issues.



















The House of Constantine represented an epochal period in history. Rome, the center of the Western world, transformed itself from paganism to Christianity. The period began with a great emperor's embrace of a fringe religion for reasons that appear to be as much political and military as they were spiritual, and it ended with another emperor's failed attempt to restore the Roman Empire to the polytheism of its past.

With the rise of the Church came the centrality of dogmatism, of reality uncovered not by observation or experimentation but put forth in doctrine written by those chosen to interpret the will of God, and intolerance, with no differing views tolerated. Thus began more than a thousand years of darkness and decline in which original thinking was suppressed. The supremacy of rationality, the importance of discovery, invention, and reasoning, which most distinguished the ancient Greeks and which ushered in the central idea of "the West" during the 6th and 5th centuries BC, would only be recovered, in fits and starts and with massive opposition from the Church, during the Renaissance.

But the problem of ideological rigidity continued to haunt humankind, and it haunts us today, as faith threatens to obliterate reason, as belief dominates evidence, in the U.S. and abroad, in national politics as well as among a large percentage of everyday people. Basing a world view and practical decisions on fixed, preconceived notions handed down from above or from the past, of knowing what you know because you know it regardless of the evidence against it, isn't unique to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or religion in general. And religion isn't necessarily dogmatic and intolerant. There is, however, a tendency toward dogmatism in religion, politics, and other areas when knowledge and ethics are ascribed to an ultimate authority. History repeats. If it continues unchecked, if belief again becomes the ultimate reality, another dark age may well result.

Dogmatism and intolerance didn't begin with Constantine the Great's embrace and subsequent legalization of Christianity. As one of many precedents, when Anaxagoras in the 5th century BC taught that the Sun was a flaming rock, he was charged with blasphemy in Athens, the very center of the birthplace of the West, which forced him to flee back to his native Asia Minor.

But unlike most Greek city-states and Hellenistic kingdoms, the late Roman Empire, followed by Byzantium and Dark Age Europe, embraced dogmatism. Ordering that others must believe and obey a particular dogma or face dire consequences in this lifetime or afterward was central to their way of life. The same has been true with Communism and other manifestations of authoritarian government in more recent times. And it's true today as well with many religious fundamentalists of different religions, who believe that those who don't believe as they do will burn in Hell or should be killed.

Constantine the Great, like Alexander the Great before him, wasn't dogmatic himself, at least initially, being tolerant of differences by allowing others to worship the gods of their choice. After his famous vision of a cross before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD and his legalization of Christianity in 313, he continued to mint coins bearing pagan imagery and to worship Sol, the Sun God, as the above coin well illustrates. But he later began persecuting pagans just as pagans had earlier persecuted Christians, destroying Hellenistic and other pagan temples and torturing pagan priests.

Constantine the Great is called "the Great" not only because he legalized Christianity but also because he created the eastern capital of the Roman Empire at Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma (New Rome) and which was later renamed again after his name as Constantinopolis (Constantinople). It would be the center of the successor of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, for more than a thousand years until its sack by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Constantine the Great also unified the Roman Empire through his military campaigns in 324 and initiated legal reforms, including improving the rights of tenant farmers, women, prisoners, and slaves.

The last ruler of the House of Constantine was Julian II. During his reign from 360 to 363 AD, he unsuccessfully tried to revive paganism and issued an edict of religious tolerance. A contemporary writer, Libanius, wrote that Julian was assassinated by one of his Christian soldiers, though others have written that he died from wounds incurred in battle. Julian would be both the last pagan Roman emperor and the last Constantinian emperor.

Most Constantinan bronzes are inexpensive. The average cost of the coins illustrated below, despite their being about 1,600 years old, was about $20, approximately the cost of a U.S. large cent in the same condition that's about 160 years old. Slightly more worn and smaller Constantinian bronzes can be had for $5 and under from the pick bins of some ancient coin dealers at major coin shows. Constantinian bronzes give visual and tactile life to the emperors and the women surrounding them who changed the world in 4th century AD Rome.














Crispus AE-3 (19mm, 2.7g), Siscia, Pannonia (present-day Croatia), c. 320 AD, Sear 3927, RIC VII 123. Obverse: Bust of Crispus facing left. Reverse: Two captives on either side of a standard, a tall pole used by the Roman legions to be seen above the battle and help keep the unit together, "VIRTVS EXERCIT" or "Virtue of the Army." This coin has a reflective black patina. Crispus was the first son of Constantine the Great, with his first wife Minervina, and was executed by him after his second wife Fausta accused Crispus of trying to seduce her. Crispus never ruled, despite issuing coins.















Fausta AE-3 (19mm, 3.0g), Nicomedia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 324-325 AD, Sear 3805, RIC VII 96, LRBC 1083. Obverse: Bust of Fausta facing right, wearing a necklace. Reverse: Salus, the personification of health (sometimes identified as Fausta), holding babies (sometimes identified as Constantine II and Constantius II), "SALUS REIPUBLICAE" or "Welfare of the state." Fausta was the second wife of Constantine the Great and was responsible for the execution of Crispus, his first son and her stepson. Constantine later executed Fausta by having her boiled alive.















Helena AE-3 (20mm, 2.3g), Heraclea, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 325-326 AD, Sear 3908, RIC VII 79, LRBC 873. Obverse: Bust of Fausta facing right, wearing a diadem (royal headband) and necklace. Reverse: Securitas, the personification of security (sometimes identified as Helena), lowering a branch with her right hand and raising her robe with her left hand, "SECVRITAS REIPVBLICAE" or "Welfare of the state." Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. She was responsible for the execution of Fausta, her daughter-in-law, who she felt falsely accused her grandson Crispus of trying to seduce her as a ruse to have him executed. Helena made a famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land.















Constantine II AE-3 (19mm, 2.7g), Heraclea, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 325-326 AD, Sear 3948, RIC VII 7, LRBC 871. Obverse: Bust of Constantine facing right. Reverse: Roman army campgate with two turrets, a campgate being the entrance of a Roman army encampment and symbolic of the strength of the army against invading barbarians, star, "PROVIDENTIAE CAESS" or "Divine direction of the caesars." The was the first ancient coin I ever bought, from a local coin dealer at his shop. Constantine II ruled Spain, Gaul, and Britain. He was killed when he invaded Italy by forces of his younger brothers Constans I and Constantius II. Roman Campgates are a popular coin type. Zach Beasley has an excellent page about Architecture-Campgate. Doug Smith also has more detail about Campgates.















Constans I AE-2 (22mm, 5.1g), Constantiniple, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 348-351 AD, Sear 3976, RIC VIII 88, LRBC 2014. Obverse: Bust of Constans facing left, wearing a diadem and cuirass and holding a globus, or celestial orb, in his right hand, symbolizing his power to rule. Reverse: Roman soldier leading a young barbarian from a hut tree, referring to the resettlement of barbarians within the Roman Empire, "FEL TEMP REPARATIO," which is an abbreviation of "FELICIUM TEMPORUM REPARATIO" and translates into "Good times returned" or more loosely "Happy times are here again." It was meant to reassure Roman citizenry of their safety against barbarian raids. Constans ruled Italy, Africa, and Illyricum from 337 to 340 AD plus Spain, Gaul, and Britain from 340-350 AD.















Constantius II AE-2 (22mm, 4.4g), Constantiniple, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 348-351 AD, Sear 4003, RIC VIII 81, LRBC 2026. Obverse: Bust of Constantius facing right. Reverse: Roman soldier spearing a fallen barbarian horseman, "FEL TEMP REPARATIO," which translates into "Good times returned" or more loosely "Happy times are here again." Constantius ruled Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Egypt, and Asia from 337 to 353 AD, then all the Roman Empire from 353 to 361 AD. These fallen horseman type is probably the single most popular Constantinian bronze, with its dramatic battle scene on the reverse. Most were struck by Constantius II, with some struck by Constans I, Magnentius, Constantius Gallus, and Julian II. They were minted in Alexandria, Amiens, Antioch, Aquileia, Arles, Constantinople, Cyzicus, Heraclea, Lyons, Nicomedia, Rome, Sirmium, Siscia, Thessalonica, and Trier. Along with the Constantine VLPPs, FEL TEMPs were also frequently imitated by tribal peoples. Mark Lehman, an avid Roman coin collector and Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) volunteer, estimates that between 10 and 25 percent of later FEL TEMPs, from the late 350s, are imitatives. The above specimen, a large AE-2 from Constantinople, is one of the earlier ones. Doug Smith has more detail about Falling Horseman and other FEL TEMP REPARATIO Constantinian bronzes. "Helvetica" shows what you can do if you specialize in FEL TEMPS.















Julian II AE-1 (29mm, 7.5g), Nicomedia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 360-363 AD, Sear 4072, RIC VIII 121, LRBC 2319. Obverse: Bust of Julian facing right. Reverse: Bull, a symbol of paganism, two stars (Gemini or Taurus), "SECVRITAS REIPVB" or "Security of the state." Julian, who was Constantine the Great's nephew, ruled the Roman Empire from 360 to 363 AD before he was killed in battle with the Persians. He's best known for trying to revive paganism, unsuccessfully. The theological disputes and blood feuds of early Christianity, which have continued to this day, had alienated him from the new religion and turned him into a proponent of classical learning and paganism, and before becoming emperor he studied under several prominent philosophers in Athens. Julian, who is sometimes referred to as Julian the Philosopher, was the last pagan Roman emperor and the last emperor of the House of Constantine. The above coin, sometimes termed a "double majorina," was a new denomination introduced by Julian. This rough, well-worn specimen, contrasting sharply with the pristine coin that's the first illustrated on this page, pointedly marks the end of an era. Here are variations on a theme, Julian II copies.
















Victor Clark has an interesting site on the coins of Constantine the Great, with some additional Constantine family coins illustrated as well. Doug Smith also has some good material on Constantinian period coins. The section of Joe Sermarini's Numiswiki on Constantinian era coins includes good information and photos. Steve Niederloh's Celator's Art site has good material for beginning collectors, with one of his main collecting areas being the family of Constantine. "Voz" has a good page on Tetrarchy coins. Bill Welch has an interesting page on Sol and Oriens.













Constantinian Bronzes

Constantine Sols

 Constantine VLPP Imitatives

Julian II Copies

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2013 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.