Constantine I SPES PVBLIC from Constantinople

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Victor_Clark, Aug 6, 2021.

  1. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    I recently got a SPES PVBLIC for Constantine I. This coin is the only bronze coin with explicit Christian imagery as part of the design, rather than merely a field mark or occasional design on shield or helmet. It was part of a series of coinage struck in Constantinople after the defeat of Licinius I. These coins were also only struck for Constantine I.

    “Four entirely new types were created for Constantine, GLORIA EXERCITVS, GLORIA ROMANORVM, LIBERTAS PVBLICA, and SPES PVBLIC…Here the reverses record a summing up of the Civil War II, the glory of the army constituting the glory of the Empire, the death of the tyrant (SPES PVBLIC) granting liberty for all.” (RIC VII pg 567) The next issue, DAFNE was also only struck for Constantine and should also be included in this special commemorative coinage.


    Constantine I
    A.D. 327-8
    18x19mm 3.2g
    CONSTANTINVS MAX AVG; rosette diademed head right.
    GLORIA EXERCITVS; Soldier holding reversed spear in right, left hand on shield S in left field.
    in ex. CONS
    RIC VII Constantinople 22

    Ex-Peter Weiß


    Constantine I
    A.D. 327
    19mm 3.3gm
    CONSTANTINVS MAX AVG; laureate head right.
    GLORIA ROMANORVM; Roma seated on a shield, holding a long sceptre, Victory on a globe in right hand, A in left field.
    in ex. CONS
    RIC VII Constantinople 17

    Ex-Peter Weiß


    Constantine I
    A.D. 327-8
    20mm 3.0g
    CONSTANTINVS MAX AVG; laureate head right
    LIBERTAS PVBLICA; Victory standing left on galley, wreath in both hands; in left field B.
    in ex. CONS
    RIC VII Constantinople 25

    the LIBERTAS type with galley alludes to the naval victory of Crispus and his subsequent capture of Byzantium.

    Zosimus said that Constantine's fleet had 200 ships and Licinius had 350 ships. Zosimus might have exaggerated, but all sources agreed that Constantine's fleet was greatly outnumbered. What accounted for the surprise victory of Constantine's forces? Could it have been that Constantine had better trained sailors...maybe divine providence? A papyrus letter from circa A.D. 323, gives an answer. The letter is from a procurator who said that the government of Egypt had an urgent requirement of box and acanthus wood for repair of the men-at-war vessels in the arsenals of Memphis and Babylon. Egypt sent a total of 130 ships to serve in the navy of Licinius, but it seems that they were all old tubs! (C. H. Roberts, “A Footnote to the Civil War of A.D. 324.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 31 (1945) : 113)

    Palladas, a fourth-century pagan poet, wrote mockingly about the city of Constantinople and coins with Victories-- "Here we are, the Victories, the laughing maidens, bearing victories to the Christ-loving city. Those who loved the city fashioned us, stamping figures appropriate to the victories." (Anth. Plan. 282)


    Constantine I
    A.D. 327
    19mm 2.6g
    CONSTANTINVS MAX AVG; laureate head right
    SPES PVBLIC; Chi-Rho atop standard of 3 medallions impaling snake, in left field A.
    in ex. CONSA
    RIC VII Constantinople 19

    Constantine used the dragon/serpent symbolism to specifically describe Licinius.

    "But now, with liberty restored and that dragon driven out of the public administration through the providence of the supreme God and by our service." (Eusebius Vita Constantini Book 2,Chapter 46.2)

    "Like some wild beast, or a twisting snake coiling up on itself. (Eusebius Vita Constantini Book 2,Chapter 1.2)

    "The references to "liberty...restored" and the perishing dragon-serpents in the palace sermon and the episcopal letter must be the literary twins of the LIBERTAS PVBLICA and the pierced dragon coins issued about the same time." (Charles Odahl. “The Use of Apocalyptic Imagery in Constantine's Christian Propaganda.” Centerpoint 4, no. 3 (1981) : 17.)

    Eusebius also described a painting that Constantine placed above the door to his palace.

    “This he displayed on a very high panel set before the entrance to the palace for the eyes of all to see, showing in the picture the Saviour's sign placed above his own head, and the hostile and inimical beast, which had laid siege to the Church of God through the tyranny of the godless, he made in the form of a dragon borne down to the deep. For the oracles proclaimed him a 'dragon' and a 'crooked serpent' in the books of the prophets of God (Isaiah 27:1); therefore the emperor also showed to all, through the medium of the encaustic painting, the dragon under his own feet and those of his sons, pierced through the body with a javelin, and thrust down into the depths of the sea.” (Eusebius Vita Constantini Book 3,Chapter 3)

    The coin shows three medallions on the standard. The medallions were portraits of Constantine I and two of his sons. The sons were probably Constantine II and Constantius II, as Eusebius said that Constantine personally showed him the standard. Eusebius did not meet Constantine until 325, and Crispus was dead by 326, so the other two sons are the most likely candidates to have been represented on the standard; otherwise the story might have been a little awkward.

    "The symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, bore a golden half-length portrait of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner." (Eusebius Vita Constantini Book 1,Chapter 31)


    Constantine I
    A.D. 328
    21mm 3.2gm
    Anepigraphic: head with rosette diademed, looking up to heavens
    CONSTANTINIANA DAFNE; Victory seated l. on cippus, palm branch in left hand and laurel branch in right hand, looking r.; trophy at front, at the foot is a kneeling captive with head turned being spurned by Victory; E in left field.
    in ex. CONS
    RIC VII Constantinople—

    The DAFNE type was the last of this series and though the SPES is rarer and seems more important, the DAFNE was struck in greater quantities and a for a longer period. The Greek word for laurel is daphne, and laurel wreaths were signs of victory. So, the legend of the Dafne coin would actually translate as 'Constantinian Laurel/Victory'. This last coin of the series sums of the Civil War literally and figuratively. The above example is the rare "eyes to Heaven" without a legend and Eusebius talks about this type of coin-- "How deeply his soul was impressed by the power of divine faith may be understood from the circumstance that he directed his likeness to be stamped on the golden coin of the empire with eyes uplifted as in the posture of prayer to God: and this money became current throughout the Roman world." (Eusebius IV.15)
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Wow, those are some really nice examples of unusual types!

    I have nothing like yours, best I can do is this very common Dafne type.
    Constantine I Follis RIC VII Constantinople 35.JPG
    ominus1, galba68, PeteB and 7 others like this.
  4. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Does Roma display a single breast as Virtus does? Just curious.
    Great write-up…..and coins!!
  5. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    Yes, sometimes; but often not clear. The DAFNE with Victory I posted also has the right breast bare. Below is an unambiguous example from AC search.

    Last edited: Aug 6, 2021
    Tejas, ominus1, galba68 and 6 others like this.
  6. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    Though not affiliated with the other coins other than also being from Constantinople, I can't resist posting my favorite (?) campgate. It was struck immediately before the other types.


    Constantine I
    A.D. 326-327
    19mm 3.4g
    CONSTAN-TINVS AVG; Laureate head right.
    PROVIDEN-TIAE AVGG; camp gate, two turrets, no doors, • in archway, ✶ above; in left field A.
    in ex. CONS
    RIC VII Constantinople 7

    I should also mention that the GLORIA EXERCITVS, GLORIA ROMANORVM, LIBERTAS PVBLICA, and SPES PVBLIC come in both laureate and diademed flavors as they were struck during the period when Constantine switched over. The DAFNE only have diademed busts. Philostorgius (A.D.368 – 439 Church historian) said that Constantine began wearing the diadem as a sign "of his sole rule and Victory over opponents." (Noel Lenski, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine. Cambridge University Press, 2005, pg. 29)
    Tejas, eparch, ominus1 and 6 others like this.
  7. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    I don't see a connection between DAFNE and the earlier types.

    If you look at the overall picture of Constantinople from opening to 330 AD, we have the following sequence of issues:

    1) The mint opens with the same sole-rule set of types as Constantine's other mints, including the vicennalia anepigraphic.


    VOT XXX (dropped in favor of PROV. AVGG perhaps, given pattern at other mints).

    PROV. AVGG campgate
    PROV. CAESS campgate

    Fausta SALVS
    Helena SECVRITAS

    2) The regular types are now replaced by the SPES/LIBERTAS "victory" group, apparently a delayed celebration of Constantine's victory over Licinius, with specific allusion to Crispus's local naval victory on the Bosphorus. It's interesting to see the officina assignment of these types to the 3 officinas then in use:


    The point of interest here is that SPES shares an officina rather than being assigned one to itself. Perhaps an indication of it's relative importance to Constantine, else maybe a hunch of it's unpopularity that apparently forced him to cancel the type. Per context in this group, I don't think the type was really meant to make a major statement other than ongoing dynastic victory/protection.

    3) Same group of four types as above, but now with diadem for Constantine (vs laureate before), and number of officinas expanded from 3 to 7. GLORIA ROMANORVM get most officinas. Diademed SPES is extremely rapidly dropped/withdrawn.

    4) The special victory types are now discontinued, to be replaced with DAFNE for Constantine, and a resumption of PROV. CAESS campgate for the caesars. There are three issues with these types:

    CONS dot
    CONS *

    The CONSANTIANA DAFNE type here, being issued alongside the PROV. CAESS campgate for the caesars, has taken the place of the PROV. AVGG campgate that was issued alongside PROV. CAESS at the other mints, so we might take that as a clue to it's meaning rather that the preceding victory types to which it has no affinity in the sequence of types.

    I tend to support the interpretation of the DAFNE type as a reference to the DAFNE fort that Constantine built on the Danube, and this would make sense as a localized substitute for the more generic PROV. AVGG campgate used at the other mints. Given his battles against the Sarmatians, and the positioning of Constantinople relative to the Danube, with easy retreat cut off by the Bosphorus, it may have been a reassuring type for the citizens of Constantinople.

    The DAFNE type itself is interesting; in featuring a seated victory with spoils of war it seems to be referring to prior victories, but has the unusual detail of Victory looking back over her shoulder. It's as if she's watching her back for any further trouble, looking back towards the Danube and Dafne fort perhaps.

    It's interesting to note that the special anepigraphic DAFNE was paired with the unlisted anepigraphic "HELENA AVGVSTA" fraction featuring a very similar seated victory reverse, but with victory facing forward as is more normal. It seems the backward facing victory was only appropriate to the DAFNE type, maybe for the reason suggested above.

    5) Not only was the DAFNE type singled out for the anepigraphic issue, but it's special nature is also indicated by it having also been struck in gold and silver as well as bronze.

    So, that's my take. Given it's pairing with the PROV. CAESS campgate, replacing PROV AVGG, I see DAFNE as a localized protective type for the people of Constantinople, referring to the fort. Victory (and the DAFNE fort) has their back!
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2021
    eparch, galba68 and PeteB like this.
  8. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    The first connection is that this reverse, like the earlier types, is unique to Constantine...this can't be stressed enough.

    I have written a lot about why I don't believe this type has anything to do with a fort (see my thesis or my DAFNE page); but one reason...the Romans built many forts-- how many coins mention them?

    The Dafne fortress also seems to have been built in 328 and the coinage might have been struck in late 327, before the fort was built.

    An important bridge was built to connect to the fort and a medallion was struck to commemorate the bridge; but no medallions for the fort.


    I could go on and on; but I don't think I would change your mind and I think it's more important to just be familiar with the type and the theories. I also don't exclude that this type can also reference victory over is a culmination of Constantinian victories.
    eparch, Bing, galba68 and 1 other person like this.
  9. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice coins Victor and very much appreciate the background information in your write-up.
    Victor_Clark likes this.
  10. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    But, as your thesis says, "the coins speak"! Constantine issued the DAFNE type not as part of the "victory" group, but as part of the "providentiae" group.

    The theory that this is just a victory type introduces more problems than it solves.

    - Why wasn't it part of the victory group ?
    - Why does it displace the PROV. AVGG. campgate ?
    - Why would it have an unprecedented greek legend, not just "VICTORIA AVG" ?
    - Why do we have VICTORIA CONSTANTINI AVG solidi in addition to the DAFNE one ?
    - Why does victory look over her shoulder ?
    - Why does victory NOT look over her shoulder on the Helena fraction mirror type ?

    Given that there was a DAFNE fort around this time, whose precise commencement of building we don't know, and given that this type displaces PROV. AVGG, it seems
    the KISS explanation is the best ...

    The fact that this type was unique to Constantine is totally expected if it's a local stand-in for PROV. AVGG. PROV. AVGG. was also unique to Constantine during his sole rule.
  11. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Great coin and super write-up.

    I have all types of the "series" except of course the SPES PVBLICA and I don't think I will ever own one. It is remarkable that the overtly Christian type is by far the rarest of the series. This seems to contradict the assessments of later Christian authors who stylized Constantine to be this great champion of Christianity. I think his attitude towards Christianity was quite ambivalent.

    Here are mine again:

    Screenshot 2021-08-08 at 10.41.23.png Screenshot 2021-08-08 at 10.41.51.png Screenshot 2021-08-08 at 10.42.04.png Screenshot 2021-08-08 at 10.43.37.png
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2021
  12. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Victor, Excellent article & coins illustrated. The most iconic victory issue of Constantine I has to be the SPES PVBLIC issue of AD 327 :happy:. The symbolism on this coin needs no explanation; even the illiterate plebian buying food in the marketplace would get the message on this coin :smuggrin:. From the standpoint of aesthetics, the LIBERTAS PVBLICA bronze is my favorite :D. This coin is a real gem with an exquisitely engraved reverse design.
    Victor_Clark likes this.
  13. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    There's a few reasons why the SPES type is rare:

    1) During the laureate issue it shared an officina (A) with the GLORIA ROMANORVM type, so these two types (GLORIA + SPES) were probably each produced in about 1/2 the quantity of the other two types (which were NOT sharing officinas).

    2) The SPES type barely exists in the diademed bust issue that followed the laureate one. Evidentially production of this type, for reasons we can only speculate, was quickly cut short in this issue.

    3) It's been theorized that at the same time the diademed SPES was discontinued, there was an attempt to "withdraw" the type by removing all existing specimens from circulation. Even if only the money changers in Constantinople were doing this, it could have been quite successful.

    You can read more on the SPES type in Lars Ramskold's "A treatise on the SPES PVBLIC coins" here:

    I think it's true that modern collectors/scholars put more importance on this type than Constantine may have done himself. As a SPES type it is forward looking, yet as part of the victory group it might be supposed to allude to Constantine's victory over Licinius. Given the dynastic-design military standard, the overall message seems to be celebrating victory over evil, and promising to continue to do so.

    Of course it's interesting to us collectors to see the Chi-Rho used in an official context like this, but I don't think it changes meaning of the type. Constantine was fighting under the assumed protection of the Christian god, so he depicts a Christian (and dynastic) military standard.

    It is interesting to speculate as to why the SPES type was abruptly cut short in the diademed issue, and apparently withdrawn. There are many reason's that might be plausible:

    - Regret at killing Crispus whose naval victory was celebrated in this same group, helping to put Constantine where he was. The dynastic three vs four dots (presumably heads of Constantine + sons) on the banner might seem quite poignant if he did indeed regret it (was Fausta killed because he discovered a lie?).

    - Pushback from the Army, still likely mostly of mithraic persuasion at this time, over the Christian standard. It's notable that after 300 AD all Constantine issues, other than the Rome/Constantinopolis commemoratives is GLORIA EXERCITVS. Appealing to the army was always of utmost importance. Also notable in this context is the large officina expansion of the GLORIA ROMANORVM type (which had shared an officina with SPES). A doubling down on traditional values, perhaps.

    - Pushback from the local/eastern population over the "victory over evil/snake" motif, implying that Licinius was evil. Celebrating victory over one's own countrymen in a civil war was obviously a bit of a touchy issue. GLORIA EXERCITVS is one thing, but unless the vanquished foe was majority unpopular then perhaps better to leave it at that. In early revisions Eusebius paints Licinius in a positive light, so it's not at all obvious the public - perhaps content with the status quo - would have been happy at having their shared values with Licinius depicted as evil, or happy with the stripping of temple treasures that happened under the new guy!

    No doubt there are other theories too. Who knows - maybe someday a parchment discovery will be made that will tell us what happened!
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2021
    Tejas and Roman Collector like this.
  14. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Dirk, You make an interesting point I tend to agree with, "I think his attitude towards Christianity was quite ambivalent." The famous silver medallion pictured below, courtesy of CNG, lends support to this idea ;).

    Medallion,_Constantine_I,_Dedication_of_Constantinople,_307-337_AD, Jan. 2013.jpg
    Constantine I, AD 307-337 (struck circa May AD 330). AR Medallion of 5 Siliquae: 17.86 gm, 30 mm, 6 h. Constantinople Mint, 6th Officina. Donative to commemorate the dedication of Constantinople. CNG Triton XVI, Lot 1155.
    Not only is there no allusion to Christianity on this medallion, but it is done in a Hellenistic style that looks more like a Greek tetradrachm :confused:! Even the dimensions closely resemble a tetradrachm of the 3rd century BC. The reverse depicts the enthroned pagan goddess Roma, & Constantine looks like a Seleucid emperor....
  15. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    If you ignore other evidence and only look at coins, I can see where you might get this opinion. To paraphrase Harold Mattingly-- did Constantine really have the Lateran Basilica built ‘in secret’? or an Alfoldi quote that I like-- “The Christianity of Constantine, then, was not wrapped in the glory of the true Christian spirit, but in the darkness of superstition. But to deny the sincerity and urgency of his religious convictions is to make a very grave mistake.”
    philologus_1, Tejas and Hrefn like this.
  16. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Roman coinage was more than a transactional commodity, it was an official message of the state. No doubt Constantine showed support for the large number Christian believers & curried their favor, however, that doesn't mean he totally embraced the new religion & did forsake the pagan past. We have no idea how many true Christians were living in new Roman Empire, & how many of those people were still pagans. If Constantine was such a devote Christian as Mattingly suggests, why did he wait till he was on his deathbed to get baptized o_O? Constantine's life was not an image of a devote Christian. He was a brutal & cruel despot who had members of his own family executed.
    Tejas likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page