Constantine the Optimus Princeps?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by wittwolf, Jun 11, 2021.

  1. wittwolf

    wittwolf Active Member

    Everyone here know Constantine I. "The great" for one reasons or another but mainly because he helped christianity to become the empires dominant religion (if this is a great deed or not in a debate in itself). But was this man really great? What where the great archievments he made for the empire? And was it possibly just himself who started calling himself the great? As far as I know he is the only emperor who uses the legend MAX AVG (great or the greatest augustus) on his coinage (Here an example from my collection):
    Constantine 2.png
    The reasons I make this post because I received an interesting piece from his reign last week. It uses exactly the coin legend and imagery which is possibly mainly famous on coinage of Emperor Trajan: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI + The three military standarts (Mainly calling him the optimal emperor which is what most people know Trajan for today). I have seen this legend only on coinage of Trajan, Septimius Severus and Constantine yet. Here my new coin:
    Constantine 1.png
    So Constantine definetly seems like a guy who really thinks that he is great to a an extend that possibly no other emperor before him practised. While most people have a rather positive image about this man greets you with an historic comment about him which is rather dark:

    Constantine: Caesar 306-307 AD; Filius Augustorum 307-309 AD; Augustus 309-337 AD. A vain, effeminate man who loved to adorn his body and the full length of his arms, with jewellery. He executed his son Crispus on trumped-up charges of incest and boiled his own wife, Fausta, to death. He robbed Rome of most of its treasures and moved them to his new, self-named capital city of Constantinople where they were lost or destroyed when that city fell to the Muslims. In AD 330 he erected in the forum of Constantinople a huge, gilded statue of Sol which he had stolen from the temple in Heliopolis, Syria. The head of Sol was changed to resemble Constantine and inscribed "Constantino solis instar fulgenti", and citizens were forced to worship him as the sun-god. (From the French translation of a late 4th c. Latin text)

    So was this really a great man? Wasnt most of his glory based on civil wars he himself triggered which destroyed the till that point stable tetrarchy and replaced it with himself? Didnt he kill his most competent heir (Crispus) and did so much secrecy about this act that we will possibly never fully know about the circumstances? And was it really a blessing for the empire to support christianity?
    To add some positive things I know about him that dont really make him a great but quite competent emperor would be his succesfull wars against the germansand his continuation of the fortress building program that started under the tetrachs. After winning all those civil wars he also brought a quite stable era to the empire until his death.

    Feel free to add your opinion about this emperor and your awesome coinage from his reign to this thread. Also if you got any OPTIMO PRINCIPI coins from this or other emperors in your collection those are definetly interesting for this topic too.
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    Just my opinion, the same people who made the narrative of Constantine being a great guy were the ones who painted Nero as the absolute monster that we know him as, while both of them share some similar traits!
    Constantine campgate follis

    And the only person who can claim to be OPTIMO PRINCEPS.
    trajan 5.png
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

    Bad dude overall. He has been sainted by the Orthodox Church, however for his contributions to Christianity and by convening the Council of Nicaea in 323 which focused on the consubstantial nature of Christ and when and how he was begotten by God the Father. Those in attendance also declared Arianism as heretical. Even so, the emperor Constantius II was an Arian.

    Constantine probably hoped that by being baptized on his deathbed that his crimes would be forgiven and also that there would be limited chances of committing a sin in his final hours...

    Vota XX, Constantine I (the Great) as evidenced by the MAX AVG on the reverse...


  5. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Trajan should be called the Great, the senate wellcomed new emperors with the words try to be as good as Trajan.

  6. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    MAX AVG:
    Obv: CONSTANTINVS AVG, laureate head right.
    Rev: D N CONSTANTINI MAX AVG, VOT XX within wreath
    Mintmark: Epsilon SIS sunburst

    A large 29mm follis - back when he was merely a Noble Caesar:

    Constantine I (Caesar, 306-309). Æ Follis (29mm, 8.59g, 12h). Heraclea, 306-7. Laureate head r. R/ Genius standing l., holding patera and cornucopiae

    Trajan as OPTIMO AVG:
    Trajan, AD 98-117
    AR denarius; 2.92 gm, 20.1 mm, 7 h
    Rome, AD 114-117
    Obv: IMP CAES NER TRAIANO OPTIMO AVG GER DAC, laureate and draped bust, right
    Rev: P M TR P COS VI P P S P Q R, Mars walking right with spear and trophy

  7. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Constantine the Great (307 - 337 A.D.)
    Billon centenionalis
    O: CONSTAN-TINVS AVG, helmeted and cuirassed bust right.
    R: BEATA TRANQVILLITAS (blessed tranquility), globe set on altar inscribed VO/TIS/XX, •STR and crescent in exergue.
    Treveri (Trier) mint, 323 A.D
    RIC VII Trier 389
  8. Matthew Kruse

    Matthew Kruse Young Numismatist

    With all due respect, why would it not be a blessing for the empire to support Christianity? Do you think it was better where someone would be killed for practicing their faith? Once Christianity was made the official religion by the Council of Nicaea, people weren't forced to be Christian. Under Diocletian though I believe, citizens were forced to worship the Roman gods or be punished by death.

    I'm not saying Constantine was a good guy or anything (especially because he killed his wife and son) but that doesn't mean he couldn't have done good things. And this is just what I understand from ancient history, I am nowhere near an expert in the subject.


    Constantine the Great (307-337 A.D.)
    Heraclea Mint
    Theoderic, wittwolf, Bing and 3 others like this.
  9. David@PCC


    Constantine I
    Rome mint
    312 to 313 AD
    AE Follis
    Obvs: IMP CONSTANTINVS PF AVG, right laureate and draped seen from rear.
    Revs: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI, Legionary eagle facing left between two vexilla. RS
    22mm, 4.48g
    RIC VI 348a
  10. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    "It is a stupid clemency that spares the conquered foe" Constantine's Panegyrist.

    It always comes down to religion it seems, but for me the title Great follows a significant cultural change that lasts. That change can be territorial, societal, religious etc. The empire going from persecuting Christianity to adopting Christianity to then oppressing other religions in such a short period of time is a massive cultural shift that lasted for quite some time. Think about all of the resources Roman society put into religion and how that changed in short order - just the physical with the abandonment of temples and construction of new Churches. I however don't think that is why he is stylized as "the Great":

    So why is he Great -
    1. Winners get to write the rules
    2. He did reunite the Empire for arguably the last time - shout out Theodosius
    3. Changed the Empire's /world's (31%!) religion, even if you don't like his choice
    4. Secured the empire's borders, limiting invasions and reigned for a very long time
    5. Established a dynasty - even if the apples didn't fall far from the family-killing tree
    6. Building Constantinople as a second capitol was truly an amazing feat, and an amazing city to this day. It did rival Rome.

    I don't think of Constantine I in the modern terms where we question the likes of George Washington by applying our current world views, however I think many do with Constantine. That and a growing dislike of Christianity seems to form the two sides.



    Latin: to the unconquered Sun, minister [of the Emperor].

    While previous emperors dedicated the coins to "Soli Invicto," Constantine coins are dedicated to "Soli Invicto Comiti." The word comiti, during imperial ages indicated a minister of the emperor (That's how the feudal title "count" originated). Even the two consuls where called "comites" (check on Du Cange glossarium of mediae et infimae latinitatis). The legend therefore reads: "to the unconquered Sun, minister (of the Emperor)." Basically it indicated that Sun was the maximum agency in the sky, as Constantine was on the earth; but both where subordinated to God.

    soli invicto comiti - NumisWiki, The Collaborative Numismatics Project (
  11. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    I guess Constantine thought he was an Optimo Principi Some years ago I owned this coin of Constantine I from the mint of Rome THIS IS NO LONGER MY COIN XconmagG6 (2).jpg IMP CONSTANTINVS PF AVG. Rv SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI 312-313 AD Mint of Rome 20MM RIC 351a This type is not very common and is most often seen from the mints of Rome and Ostia.
  12. wittwolf

    wittwolf Active Member

    @Matthew Kruse Well he wasnt the first one to tolerate christianity but he raised his sons in the christian faith and supported the build up of the orthodox church. The problem I got with this religious policy is that christianity is an aggressive religion that is incompatible with any other religion so it was clear that tensions between pagans and christians would grow with any power the christians would get. And not only christians and pagans began to fight each other but also different branches of christianity will start to fight and kill eachother. This religion brought alot of instability + the first "holy wars" this empire has seen.
    I guess you cant blame all of this on Constantine but he could have guessed a lot of this and even heated it up during the council of nicaea by outlawing parts of christianity right after tolerating them all.

    @IMP Shogun He wasnt the last one to unite the empire. After him Constantius II. would rule some time as sole emperor after the murder of Constans. After that comes Julian ruling alone, then you could argue Jovian also ruled solely over the empire. But anyways the rule of one emperor was outdated at that time and even Constantine relied on a bunch of Caesars under him so why would this make him special?
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