Crispus with early Christian reference?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Tejas, Oct 19, 2021.

  1. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I have the following follis of Crispus in my collection.

    Field: VOT X --- RS
    Mint: Rome
    Year: AD 321
    Weight: 2.35g (19mm)
    RIC VII, Rome 240

    The wreath on the reverse is decorated with three shields. On each shield there is a large cross with pellets in the four corners. The type also exists with only one shield on top, but usually there is no shields at all on this type.

    Does anybody know if these shields had a symbolic significance? Could they have been intended as a Christian reference, perhaps 1 shield for god, three shields for the holy trinity (if that concept had been established by that time)? Does this type, i.e. with a wreath with crosses, exist for Constantine I or II?

    Even if no Christian reference was intended, I suppose, the fast growing Christian community at the time would have understood them as Christian crosses.

    Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 19.40.11.png

    If anybody has a comparable coin or any Crispus with Christian reference, I would love to see it.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
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  3. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    They are not shields, they are far too small. They are merely wreath decorations and no reason to even associate them with Christianity-- you can find equilateral decorations often enough. There are a variety of different decorations. Below is a picture from Bruun's Constantinian Mint Policy.

  4. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    It is not impossible. In this book: “Christus auf Münzen – in Zeichen, Worten und Bildern: Rom, Byzanz und Axum”, Brühl, Duitsland, 2011, the author, W. Drösser, says 'yes'. Others would agree. However, many disagree, and say that it is merely a variation of ornamentation designs on the wreath. And to be sure, the same design appears on other coin types which would not be prone to be assigned an intended Christian symbolism. As for me, I lean away from it being an intended Christian reference.

    What cannot be said however, is that the OP example of Crispus (or mine of Constantine I below) are too early to bear any Christian symbolism, because not only are there issues of both emperors which include a Christogram, but a Cross appears on at least 1 type issued by Constantine I.

    Here is a coin I have that includes the same reverse symbol on the wreath:
    Constantine AE follis. AD 321.
    Obv.: CONSTA-NTINVS AVG, laureate head right
    Rev.: D N CONSTANTINI MAX AVG, VOT XX, decorated wreath. RQ in exergue.
    Diam.: 17 mm.
    Weight: 2.53 gr.
    Attrib.: RIC VII Rome 237 var. Drösser pg.22, #14, (this coin).
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    I can understand the lure to Christian symbolism on these coins but it does seem like an odd & almost hidden way to express it. Was the engraver trying to express God's blessing for the next set of vows o_O? The Byzantine engravers did mix opposing symbols on some coins, like the coin of Constantine pictured below.
    Constantine I.jpg
    Constantine I as Augustus, AD 307-337. Ticinum Mint, Officina 1. AE 2.80 gm, 19 mm, 12 h. RIC VII Tic 45. Reverse: Image of Sol (the sun god) with cross & star in the field.
    I don't know the date when this coin was struck but it looks like & early issue.
  6. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    While the chi-rho is obviously a Christian symbol when used at this time, I'm doubtful that crosses were. (My understanding is that the cross wasn't in common use as a Christian symbol until the 5th century.) @Valentinian has a great discussion of the various issues (including @Al Kowsky's) here. [Edit: the main discussion of whether each symbol is in fact definitively Christian is on a subsequent page.)

    This is my example of a Crispus coin with a chi-rho on the shield, issued 322-23 - so one of the earliest with a definite Christian symbol:
    crispus chi-rho.jpg

    Still within the lifetime of Constantine I, here's a chi-rho as a control symbol on this 334 issue from Arles (Constantina):
    constans chi rho.jpg

    I wonder when the cross as a definite Christian symbol first appeared on coins. Maybe as late as the 348 FEL TEMP issues? Earlier instances might just be simple control marks accidentally resembling a Christian symbol, or decorative elements (as on the OP wreath).
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
  7. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Love the type! Feel free to offer it to me at any time. :)

    Below is one of my coins of Constantine which shows what is believed to be a Cross on the ground between the soldiers. It is obviously not a part of the coin's central device, but it is hard for me to imagine that it was intended to be anything other than a Cross.
    Constantine I, 307-337 AD, AE Follis
    Mint: Aquileia, (struck ca. 334-335 AD)
    Obv.: CONSTANTI_NVS MAX AVG; Rosette-diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right.
    Rev.: GLOR_IA EXERC_ITVS: 2 soldiers standing, holding reversed spear in outer hand, resting inner hand on shield set on ground, 2 standards with banners between; Cross in center on ground; AQP in exergue.
    Diam.: 17 mm. Weight: 2.65 gm.
    Attrib.: RIC VII 124 (R4)
  8. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    That is a cool item! Esty lists it as his type 1.12, found at Aquileia only. On his coin it is clearly a cross-rho, and I expect yours is too. I agree the cross-rho is probably an early Christian symbol.
    [Edit: in his further discussion of this type, Warren shows two other examples, one of which looks similar to yours, and it doesn't look like a cross-rho. So maybe this is the earliest Christian cross on a coin!]
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
  9. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks :)

    Even close examination under a brightly lit stereo microscope does not reveal any evidence of a Rho-like loop to the Cross on my example.
  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Yes, I edited my post after having looked at Warren's more in-depth discussion of the type - see above.
  11. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    I bought that coin in 2013 from a guy in France for only a couple of bucks...shipping was more than the coin. Nobody else recognized of the best bargains I have ever gotten. Below is the original auction picture.

  12. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    With mixed emotions I joyfully say, "Congrats!" (while simultaneously treading water in a flood of envy!!!) ;-)

    So, please forgive my redundancy, but I will say to you what I said to @Severus Alexander . . .
  13. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Here is an early appearance of a cross on a Constantinian follis with Mars and Sol. I think these crosses with serifs were actual Christian crosses. I don't find it likely that these crosses just appeared accidentally as random signs without meaning. They only appear at certain mints (Ticinum and Arles). They may have been the initiated by a Christian die engraver or other a mint official.

    Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 22.46.11.png Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 22.47.14.png
  14. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Also, I don't think that a cross (with serifs) was a random occurrence or mere decoration on an altar. I think the Christian cross is a deliberate Christian design elements on the follis below:

    Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 22.52.21.png

    Just as the Chi-Rho on some other folles of Constantine:
    Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 22.55.18.png

    So I guess with the OP coin (the Crispus follis) the crosses may just have been decoration. At the end we will probably never know.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
  15. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    Here's Crispus with a blob-top Christogram.

    This is RIC VII Aquileia 60. Not a thing of beauty, but much rarer with this B4L bust than his normal spear + shield G8L.

    Crispus CAES Virtvs Exercit VOT XX Chi-Rho Aquileia 320 (RIC VII Aquileia 60 R5) XP 3.24g 18mm.jpg
  16. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    I agree. What's also interesting is that while RIC gives the issue mark as '+ | *' (cross in left field, star in right field), that's only true for the Sol type. For Marti they are reversed. This is 100% consistent on all dies, and there's no space issue or other consideration that forced them to do this - it appears to have been a deliberate choice.

    But, note how Sol is facing left, and Mars is facing right... this means that the cross is always in front of either figure, and the star behind. Given that this appears to be deliberate, my take is that it seems to be sending the message that Christianity is the future (ahead of us), Solar worship is the past (behind us).

    Sol cross+star.jpg
    Marti cross+star.jpg
  17. ominus1

    ominus1 Be seeing you!.. Supporter

    interesting theory..:vulcan:
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Thanks, @Tejas and everyone else, for another terrific, enlightening thread.
    ...Um, leading me to a point of importunity.
    I collected LRBs mainly as a kid, in the '70's (with a 1974 Sear to prove it), before mostly defecting to medieval. But one I really miss is a small AE of Arcadius, from Alexandria, with one of those cruciform chi-rho signs in the reverse field.
    Any chance of anyone alerting me to one, whether yours or elsewhere? ...For instance, in a 'conversation'?
    I find the combination of the mint and the cross-rho (Thanks, @Severus Alexander) really compelling. The early Coptic Christians appropriated the Ankh (Egyptian symbol of life, used continuously from Pharaonic times to late Antiquity) as a Christian symbol. Not by accident, since the Coptic language is a direct descendant of Pharaonic Egyptian.
    (From Wiki: "Crux ansata signs on a piece of cloth, 4th to 5th century AD": )
    I'm not suggesting that when the cross-rho was adopted by late Roman mints across the Roman Empire, it was with that particular connotation. Only that it's hard to imagine that the similarity would have been lost on a Copt in Alexandria.
    ...Sorry for this, but, Honest, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to everyone, for your respective patience and (mmmMaybe) help.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2021
    Claudius_Gothicus and Tejas like this.
  19. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Here is a Constantius II follis with something that would match the idea of a Crux Ansata (Ankh) on the reverse:

    Screenshot 2021-10-20 at 08.01.08.png
  20. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I have this beautiful Arcadius AE from Alexandria with Tau-cross on the reverse. I know some people believe this to be a mere letter T. However, there are examples that leave no doubt that a Greek Tau was intended. Since the Tau cross is the symbol of St. Antonius of Egypt, it is in my view no coincidence that it appears on coins from Alexandria.

    Screenshot 2021-10-20 at 08.05.12.png
  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic examples, @Tejas. The first one from Aquleia is like nothing I've ever seen.
    You obviously knew this, but the Tau cross is effectively part of the symbolic canon, even in improbably Protestant circles. Except, the connection to St. Anthony is Fantastic --never knew that.
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