Earliest Constantine Sol Coinage

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Gavin Richardson, Feb 20, 2020.

  1. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    I seem to have a real gift for asking impossibly complex questions that tax the goodwlll of even the most patient reader on this board. But here I go again. :facepalm:

    I’d like to follow up on a suggestion raised by @maridvnvm in another post ( https://www.cointalk.com/threads/mars-vs-sol-in-the-first-tetrarchy.353123/page-2#post-3992120 ).

    I’m curious about the origins of Constantine’s Sol coinage and whether we can determine which mint was first to strike it.

    Most know that Sol had long been a deity featured on Roman coinage. A standing or advancing Sol appears on coins of Septimius Severus, Elagabalus, Valerian, Postumus, and Aurelian, among several others. A scarce antoninianus struck at Lyon in 293 A.D. for Constantine’s father (RIC VI Part 2 Lugdunum 631c) depicts Sol standing left, holding a whip and raising his right hand. Sol was nothing new.

    But Sol was not featured on the early coinage of Constantine; Mars and the Genius of the Roman People were. Yet in about 310, Sol coinage for Constantine explodes. Lyon, London, and Trier were the earliest to strike Sol coinage. Mints of Ticinum, Aquileia, Rome, and Ostia would begin in 312. When the mint at Arles opened in 313, it struck Sol coinage right away. Siscia would follow in 317, but it was the only Eastern mint to do so. Constantine’s Sol coinage seems to have been a Western phenomenon.

    The earliest date I have found for the Sol coinage is possibly 309 at Lyon, but I’m not quite sure how to read RIC here. In RIC VI, p. 240, Sutherland writes:


    The operative issue here concerns the phrase “continuation of the issue into 310.” I take that to mean that Sutherland believes that Constantine’s Sol coinage was not struck until 310. Maridvnvm seems to concur, suggesting that the mint at Lyon experimented with iconographical designs before settling on the standard "Sol standing with raised hand and globe" type. Such experimentation might suggest Lyon as the starting point for the Sol coinage. But Maridvnvm still posits a 310 starting date. These are two early Lyonese Sol issues he posted (his coins), and his commentary:

    2020-02-20 (2).png

    I do not own Bastien, so I don’t know what he says about dating.

    Why does this 309/310 distinction matter? Well, for two reasons:

    1. Some indifferent attributions will just give the general issue date of 309-310 (Example: https://www.vcoins.com/en/stores/gb...n_mint__ricvi_312__scarce/878967/Default.aspx ). Obviously, if Sutherland did not intend for the 309 date to apply to Sol coinage from that issue, such an attribution would be incorrect. (In fairness, the "ca." abbreviation before a date might merit some grace here.)

    2. More substantively, Sutherland and others have argued that the explosion of Sol coinage was the result of Constantine’s vision of Apollo / Sol in 310 (a vision that Peter Weiss claims gets a later Christian re-interpretation as the “cross in the sky” vision recounted by Eusebius). This causal connection (the Sol vision leading to Sol coinage) is weakened if Lyon starts striking Sol coinage for Constantine in 309, before the vision.

    If you’re still reading this post, what’s wrong with you? :shame:

    I suppose what I most want to know is whether a 309 date for the Lyonese Sol coinage is feasible, or if the 310 date is the only plausible beginning date. I vote for the latter.
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  3. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I looked into it using just RIC VI and VII and it seems they have reason to attribute one later SOLI issue to 314-5, but no obvious time boundaries for the earlier issues. We need something else, such as the vision, to give a reason to pick a date for its initial appearance. I think their "c." in "c. 309-10" was appropriate because they didn't know when it was.

    Here is some evidence from RIC VI and VII.

    The field marks F T are in RIC's first SOLI INVICTO COMITI issue at Lugdunum in RIC VI, page 265. That is the last issue in RIC VI. The next issue is in RIC VII, which has field marks S F for it, and T F for the second next (314-5, dated by an obverse legend with COS IIII). All those SOLI issues are for Constantine alone. So, going by RIC VI and VII, we have an issue "c. 309-10" and the next issue (written by a different author seven years earlier) "313-14". The gap seems unlikely. It just shows they didn't really know the dates.


    The group RIC VI isolates as the first is only for Constantine and with two obverse legends,
    Their previous issue had much different field marks and was shared with Galerius as Augustus and DIVO coins for Constantius. The issue before that included Maximinus II as Caesar (He was Caesar until early 309 according to Sear's "The Emperors of Rome and Byzantium" but until May 310 in RIC VI, page 32) and Maxentius as Augustus. Maybe the Lugdunum issue with Constantine alone mean he had broken with Maxentius, Galerius, and Maximinus II. But, even if that is so, it does not give close dates for the beginning of SOLI. Also, because the type at Lugdunum is issued for Constantine alone until 314-5, we can't tell, from Lugdunum, a terminus ante quem.

    Rome didn't issue SOLI in RIC VI, so Trier is the mint to look at. Its first issue has field marks T F, which are the second field marks at Lugdunum (and in RIC VII) and dated "c. 310-13" in RIC VI for Trier. At Trier the field marks are shared with Maximinus II as Augustus and Licinius. So at Trier the first issue seems at least as late as Maximinus II as Augustus. But we are not sure when that was.

    So, in only an hour of searching and thinking, I propose that RIC didn't really know when the issues were. I expect that any scholarly articles since they were published use additional information, such as his Apollo/Sol vision, to place the SOLI type in time.

    If you think the SOLI type followed his vision of 310, I have found nothing to contradict that.
  4. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    So it seems I’m not the only one who likes these knotty problems. Thanks for your effort and time. The Apollo vision begetting the Sol coinage does make for a nice, tidy argument. I like those best, though they can be so seductive, one must be cautious.

    I wish I could find a resource that precisely locates the date of the vision. The panegyric that mentions it was given when Constantine is celebrating his imperial anniversary, in July of that year. But precisely when the vision occurred in 310 I have not been able to discern. I’m going to check Barnes now.
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  5. Regarding the vision as related later by the chroniclers Eusebius and Lactantius...I have read different things over the years from varied scholarship

    1. It was a vision of Sol as in Soli Invicto
    2. It was a vision of Mithras (the most popular deity amongst the soldiery)
    3. It was a vision of the "cross" or "chi-rho" in the heavens

    Not sure what to believe at this point. And since we don't know what symbol was painted on the soldiers' shields on that fateful day at the Milvian Bridge, perhaps we will never know...:)
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  6. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

    Perhaps the dating lies in comparing the quickly varying weights of the coins. The heaviest coins of the 309-310 series seem to be 5.5 grams and they should then be dated to 309, rather than 310. The lightest weigh about two grams less and should therefore be dated to 310. Here is my VII nr 1 VII Lyon 1 Constantine I Sol 12 nr 0174.jpg
  7. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    If the weighting suggests good evidence for a 309 date for these early Sol coins at Lyon, that would ruin the argument for the Apollo vision being the impetus for the Sol coins. That is, of course, if we accept 310 as a fixed date for the vision. I haven't seen a source that pinpoints it; Spring of 310 seems the closest I can get; it's clearly a completed event by the time the panegyrist mentions it in July/August of 310

    I suspect I'm trying to uncover a firm dating of both the Lyonese SOL issues as well as the Apollo vision, when neither can be firmly fixed. Perhaps that leaves me back at Valentinian's conclusion: "If you think the SOLI type followed his vision ... I have found nothing to contradict that."
  8. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    If (a big "if") they are dated to 309-310 then the heavier ones are likely the earlier ones. What we are lacking is any reason to think they belong to "309-310" (other than a 50-year-old guess of the author of RIC VI).
  9. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

  10. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    Just to throw a monkey wrench into the discussion, here are two from London that depict Sol but with a different reverse inscription.
    Yep. And these two are exactly in between, at 4.4 and 4.1 grams respectively:
    London mint, A.D. 310-312
    RIC 153
    Rev: COMITI AVGG NN - Sol, with whip and globe
    PLN in exergue; star in right field
    24 x 22 mm, 4.4 g.

    London mint, A.D. 310-312
    RIC 177 (var. - unrecorded obverse inscription break)
    Rev: COMITI AVGG NN - Sol, with whip and globe
    PLN in exergue; star in right field
    24 mm, 4.1 g.
  11. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    I'm very glad you posted that type, Glenn. Most interesting to me is the reverse legend, COMITI AVGG NN, which does not proclaim Sol to be the unique companion of Constantine. The doubled terminal consonants indicate that this Sol is the companion of “Our Augusti,” plural (augustorum nostrorum). Is the effort to connect this Sol coinage to Constantine’s Apollo vision compromised by the more general application of Sol’s companionship? I would say no. A newfound appreciation of Sol as the divine protector of all Roman leaders does not necessarily preclude a special relationship between Sol and Constantine himself. Indeed, SOLI INVICTO COMITI coins were later struck for Licinius and Maximinus II Daia, but the type is unquestionably to be associated primarily with Constantine.

    Any other ideas for the plural -GG -NN? Was this to keep Galerius happy since he would be included in such a legend? He would have been the other Augustus in 310, though he dies in 311. Maximian and Maxentius would also toy with the Augustus title, though I can't imagine Constantine would want to honor them with it as late as 310. (Maximian dies ca. July of 310 anyway, probably before this coin is struck.)

    Maybe I'm thinking too narrowly; maybe Sol as the comes of the Augusti could refer to any Augustus, not one particular man or set of men. That would help make sense of the legend being used through 312, even with the changing/dying of various augusti. The -GG -NN still seems a curious variant, struck only at London.
  12. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

  13. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    this topic made me reread the panegyric from 310 and the footnote for the vision from Apollo --

    "For you saw, I believe, O Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel wreaths, each one of which carries a portent of thirty years."

    from footnote #92 -- one of the biggest footnotes ever

    it talks about Constantine wanting to challenge the old tetrarchic Hercules. "Support for this interpretation is sought in conage, where Sol Invictus suddenly becomes very prominent (although Mars is regular as well); a fundamental change in Constantine's coin types can be observed precisely in 310"

    Now you have to decide why the panegyricist said the stuff about Apollo, did it actually happen...did Constantine talk with him beforehand and tell him what to say.

    Some theories are that it was a political ploy and at this point, we will never be able to actually know Constantine's mind -- "What religious significance...the vision had for Constantine is impossible to gauge."

    see Nixon, C. E. V., and Barbara Saylor Rodgers, eds. In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. University of California Press, 1994. pp 248- 250

    the footnote gives more literature to dive into.
  14. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    I think the question is, what does Constantine gain by claiming to have had visions of various gods at various times? It would not surprise me at all if he made differing claims at different times, depending on what he perceived was advantageous at that moment. Playing on the superstition of his soldiers, and giving them a united symbol to fight under while also presenting a portent of success.
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  15. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    My guess is that with the COMITI AVGG NN reverses he is beseeching Sol's support and protection for the entire Roman Empire. We'll never know, but the similarity of Sol as supreme god and the omnipotence of the Judeo-Christian God that he later embraced is striking. It seems as if Constantine wanted to be associated with--or perhaps claim the support of--the most powerful god. Why waste time and effort trying to appease lesser gods? Figure out who is the most powerful and devote your energies to him. This was a fairly typical sentiment at the time.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2020
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  16. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    It’s funny you should mention that book, Victor, because I have it on order right now. Looking forward to checking out the mother of all footnotes. Always good to hear you chime in on Constantine matters, and I really appreciate the posts from everyone.
  17. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

  18. tenbobbit

    tenbobbit Supporter! Supporter

    Nothing special, just a few examples of the type

    London, both 23mm, 3.86g & 4.02g ( rather rough )

    London, both 20mm,2.70g & 2.51g IMG_5387.JPG
    lyon, 23-24mm, 4.52g

    Trier, 23mm, 3.67g
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  19. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    That last coin is my favorite. I love whoever is engraving for Trier at this time. That mint has the most elegant depictions of Sol.

    CONSTANTINE RIC VI Trier 873.jpg
  20. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    We need to be careful not to conflate two visions into one. The Christian chi-rho vision is more famous, but he also had an earlier vision that @Gavin Richardson was writing about in the original post.
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  21. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    As I understand Peter Weiss's argument, conflation is exactly what we should be doing, though perhaps with some explanation. I gave a paper this summer on the Sol coinage at a small conference in Oxford (not affiliated with the University, alas). Here's an excerpt from that paper that addresses the "one vision, two explanations" argument:

    The vision of Apollo makes the later Christian vision seem derivative, threatening to erode whatever kernel of historicity it might have possessed. In 1993, Peter Weiss published an essay that sought to reconcile these seemingly incompatible visions. His reading was met with general indifference, if not outright contempt, with the exception of a few early supporters. However, at the present time, Weiss’s explanation is gaining increasing support. Weiss’s central argument is this: What the panegyrist calls a “vision of Apollo” was actually a solar halo, a natural phenomenon that occurs when sunlight passes through ice crystals in the atmosphere. When conditions are right, a halo forms around the sun and may include “sundogs,” or parhelia—orbs of light that resemble the sun itself, floating above and to the sides of the sun. Since Apollo was a Roman solar deity, such a phenomenon could have been interpreted as a sign of the god’s favor, with sundogs being the wreaths of victory alluded to here.[1] Weiss further suggests that in the period between 310 and 312, Constantine was being progressively drawn to Christianity, and sometime around the time of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine reinterpreted this vision of 310 to be a sign not from Apollo, but from the God of the Christians. Hence, there were not two visions, but one, with the latter given a new Christian explanation. If Weiss his correct, then Eusebius, in his Vita Constantini, collapses this progressive revelation of sorts, with the result that Constantine seems to experience his vision immediately prior to battle, not two years earlier. Whether Eusebius does so in a willful act of misrepresentation or out of misunderstanding would remain a matter of some debate, though it would be consistent with his rhetorical approach to suppress any hint that Constantine’s vision was understood as anything other than a triumphant, unsolicited omen from the Christian God.

    [1] This explanation is mine, not Weiss’s.
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