Salonina, mother of christianity? A curious coin & christian cross coincidence

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Ryro, Jan 16, 2022.

  1. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status Supporter

    A rare and possibly unique coin of Salonina found in Belgrade, minted 50 years before the Edict of Milan and just a few years after, her husband, Gallienus (whoes father Valerian was very well known for gleefully persecuting Christians ((and being a human foot stool)) Edict of religious toleration.
    Sounds too wild to believe! But sure enough as I'm reading through my present from @galba68 I came a-cross this entry:
    20220116_135519.jpg 20220116_135505.jpg

    As you may have noted, I have a very similar type that I've put in the page next to the plates.
    One of the first things that struck me was the thought, don't I have one of those. Nope.
    Mine is a strange one as it fits the bill for VESTA (that does not look like an apple in her hand), but sure appears to be saying VENUS:
    (253-268 AD). AR Antoninianus (22 mm, 3.07 g), Colonia Agrippinensis (Köln), 257-260 AD.
    Obv. SALONINA AVG, draped bust right on crescent.
    Rev. VESTA Vesta seated left on throne, holding palladium in her right hand and transverse scepter in her left. Cohen 142. MIR 900c. RIC 70 var. (Victory instead of Palladium).
    Rev. VENVS FELIX, Venus seated left, holding apple and sceptre; cupid at feet.
    MIR 898c.

    Could this type be a celebration of different religions?
    Was Salonina a closet Christian??
    Or could a Christian die cuter have slipped one past the quality inspector???
    Here's a passage from a wonderful paper on the subject:
    Coinage of Empress Salonina and The Philosophy of Plotinus
    By Adam Crnobrnja

    Reverse: VESTA, Vesta is sitting on a high and wide back chair facing left. The top of the diadem is noticeable on the head, similar to the one on the obverse portrait of the empress (atypical appearance), which indicates the engraver's hidden intention to personify the personality of the empress herself through the play Vesta (Crnobrnja 1994: 36).
    "On the right, outstretched hand, a cross shaped in the form of a vertical pillar with dots. In her left hand, Vesta (Empress) holds a scepter, long and slanted, which overhangs the back of the chair. The upper diopter is intersected by a thin line with dotted ends, so that the impression of a cross on a long stalk. This coin, far more than previously mentioned, indicates the Christian commitment of the Empress of Salonina, despite the fact that it was most likely made without her direct order or even her knowledge. For now, this is the only found copy of this type of money. On this occasion, we would like to point to this second copy, which conveys the Christian message explicitly, through two representations of the cross, depriving us of doubts about the correctness of the interpretation 1976: 155). In the works that presented this coin to the professional and scientific public, one can read a broader discussion about the very religious orientation of Empress Salonina (Crnobrnja 1994: 2001). However
    , this latter copy can be considered a reliable source on the attitude of the royal family to pre-Christianity. In a broader sense, the appearance of the cross on money could be related to the already mentioned Edict of Gallienus from 261, because Christianity became one of the "recognized" or "official" religions. The appearance of the cross on this coin, so far the oldest appearance of Christian flags on an official document, still seems a little premature."

    Is this the first celebration of Christianity on empirical coinage? And why so rare?
    Is anybody aware of any other examples ANYWHERE!?
    Please post up your Salonina & Gallienus coins, your earliest Roman coins referencing Christ or Christianity. Thoughts or theories on this rare coin.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 16, 2022
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Vesta would hold the Palladium. I think it more likely that the die engraver was unskilled. Here are some earlier versions of that reverse type. The Palladium is often poorly rendered.

    Faustina Jr VESTA seated denarius.jpg

    Domna VESTA seated with Palladium and scepter denarius.jpg

    And here's my Salonina VENVS FELIX. I don't know WHAT she's holding in her crab-claw hand!!

    Salonina Venus Felix Antoninianius (J).jpg
  4. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    That is a VENVS FELIX, with apple. The device that looks like a Victory is rather the back of the chair on which the goddess is sitting.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2022
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  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Agree, the owned coin is VENVS FELIX.
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  6. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    I would want to see a detailed close-up of the coin in question before offering an opinion, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if this theory were a case of wishful thinking, and the supposed cross were simply a poorly-rendered palladium, as @Roman Collector has suggested. The "palladium" on my coin of Salonina is hardly recognizable as such:

    Salonina (wife of Gallienus), Billon Antoninianus, 257-258 AD, Cologne Mint. Obv. Diademed bust draped right, on crescent, SALONINA AVG / Rev. Vesta seated left on throne holding Palladium and transverse scepter, VESTA. RIC V-1 70, RSC IV 142, Sear RCV III 10664. 22 mm., 3.4 g.
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  7. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter interesting hypothesis ...but here's the whole fam damily...:D(save for the mother-in-law 9_9) IMG_0531.JPG IMG_0532.JPG
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  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    RI Salonina wife of Gallienus 254-268 CE AE Ant 3.61g 20mm Rome mint 267-268 CE crescent Deer Walking delta RIC V 16
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  9. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I came across this coin in a mixed lot several years ago; part of Gallienus' zoo series with the excessively common DIANAE CONS AVG stag reverse
    Gallienus zoo antelope dianae cons avg.jpg

    It was struck at Rome, officina 10 (X) but the officina mark was sunk into the die at about a 45 degree angle, making it a cross rather than an X. Coincidence? Probably. But it sure as heck looks deliberate!

    Back to the OP coin- I had always thought that good silver coins of Salonina were traditionally dated to the 250s, before Valerian's capture?

    I have this one as Cologne, which of course would have been controlled by Postumus by 260/61
    Salonina Venus Felix.jpg
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  10. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Usually, when someone proposes that Salonina was Christian, they point out the AVG IN PACE type which you show in the illustration to the Crnobrnja article but do not mention. This is not a matter I feel has been proven.
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  11. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    It's an intriguing idea. I found here a clearer example of the Vesta type, pictured below. Not my coin:


    I also think it's just wishful thinking on the part of the authors. The transverse "cruciform sceptre" appears to me to be a regular sceptre with the top intersecting part of the backing of Vesta's throne. And the "cross with its arms in the form of pellets" is as RC suggested just the work of an unskilled engraver. For comparison, here's another example below (also not my coin). Easy to see how an already crudely-rendered palladium can be further reduced by another engraver to resemble the "cross" as on the one above.


    A final one below, this time mine. On the reverse, the engraver seems to have transfigured the goddess Artemis into an angel by giving her wings. :D

    Salonina - Ionia Ephesos AE29 Artemis ex Bavarian 3547.jpg
    AE29. 9.26g, 29.5mm. IONIA, Ephesus, AD 254-268. Karwiese 1184 (this coin cited and illustrated). O: · CAΛΩN · XPVCOΓONH · CЄBA ·, diademed and draped bust right on crescent. R: EΦECIΩN Γ N-EΩ-KOPON, Artemis, standing facing, head right, raising right hand and holding bow; tree behind her, stag at her side.
    Ex N. M. McQ. Holmes Collection; ex "Bavarian Collection" (Numismatic Fine Arts XXXI, 18 March 1993, lot 1141)
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  12. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Super cool. Here's my only seated Salonina.
    Salonina RIC 32 retro Q.JPG

    Vesta is looking a bit dumpy, and I love the portrait of the lady, which looks rather naturalistic.
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  13. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I think it is too early. The Cross was not a symbol of Christianity at that time, officially or unofficially. I would guess the symbol was being used for a pagan belief.
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  14. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Supporter! Supporter

    Just thoughts and impressions

    I find the design on the coin illustrated in the OP very crude, especially on the reverse. It could very well be that the engraver had been hired the week before and not skilled enough yet.

    I have seen on a dealer's website a Salonina antoninianus, with a different reverse where the "someone sitting there" has the left side of her throne, appearing behind her shoulder, looking very much like a cross, although there's no ambiguity about it being the throne

    Image courtesy of Besançon numismatique

    Could it be also that the coin in question is an imitation ?

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  15. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I think that is exactly correct. The cross (crux immissa - Latin cross) gained prominence only after the discovery of the holy cross by St. Helena in the early 4th century. The crux immissa replaced other, earlier forms of the cross (crux commissa and crux ansata) in the course of the 4th century and was formally adopted in AD 431 at the council of Ephesos. In the third century, Christians would have used other symbols, including the Staurogram (crux monogramatica) and the Christogram.

    So the symbol on Salonina's coin is certainly not a Christian cross. If there is any numismatic evidence for Salonina's Christianity, I suppose it would have to be the AVGVSTA IN PACE coins, but I would also be sceptical. As the coins of Constantine I show, it is one thing to adopt Christianity and quite a different thing to place Christian symbolism on official coins.

    Salonina may well have been attracted to Christianity - Emperor Probus' brother is said to have been a Christian bishop - but it is not likely that she had Christian symbols placed on her coins.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2022
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  16. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter Dealer

    I'm in the palladium camp here. We have to remember that the engraving of reverse dies during the reign of Gallienus was often crude. Figures are not much more than line drawings. Here is a well-rendered palladium on a denarius of Julia Domna. As you can see, it has the general shape of a cross...

    One can easily see how a die cutter in Gallienus' time could have given it an abstract rendition as a vertical line surrounded by dots at the top and sides.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2022
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  17. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Just out of curiosity, @Ryro , who published the book you show in the OP?
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  18. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    I don't think it's a cross but a blundered reverse device. As pointed out above the Christogram came before the cross, and maybe a fish symbol as well. If you want to go even further back supposedly Otacilia Severa was a closet Christian as reported by Eusebius and Chrysostum in the 4th century, and perhaps Philip, who was reputed to have visited a church during mass at some point in his reign.
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  19. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status Supporter

    Published by the Belgrade city museum. And written by Adam Crnobrnja, the same guy who wrote the above paper.
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  20. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    These 'unique' features seem to be a staple feature in the Balkans even today and even in academia.
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  21. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    The Cross became a Christian symbol only when saint Helena, mother of Constantine, made excavations in Jerusalem and found the True Cross, and this relic started to make miracles. This did not happen before 326 AD. Under Gallienus ad Salonina, the Cross was not at all a Christian symbol.

    Before 326 the Christians did not venerate the Cross and did not represent it as their logo. To be clear, Jesus' death on the Cross was more an embarrassment for them, because crucifixion was still considered the most infamous kind of execution. 3rd and early 4th c. Christian paintings represented Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or Helios driving his quadriga, or Jesus doing miracles, or teaching... but NEVER Jesus crucified. On the contrary the Cross was represented in anti-Christian caricatures. For ex. this graffito from the Palatine, representing a man praying at a crucified donkey, with the Greek legend : "Alexamenos worships God".

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