Sign language on a Constantine coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Victor_Clark, May 19, 2019.

  1. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer


    This coin has an obverse and reverse that has figures with hands raised, but they are not waving. The Sol on reverse is so small the details are hard to make out, but Constantine shows more of what is going on. RIC VII describes this bust as showing imperatorial gestus. The word gestus is a great German word which means physical gestures that convey the attitude, or "gist”. So, the raised hand for Constantine (note the fingers also) is meant to convey a sense of regalness and authority. Sol, of course as befitting a god, also has a raised hand.

    The curious position of Constantine’s fingers was not accidental, but actually meant something to the Romans- think sign language.


    These gestures are carried on into Byzantine culture also. Besides coins, you see the hand gestures on icons. Note the similarity of the gesture to Constantine.


    For those interested, a small introduction--
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
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  3. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    The common hand gesture was around long before Constantine. Who has earlier?
  5. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    Yes, a hand raised is certainly not peculiar to Constantine, but I find it interesting when you can actually see the gesture of the hand and make out the position of the fingers. Here is another example--


    which seems to mean that Constantine likes heavy metal

  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Good 'Ol Gallienus

    Here's an interesting gesture from Nero, our favorite bad boy

  7. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    Not my coin! But one of my favorite types of the entire Roman Republic series is this aureus of Sulla that shows the dictator on horseback with raised hand:
    This particular example sold in Triton XX
  8. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    here's a Constantine II with an open hand that sold last year on eBay

    Constantine II Arles.jpg
  9. SeptimusT

    SeptimusT Well-Known Member

    I wonder - is this sort of hand gesture primarily a Roman symbol, or did it also show up in Greek iconography? Some of the hand gestures which appear on Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian coinage have been identified as Indian mudras, but they could easily pass for the same thing as what we see on the Constantine coins.

    Azes II (if there really was more than one), Indo-Scythian King
    : King mounted on horse right, holding whip; BAΣIΛEΩΣ BAΣIΛEΩN MEΓAΛOY / AZOY
    Reverse: Pallas Athena standing right, holding right hand in gesture (vitarka mudra?), holding spear in left, monograms at left and right, Kharoshthi legend around: maharajasa rajarajasa mahatasa / ayasa
  10. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Interesting post - the ancients were far more careful about rhetoric, speech and gestures, than we are nowadays. The didn't have Twitter, lucky for them.

    I happen to be re-reading Cacus and Marsyas in Etrusco-Roman Legend by Jocelyn Penny Small (Princeton, 1982). She spends a lot of time describing the arm location of Marsyas on the denarius of Censorinus (my avatar) - it is not "the common pose of adlocutio..." (p. 71). She argues that Marsyas is shown looking for birds to perform an augury (I don't think this theory is universally accepted, but she makes a good argument, I thought).

    RR Censorinus - 82 BC Marsayas June 2017  (5).JPG

    She spends a lot of time on coins, and makes the interesting observation that the denarius from 82 B.C. typically shows Marsyas' arm raised higher than his depictions on later Provincial bronze coins. I thinks she is right, based on my puny sample!

    Troas - Marsyas time of Gallienus May 2019 (0).jpg
    Troas - time of Gallienus

    It's an interesting book - I highly recommend it.
  11. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    There is also the “2 fingers gesture”, who was used during negotiations between the Empire and the barbarians tribe. Like on this aureus of Probus ( not my coin )


    It can also be found on many roman sculptures or column.

    Last edited: May 19, 2019
    Marsyas Mike, Jay GT4, TIF and 7 others like this.
  12. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Very interesting!
  13. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    I assume, then, that the reverse figure on this coin is giving a similar gesture. Could be worse, I suppose.
    London mint, A.D. 310-312
    RIC 133
    Rev: ADVE-NTVS AVG - Prince on horseback holding spear and raising right hand; captive in front
    PLN in exergue; star in right field
    21 x 24 mm, 4.2 g.
  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Good 'Ol Gallienus

    Also, here's the famous Marcus' Statue showing the Adlocutio gesture:

    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  15. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    the adlocutio gesture has been suggested as being the source for the WWII German army salute.


    this casual Constantius "heil" reminded me of the bit by Jerry Seinfeld

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