An Exercise in Grading
Constantine the Great
Sol Bronzes

 

Despite Constantine the Great being best known for legalizing Christianity within the Roman Empire in 313 AD, he continued to mint coins bearing pagan imagery and to worship Sol, the Sun God. The cult of Sol had been Rome's official state religion since Aurelian decreed it as such in 274 AD, but Sol had appeared on Roman coins since the time of Septimius Severus, who reigned from 193 to 211 AD.

Sol on Roman coins is sometimes referred to as Sol Invictus, which means the Unconquered Sun, with the full name, Deus Sol Invictus, meaning the Unconquered Sun God. On earlier Roman coins, at least from the time of Nero, who reigned from 54 to 68 AD, Sol was referred to as Oriens, though these are different names for the same god. Sol/Oriens originated from the Greek god Helios, frequently depicted on ancient Greek coins, with Helios in turn thought to have had a Mesopotamian origin. Just as with Helios, Sol wears a radiate crown, the spikes representing the rays of the Sun. Just as in the earliest of times, the Sun no doubt was seen as the source of light, warmth, and life, with Sol bringing forth that light, warmth, and life and thereby being worthy of worship. The official worship of Sol ended with the outlawing of paganism by Theodoseus I in 380 AD.

Among the most interesting coins featuring Sol are Constantine the Great bronzes having a reverse depicting Sol holding a globus and reaching out with his other hand. The globus, often referred to with the English word "globe," is also often misinterpreted on these coins, regarded as depicting the Earth, as globes typically do today. In actuality this globus is a celestial orb or sphere, which was an ancient depiction of the Cosmos, the Earth being at its center. This is clear from the way it's decorated, which is evident on well-engraved, well-struck, and well-preserved specimens. The markings on it are not of any known land masses at the time but instead represent an equinoctial cross, with the crossing two lines signifying the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the two days of the year in which day and night are equally long. In some cases stars are depicted on the globus as well. The meaning of the design on these coins is Sol, the Sun God, presenting the Cosmos to Constantine, thereby granting him the power to rule everything, a charming example of ancient symbolism.

Constantine the Great bronzes having a reverse filling the flan with Sol holding a globus were minted in nine cities in Italia, Gaul, Britannia, and Pannonia: Aquileia, Arles/Arelate, London/Londinium, Lyons/Lugdunum, Ostia, Rome, Siscia, Ticinum, and Trier/Treveri.

This coin type was minted by Constantine for about eight years, between 310 and 318 AD. In 306 Constantine was hailed emperor at Eburacum (York) in Britannia, having control at the time of Britannia (Britain), Gaul (France, Belgium, Netherlands), and Hispania (Spain and Portugal). In 312 he defeated Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, gaining control of Italia (Italy), Raetia (Switzerland), and North Africa (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco). In 316/317 he captured Pannonia (Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Moesia (Greece) from Licinius. In 324, after he defeated Licinius again, he gained the entire empire for himself, adding Thracia (Bulgaria), Asiana (Turkey), Pontica (Turkey), Oriens (Israel and Lebanon), and Aegyptus (Egypt). Constantine ruled for 13 more years until his death in 337 at the age of 65.

Among the variations of this coin type are those that depict a bust of Constantine facing right (typically) or left; a bust of Constantine alone (typically), a bust of Constantine holding a spear and shield, or a bust of Constantine holding a shield with a horse in the background; Constantine wearing a laurel wreath in his hair (typically) or a helmet on his head; Constantine with different facial features and expressions; Constantine wearing a cuirass (body armor), a paludamentum (long cloak), or both; Sol's body facing left (typically) or right; Sol's head facing the same direction as his body (typically), reverted, or facing forward; Sol with between four and six longer or shorter rays in his crown; Sol's chlamys (short cloak) covering his left shoulder or both shoulders; Sol holding the globus in his left hand (typically) or right hand; Sol holding nothing (typically) or a whip in his other hand; Sol's left arm held outward (typically) or inward; Sol's right arm bent at different angles; Sol standing straight (typically), standing with hips thrust forward, or walking; Sol with a smooth stomach and legs or pronounced stomach and leg musculature; different obverse and reverse legends; different letters, monograms, symbols, figures, or nothing at all on either side of Sol; and a mint mark including letters, a dot or dots, a star, and/or a captive in the reverse exergue.

Other Roman emperors and usurpers also used the same Sol reverse type as this coin, including Gordian III, Gallienus, Macrianus, Quietus, Diocletian, Maximinus II, Licinius, Crispus, and Constantine II.

Among the other reverse types depicting Sol on Roman coins are those showing a smaller Sol holding a globus and standing in what may be the depiction of a Roman camp; a standing or walking Sol holding Victory, a bust of Serapis, a whip, or a bow; Genius holding the head of Sol; Sol treading down or standing on a captive or between captives; Sol driving a quadriga; Sol greeting Providence or handing a globus to Mars; or the bust of Sol.

The denomination of this Constantine the Great Sol/globus bronze is frequently referred to as a "follis," "reduced follis," or "half follis," but these are modern usages that likely have no connection to ancient reality. The term follis referred to a specific sized bag of small Roman bronze coins beginning later in the fourth century AD and later still to a large Byzantine bronze coin created to have the same value as that small bag of Roman bronze coins. Less frequently these coins are referred to as a "nummus," but this is another modern usage, with "nummus" merely being the Latin word for "coin." It's entirely unknown what the Romans called this particular Constantinian coin or its predecessors that are also called a follis today. For this reason the convention exists among numismatists of referring to such bronzes by their diameter, but even here not everybody uses the exact same divisions. Here are those divisions, more or less: AE-1 = 25mm or more, AE-2 = 21-24mm, AE-3 = 17-20mm, and AE-4 = 16mm or less.

The diameter of these Constantine the Great Sol/globus bronzes is typically between 18 and 24 millimeters at their widest with relatively round coins, and the weight typically is between 2.4 and 4.8 grams, though fully intact pieces can be lighter than 1.8 grams or heavier than 6.2 grams. Sometimes coins at the smaller and lighter end are referred to as a different denomination, but it's unclear if they are in fact a smaller denomination or just another example of how the size of bronze coins in ancient times wasn't tightly controlled, bronzes being fiduciary in nature, their monetary value not tied to their bullion content.

These coins like many other late Roman bronze coins were minted with thin silvering on their surface, no doubt to maximize their apparent bullion value. It's unclear how this was accomplished, though there are a number of theories. Some type of silver washing was used, perhaps with the planchets being covered with a very thin silver-mercury amalgam. With earlier Roman coins having a higher silver content, surface enrichment was used, with the planchets being treated with acid and heat to concentrate the silver at the surface as the coins were struck.

As with most silver-washed coins, the silvering quickly wore off in circulation or through corrosion in the ground, and relatively few are found fully silvered today. Sometimes these coins are sold online with photos that impart a gray/silvery tone, which can result from the photo's color saturation being reduced in an image editing program. This can create the appearance of silvering when the coin in hand is brown, so it's always best to confirm that the coin is silvered if it appears so but the silvering isn't mentioned in the coin's description.

Sometimes these coins are described as being made of billon, which technically is an alloy of silver with a higher proportion of base metal, but these coins are almost entirely base metal, and most people refer to them as bronzes.

The patina on ancient bronze coins including these is typically dark brown, less often green, though it can also include red, yellow, and other undertones. Attractive multicolored patinas on bronze coins may exist only in the photo used to sell the coin, so it's best to confirm this as well or to assume it doesn't exist and be pleasantly surprised when the coin arrives in the mail and it's there. In photographing coins, dealers may blast the coin with high-intensity lighting or boost the color saturation or tonal contrast using an image editing program, which brings out the coin's detail but makes the coin look significantly different on screen or in an auction catalog than in hand.

Smooth, even brown patinas on ancient bronze coins are often artificially applied, though this is a standard and mostly accepted practice in ancient numismatics as a result of coins having had to be cleaned after many centuries in the ground. Less often, coins are tooled to hide their wear and make them appear to be a higher grade than they are, which isn't an accepted practice. With this series, tooling if it has occurred is typically most apparent in Constantine's hair, with the grooves there exaggerated, and in the legends.

Grading

What follows are ten Constantine the Great Sol bronzes from each of the nine cities that minted them, plus one at the end that's unattributable, with the coins presented in order of decreasing quality. The grading standards I'm using are in part traditional, which some dealers still use, not the inflated standards that other dealers now use, including the most reputable, that appear to have been inspired by the anything-goes atmosphere of eBay.

But I'm also in part deviating from tradition, grading according to the coin's overall post-engraving quality, not just circulation wear, which is a small subset of this. Most dealers grade just according to circulation wear, not factoring in die wear, the quality of the strike (whether full or uneven), gouges or scratches imparted during circulation or afterward, porosity or roughness (the numismatic euphemisms for corrosion) resulting from the conditions in which the coin was buried or from harsh cleaning afterward, the attractiveness of the patina, and so on. These factors, like circulation wear, all affect eye appeal -- quality. The artistry of the engraving, which varies from coin type to coin type as well as within a particular coin type, also affects eye appeal, but I'm treating this as separate from grading.

This type of grading, covering all factors involving the condition of the physical coin that affect its value in the market, in U.S. numismatics is called "market grading." Grading this way, I'd contend, makes more sense than grading only according to circulation wear, which is sometimes called "technical grading."

Though few ancient coin dealers use market grading, the way they grade varies widely. Most dealers give coins a single grade, averaging the grade of the obverse and reverse if the two differ. Some give the obverse and reverse separate grades when they differ, separating the grades by a slash. This can be confusing, however, since other dealers use two grades separated by a slash for the overall grade of a coin when the dealer feels it falls between two grades.

Some dealers grade accurately and conservatively to describe coins as they are, inspiring trust, including most notably the largest ancient coin dealer and auctioneer in the U.S. On the other hand, other dealers, including some of the most reputable, use grading as another sales tool. At least one very reputable dealer/auctioneer gives a large percentage of coins with visible missing detail at the highpoints an MS grade, for Mint State. Another trick employed by another very reputable dealer/auctioneer is to raise a coin's grade in one auction when it didn't sell in the previous auction. Though overgrading happens everywhere, it happens most egregiously on eBay, where some dealers give the best possible grade, FDC, to their best coins even if they're visibly worn.

Many dealers use verbal descriptors next to a coin's grade. This can be an appropriate and helpful way to point out aspects of a coin's quality that aren't apparent in the photo or to indicate when a coin's overall quality, including the artistry of the engraving, is better than typical coins of its grade. Some dealers, however, use verbal descriptors that have nothing to do with how the coin actually looks, such as "nice" with a coin having serious, distracting corrosion in the most important part of the obverse design, for instance.

Some dealers don't assign grades at all to their coins, feeling that a good photo provides all the information buyers need about the quality of a coin. Others grade only higher quality coins, where the grade can help sell the coin, but not lower quality coins, where the grade could make the coin seem less appealing. Even under the best of intentions, however, photos may not necessarily correspond accurately to what a coin looks like in hand. Primarily because of the challenges posed by lighting, photos can inadvertently hide a coin's defects on one hand or accentuate them on the other. Further, many collectors appreciate the evaluation of a coin imparted by a dealer's grade and verbal description and use them to help make a buying decision.

One recent development in the grading of ancient coins is the further expansion of the U.S. coin grading service NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America) into the ancient coin marketplace. It, as ICG and PCGS does now, previously graded some ancient coins, but only a tiny fraction of those on the market. NGC is actively seeking to holder a greater share of ancient coins.

Choice is never a bad thing, but this move is opposed by most collectors because if successful it would inevitably lead to a further escalation in ancient coin pricing. Further, NCG Ancients appears to be following the business model of NGC and other grading services by giving coins slightly higher grades than many reputable dealers would, which provides dealers and others an incentive to pay for grading and encapsulation. Finally, unlike with modern coins, the physical handling of ancient coins is an important part of the enjoyment of the hobby, and the plastic slabs used by the grading services prevent this. On the positive side, an ancient coin in an NCG slab is further assurance against it being counterfeit or altered. Some people also like the protection against physical damage provided by slabs as well as their appearance.

Ultimately, as is frequently advised, collectors should evaluate a coin's eye appeal, including degree of wear and all the other factors involved in determining market value, for themselves, taking into account the grade and verbal description of the seller, or grading company, but not relying solely on them. What follows is designed to provide some guidance in that direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constantine the Great AE-3 (20mm, 3.89g), Trier, Gaul (in present-day Germany), c. 317 AD, RIC VII 131. gEF.

This is the same coin as the first one on the previous page of this site. Constantine is laureate (wearing a laurel wreath in his hair) and draped (wearing a large cloak, or paludamentum). The obverse legend, "IMP CONSTANTINVS AVG," translates into "Imperator Constantine Augustus," which means "Constantine, Emperor and Commander in Chief," while the reverse legend, "SOLI INVICTO COMITI," translates into "To the invincible Sun [God], companion of the Emperor." The TR (the R looks like an H) in the mint mark in the reverse exergue underneath Sol indicates that this coin is from Trier, with the leading A indicating a particular officina or mint workshop. The T/F on either side of Sol likely means "TEMPORVM FELICITAS" or "The happiness of the age."

The dot or pellet at the beginning the mint mark exists on every coin of this variety. One or more dots also appear in the mint mark on other Constantine the Great bronzes from Trier, on coins from other cities, and on coins of other rulers, sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes within the letters. The dots apparently were used as a differentiating mark for official bookkeeping purposes.

This above coin could, arguably, be graded FDC, or fleur-de-coin (the dealer who sold this coin didn't grade it). FDC, which is an acronym for the French term "flower of the die," is a fancy way of saying as close as possible to being free of visible defects caused by die wear, strike, circulation wear, scratches and other damage, and corrosion. Unlike other grades, you could argue that FDC should also incorporate the artistry of the die engraving. Coin grading is inherently subjective, and no coin grade is as subjective as FDC. It's the highest possible grade an ancient coin can receive. Some coin dealers say they've handled only a handful of FDC coins in their lifetimes.

With the above coin, Constantine's hair and Sol are marvelously detailed and the surfaces are marvelously free of anything even approaching a serious visible defect. The coin isn't absolutely perfect, however. There's slight porosity in the fields. Not all of the letters and the dot in the mint mark are equally well engraved. Realism in Constantine's facial features is somewhat lacking. Some dealers would give this coin an MS grade, for Mint State. But I'm going to use the traditional gEF, for Good Extra Fine.

Trier, where this coin was minted, is also known as Treveri or Treverorum. It's notable for having a good claim to being the oldest city in Germany, founded c. 16 BC, though it had been inhabited as a settlement before that. It's situated in the far west of Germany, close to the present-day border with Luxembourg. It was built up by Constantine the Great and became the capital of the Roman prefecture of Gaul. When Trier was abandoned by the Romans in 395 AD because of Germanic invasions, it was the largest city north of the Alps. Its population then declined from 80,000 to 5,000 over the next century. Today it has a population of about 100,000.

 

Constantine the Great AE-3 (20mm, 3.10g), Siscia, Pannonia (in present-day Croatia), c. 317 AD, RIC VII 31. EF.

Constantine has a tough, mean expression on this variety, and Sol has pronounced musculature but otherwise is fairly crudely styled, particularly his right hand, though Sol's right hand isn't a strong point in this series. A star appears in the reverse left field. The obverse legend, "IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," compared to that on the previous coin, has an extra P and F, which are short for "PIUS" and "FELIX." Though some might translate the former as dutiful and the latter as happy, these Latin words probably best translate into pious and successful. The full meaning of the obverse legend, then, would be "Constantine, Emperor and Commander in Chief, Pious and Successful." The reverse legend, "SOLI INVICTO COMITI," is the same as with the previous coin and the most frequently seen on this series. In the mint mark E is one of the officinas, or mint workshops, and SIS stands for Siscia.

This specimen also is very well preserved, particularly the hair detail, though not quite as well as the previous coin. Constantine has a small gash to the left of his eye (which fortuitously enhances his expression), and there's some roughness elsewhere in his face and in the reverse left field. As with many ancient coins, the obverse is sharper than the reverse, with the obverse or anvil die being less worn than the reverse or hammer die. The reverse die took more of the force from the hammer and wore out faster than the stationary obverse or anvil die. The differences between circulation wear, die wear, and a soft or uneven strike are often ignored but can be quite interesting. I'd grade this coin EF, or Extra Fine, as did the dealer.

Siscia was one of the capitals of the province of Pannonia, which was conquered by the second Roman emperor, Tiberius, when he was a general during the reign the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Before it became a Roman city, Siscia was Celtic and known as Segestica, with the Celts reaching Pannonia in the fourth century BC. The Romans ceded Pannonia to the Huns in the fifth century BC, and afterward it was successively controlled by the Ostrogoths, Lombards, Avars, Slavs, Magyars, Habsburgs, Ottomans, and Yugoslavs. Its current name is Sisak, and it's situated in Croatia.

Constantine the Great AE-3 (19mm, 3.20g), Aquileia, Italia (in present-day Italy), c. 317 AD, RIC VII 5. aEF.

This variety is similar to the previous two, with a laureate and draped bust of Constantine facing right and Sol standing left, holding a globus in his left hand and holding his right hand up. On this coin, however, Constantine is also curaissed, with his body armor plainly visible under his cloak.

The expression on Constantine's face is serious and attentive. Sol's stomach muscles and privates are oversimply engraved. The obverse legend is "IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," the reverse "SOLI INVICTO COMITI." The mint mark AQP stands for for Aquileia, Officina 1. No markings appear on either side of Sol.

This specimen has excellent detail, particularly in the curaiss and Sol's head and crown. It appears to be uncirculated, but it's missing detail in Constantine's hair, the legend above it, Sol's lower left leg, and the legend below it. The lost detail isn't due to circulation or die wear but to a weak strike, also called a flat strike or uneven strike. This occurs when the hammer hits the die too softly, which typically causes flatness in the design in one area of both sides of the coin. Some people don't factor a weak strike or die wear into the grade of a coin, but lost detail is lost detail regardless of when it happens. The patination around Constantine's nose is also splotchy. Because of its uneven strike and splotchy patination, I'd grade this coin aEF, or Almost Extra Fine, though the dealer graded it EF. The photo used to sell this coin was much lighter and contrasty than the above.

Aquileia, which is currently situated at the northeast corner of Italy near the border with Slovenia, was founded as a Roman colony c. 181 BC to protect Rome and its allies from outside attacks. It served that purpose during the time of Constantine as well and was listed among the ten most important cities in the world in the late fourth century AD by the Latin poet Ausonius. The city was destroyed by Attila the Hun in 452. Today Aquileia is a small town with a population of about 3,000.

Constantine the Great AE-2 (22mm, 4.33g), London, Britannia (in present-day England), c. 312 AD, RIC VI 153. gVF.

This variety is distinguished from most other Constantine Sol/globus bronzes in two ways: Sol is holding the globus in his right, not left, hand (he holds a whip in his left hand), and the reverse legend leaves out the letters "SOLI." Interestingly, Helios, who was the Greek version of Sol, was often depicted on Greek coins holding a whip. In the mythology, Helios/Sol crossed the sky from east to west each day on his chariot, holding a whip.

The face of Constantine on this coin is different than on other coins on this page, with a smaller nose and a facial expression that might be described as absent-minded. Constantine is cuirassed rather than draped or draped and cuirassed. The obverse legend, "CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," leaving out "IMP," translates into "Emperor Constantine, Pious and Successful," while the reverse legend, "COMITI AVGG N N," translates into "To the companion of our emperors," implying but not naming Sol. The LN in the mint mark indicates this coin is from London, with the leading P meaning "pecunia," which is the Latin word for money/property. A star appears in the reverse right field.

This specimen has great detail in significant places, including the globus, and it appears to be uncirculated. But like the previous coin, it's missing detail due to a flat strike and at about the same areas, in Constantine's hair and laurel wreath, the legend above it, Sol's lower legs, and the legend below it. The detail lost is slightly greater than with the previous coin. Because of its lost detail, I'd grade this coin gVF, or Good Very Fine, though the dealer, not factoring in the lost detail due to a flat strike, graded it EF. The photo used to sell this coin, as with the previous coin, was much brighter and contrasty than the coin appears in hand.

London, known as Londinium to the Romans, was founded as a Roman city in 43 AD immediately following the Roman conquest of Britain, though the Romans never completely occupied the island and subdued the Celts. Julius Caesar first invaded Britain in 55 BC. London was large and prosperous in the fourth century AD. Rome, however, abandoned Britain in 410 AD after increasing Germanic attacks, primarily from the Saxons but also from the Angles, Jutes, and Frisians. Today London is the capital of both England and the United Kingdom.

Constantine the Great AE-1 (25mm, 4.02g), Ostia, Italia (in present-day Italy), c. 312-313 AD, RIC VI 89. VF.

The most distinguishing feature of this coin is its large flan, with the planchet used being larger than the obverse and reverse dies, leaving blank space around the edge of the coin. Such flans are sometimes called medallic flans, though there's no indication they were intended for Roman medallions rather than resulting from carelessness in the preparation of the planchet. Still, probably just because of their unusualness, coins struck on such flans are valued slightly higher than coins struck on normal flans. The edge of this piece is ragged at 3 o'clock on the obverse and 9 o'clock on the reverse, and it has several small cracks in it from the striking. The patina is dark brown with some lighter areas at the highpoints. I'd grade this coin VF, or Very Fine, though the dealer graded it gVF.

Constantine's expression on this piece appears as if he's worried. He's laureate and cuirassed. The obverse legend reads, "IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," the reverse, "SOLI INVICTO COMITI." Sol is well muscled. The mint mark, MOSTP, means "Moneta Ostia Prima" or "Money/Coinage from Ostia Officina 1."

Ostia, also known as Ostia Antica, was ancient Rome's original seaport, about 20 miles away at the mouth of the Tiber River. Ostia may have been Rome's first colony, long before there was an empire. By the time of Constantine, Rome had built other harbors that supplemented Ostia, and Ostia at the time this coin was minted was more a seaside retreat for rich Roman aristocrats than an active port. Today, as a result of silting and a drop in sea level, the archeological site that was Ostia is about two miles inland.

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Constantine the Great AE-2 (22mm, 4.41g), Ticinum, Pavia (in present-day Italy), c. 312-313 AD, RIC VI 131a. aVF.

This variety is distinguished by the posture of Sol, who's facing right, not left, and is looking backward. Constantine is portrayed formulistically, without much individuality. The obverse legend is "CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," the reverse "SOLI INVICTO COMITI." The T in the mint mark indicates that this coin is from Tinicum, with the leading P meaning "pecunia" or money/property.

The obverse of this specimen has an attractive earthen, or desert sand, patina, with the contrast between the reddishness of the fields and the darker devices and legends attractively bringing out detail. Desert sand patinas are thought to have been caused by coins being buried in sandy soil. The reverse was struck with a worn die, with significant detail lost, and the reverse is also splotchily patinated. Despite good detail on the obverse, I'd grade the coin aVF, or Almost Very Fine (the dealer didn't grade it).

Tinicum, known as Pavia today, is situated in northern Italy just south of Milan. It was important to the Romans because it was on the Via Aemilia, a key Roman road. Tinicum was pillaged in 452 AD by Attila the Hun and in 476 AD by Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain who deposed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus, later that year, an event that's commonly regarded as the end of the Roman Empire.

 

Constantine the Great AE-2 (22mm, 3.79g), Lyons, Gaul (in present-day France), c. 313-314 AD, RIC VII 5. gF.

This is an uninspiring coin in several ways. Constantine and Sol adopt their most common poses and the legends "CONSTANTINVS P F AVG" and "SOLI INVICTO COMITI" are common as well. The obverse was struck from a worn die, particularly noticeable in the legend. The surfaces exhibit scratches, gouges, and corrosion. And the edges have ragged patches. The dealer who sold this coin graded it gVF, contending it "looks much sharper than picture" (it doesn't), but the surface imperfections are accentuated in this close-up photo. Still, because of the surface damage and obverse softness, I'd grade this coin gF, or Good Fine, though it could be argued that this is an aVF coin.

The S/F letters on either side of Sol likely mean "SAECULI FELICITAS" or "Happy days." The leading P in the mint mark is for "pecunia," and the LG is for Lugdunum, the ancient Roman name for Lyons.

Lyons, also spelled Lyon today, was called Lugdunum or Lugudunum in Roman times. It was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis and the most important city in northwestern Europe, though its importance had declined by the time this coin was minted. Ludgunum was founded by the Romans over a previous Celtic settlement in 43 BC, 11 years after the Roman conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Today Lyons, which is situated between Paris and Marseille, has the reputation of being the French capital of gastronomy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constantine the Great AE-2 (21mm, 2.53g), Rome, Italia (in present-day Italy), c. 315 AD, RIC VII 33. F.

Here's Constantine the Great Sol bronze, with an attractive contrasting patina, that has significant wear and irregular edges. This is a typical "pick bin" coin, often available at coin shows in a bag or tray with many similar coins that you pick through to find pieces you want. The cost for such coins, of the same type and grade, can be anywhere from about $3 to $20 per coin depending on the particular dealer. I'd grade this coin F, or Fine.

The obverse legend of this piece is "IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," the reverse "SOLI INVICTO COMITI." S/F surrounds Sol. The mintmark RT stands for Rome Officina 3.

Rome was the name not only of a city but also an empire. According to legend the city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus in 753 BC, though archeological evidence is unclear on the city's origin. Rome evolved from a settlement to a city ruled by kings to a republic ruled by a senate in 510 BC and to an empire ruled by an emperor in 27 BC. The capital of the Roman Empire in the West shifted from Rome to Milan in 293 AD and to Ravenna in 402 BC, though the empire was still known as Rome. By the end of the Western Roman Empire, Rome's population had fallen from a high of 1 to 2 million to less than 50,000, and it continued falling before beginning to recover during the Renaissance. During this time Rome alternated between Germanic and Byzantine control. The Byzantines, with their capital of Constantinople nearly a thousand miles away from the city of Rome, still considered themselves Romans, with the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire lasting until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Today Rome is the capital of Italy and its most populous city, with a population of 2.7 million.

 

Constantine the Great AE-3 (18mm, 2.84g), Arles, Gaul (in present-day France), c. 317 AD, RIC VII 138. aF.

This coin has also seen better days, being well worn and with irregular edges. Also, the reverse is off center, causing much of the reverse legend to be off the flan. Still, you can make out the obverse legend, "IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG," the reverse legend, "SOLI INVICTO COMITI," R/S perhaps for "RESTITVTOR SAECVLI" or "Restorer of the age," and the mint mark, QARL, with ARL signifying Arelatum and Q signifying Quarta or Officina 4. Sol is standing to the right with his head reverted, facing left.

This specimen, from its online photo, appeared to have an attractive original variegated green patina with traces of silvering remaining. Often before ancient bronze coins reach collections such patinas are covered over with an even brown patina, though green patinas when attractive are valued by collectors. In hand the patina is uniformly brown. The silvery looking spots in the coin's recesses, still visible in the edited photo above, which have the appearance of remaining silvering, are just the result of reflected light. The coin, from a vendor in a well-known and reputable ancient coins mall, was described as 20mm in diameter when it was 18mm at its widest and it was given the incorrect RIC number. I'd grade this coin aF, or Almost Fine. Rarely do you see coins given grades below aVF, with lower quality coins typically left ungraded by dealers, as was this one.

Arles, a port city on the Rhône River near the Mediterranean Sea in southern Gaul, was a favorite city of Constantine the Great, who built baths there and where one of his sons, Constantine II, was born. The city was established by the Greeks as early as the 6th century BC under the name Theline and was later captured by the Celts, who renamed it Arelate, and it's sometimes referred to as Arelate or Arelatum in numismatic contexts. The Romans in turn captured the city in 123 BC. In the 19th century the French city of Arles was a favorite locale of the painter Vincent van Gogh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constantine the Great AE-2 (22mm, 2.35g), uncertain mint. G.

The previous owner of this piece bought it as an uncleaned coin and soaked it in olive oil for a full year. Sometimes nice enough coins result from cleaning uncleaned coins, but in this case what resulted was a near slug, with the obverse particularly ill defined. This piece, however, illustrates well what can happen to metal from being buried in the soil for 17 centuries -- the corrosive effects of time.

I'd grade this specimen G, or Good, using this famously ambiguous numismatic grading euphemism, when in fact there's nothing good about the grade or quality of this coin. This coin could arguably be graded Fair or Poor, but despite the wear, corrosion, and encrustation you can make out a bust of what appears to be Constantine, Sol holding a globus in his left hand, and the letters "SOLI INV" in the reverse legend along the left rim.

 

 
 
           
 

For more on ancient coin grading, here are three good sites on the subject:

 
           
 

This material appeared in an article of mine in the February 2011 issue of The Celator magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constantinian Bronzes

Constantine Sols

 Constantine VLPP Imitatives

Julian II Copies

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
Pre-coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.