Image: laureate bust of Constantine looking to the right
Inscription: CONSTANTI NVS PF AVG
Image: Emperor in military dress, standing left, short sceptre on left arm, receiving globe from Roma, seated right on throne, holding sceptre
Inscription: RESTITVTORI LIBERTATIS - SMT
(RIC VII, Constantine, Ticinum, no. 31)
This solidus, minted in 315 CE at Ticinum (Italy), seat of the imperial mint from 274 until 327 CE, depicts on the obverse the laureate head of Constantine and on the reverse the emperor receiving the globe from the personification of Roma. The solidus was a denomination in gold, first minted under the rule of Diocletian, in 301 CE, albeit in very small quantities. Its main purpose was to take the place of the aureus, the gold denomination minted during the early empire. Constantine introduced the solidus more widely, and it became the main gold denomination. The inscription on the obverse, “CONSTANTI NVS PF AVG,” refers to the emperor, as Constantinus, Pius Felix, and Augustus. On the reverse, the inscription “RESTITVTORI LIBERTATIS - SMT” refers to Constantine as restitutor libertatis, or the restorer of liberty, while “SMT” denotes the mint of Ticinium.
The idea of freedom was embodied by the Roman goddess Libertas, who was often depicted standing, dressed in a tunic and draped in a toga, holding the pileus (a cap which symbolised freedom) and a sceptre. Libertas was one of the less advertised benefits of the empire on imperial coinage (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 177) (although the notion of freedom is very prominent in Pliny the Younger’s Panegyric addressed to Trajan 44, 58, 78, where it is closely associated with the idea of felicitas temporum, the beginning of a new happy age and the perpetual welfare of the state) (see Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 169). In his study of imperial coinage prior to Constantine’s day, Carlos Noreña notes that libertas was not a particularly useful ‘benefit of empire’ because ultimately “monarchy and freedom were inherently incompatible” (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 177). Despite this, several emperors did indeed utilise libertas on their coinage (see Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 177, who lists Vespasian, Nerva, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Elagabalus, and Severus Alexander). Indeed, Constantine also minted coins with the legend “LIBERTAS PVBLICA” (public liberty), as did other emperors (RIC VII Constantinople, nos. 18, 25).
In the case of this particular solidus, it was arguably a particularly useful thing for Constantine to advertise amidst his war against his co-ruler, the “tyrant” Licinius. This solidus was minted the year after the civil war waged between Constantine and Licinius began in 314 CE. There was a temporary break from the conflict in 315 CE, but it would soon resume. On this issue, the reestablishment, or restoration of libertas, associated with the emperor, is a message primarily aimed at the ruling class, as this coin is a gold solidus, which was used by the elites (for more on this conflict and Constantine’s subsequent propaganda after Licinius’s eventual defeat, see Nummus depicting the head of Constantine and the labarum spearing a snake (337 CE)). Later on, after his ultimate defeat of Licinius, one feature of Constantine’s imperial propaganda was to present himself as the deliverer of the senate, and the restorer of their freedom from this “tyrant” (see the commentary on Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine I.39). Perhaps in this solidus, then, we see an early indication of the benefit to the Roman people (or at the very least a section of it) which Constantine wanted to present himself as providing once Licinius was no longer in the picture.
On the left of Constantine stands Roma, seated on a throne, depicted as dressed in a long tunic, draped in a stola, and wearing a helmet. She is passing a globe to the emperor, which symbolizes Rome’s rule over the entire world/universe (the orbis terrarum; for examples of other coins which embodied this theme, see Aureus depicting the head of Maximian and the same as Rector Orbis; Aureus depicting the head of Didius Julianus and the same symbolically depicted as the ruler of the orbis terrarum (193 CE); Sestertius depicting the head of Valerian and the same raising the personification of the Orbis Terrarum (256-257 CE); Denarius depicting the head of Severus Alexander and the emperor symbolically depicted as the ruler of the orbis terrarum). Moreover, the depiction of the world being passed to the emperor symbolises clearly the notion of Constantine’s divine appointment as the ruler of the empire. There is little doubt that the general iconography depicted on the reverse of this issue stemmed from that of the Greek Athena Parthenos, a statue made by Phidias in the fifth century BCE, and described by the ancient geographer Pausanias (Pausanias, Description of Greece I.24.5; see Mellor, “The goddess Roma,” p. 1012-1013).
Various issues minted in the second and third centuries CE depicted Roma, sometimes alone, and sometimes with the emperor, as in this case. Yet, from the rule of Gallienus (reigned 253-268 CE) onwards, the city of Rome slowly lost its primary role, and Diocletian created four new capitals during his reign (reigned 284-305 CE). Constantine resided at Trier (or Augusta Treverorum), and after 317 CE until the foundation of Constantinople mainly at Sirmium and Nicomedia. Thus, from the beginning of the fourth century, the city of Rome was no longer as strongly associated with the emperor, meaning that the representation of Roma was changing. What is represented here is the personification of the idea of the Roman state, and not just of the city of Rome itself (Urbs). However, it is arguable that on this solidus, as Roma is depicted in conjunction with the notion of libertas, a message primarily targeting the senate (see discussion above), the goddess does in fact embody the city of Rome more specifically.