Antoninianus depicting the head of Gallienus and a trophy set between two captives (c. 260 CE)



258 CE to 260 CE




Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 


Image: Radiate, cuirassed bust of Gallienus looking left, holding spear over shoulder and shield

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 


Image: Trophy with seated captives on either side


(RIC Va, Gallienus no. 18, p. 70; the RIC dates the coin between 258 and 259 CE, but for reasons explained below, it may more likely be from 260 CE)

This antoninianus, minted at Lugdunum, depicts on the obverse the head of Gallienus and on the reverse a trophy, with two captives seated on either side. The inscription, which spans from the obverse to the reverse, refers to Gallienus as Gallienus, Pius Felix, Augustus (GALLIENVS PF AVG), and Germanicus Maximus (GERMANICVS MAX), a title which celebrates his victory over the Germanic tribes. The number V at the end of the inscription on the reverse indicates that Gallienus was counting five German victories (see Älfoldi, “The Numbering,” p. 250). By the middle of the third century, most imperial coins refer to the emperor only as Caesar and Augustus. Long gone were the old titles which indicated their consulship, holding of the tribunician power, and the high priesthood of the Roman state religion, as well as purely honorary titles, such as father of the country (pater patriae). Only the most basic titles are emphasized. Therefore, Gallienus is presented firstly as Augustus, a title which served to emphasize the emperor’s sacral standing. Secondly, the titles Pius and Felix, which systematically began to appear in the third century together, became a permanent feature of the imperial titulature by the reign of Diocletian (284 to 305 CE).

This issue is an antoninianus, a new silver coin introduced by Caracalla in 215 CE. The antoninianus had the same silver content as the denarius, but it was heavier (it weighed around 5 g). Some specialists think that its value was equal two denarii, but this remains debated. Its production was stopped by Elagabalus in 219 CE, but Pupienus and Balbinus ordered that it be resumed in 238 CE. The weight and silver content of the antoninianus was reduced compared with those minted by Caracalla, and the process accelerated after 250 CE; the present coin is an example from this period (for a consideration of the antoninianus during Gallienus’s reign see Bray, Gallienus, p. 296). One characteristic of the antoninianus is that the obverse depicts the head of the emperor crowned by the radiate crown, as we see with Gallienus on this issue. Moreover, the fact that Gallienus holds a spear and shield presents him in a military fashion, with the depiction of weaponry further the emphasising his connection with the army and the military strength which the iconography on the reverse of the coin indicates.

Gallienus reigned between 258 and 268 CE, initially with his father Valerian. The present coin dates from the period of his joint reign with Valerian. He spent much of his reign into the Rhine provinces, and as Andreas Älfoldi deduced, the numismatic evidence indicates that he won several military victories there, despite some disasters (see Älfoldi, “The Numbering,” p. 250-253; although see Bray, Gallienus, p. 47, who argues that it is difficult to precisely date the breakthroughs of the Alamanni and Franks). Between 258 and 260 CE, the Germanic Alamanni and Franks penetrated the Rhine border and invaded Roman Gaul. The Alamanni got as far as northern Italy, where they were defeated by Gallienus in Milan in 259 or 260 CE. The Franks ravaged Gaul and sailed through the Mediterranean, eventually attacking Spain and North Africa, and possibly southern Gaul (see De Blois, The Policy, p. 6). Gallienus dealt with various usurpations during his reign, notably that by Ingenuus in the Danube region, and that by Postumus, which he never succeeded to quash, and which eventually resulted in the formation of the so-called “Gallic Empire” (see De Blois, The Policy, p. 6-7; Bray, Gallienus, p. 47). Despite this, his coinage, including the present example, celebrates his military successes, and he accepted the title of Germanicus Maximus V, as acknowledged on this antoninanus for his victories against the Germans in 258 CE.  Mark Hebblewhite notes that numerically iterated cognomina such as Germanicus Maximus V first appeared under Valerian and Gallienus, with only Postumus and Carausius immediately following this practice. For Hebblewhite, the title of Germanicus Maximus V was Gallienus’s to do away with the shame brought upon his family after his father Valerian’s humiliating capture by Shapur I in the Battle of Edessa in 260 CE. Titles such as this were a way to emphasise multiple military victories over arguably the Roman empire’s most significant continual threat. These titles appeared only on coinage, which indicates that Gallienus was specifically targeting the army with his message (see Hebblewhite, The Emperor and the Army, p. 52). Indeed, Patricia Southern argues that the army was of primary concern to Gallienus, as he knew that their loyalty was paramount for the preservation of imperial power (The Roman Empire, p. 121-122).

The iconography of the scene depicted on the reverse, two bound prisoners, standing on the sides of a trophy, emphasize the absolute victory achieved. The depiction of the trophy (trophaeum), originally a tree hung with armour and spoils of the enemy, which stands between the two captives, is very typical on Roman coins which celebrate military victory. Trophies on imperial coinage either stand with captives beneath them, as on this issue, or are carried by a deity or other person (e.g. Aureus depicting the head of Septimius Severus and Victoria, the goddess of victory (198-200 CE)). The iconography depicted on the reverse of this issue mirrors that of the previously minted series Iudaea Capta (“Judea Captured”) coins by Vespasian and Titus, which celebrated their victory over the Jewish people in the First Jewish Revolt of 70 CE, which resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. For example, a Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE) depicts two defeated Jews in a submissive pose under a symbol of Judea, the palm tree. Similarly, the Germania Capta series minted by Domitian also imitated the Iudaea Capta type (e.g. Sestertius depicting the head of Domitian and a trophy with German captives (85 CE)), and various issues minted by Trajan, in the wake of his Parthian campaign, and by later emperors, such as Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, and Septimius Severus also utilise this imagery (e.g. Aureus depicting the head of Trajan and two Parthians mourning below trophy (116 CE); Sestertius depicting the head of Marcus Aurelius and Germania, the personification of Germany sitting at the foot of a trophy (172-173 CE); RIC IVa, Septimius Severus, no. 690a, p. 185; RIC IVa, Septimius Severus, no. 433, p. 149). This antoninianus essentially celebrates the superiority of the Romans over the barbarians and the military prowess of the emperor and his close bond with the army, which was vitally important for keeping the empire secure and for expanding its boundaries.

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