Antoninianus depicting Valerian, restitutor generis humani, walking and holding the globe (254-255 CE)

254 CE to 255 CE

Viminacium (Moesia)

Name of Ruler: 
Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Radiate and draped bust of Valerian looking right
Inscription: IMP(erator) C(aesar) P(ublius) LIC(inius) VALERIANVS AVG(ustus)

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Valerian, radiate, togate, walking right, holding globe and raising right hand
Inscription in the reverse: RESTITVTI GENER(is) HVMANI; “To the restorer of humankind”.

Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 

RIC V/1, Valerian, no. 220, p. 55.

The antoninianus was a new silver coin that had been introduced by Caracalla in 215 CE. It had the same silver content as the denarius, but it was heavier (it weighed around 5 g). Many specialists think that its value was that of two denarii, but this remains debated. Although its production was stopped by Elagabalus in 219 CE, Pupienus and Balbinus ordered that it should be produced again in 238 CE. The weight and silver content of the antoninianus was reduced, compared with those minted by Caracalla, but the process then accelerated after 250 CE. One characteristic of the antoniniani is that on their obverse is depicted the head of the emperor crowned by the radiate crown.

The coin presented here was minted at the beginning of Valerian’s joint reign with his son Gallienus, which lasted from 253 to 260 CE. It was minted at Viminacium which was both the capital of the province of Upper Moesia and also an important military base. The mint of Viminacium opened under the reign of Gordian III.
The most interesting element highlighted by this coin is the message conveyed by the scene depicted on the reverse and its association with the legend restituti generis humani, “To the restorer of humankind”. This scene thus represents the emperor Valerian holding the globe that symbolizes his domination over the universe. He is also raising his right hand, a gesture that recalls the adlocutio (the address to the army). This kind of scene would perfectly fit in with the military context in which this coin had been produced. On this type, the emperor is depicted walking while holding the globe in one hand, which is a quite unusual representation. This action may indicate that the emperor is taking possession of the universe, but the inscription does not refer to any region as could be logically expected considering Valerian’s walking representation. From a different perspective, the inscription presents Valerian as being the “restorer of humankind”.

Before analysing how this epithet can be interpreted in relation to the scene depicted on the reverse, and to its historical context, it is important to deal with the epithet restitutor,which, during the third century CE, had been frequently assigned to emperors. First, that epithet was associated with various motifs. An emperor could be praised for being the restitutor of a province or of a specific area, of a virtue, or of more global spatial or temporal entities. Emperors of the third century CE were thus pretty frequently praised as restitutor saeculi (“restorer of the time”), restitutor orbis (“restorer of the world,” see Aurelianus depicting the head of Aurelian and a woman presenting a wreath to Aurelian restitutor orbis (274-275 CE)), or more rarely restitutor generis humani, which is the case here. It seems that this category of the restitutor message had been particularly in vogue during Valerian and Gallienus’s joint reign. Erika Manders has noticed that, during this period, 17 types were minted representing Gallienus as a restitutor (9 types restitutor Galliarum; 1 restitutor Orientis; 6 restitutor orbis; 1 restitutor generis humani minted between 255 and 256 CE, see RIC V/1, Gallienus, no. 296, p. 91). For Valerian at least 10 types presenting him as a restitutor can be noticed (1 type restitutor Orientis; 8 restitutor orbis; 1 restitutor generis humani). Interestingly, no coin type presenting Gallienus as restitutor had been minted during his sole reign (Manders, Coining Images of Power, p. 297). This point thus proves that the use of the restitutor messages in coin types was part of the ideological messages that were specifically promoted under Gallienus and Valerian’s joint reign. Among the restitutor epithets, that of restitutor generis humani is certainly the one that is attested the least frequently on coins. It was attested for the first time on coins produced under Valerian’s reign, and it is attested only twice, one time in association with Valerian – which is the type presented here – and one time in association with Gallienus (RIC V/1, Gallienus, no. 296, p. 91 coins also produced at Viminacium). Moreover, this epithet is not attested on inscriptions before Constantine’s reign. On a base of a statue dedicated by the Urban prefect Caius Caieonius Rufius Volusianus to Constantine in 314 CE, that is after Constantine’s victory over Maxentius, the emperor is presented as restitutor humani generis and propagator imperii dicionisq(ue) Romanae, “extender of the Roman empire and dominion” (see Constantine as “restorer of the human race” (CIL VI, 1140)).

In his panegyric of Trajan, Pliny the Younger praised Trajan for being the princeps generis humani, the “ruler of humankind” (see Pliny the Younger, Panegyric of Trajan 57.4). This passage can be put in relation to the reverse of coins produced under the reigns of Galba and Trajan on which is represented the goddess Salus with her foot on a globe, holding a rudder and a patera and sacrificing above an altar (see RIC I2, Galba, no. 97, p. 237; RIC II, Trajan, no. 148b, p. 254). In the space beneath this representation of Salus appears the legend SALVS GENERIS HVMANI, the “wellbeing of humankind”. The message conveyed by this numismatic type is that it was the responsibility of the princeps to take care of the wellbeing of the people he was in charge of (on the evolution of this type see Winkler, Salus. Vom Staatskult, p. 73-79). Coins bearing the legend SALVS GENERIS HVMANI continued to be produced later as for instance under Caracalla but with a different representation on the reverse, see RIC IV/1, Caracalla, n° 42a-c, p. 218; no 350, p. 267; on the reasons of the choice of this salus generis humani propaganda by Caracalla, see Manders, Coining Images, p. 216-218). Moreover, in Pliny the Younger’s correspondence, more especially in a letter he wrote the day that Trajan reached power, is expressed the idea that the security (securitas) and protection (tutela) of humankind (genus humanum) depend upon the wellbeing (salus) of the emperor (Pliny the Younger, Letters X.52). By consequence the welfare of the people is guaranteed by the actions of the Roman emperor, but it also depends on the emperor’s own wellbeing.

The epithet restitutor of the people that appears on coins produced at Viminacium in 254-255 CE bears this same very idea that the ruling emperors – here Valerian and Gallienus – were in charge of the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the Roman empire who, at that time, were mostly Roman citizens. This equation between humankind and all the Roman citizens recalls the rhetoric of the epithet restitutor orbis assigned to various emperors during the third century CE and which is based on the principle that the world, orbis terrarum, is the Roman world, orbis Romanus, and is thus the equivalent of the Roman empire (see Aurelianianus depicting the head of Aurelian and a woman presenting a wreath to Aurelian restitutor orbis (274-275 CE)). During the years 254-255 CE, Valerian and Gallienus led various military operations, respectively in the East and in Illyricum, operations that enabled to restore order in the provinces and to bring back security in frontier zones. The coins produced during these years at Viminacium honoured these victories, especially the ones against the Iazyges and the Roxolani that threatened Mursa, Sirmium and Viminacium itself (see Christol, L’empire romain, p. 132). Thus, the antoniniani minted during the years 254-256 CE and honouring Valerian and Gallienus as being the restorers of humankind should be interpreted as celebrating the fact that they had succeeded in restoring military order in every part and on every border of the Empire, but also to restore security for all the inhabitants of the Roman empire.

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