Image: Bust pearl-diademed draped cuirassed right
Inscription: D N VALENTINI-ANVS P F AVG
Image: Roma seated left on throne, holding Victory on globe in right hand and sceptre in left
Inscription: VRBS – ROMA
RIC IX, Treveri, no 27a, p. 19.
The coin presented here was minted at Trier under the reign of Valentinian I. On the obverse is depicted the bust of the emperor Valentinian with a pearl-diademed crown on his head. The legend refers to him as D(ominus) n(oster), Valentinianus, p(ius), f(elix), Augustus; “Our master, Valentinian, pious, fortunate, Augustus”. The scene depicted on the reverse, namely Roma seated on throne, holding a Victory on a globe in her right hand and a reversed spear or a sceptre in her left, is a very common motif in Roman coinage iconography. First, the way Rome is represented, namely with a helmet, fits in with the way she is traditionally depicted from the Republican period onwards (see for instance Denarius of P. Porcius Laeca celebrating provocatio (110-109 BCE)). Second, the situation in which Roma is depicted on the coin presented here, namely seated on throne and holding a Victory on a globe and a reversed spear/sceptre, is also a very classical motif. It is first attested in numerous emissions of bronze coins under Nero, with the legend ROMA, rather than the URBS ROMA of this coin (see for instance RIC I2, Nero, no. 279, p. 167). The motif then appears under Galba, Vitellius, Vespasian, Nerva, and under the Antonines (especially under Trajan, Hadrian and Commodus) and Severans. A change emerged with the emperors of the third century who also produced many coins bearing this reverse type. Until the Severan period, the legends associated with this reverse type varied a lot, but from the reign of Gordian I (238 CE) to Diocletian (284-305 CE), it is the legend ROMAE AETERNAE (“To eternal Rome”) that is most frequently associated with this iconography. It is after the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian that this reverse type started to be associated with other legends, such as CONSERVATOR URBIS SUAE (“Preserver of his city”) under Maxentius (on Roma’s types with this legend see Bronze depicting the head of Maxentius and the emperor together with Roma (307 CE)); PERPETUITAS AUGUSTORUM (“The permanence of the Augusti”) under Severus II, Maximinus Daia or Constantine I in 305-307 CE; and GLORIA ROMANORUM (“Glory of the Romans”) under the Constantinian dynasty. Finally, it should be noted that the first time the legend URBS ROMA was associated with the iconography of the seated Roma holding a Victory on a globe and a sceptre was on the reverse of two types of bronze medallions minted at Rome between 335 and 337 CE (RIC VII, Rome, no. 361 (obverse head of Constantius II), p. 340; no. 362 (obverse bust of Roma), p. 340-341). It then appears on coins minted under the reigns of Constans and Constantius II, under the usurper Magnentius and under Valentinian I’s reign. Under Valentinian I’s reign, this type is attested on siliquae minted at Lyon and Rome between 364 and 367 CE and at Trier between 367 and 375 CE (RIC IX, Lugdunum, no. 9a-b, p. 44; RIC IX, Rome, no. 11a-b, p. 119; RIC IX, Trier, no. 27a-f, p. 19), on bronze medallions minted at Rome between 367 and 375 CE (RIC IX, Rome, no 22a-c, p. 121). This type also appears (with variants in the design of the victory and of the spear/sceptre held by Roma) on coins minted under the successors of Valentinian I (Valentinian II, Gratian), and later on under the reigns of Theodosius I and his sons Honorius and Arcadius (on these variants see Pearce, “Issues of the Urbs Roma”; Bastien, Le monnayage de l’atelier, p. 63-64).
It is possible to explain why a relatively common motif in imperial coinage iconography was chosen for some bronze emissions under Valentinian I. First, the legend URBS ROMA makes explicit the fact that the Roma here represented is not the goddess but the personification of the city. In that perspective, Valentinian’s use of this classical motif in imperial iconography fits in with the way Christian emperors (from Constantine onwards) continued to present some classical characters and symbols on their coins while being attentive to suppress elements that had a too obvious “pagan” connotation.
Second, the coin presented here was produced at Trier and is part of a group of bronze emissions that have the same reverse type, but which were minted with the image of the other Augusti, namely Valentinians’s brother, Valens (who ruled in the East from 364 to 378 CE), and Valentinian’s son, Gratian (who became Augustus in 367 CE when he was eight years old). There had thus been a clear will to associate the whole Valentinian family to the message conveyed by this type.
Finally, the fact that the personification of the city of Rome is here represented while holding a sceptre, symbolizing her power, and a victory on a globe, is a clear assertion of the fact that Rome remained the center of a universal Empire. By then, it should be noted that, during the period this type was produced, that is between 367 and 375 CE, Trier was the city in which the imperial residence and the imperial court were established. Trier was thus the city in the Western Empire in which Valentinian and his son Gratian spent most of their time; the period of Valentinian I’s reign being the time when Trier reached his apogee (on the evolution of the length of the imperial stays in the most important cities of the Empire during fourth century see Reboul, “Les capitales impériales,” fig. 2 and § 5). As a consequence, Valentinian’s decision to represent the personification of the city of Rome on these bronze emissions must have been motivated by his will to reassert his attachment to the city of Rome, which remained the capital of the Western Empire, even if he spent most of his time in Trier and in the Rhenan region.