The victorious emperor A gold medallion of Constans
Constans was the youngest son of Constantin I the Great. He was only a boy when his father accorded him the rank of Caesar (emperor-designate). With the death of Constantin I in 337, his three sons Constantin II, Constantius II and Constans adopted the title of Augustus and divided the empire amongst themselves. Constans was awarded Italy, North Africa and the Balkan peninsula. The relationship between the three sons was not free of conflict. Constantin II claimed the dioceses of Africa and Italy for himself and invaded Northern Italy in 340. Constans was able to ward off the attack. His brother was defeated and killed at Aquileia. This was a stroke of luck for Constans, as he now had control over the entire western part of the Roman empire. Ten years later he was killed by the usurper Magnentius, who was proclaimed emperor in Gaul in 350.
During his reign, Constans was successful in securing the borders against the Germanic tribes. The Franks invaded Roman territory in 341, probably encouraged by quarrels amongst the Augusti. Constans confronted them, securing a decisive victory in 342 and forcing the Franks into an alliance. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that Constans did not have to conduct any further major wars because the barbarians feared his power and bravery.
The important victory of Constans over the Franks in 342 provides the historical background for our multiple of 9 solidi. Multiples of simple Roman gold coins are also termed medallions nowadays. Weighing nine times as much as a solidus, our medallion was part of the coinage system, the solidus being the standard gold coin at that time. Gold medallions and simple gold coins have been found together in coin hoards, implying that the multiples also served as a means of payment. However, owing to their size, value and elaborate design, they should primarily be regarded as prestige objects which were given to dignitaries of the empire or foreign princes. These kinds of coins are often mounted or fitted with metal loops. Our coin was furnished with a loop and worn as a piece of jewellery, as revealed by the signs of wear on the reverse side.
The obverse side of our medallion depicts Constans. The inscription "FL(avius) IVL(ius) CONSTANS PIVS FELIX AVG(ustus)" names the emperor. Looking at his facial features, it is noticeable that late antiquity coin minting paid no attention to individuality in portraying the emperor. It is the attributes that mark him as ruler which are significant. On his head, the emperor is sporting a magnificent diadem featuring a very prominent jewel on the forehead and pairs of laurel leaves alternating with rosettes. He is wearing a cuirass and the commander's cloak, known as paludamentum.
The pteruges, leather strips protecting the upper arm, are clearly visible. The paludamentum is fastened over the right shoulder with a splendid decorative brooch.
The emperor’s right hand is raised in greeting and his left hand holds a globe depicting Victoria, the winged goddess of victory. Victoria is shown standing with her typical attributes of palm branch and wreath. The image is probably a depiction of the statue which Augustus had erected in the Curia Julia, the senate house, in Rome in 29 BC. This statue of Victoria had been brought to Rome in 209 BC following the victory in Tarentum. The base of the column was discovered during excavations.
The emperor is the central motif on the picture on the reverse side. Constans is striding to the right in full armour, brandishing lance and shield, and is dragging a shackled prisoner behind him. The richly ornamented round shield boasts an interesting detail. The lion’s head protruding from the side of the shield visualises the symbol located on the outside of the emperor’s shield. The captive’s beard and clothing identify him as being non-Roman. He is wearing a short skirt, an even shorter cloak and trousers. His hands are bound behind his back. A woman is kneeling before the emperor, looking up at him and pleading with raised arms. The winged goddess Victoria floats over the scene and crowns the victorious emperor with a garland. The Roman artist reinforced the impact and message the coin conveys with the oversized portrayal of the emperor. The inscription "VICTORIA AVGVSTI NOSTRI" (Victory of our Augustus) explains what is happening.
The field below the horizontal line, known as the exergue, contains administrative information pertaining to the mint. On late Roman coins, cryptic abbreviations usually indicate where the respective coin was minted and to which issue it belongs. In the case of our medallion, the letters "AQ" refer to the mint at Aquileia. A quiver, a helmet, a cuirass and a lance are depicted between the letters.
Rome – Roman Empire, Constans (337–350)
Gold medallion of nine solidi, 342 AD
Weight: 41.83 g
Diameter: 50.61 mm