Constantine I, 307/310-337. Follis (Bronze, 23 mm, 4.49 g, 6 h), Rome, late 312. IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust of Constantine I to right. Rev. LIBERATORI VRBIS SVAE / RS Roma seated facing, shield at side and holding globe in her right hand and long scepter in her left, within hexastyle temple with wreath in pediment. RIC 303. Extremely rare and of the greatest historical importance. Very well struck and clear, with a lovely brown patina and undoubtedly among the finest known examples. Extremely fine.
This issue perhaps more than any other stands for the epochal change that Constantine's victory at the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312 brought along. While it is true that Christianity would arguably have become the dominant religion regardless of the outcome of the battle, who knows what direction Roman history would have taken if Maxentius had defeated and killed Constantine, thereby preventing his rival from becoming the future sole emperor and great patronizer of the Christian church? However, history is not written by 'what ifs', and thus we have this wonderful example of Constantinian self-representation, struck in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Its reverse copies a type of Maxentius with the legend CONSERVATOR VRBIS SVAE (i.e. 'preserver of his city'), showing the great Temple of Venus and Roma on the Velian Hill, which Maxentius had restored earlier in his reign. The Constantinian take-off, however, replaces the word CONSERVATOR with LIBERATORI, therefore hailing Constantine as liberator of Rome. This subtle play on words was part of the victor's efforts to portray his former rival Maxentius, whose head he had carried around in the city on a spear, not as a mere usurper, but as a tyrant from which the Senate and the people of Rome had been freed. Constantine would then go on to exert ostentatious clementia towards the city, which set him on good terms with the influential Senatorial aristocracy. One group which would not enjoy leniency, however, was the Praetorian Guard: this elite unit of the Roman army had formed the backbone of Maxentius' power, and its remnants were disbanded after Battle of the Milvian Bridge and the surviving soldiers individually reassigned to distant garrisons all over the empire.