Constantine I, 307/310-337. Solidus (Gold, 17 mm, 4.44 g, 6 h), Arelate, 313. CONSTANTI-NVS P F AVG Laureate head of Constantine I to right. Rev. PRINCIPIS PRO-VIDENTISSIMI / TARL Owl perched left on Corinthian column inscribed SA/PI/EN/TIA; to left, crested Corinthian helmet; to right, spear leaning against round shield. Depeyrot 1/2. Depeyrot, Émissions, 2/1. RIC 3. Extremely rare and of great interest. A lovely example of this very unusual issue. A few minor marks, otherwise, good very fine.
From the collection of Regierungsrat Dr. iur. Hans Krähenbühl, privately acquired from Münzen & Medaillen AG on 16 March 1970 (with a photocopy of the original invoice enclosed).
The reverse legend on this very unusual issue literally translates as 'of the far-sighted princeps', a praise for the emperor that is underlined by the slogan sapientia, 'wisdom', inscribed on a Corinthian column. We do not know what Constantine I and Licinius I were being praised for, although it has been suggested that the issue refers to the Edict of Milan of 313, an agreement between the two emperors to grant Christians (and everyone else) free exercise of religion. This is certainly possible, but in the absence of clear evidence, we must caution ourselves not to argue from our hindsight knowledge of the triumph of Christianity in the mid and late 4th century.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the type was solely struck in Arelate, a mint that issued gold on only two occasions during Constantine's reign (in 313 and in 317), both times in very small numbers only. Under these circumstances, a local background for the enigmatic issue is perhaps more likely. In any case, the addition of an owl, a helmet, a spear and a shield on the reverse all refer to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, serving as a lovely pictorial underlining of the central inscription on the column.