Gallienus, 253-268. 'Denarius' (Bronze, 19 mm, 2.44 g, 11 h), an 'offstrike' from aureus dies, Rome (?), circa 264-265. GALLIENVS P F AVG Cuirassed bust of Gallienus to left, wearing crested pseudo-Corinthian helmet and balteus, holding spear in his right hand and shield on his left shoulder, cuirass and shield decorated with a gorgoneion. Rev. [P M TR] P XIII C VI P P / VIC GERM Victory seated right on cuirass, holding stylus in her right hand and inscribing shield set on her left knee, which she holds with her left; to left, shield; to right, trophy between two seated captives in mourning attitude. Cohen -. MIR -. RIC -. Apparently unpublished and of great historical interest. A beautiful 'offstrike' from aureus dies with a very impressive bust type and a new reverse type for Gallienus. Very minor smoothing, otherwise, very fine.
The emergence of this exceptional piece drastically expands our knowledge about a very unusual series of recently surfaced offstrikes of Gallienus dated to 264-265 and 266-267, respectively (see Classical Numismatic Group 114 (2020), 977 and Leu 10 (2021), 2351). These pieces, struck in debased silver, have an identical obverse, but they show Mars approaching Rhea Silvia on the reverse, a famous love scene from the foundation myth of Rome, as Rhea Silvia would give birth to Romulus and Remus following her intercourse with the god of war. As early as 260, Gallienus had referenced the popular myth, which he borrowed from an issue of Antoninus Pius dating to 140. Various interpretations have been offered for the reuse of this unusual type, but since it was used on multiple occasions throughout Gallienus' sole reign, it is perhaps best to see it as a general attempt to portray the emperor as a savior, renovator, and second founder of Rome.
Thanks to our coin, however, we now know that the issue dating to 264-265 was broader in concept than initially believed, as this piece boasts a very specific and hitherto unknown military victory type, namely a Victory seated to right on captured arms, inscribing a shield in front of a trophy with two captives. Both the obverse die match to the silver 'offstrike' in Classical Numismatic Group 114 (2020), 977 and the reverse legend firmly date our piece to 264-265, and the inscription VIC GERM in the exergue makes it abundantly clear that it celebrates one of Gallienus' victories against Germanic tribes on the northern border of the Empire. Unfortunately, the chronology of the emperor's numerous campaigns is notoriously difficult to establish and a hotly debated topic, based mostly on the often unreliable late Roman senatorial historiography and the difficult dating of the numismatic evidence. In the absence of unambiguous evidence, we should also be cautious not to proclaim a new Germanic victory based on our 'offstrike' dating to 264-265, especially since we know that it formed part of a festive emission that also reused the Rhea Silvia type, which had appeared on Gallienus' coinage before.
In fact, herein perhaps lies the answer to the question what prompted the emperor to mint the Rhea Silvia and the Germanic victory types in 264-265 – not necessarily a battle won against Germanic invaders in that year, but a general celebration of his achievements so far, most notably his incredibly important victory in the Battle of Mediolanum in 259. This had perhaps been Gallienus' finest hour, as he crushed a massive Alemannic force that had penetrated Rome's northern defenses and marched deep into Italy, the first invasion of the Italic heartland south of the Padan Plain since the outcry 'Hannibal ad portas' had made the Romans tremble almost half a millenium prior. Since the Romans were fascinated with jubilees and cycles, a celebratory issue five years after the defining victory of Gallienus' reign would make perfect sense. With the emergence of our coin, we now know that this issue was struck both in silver and in bronze, and it certainly also included aurei, albeit none of them has survived, forming a complete trimetallic emission struck to commemorate the emperor's most significant achievement – his rescue of Italy from a barbarian invasion, making him the second founder of Rome.