Constantine I, 307/310-337. Medallion of four Siliquae (Silver, 36 mm, 13.40 g, 7 h), Siscia, 1st March 336. AVGVSTVS Rosette-diademed head of Constantine I to right. Rev. X X within laurel wreath with berries and four wreath ties; in exergue, SIS. Cohen -. Gnecchi -. Cf. Münzen & Medaillen 61, 7-8 October 1982, 494 (same obverse die, but with CAESAR on the reverse). Lafaurie -, cf. pp 47-48 (Treveri). RIC -. Unpublished and unique, a wonderful medallion of the greatest historical interest and importance. Sharply struck, perfectly preserved and of splendid style, with a bold and monumental portrait of Constantine I. Very light deposits around the devices, otherwise, good extremely fine.
This remarkable multiplum is part of an impressive series of anonymous late Roman medallions that has lead to discussion among scholars since the 18th century. It was struck in eight mints - Treveri, Lugdunum, Arlelate, Aquileia, Siscia, Thessalonica, Constantinopolis and Nicomedia - and consists of two main types, the first of which bears the legends AVGVSTVS on the obverse and CAESAR on the reverse, whereas the second reads CAESAR on the front and X X on the back. The absence of imperial names has, unsurprisingly, led to much confusion, as it seriously hampers an exact attribution and dating, and the two types have hence variously been attributed to Constantine I, Constantine II and Constantius II (in the case of the medallions reading AVGVSTVS), and Constantine II, Constans, Constantius Gallus and Julian II (in the case of those reading CAESAR). It was only in 1949 that M. Lafaurie compiled all surviving examples and fundamentally revised their interpretation and dating (M. Lafaurie: Une Serié de Médaillons d'argent de Constantin I et Constantin II, in: RN 1949, pp. 35-48). His compelling argumentation is, on one hand, based on the comparison of the known mintmarks, where he observed that the CONST mintmark of Arelate recorded on some of the multipla was used on coins only in 327-340 and 353-370, and that those periods of time can be further narrowed down as there were no designated Caesars in 337-351 and after 360. This leaves two options for the dating of the series: the later years of Constantine (327-337), with one of his sons being the accompanying Caesar, or the later reign of Constantius II, with Julian II as his Caesar (353-360). Lafaurie then goes on to note that the unusual TSE mintmark (instead of TES, for Thessalonica) found on one of the medallions is otherwise solely attested on a few coins dated to the years 335-337, which let him conclude that the multipla must be contemporary and thus attributed to Constantine I and one of his sons. Other clues regarding the dating of the series are of course given by the titles Augustus and Caesar and the X X on the reverse. Lafaurie argued that the two legend combinations known to him at the time, AVGVSTVS / CAESAR and CAESAR / X X, are to be read as a group and that they refer to the honor that the Augustus is granting to his Caesar by celebrating the Caesar's vicennalia. As Constantine II, who had been Caesar since 1 March 317, was the only son of Constantine I to reach his 20th anniversary during his father's lifetime, it becomes apparent that the issue was struck by the aged emperor to celebrate the vicennalia of his oldest surviving son, which took place on 1st March 336. It was only after Lafaurie had finished his article, however, that he was notified by Herbert Cahn about a new piece from the mint of Treveri in his possession, which combined the AVGVSTVS obverse with the vicennalia reverse and thus not only added another name to the list of mints involved in the striking of the series, but also attested a hitherto unknown obverse-reverse combination. Lafaurie considered the piece to be a hybrid issue, but the emergence of our example, which was struck in Siscia and has the same combination of types, strongly argues against this interpretation. Rather, the apparent mixing of types appears to have been deliberate, which - while being surprising to modern observers, who have been struggling with the interpretation of the series for more than two centuries - can hardly have confused anyone at the time: these beautiful medallions, struck at the weight of four siliquae, were undoubtedly distributed among high-level officials and officers during the empire-wide celebrations of the vicennalia of Constantine's oldest surviving son, leaving no doubt to the recipients about who the AVGVSTVS and the CAESAR shown on the obverses were. They are among the most impressive late Roman silver multipla ever struck, and this example in particular is not only exceptionally well preserved, it also bears one of the finest numismatic portraits of Constantine I in existence.