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    Unpublished Constantine the Great Gold Medallion

    Constantine I the Great (AD 307-337). AV medallion of 9 solidi (47mm, 41.88 gm, 5h). NGC Choice VF 5/5 - 2/5, Fine Style, mount. Constantinople, ca. AD 330. CONSTANTI-NVS MAX AVG, laurel and rosette diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Constantine I right, seen from front / FELICITA-S PERPETVA AVG E-T CAESS NN, Constantine I, nimbate, enthroned facing, scepter in right hand, mappa in left, flanked by Constantine II and Constantius II, both standing facing in military dress and turned to center, spear in outer hand, inner hand resting on grounded shield; CONS in exergue. RIC VII -. Cohen -. Depeyrot -. cf. Toynbee, p. 198 n. 45; pl. XXXIX, 1 [Constantine II, Constantinople]. cf. Gnecchi p. 16, 11, Nicomedia = Babelon, Revue Numismatique, 1906, "La trouvaille de Helleville (1780)", p. 167, pl. VII, 2 = Babelon, La Trouvaille Monétaire de Helleville (Manche) En 1780, 1910, pp. 16-17, pl. 1, 2 = Toynbee, Roman Medallions, Numismatic Studies 5, p. 62, n. 36, pl. V, 5 = RIC VII Nicomedia 173. An impressive medallion with contemporary intact mount, likely unique.

    Ex Property of a Private West Coast Collector (Bonhams, 14 September 2015), lot 44

    Gold medallions were gifts produced for the emperor to bestow upon high ranking civilian and military individuals, as well as "foreign ambassadors and chieftains whom it was intended to impress." They were "the imperial counterpart of private gifts presented to friends on important occasions." Described by Toynbee as money medallions because they were "true multiples of gold and silver coins" and could therefore legally used as money, they ranged in size from "the 1 ½-solidi pieces first issued by Constantine I to the 72-solidi piece of Valens."

    The present lot appears to be related by subject to small group of gold medallions and coins that was discovered in the village of Helleville, near Cherbourg in Normandy, France in 1780. "These coins were acquired for the French Collection [Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothèque Nationale], but at the time of the great robbery in 1831 were melted down by the plunderers, and shared the shocking fate of 2,000 other gold specimens of ancient currency ..." (The Classical Revue, vol. 20, no. 8, Nov. 1906, p.426). Fortunately casts of the related medallions and coins had been taken prior to the theft and Babelon published much of the hoard in 1906. It also appears that a few pieces from the original find may have found their way into trade and were ultimately acquired by the Royal Cabinet in the Hague (Kerkuyt, RN 1906, pp. 490-492).

    This large medallion may have been issued by Constantine I in connection with the move of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome and the consecration of Constantinople in AD 330, but as Bruun notes, "The dating of the beautiful 9-solidi pieces FELICITAS PERPETVA AVG ET CAESS NN presents great difficulties." (RIC VII, p. 594).

    Referring to the examples struck at Nicomedia, Babelon (RN 1906) dates the issue to AD 326, placing it at the later part of the year, after the murder of Crispus (which would make the medallion one of the earliest productions of the Constantinople mint and well out of place from all of the other gold issues from the mint).

    Toynbee "regards the type as belonging to a series of dynastic types comprising also the SALVS ET SPES REPVBLICAE [reverse] of Constantinople and Heraclea, all of the period of the two Caesars only (AD 326-33)." Based on the portrait style, Toynbee dates those with the short hair at the nape of the neck to AD 326, and those with the longer hair at the back (as here) to the "solemn consecration of Constantinople" in AD 330. The medallions struck at Constantinople from these two series utilized multiple reverse dies; those from the Helleville find have the emperor seated on a more elaborately engraved throne than the present lot, which is more linear and compact.

    M. Alföldi initially dated the medallions to AD 326-327 (RIC VII, p. 43, footnote 11), but subsequently agreed with Toynbee, dating the group to AD 330 (cf. Die constantinische Goldprägung, p. 165, 112).

    Bruun disagrees with Toynbee's earlier dating (RIC VII, pp. 563-4), "The type CONSTANTINIANA DAFNE with unusual mintmark B/CONS* may be ascribed to AD 328 and in point of portraiture the exquisite heavy multiple SALVS ET SPES REIPVBLICAE is closely related to it. We can scarcely avoid dating this remarkable medallion to the dedication of the new capital in May AD 330." Bruun himself dates the Nicomedia issue with this reverse to AD 335, and the related SALVS ET SPES REIPVBLICAE reverse type struck at Constantinople to the winter of AD 335-336, remarking on Toynbee's dating of AD 326 "the, however, smaller and cruder...Thus the portraits with the short hair have to be assigned to AD 330 and the others to even later dates." (RIC VII, p. 564, footnote 1).

    Pierre Bastien, ("Monnaie et Donativa au Bas-Empire," p.80, Revue belge de Philologie et d'Histoire, 1991) placed the series after the dedication ceremony of Constantinople on 11 May AD 330, and this date seems to be supported by the consensus of opinion.

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    Auction Dates
    April, 2020
    24th-27th Friday-Monday
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