Ancient Coin Profile: 9 Solidi Medallion of Constantine the Great

Gold medallions were gifts produced for the Roman 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 Arnold Toynbee as money medallions because they were “true multiples of gold and silver coins” and could therefore legally be 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 April 24-27 Central States Auction of World and Ancient Coins auction by Heritage features an impressive gold medallion of 9 solidi of Constantine the Great, graded Choice VF 5/5 – 2/5 by NGC, with contemporary intact mount, likely unique.

This 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.

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 330 CE, 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 dates the issue to 326 CE, 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). Other sources date this medallion to 330 CE or later, and this date seems to be supported by the consensus of opinion.
 

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