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The House of Valentinian: CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series

The House of Valentinian - Ancient Byzantine coins.

By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
 

THE ROMAN EMPEROR Jovian was found dead at the age of 33 on February 17, 364 CE–apparently suffocated by charcoal brazier fumes. As usual with sudden Imperial deaths, there was a suspicion of foul play. He had reigned for just seven months. Army commanders subsequently elected Valentinian, a 43-year-old officer of the Imperial Guard, to be the new emperor. He then founded a dynasty that ruled for the next century. This strife-torn period saw the rapid decline of paganism, the solidification of Christianity as the Roman Empire’s official religion, and growing pressure from barbarian invaders.

Some historians describe this as the era of the “Pannonian Emperors” since many key figures of the time were born in the Danube frontier province of Pannonia[1]. Today, this ancient region includes parts of Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and Serbia.

According to one standard reference on coins of this period:

At first sight, it might seem that the coinage of our period can offer little help to the historian. It is no longer, as in earlier days, a continuous record of important events at home or in the field, touching every side of Roman life, or of the emperor’s manifold activities for the well-being of his subjects. Instead, the traditional glory of Roman arms is recalled on the coinage with monotonous persistence (Pearce, xv).

Coins of Valentinian I

Valentinian I. 364-375 CE. AV Solidus
Valentinian I. 364-375 CE. AV Solidus (21mm, 4.37 g, 6h). Antioch mint, 6th officina. Struck 365 CE. D N VALENTINI ANVS P F AVG, rosette-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / RESTITVTOR REIPVBLICAE, Valentinian standing facing, head right, holding labarum with right hand and Victory on globe in left; ANTI*. Image: CNG.

Son of Gratianus Funarius, a military officer of humble origin, Valentinian served in the army of Emperor Constantius II (ruled 337-361). He retired to his family estate after he was blamed for a defeat. A devout Christian, he was exiled to Egypt by the pagan emperor Julian, but the emperor Jovian recalled him to service. After Jovian’s sudden death, Valentinian was a compromise candidate for the vacant throne. Arriving at the Eastern capital of Constantinople in March 364, he raised his younger brother Valens to the rank of co-emperor.

VALENTINIAN I (364-375). Heavy Miliarense. Thessalonika.
VALENTINIAN I (364-375). Heavy Miliarense. Thessalonika. Obv: D N VALENTINIANVS P F AVG. Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust left. Rev: VIRTVS EXERCITVS / TES. Emperor standing facing, head left, holding labarum and shield. Image: Numismatik Naumann.

Many of Valentinian’s coins were struck at the great Eastern city of Antioch[2]. Constantinople and Thessalonica were also major mints[3]. Coins of Valentinian’s 11-year reign in all metals are relatively common and quite collectible, although the gold solidi are often worn, clipped, pierced, or scratched with graffiti. One reference lists 81 types in gold, 73 in silver, and 133 in bronze (Vagi, 290-318).

Valens

Valens. Solidus
Valens. Solidus; Valens; 364-378 CE, Trier, 375-378 CE, Solidus, 4.43g. RIC-39b (S); Depeyrot-45, p. 121, officina C=1 (26 spec.). Obv: D N VALENS – P F AVG Pearl-diademed, draped, cuirassed bust r., seen from front. Rx: VICTOR – IA AVGG Two emperors enthroned facing, together holding globe, their l. legs bare; between their heads, the upper part of Victory facing with outstretched wings; between their legs, palm branch; in exergue TROBC.

Valens was the younger brother of Valentinian, who had made him co-emperor of the Eastern half of the empire in 364. During Valens’ 14-year reign, he defeated a serious revolt by the usurper Procopius (366) and completed construction of the 167-mile “Aqueduct of Valens”[4] to ensure an abundant fresh water supply for Constantinople.

Valens is remembered as the commander in one of Rome’s most catastrophic defeats, the Battle of Adrianople[5] on August 9, 378, where the Goths outflanked and shattered his army. Valens was killed in action, and his body was never recovered.

Valens. 364-378 CE. AR Siliqua
Valens. 364-378 CE. AR Siliqua (19mm, 2.16 g, 12h). Constantinople mint, 2nd officina. Struck 364-367 CE. Pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / VOTA/V within wreath

The coinage of Valens in all metals is complex and abundant. Coins in his name were issued in the Western Empire as well as the Eastern Empire. The inscription is usually DN VALENS PF AUG (“Our Lord, Valens, Faithful and Fortunate Augustus”). A common type shows the two co-emperors enthroned side by side holding an orb, while a winged angel (or the pagan goddess of Victory?) hovers protectively above them[6]. A standard silver denomination was the siliqua of about 2.2 grams (1/144 of the 12-ounce Roman pound), which often carries a VOTA inscription on the reverse[7] (marking vows for the emperor’s health that were renewed every five years).

Gratian

Gratian AV Solidus.
Gratian AV Solidus. Constantinople, 367 CE. D N GRATIANVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust to right / PRINCIPIVM IVVENTVTIS, emperor, nimbate, standing facing, head to right, holding transverse spear and globe.

Born in 359, Flavius Gratianus (“Gratian“) was the son of Valentinian and his first wife, Severa. Gratian became junior co-emperor at the age of eight. When he was about 15, he was married to Constantina, daughter of the late Emperor Constantius II, to solidify his claim to the throne. When his father, enraged by the insolence of some Germanic envoys, suffered a sudden stroke and died, 16 year-old Gratian became ruler of the Western Empire. A few days later, the army on the Danube frontier, uneasy about Gratian’s lack of military experience, proclaimed Gratian’s four year-old half brother Valentinian II as their puppet emperor. Fiercely Christian, Gratian abolished the special privileges of Rome’s Vestal Virgins, and ordered removal of the pagan Altar of Victory[8] from the Senate house.

Gratian Majorina bronze coin.
Gratian, 367-383. Maiorina (Bronze, 23mm, 5.27 g, 4 h), Antiochia, 378-383. D N GRATIA-NVS P F AVG Helmeted, diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Gratian to right, holding spear in his right hand and shield in his left. Rev. GLORIA RO-MANORVM / ANTB Emperor standing front on galley sailing left, head to right, raising his right hand; at helm, Victory seated left, steering galley; in field to left, wreath.

In 383, Gratian faced a revolt by the usurper Magnus Maximus. Deserted by his troops, Gratian was hunted down and murdered at Lugdunum in Gaul (today Lyons, France).

A gold solidus of Gratian from the Constantinople mint shows the teen emperor as “Prince of Youth” (PRINCIPI IUVENTUTIS) standing in military garb holding a spear and orb, with a halo around his head, to mark his sacred status[9]. On the reverse of a bronze maiorina of Antioch, he appears standing in a boat while a small winged Victory steers behind him. The inscription translates as “Glory of the Romans”[10].

Coins of Valentinian II

Valentinian II, 375-392. Solidus
Valentinian II, 375-392. Solidus (Gold, 21 mm, 4.46 g, 6 h), Treveri, 3rd officina (T), 376-377. D N VALENTINIANVS IVN P F AVG Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Valentinian II to right. Rev. VICTOR-IA AVGG / TROBT Two emperors, the one on the right smaller, seated facing on throne, together holding globe between them and with palm between their feet; above and behind them, Victory facing with wings spread. Image: Nomos AG.

Born in 371 at Trier, the capital of Roman Germania, Valentinian II was the son of Valentinian I and his second wife, Justina. He became co-emperor at the age of four when his father died, although actual power was held by a series of generals. His court was based at Mediolanum (today Milan in northern Italy), later moving to Vienne in southeastern France (388 – 392). On May 15, 392 Valentinian, aged 21, was found dead, hanged in his palace. He may have been murdered on the orders of his general Arbogast[11] or he may have killed himself in frustration over his lack of real power.

A handsome gold solidus of Valentinian II from the mint of Trier brought $1,400 USD in a recent European coin auction[12].

Procopius

Procopius, usurper, 365-366. Siliqua.
Procopius, usurper, 365-366. Siliqua (Silver, 19 mm, 1.75 g, 6 h), Constantinople. D N PROCO – PIVS P F AVG Pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Procopius to right. Rev. VOT / • / V //•C•S all within a wreath joined at the top with a medallion and with ties at the bottom. Image: Nomos AG.

Procopius[13] was a relative of Emperor Julian (ruled 361-363). He commanded part of Julian’s army in the ill-fated Persian campaign, and may have been designated as Julian’s successor to the throne. Suspected of plotting against Valentinian I and Valens, he fled into exile. In September 365, he appeared in Constantinople, gained support from key officials, and was proclaimed emperor. He issued coins there, and at the mints of Heraclea, Cyzicus, and Nicomedia. Betrayed by subordinates, Procopius was captured and executed after a reign of eight months.

His coinage in all metals is scarce. A silver siliqua of Constantinople in the name of Procopius brought over $1,000 in a 2020 European auction[14].

Theodosius I

Theodosius I. 379-395 CE. AV Solidus.
Theodosius I. 379-395 CE. AV Solidus (20mm, 4.39 g, 12h). Constantinople mint, 1st officina. Struck 388-392 CE. D N THEODO SIVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / CONCORDI A AVGGG, Constantinopolis enthroned facing, head right, right foot on prow, holding scepter in right hand and shield inscribed VOT/X/MVLT/XV in four lines in left; A//CONOB. Image: CNG.

Remembered as “Theodosius the Great”, he was born in Spain in 347, the son of a prominent general who was executed under obscure circumstances. Despite this, young Theodosius had a successful military career, surviving the murderous palace intrigues that plagued the imperial court. Following the death of Valens in the Battle of Adrianople, Gratian reluctantly made Theodosius co-emperor on January 19, 379. Taking command of the Eastern army, Theodosius fought the Goths with mixed success and negotiated a treaty with them in 382. During his 16-year reign, coinage in the name of Theodosius was struck in vast quantities at both Eastern and Western mints. A common reverse inscription is CONCORDIA AUGG (“Harmony of the Emperors”), intended to reassure the subjects that the various co-emperors were getting along with one another[15]. High-value silver coins (“heavy” and “light” miliarenses) in the name of Theodosius are quite scarce, and bring high prices[16].

Theodosius I, 379 – 395 Light miliarense.
Theodosius I, 379 – 395 Light miliarense, Treveri 379-392, AR 4.56 g. DN THEODO – SIVS P F AVG Pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust r., large jewel above forehead. Rev. VIRTVS – EXERCITVS / TRPS Emperor in military attire and with cloak standing facing, diademed head turned l., holding labarum and shield. Image: Numismatic Ars Classica.

Theodosius is credited with the abolition of the ancient Olympic games in 393, supposedly because associated pagan rituals offended Christians. Modern historians now doubt this[17]. Perhaps his worst decision came in 393 (two years before his death), to divide the Empire between his sons, with Arcadius ruling in the East and Honorius in the West. Theodosius was thus the last emperor to rule a united Roman Empire.

Flaccilla

Theodosius I Solidus
Theodosius I. 379-395. For Aelia Flaccila. Solidus 383-387, Constantinople. AEL FLAC – CILLA AVG. AEL FLAC – CILLA AVG Draped bust right, wearing elaborate headdress, necklace and mantle. Rv. SALVS REI -PVBLICAE B / CONOB. Victory seated right on throne writing Christogram on shield held on small column. Image: Sincona AG.

Born in 354 to an aristocratic Roman family in Spain, Flaccilla married Theodosius at the age of about 22. She bore two sons who became emperors, Honorius and Arcadius. She died at the age of 30 and was later venerated as a saint by the Orthodox Church. Coins in the name of Flaccilla were issued by Theodosius in all metals from several mints. Her portrait appears with an elaborate beehive hairdo. A very rare gold solidus brought over $95,000 in a 2018 European auction[18].

Constantius III

Constantinus III Tremissis.
Constantius III, 8th February – 2nd September 421. Tremissis, Ravenna 8th February-2nd September 421, AV 1.50 g. D N CONSTAN – TIVS P F AVG Rosette-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. VICTORIA –AVGVSTORV Victory advancing r., holding wreath and cross on globe; in outer field, R –V and in exergue, COM.

Born in the garrison town of Naissus (today Niš, Serbia) at an uncertain date, Constantius rose through the Army to the high rank of Magister Militum (“Master of Soldiers”) in 411. He suppressed revolts in Britain and Gaul, and campaigned against the Visigoths. Emperor Honorius awarded him the honorary title of Consul three times, gave him his sister, Galla Placidia in marriage in 417, and appointed him co-emperor in 421. He held this position for seven months until he died.

Coins in the name of Constantius III (who was unrelated to other imperials of the same name) are extremely rare; a gold tremissis – one of only three known – brought over $15,000 in a 2017 Swiss auction[19].

Galla Placidia

Galla Placida AY Tremissis.
Galla Placidia. Augusta, 421-450 CE. AY Tremissis (15mm, 1.46 g, 6h). Ravenna (or Rome) mint. D N GALLA PLA CIDIA P F AVC, pearl-diademed and draped bust right, wearing earring and two pearl necklaces / Christogram within wreath; large central jewel above; COMOB. Image: CNG.

One of the most remarkable empresses in Rome’s long history, daughter of Theodosius I (and granddaughter of Valentinian I) Galla Placidia was a major player in the power politics of the empire for much of her life. Her date of birth is uncertain; sometime between 388 and 393. Captured by the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410, she was treated as a VIP hostage, and in 414 she married the Visigothic king Ataulf[20], who was murdered in a palace coup the following year. Galla Placidia returned to the court of her half-brother Honorius at Ravenna, Italy in 417, where she married a high-ranking general, future emperor Constantius III. Coins in the name of Galla Placidia bearing her portrait were struck at either Rome or Ravenna[21].

Coins of Valentinian III

Valentinan III Solidus
Solidus, Thessalonica 437-438, 4.48 g. D N PLA VALENTI – NIANVS P F AVG Pearl-diademed, helmeted, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. FELICITER – NVBTIIS Three nimbate and draped figures standing facing: in the middle, Theodosius II, clasping the hands, of Valentinian III on l. and Licinia Eudoxia on r. In exergue, COMOB. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.

The son of Galla Placidia and Constantius III, Valentinian III was born in 419 at Ravenna and reigned for almost 30 troubled years. He was installed as a child emperor at Rome at the age of six, but during his childhood real power was exercised by his mother as regent, and a series of powerful military commanders, particularly Aetius, the brilliant general who defeated Attila the Hun. In 437, Valentinian III married Licinia Eudoxia, daughter of Eastern emperor Theodosius II, an event commemorated on a rare gold solidus that depicts the wedding ceremony[22].

In September 454, Valentinian III murdered Aetius in a fit of rage. Six months later, loyal followers of Aetius assassinated the emperor in revenge. After that, the collapse of the Western Empire quickly accelerated. Coins in the name of Valentinian III were issued at several mints and widely imitated by Germanic invaders of the Empire.

Collecting the Coins of the House of Valentinian

Lineage chart of the House of Valentinian and Theodosian Dynasties.

Few collectors are thrilled by the rather monotonous coins of the late Roman Empire, a very complex and obscure era of history that appeals mostly to specialists. As a result, the coins of the House of Valentinian can be surprisingly affordable.

The oft-reprinted standard reference, Volume IX of Roman Imperial Coinage (“RIC”) has not been updated since 1933. The author, John William Ernest Pearce (1864-1951), bequeathed his vast collection of fourth- and fifth-century Roman coins to the British Museum. Secondhand copies can be found for about $60.

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Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pannonia

[2] CNG Triton XXVI, January 10 2023, Lot 860. Realized $1,900 USD (estimate $1,500).

[3] Numismatik Naumann Auction 94, October 4, 2020, Lot 751. Realized €2,400 (about $2,812 USD; estimated €400).

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aqueduct_of_Valens

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Adrianople

[6] Harlan J. Berk, Sale 213, November 19,2020, Lot 11. Realized $2,000 USD (estimate $2,000).

[7] CNG E-auction 386, November 9, 2016, Lot 640. Realized $150 USD (estimate $100).

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altar_of_Victory

[9] Roma Numismatics, E-sale 103, November 24 2022, Lot 1361. Realized £3,800 (about $4,614 USD; estimate £1,000).

[10] Leu Numismatik, Web Auction 24, December 3, 2022, Lot 3369. Realized CHF 180 (about $1,191 USD; estimate CHF 25).

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbogast_(magister_militum)

[12] Nomos obolos auction 26, December 18, 2022, Lot 467. Realized CHF 1,300 (about $1,400 USD; estimate CHF 500).

[13] Not to be confused with Procopius of Caesarea, the unrelated Byzantine historian who lived c. 500-565 CE.

[14] Nomos Auction 20. July 10, 2020, Lot 391. Realized CHF 1,000 (about $1,064 USD; estimate CHF 850).

[15] CNG Triton XXVI, January 10, 2023, Lot 866. Realized $750 USD (estimate $750).

[16] NAC Auction 80, October 20, 2014, Lot 292. Realized CHF 8,000 (about $8,475 USD; estimate CHF 5,000).

[17] https://theconversation.com/mythbusting-ancient-rome-did-christians-ban-the-ancient-olympics-92023

[18] Sincona Auction 50,October 23, 2018, Lot 1012. Realized CHF 95,000 (about $95,449 USD; estimate CHF 40,000).

[19] NAC Auction 102 October 24, 2017, Lot 588. Realized CHF 15,000 (about $15,156 USD; estimate CHF 12,500).

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athaulf

[21] CNG Triton XX, January 10, 2017, Lot 918. Realized $7,000 USD (estimate $2,000).

[22] NAC Auction 34, November 24, 2006, Lot 114. Realized CHF 40,000 (about $33,058 USD; estimate CHF 30,000).
 

References

Ammianus Marcellinus (Walter Hamilton, translator). The Later Roman Empire (A.D. 354-378). New York (1986)

Caza, Shawn. A Handbook of Late Roman Bronze Coin Types, 324-395. London (2021)

Kent, J.P.C. Roman Coins. New York (1978)

Marinov, M. and V. Stoev. “Valens’ GAVDIUM ROMANI POPVLI (or Happiness to the People of Rome)”, The Celator 15:8. (August 2001)

Pearce, J.W.E. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume IX: Valentinian I – Theodosius I. London (1968 reprint of 1951 edition)

Scarre, Chris. Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. London (1995)

Sear, David. Roman Coins and Their Values, V. London (2014)

Vagi, David. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. Sidney, OH (1999)

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Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York, and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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