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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: VI- Constantinople.

Constantinople has been known since 1930 as Istanbul, being nowadays the most populous city in Turkey and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

After the triumph of Constantine I in his conflict with Licinius I, he became in the unique emperor of the entire roman world. He then decided to erect a large city in the eastern half of the Empire to replace the decadent and little pro-constantinian Rome (the Urbs had supported the usurper Maxentius a few years before) as capital of the Roman state. After studiyng a couple of possible sites, Constantine chose the place where the ancient greek city of Byzantium was located. The enclave, historically known as the "Golden Horn", was in fact very remarkable both from the tactical point of view (very easily defendable) as nautical (it possessed a magnificent port) and strategic (it dominated the Bosphorus strait or what is the same: the main crossroads between East and West since time immemorial).

City-walls of Constantinople, erected in the time of Theodosius II.

Photo 1.- The immortal city-walls of Constantinople, erected in the time of Theodosius II.

The works in which it would be renamed as Nea Roma Constantinopolis began in the year 324, employing up to 40000 workers at a time. The construction rythm was so fast that the venerable urban structures of greek Byzantium soon disappeared in order to make room for the imposing buildings conceived by Constantine to form a splendid city designed in the likeness of Rome: with the same number of urban regions (fourteen) and identical capital points: a magnificent forum, a monumental capitol and a superb building for the Senate. After six years of intense constructive work in which no expense was avoided, including the relocation, by willingly or by force, of a multitude of sumptuous architectural elements brought from the main eastern Mediterranean cities, Constantinople would be "inaugurated" in May 330. This inauguration was fully reflected in the coinage of the period as we will see later. The lavish inauguration ceremonies lasted for 40 days, at the end of which the life of what would be considered for many centuries the most important city in Europe and the Mediterranean began.

Section of the Valens aqueduct, in Constantinople / Istanbul

Photo 2.- View of a section of the Valens aqueduct, in Constantinople / Istanbul.

Carved base of one of the obelisks that occupied the spina of the great hippodrome of Constantinople.

Photo 3.- Carved base of one of the obelisks that occupied the spina of the great hippodrome of Constantinople.

The history of Constantinople from its definitive election as capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (AD 395), later Byzantine Empire, is long and complex as few, far surpassing the limits of this post. Unfortunately the vestiges of that splendor that have reached to our days are not very numerous. Among those erected in roman times we can mention the city-walls (photo 1), considered impregnable for a millennium, the aqueduct of Valens (photo 2) and the brief remains of the great hippodrome (photo 3). In terms of monuments built in the early Byzantine period, the wonderful church of St. Sophia (photo 4) and the great Cistern (photo 5), both built during the reign of emperor Justinian I (527-565), stand out for their merits. The rest of the once splendid roman-byzantine buildings, which should not have been few precisely, have perished under the turkish hammer or, simply, due to the cruel passage of time.

Interior of the magnificent Church of the Holy Wisdom (Saint Sophia).

Photo 4.- View of the interior of the magnificent Church of the Holy Wisdom (Saint Sophia).

The numismatic history of Constantinople, leaving aside the Byzantium city coinage, of greek or greek-roman tipology, begins in 326 on the occasion of the opening of its imperial mint. Both the staff and the tools of the new mint were brought from Italy, from Ticinum specifically, whose mint would disappear to give rise to that of Constantinople. The great quality of the first Constantinople issues is due precisely to having inherited the know-how of one of the most virtuous mints among those established as a result of Diocletian's monetary reform.

Interior of the large cistern built by Justinian I.

Photo 5.- Interior of the large cistern built by Justinian I.

The numismatic production of the Constantinople mint was always very high, extending to the three metals. Nothing surprinsing given that we are speaking about the capital of the eastern half of the Mediterranean world for many hundreds of years. So large production volume forced the installation of a elevated number of offices, ranging from a maximum of eleven (period 326-360) to apparently only 4 in the period 360-364 (reigns of Julian the Apostate and Jovian), seven (364 to 378), five (379-395) and four (383-408). The mint will continue emitting coins throughout the long byzantine period, remaining quite high the coinage volume and its variety.

Let´s contemplate next (photos 6, 7, 8 and 9) a set of pieces struck in the Constantinople mint during the period 330 - 364.

Numismatic Coins of Constantinople

Photo 6.- The presentation to the public of the Empire of the "New Rome" was realized, numismatically speaking - undoubtedly the most effective propagandistic vehicle at the disposition of the emperors--, by means of two bronze issues, centenonial type (AE3), that were extensively coined by every imperial mints from the year 330, date of the inauguration of the city, until the 340, three years after the death of Constantine I. The iconography of these emissions tries to link the glorious imperial past represented by Rome with the bright future to lead by the new capital of Constantine I. Thus, the great city of the Tiber is represented in the first of the types (below) by the obverse legend VRBS ROME and the capitoline she-wolf breastfeeding to Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, on the reverse. For its part, the new imperial capital is revealed to the public in the second monetary type (above) throught the obverse legend CONSTANTINOPOLIS and an allegory of it on the reverse in the form of a winged victory, to left, carrying scepter and shield as well as standing on a galley´s bow. The exemplars of this photo were coined in the eleventh office of Constantinople (officina mark IA).

Centenonial (AE3) coined by Constantius II

Photo 7.- Centenonial (AE3) coined by Constantius II in the triennium 338-340 on behalf his father, Constantine I, on the occasion of his divinization happened a few months after his death on May 22, 337. The obverse of the coin shows Constantine with veiled head: detail reserved to persons already deceased as well as consecrated. The obverse legend DIVO CONSTANTINO PT AVGG, translatable as "the Divine Constantine, Father of the Emperors", confirms that, indeed, Constantine had been declared a god and taken to heaven by a celestial chariot identical to that represented on the reverse of the coin. It is an iconography of clear pagan origin, with many precedents in imperial history, but that, taking advantage of its similarity with some biblical facts (for example, the ascent to the sky of Elijah in a chariot of fire), allowed the adoption of a valid syncretism both for pagans as for christians (perhaps a little harder to accept for these latter, since the biblical characters did not ascend to heaven as gods but as beloved ones of the One God).

Maiorina (AE2) coined in the name of Constantius II

Photo 8.- Maiorina (AE2) coined in the name of Constantius II, the augustus of the East, in the third office of Constantinople during the triennium 348-350. Bronze with silver alloy (minimum). We must emphasize the reverse motif: "emperor in military outfit spearing a dismounted enemy" in which the military vocation of the late Empire is clearly shown, and above all its commitment to the defense of frontiers at all costs.

Double Maiorina coined on behalf of the emperor Jovian

Photo 9.- Double Maiorina coined on behalf of the emperor Jovian in the biennium 363-364. The monetary reform of Julian the Apostate introduced a monetary type called Doble Maiorina (modern name), characterized by its large size (AE1): absent in roman coinage since the times of the tetrarchy. This large coins were struck with a certain profusion during the reign of Julian; however, the same did not happen in the reign of his successors, Joviano and Valentinian I, to the point that nowadays the double maiorinas minted on behalf of the latters are rare pieces, especially in high qualities. Probably the double maiorina type did not get to find its place within the Roman monetary system, something natural considering its, presumably, very high liberatory value, which had to expose it in excess to the harassment of inflation and its goddaughter, the law of Gresham (the bad coin always expells from the market to the good one).



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