Knowing the Roman imperial mints: II - Arelate.

Nowadays known as Arles, in French Provence. It obtained its prosperity from the port it once had (now silted and out of use) as well as its strategic location in the very busy Via Domitia. Of very ancient foundation (6th century a.C.), began to gain importance at regional level following its support to Julius Caesar during the war with Pompey. Since Massalia (Marseilles), the main merchant emporium of the area, had supported Pompey, Julius Caesar withdrew his possessions and commercial privileges to this city and gave them to Arelate. Free, so, from its great competitor, Arelate would monopolize much of the commercial traffic of the Narbonensis Gaul what would make it a rich and dynamic city capable of building excellent buildings in the purest Roman tradition.

Photos 1 and 2.- Ruins of the Arelate Roman Theater. The caveas are restored respecting the aesthetics of antiquity. It was built in the late 1st century BC, shortly after the refounding of the city as Roman colony with the name of COLONIA IVLIA PATERNA ARELATENSIVM SEXTANORVM.

Arelate reaches its apogee in the fourth century, especially during the reign of Constantine I, who liked to spend long periods in the city. Constantine II was born there during one of those periods. Its proximity to Italy and the entity of its fortifications would favor that it was the last important city of the Gaul in falling in power of the Germanic invaders. In fact, during the time of Honorius, it was the capital of the Gaul prefecture, despite its eccentric position in relation to the main territory of the Gallic provinces and the enormous distance that separated it from the Rhine frontier.

Arelate would maintain its strategic value during the medieval period what would result in the conservation of the importance of the city, finally obscured by the progressive silting of its port and the resurgence of Marseilles at the end of the Modern Age. Today it is a beautiful as well as moderately prosperous provincial french city: far away, economically speaking, from the big commercial city that is the current Marseilles.

Photo 3.- The amphitheater of Arelate with its two orders of vaulted arches in very good condition. Work of the late 1st century AD (reign of Domitian).

Photo 4.- Stone sarcophagi pertaining to the Roman necropolis called "the Alyschamps". This necropolis was used throughout the Roman imperial period and the Middle Ages.

The visit to Arles well worth for lovers of Ancient History. You can tour the city without any hurry in one day. This will allow to know the ruins of the theater (photos 1 and 2), the beautiful Roman necropolis (photo 3) and the well preserved amphitheater (photo 4), inside which is the bullring of Arles. And if you have time and interest you can spend a few more hours locating the other Roman vestiges that Arles has, scattered here and there (remains of the city walls - photo 5--, of the bath, the forum, the aqueduct - photo 6-, etc.)

Photo 5.- Roman tower of the Arelate city wall. Work of the second half of the 3rd century AD.

Arelate lacked his own mint until 313 when Constantine I created it, no doubt to provide himself with cash to pay the growing number of civil servants and soldiers who accompanied him in his long stays in the city. The work positions of the new mint were covered with the staff of the fleeting Italian mint of Ostia, which had closed down Constantine in that same year. The parallelism between the styles of the late issues from Ostia and the early ones from Arelate is, in effect, more than evident.

Photo 6.- Small section of the Arelate aqueduct located on the outskirts of present Arles, already in the countryside. In the foreground we can see the remains of an water intake tower.

In the year 328 the city changes its name "Arelate" to "Constantina" in honor to Constantine II, firstborn son of the emperor after the execution of Crispus in 326. This event was immediately reflected in the coinage of the city, whose mint markings include the CON, CONS, CONST contractions in the place where the mark ARL used to be. Arelate regains its original name to the death of Constantine II in 340, keeping it until 355 when Julian II the Apostate decides to honor his predecessor Constantine the Great returning the name "Constantina" to what it was, as we told before, one of his favorite cities. Hereafter, the mint marks will always refer to Constantina until the definitive closure of the institution during the reign of Emperor John (425-425). The photos 7, 8, 9 and 10 will serve to know some types of coins struck in the Arelate mint during the 313 - 363 period.

Photo 7.- AE3 (Centenonial) coined in the first office of Arelate in the name of Constantine I. It is typical of this mint the representation of the campgate with four towers instead of the usual two ones and the inclusion of the doors open outwards. Issue of the year 327.

Photo 8.- Bronze Maiorina struck in the name of the usurper Magnentius in the second office of the mint. It shows the usual reverse of the year 353: two victories holding a shield with the legend VOT V MVL X inscribed. Magnentius would take control of the western half of the Empire after executing Constans, the minor son of Constantine I. Later he would be defeated by Constantius II: hereafter emperor of the whole Roman Empire.

Photo 9.- Beautiful silver siliqua minted in the first office of Arelate in the name of Constantius II (355-360). You can see the mint mark PCON refered to Constantina: name that, for the second time, received the city (355) in honor of Constantine I the Great.

Photo 10.- Doble Maiorina struck in the first office of Arelate mint in the name of Julian II during the period 360-363. Julian attempted to revalue the Roman monetary system, greatly affected by inflation. One of its measures in this respect was the introduction of a new monetary type: the double maiorina, which was a large coin (about 27 mm in diameter), with a great fiduciary value, on whose reverse always appeared a bull standing to right, possibly the Apis Ox.



The authors of this blog are

History and Numismatics lovers

specialized in ancient coinage.

Be welcome!


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