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Coinage from the Anonymous City Commemorative Issues of the 4th-6th Centuries

This series has been generally ignored in the major references as there has been a great deal of uncertainty as to when, where and why it was produced. David Vagi tackled it to a degree in his work Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, Volumes I and II, written in 1999, on pages 528-529. Vagi notes the K represents the city of Constantinople, whereas the other coin in this series has a P or R to represent Rome. Vagi dates this coin as perhaps 330 with its purpose being the dedication of the city. Other scholars have dated this series to the 5th and 6th centuries, corresponding with the centennial and bicentennial celebrations in Constantinople. Vagi proposes the examples in fine style with compact devices in high relief, such as this example, could be from 330, with the coarse, low relief examples having been produced later in the 5th and 6th centuries as commemoratives during the corresponding city anniversaries.

In 2002, Simon Bendall, in his article appearing in Volume 158 of Revue Numismatique, pages 139-159, really analyzed this enigmatic series and proposed the following:

Summary - "Anonymous silver coins of the 4th-6th c., partly neglected by major modern reference works, are assembled and completed by some unpublished types from recent hoards dispersed on the market. They are related to similar bronze issues (Populus Romanus etc.) and a provisory dating is proposed. These series were issued: 1st Roma or Constantinopolis / K or P, 330; 2nd Star / Wreath, 300; 3rd series inspired from the first with either K, R, CV, T or var. on the reverse, whose various issues date to 430?; 530 ff., ca 530-580+". Note - the P is the Greek equivalent to R for Rome.

Bendall writes "There has been little dispute regarding the dating of the five types listed below, most authorities considering them as having some connection with the foundation of Constantinople."

Bendall Type Obverse Reverse Date Weight Range Reference
1 Helmeted, draped bust of Constantinopolis left K 330 0.92-1.13g Lanz Auctions 82, 86 and 102
2 Helmeted, draped bust of Rome right P 330 0.70-1.41g Numerous
3 Helmeted, draped bust of Rome left P 330 0.95g Hirsch Auction 206, Lot 577, 1999
4 Pearl-diadem with ties, draped female bust right K 330 0.72-1.18g Numerous
5a Pearl-diadem without ties, draped female bust right K 330 1.53g BM 1853-7-16-312
5b Hatched-diadem without ties, draped female bust right K 330 0.98-1.04g Numerous

Bendall notes with the unusually heavy weight, 5a must represent a half-siliqua with 1-4 and 5b being a third-siliqua and all contemporary to each other. This first issue of silver fractions corresponds with the following bronze commemorative types. 

Bendall Obverse Reverse Date Reference
A CONSTAN_TINOPOLIS - Hatched-diadem without ties, draped female bust right P | R - Pax standing left, holding branch and transverse spear c.348 RIC VIII 106 (Rome)
B RO_MA - Helmeted, draped bust right P | R - Military figure standing, holding spear and shield c.348 RIC VIII 104-5 (Rome)

Note: Here Bendall makes an error with the RIC references. RIC VIII 104 is as he describes for his type B. RIC 105 is the same as 106, but with laureate (105) vs. pearl-diadem (106) bust type. Kent, in RIC VIII, assigns these two issues to 348, during the 1100th anniversary (a saeculum in Roman terms) of Rome. It is entirely possible, however, these were struck in 330, contemporary with the common Vrbs Roma and Constantinopolis issues.

Bendall Type Obverse Reverse Date Weight Range Reference
6 Star Wreath 330 1.23-1.81g Numerous

The second issue corresponds with the following bronze commemorative types.

Bendall Obverse Reverse Date Reference
C Star Wreath c.330 Unpublished
D Star O / C | S / C - Wreath  c.330 Numerous, but not in RIC

Note: Bendall tantalizingly proposes the reverse legend to mean OB CIVES SERVATOS CONSTANTINOPOLITENSES and dating to 330 by issue of Constantinople mint with Constantine having "saved" them by uniting the empire and making them citizens of New Rome, the new capital of the empire.

Bendall Obverse Reverse Date Reference
E POP ROM - Helmeted, draped bust right Star and CONS and officina letter in wreath c.330 RIC VIII 20 (Constantinople)
F POP ROM - Helmeted, draped bust right Bridge over river, CONS and officina letter below c.330 RIC VIII 21 (Constantinople)

Note: Here Bendall makes the statement "it surely cannot be coincidence that, apart from the mint mark, the reverse of the this type combines the obverse and reverse of types 6 and B. Claude Brenot suggests that the star might represent the planet under which Constantinople was founded (Brenot, Les monnaies au nom de << populus romanus >> a Constantinople, NACQT, 9, 1980, p. 299-313.)" However, even though Bendall has examples of E and F plated as figures 13 and 14, the obverses of both are misdescribed. The legend is POP ROMANVS and shows the Genius of the Roman People, laureate, draped bust left with cornucopiae over left shoulder. This is completely different from Bendall Type B obverse.

Bendall and Brenot both believe Type F has no connection to Rome and the bridge represents that over the Danube at Sucidava connecting the empire on the south bank with the fortress Constantiniana Dafne which Constantine built on the north bank in 328 (and shown on issues RIC VII 29-38, only from Constantinople and minted in 328).

Types C-F are all of the same size and weight, therefore likely dating C and D to 330 and thus Type 6 as well.

Bendall Type Obverse Reverse Date Weight Range Reference
7 Helmeted, draped bust of Roma right, superior style P 430? 1.07g Tkalec Auction, Lot 378, February 2001
8a Helmeted, draped bust of Constantinople right, superior style K 430? 0.98g --
8b Helmeted, draped bust of Constantinople right, better style K 530 0.85g --
8c Helmeted, draped bust of Constantinople right, crude style K 530-580 0.63-1.29g Tolstoi 612-616
9 Helmeted, draped bust of Rome right, crude style R 530 0.52g-1.01 Tolstoi 617
10 Helmeted, draped bust right CV 536/537? 0.65-1.02g Tolstoi 618 and Hirsch Auction 178, Lot 1202, May 1993
11 Draped bust of Tyche right, wearing mural crown T 540? 0.95-0.98g Unpublished
12 Helmeted, draped (diademed?) bust right TX monogram c.580-600? 0.83-1.32g Tolstoi 620

Note: Bendall and Vagi differ here - Vagi tentatively assigns the superior style examples to 330, whereas Bendall begins them with the centennial of Constantinople in 430. Type 8c is the most common of the entire series, the majority being crude and light, typical of issues from the 6th century. At this point, Bendall makes a very interesting proposal and one which may aptly explain this enigmatic series. Beginning on p.151, he suggests:

"Consuls distributed coins to the populace at the consular games, the emperors in gold and non-imperial consuls in silver (citing Novel 105.2). Originally the consulship had been a great honour since the consuls named the year. However, by the early sixth century, consulships were not held every year and the cost of the games so expensive that in the east, where the senators were not as wealthy as the old families in the west, the emperor defrayed part of the costs. Justinian I held his last consulship in 540 and the last private consulship was held the following year. It is possibly not a coincidence that, since the consulship was no longer annual, thus making its use in annual dating prone to error, its demise basically coincided with the commencement of dating official documents by regnal year from 538."

Bendall goes on to observe Type 7 can hardly be an issue of 330 as it is stylistically quite unlike Type 2, with being slimmer and more elongated, and far superior to Type 9 (and with a different reverse). Thus a rare commemorative issue, along with Type 8a, possibly of the centennial in 430. Type 8b, while not as superior as 8a, but far better than 8c, may be the beginning of the bicentennial issues, with 8c then having been issued sporadically for the next 50 years and degrading in style over that time.

Type 9 is very rare and only known from less than 20 examples. As such, Bendall believes it may have been struck in perhaps 537, after Rome had been recaptured from the Ostrogoths in December 536.

Type 10 is very rare, known only from two specimens. Since all of the preceding reverse types represent cities, it is likely CV does as well. Cyzicus is the first mint to come to mind, however, there is no plausible reason to commemorate this city at this time in history and Cyzicus in Greek is represented with a K. The earliest mint in Sicily appears to have been Catania. Syracuse seems to have opened during the reign of Constans II (641-668), thus eliminating that mint as a possibility. However, it may be a Constantinople issue, commemorating the recapture of the city of Syracuse by Belisarius on December 31, 535. Thus, this may be another rare issue corresponding with Type 9 in 536/537 and celebrating both Rome and Syracuse brought back into the Byzantine empire. Rather tidy explanation.

Type 11 is also extremely rare and only known from two specimens. The obverse is typical of one used by the mint in Antioch for centuries. But the reverse bears the letter T and one would expect the reverse to represent one of the commemorated cities. This can be explained - Antioch, after having been destroyed by an earthquake on November 2, 528, was rebuilt and in 530 was reopened under the new name Theoupolis. This issue, because of the crude style, cannot be part of the 530 issues and would better fit with the Syracuse and Rome issues just six years later or perhaps in 540 after the reoccupation of Theoupolis after the Sassanians were driven out in 539.

Type 12 is the anomaly of the series. The TX monogram is similar to the Chi-Rho monogram on miliarenses of Tiberius II (578-582) and Maurice Tiberius (582-602) and may be c.580 and an introduction of their siliquae.

Anonymous Issue, AR 1/3 Siliqua or 1 Scripulum, 330? (Vagi) 530? (Bendall), Constantinople
(No legend)
Helmeted, draped, cuirassed bust right, wearing pearl necklace and earring
(No legend)
Large K
12mm x 15mm, 1.13g
RIC VII, --; Vagi 3051; Bendall Type 8b

Anonymous Issue, AR 1/3 Siliqua or 1 Scripulum, 330? (Vagi) 530-580 (Bendall), Constantinople?
(No legend)
Helmeted, draped, cuirassed bust right, wearing pearl necklace and earring
(No legend)
Large K
13mm x 14mm, 0.98g
RIC VII, --; Vagi 3051; Bendall Type 8c
Ex Roman Lode, VCoins, December 2006; Ex CNG

Note: This is a very exciting coin as it appears to be overstruck on another coin with some of the host coin undertype showing traces on the reverse. If so, it would help to solve the dating of this series, which has long been debated.

Anonymous Issue, AR 1/3 Siliqua or 1 Scripulum, 330? (Vagi) 530-580 (Bendall), Constantinople?
(No legend)
Helmeted, draped, cuirassed bust right, wearing pearl necklace and earring
(No legend)
Large K
11mm x 12mm, 0.47g
RIC VII, --; Vagi 3051; Bendall Type 8c
Ex Alibaba Coins, VCoins, November 2016

Anonymous Issue, AR Third-Siliqua, c.580-600, Constantinople
(No legend)
Helmeted, draped, cuirassed bust of Constantinopolis facing, head right
(No legend)
Large TX monogram
13mm x 14mm, 1.17g
Bendall, Anonymous 12 (fig. 25); cf. MIB 3, 69 (Constantine IV); Tolstoi pl. 28, 620

Note: Although traditionally dated "after 330 AD," S. Bendall, in “Anonymous Silver Coinage of the 4th to 6th Centuries AD”, RN 2002, provides a numismatic and historiographic basis for dating these anonymous third-siliquae to the decades after 530 AD.


And now for something completely different. Supposedly the following specimen is from the same "series", but it obviously brings up a rash of questions since it bucks everything else akin to it.

Anonymous Issue under Theodosius I?, AR Third-Siliqua, c.393?, Trier
(No legend)
Helmeted, draped bust of Roma left
(No legend)
Large X in wreath terminating in large jewel
TR in exergue
14mm, 0.86g (chipped)
RIC IX, 109 (R5); Vagi --; Bendall --; Göbl, Antike Numismatik, Table 10, 144
Ex Alte Römer GbR, Website, July 2009

Note: The footnote on RIC IX p.34 is "1.08g. This and the following 'coin' (? distribution pieces) were described and illustrated by Sir A. Evans in N. C., 1915, pp.472-3, pl. xx."

That footnote references RIC 110:

Obverse as 109 (Draped, helmeted, bust of Roma left, in circle of pellets) and reverse with XV in wreath, TR in exergue. Like 109, 110 is also listed as R5 (unique), also missing in Cohen and the only known example is in the British Museum.

The footnote for 110 simply lists the weight "c.1.00g"

Both 109 and 110 are listed at the end of the Treveri mint section, in their own section listed as "Unplaced" with respect to issue and timeframe.