Obverse: IMP C VAL LIC LICINIVS PF AVG; Radiate and Draped Bust of the Emperor Facing Right
Reverse: IOVI CONSERVATORI; Jupiter Standing to the Left, Holding Victory and a Sceptre, an Eagle Stands at his Feet on the Left, a Captive on the Right
This well-preserved coin in VF+ condition was struck for the emperor Licinius. Coinage operates as a propagandist device in all cultures, and particularly during the Roman Empire when the borders were uncertain and internal strife threatened to destabilise the economy. The iconography shows the emperor associating himself with Jupiter, the king of the gods. He was also the grandfather of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and was thus a highly patriotic symbol to the Romans. The associations between emblems on coins and the intended effect are usually fairly obvious, and in this case it is perhaps an indication of the emperor’s unassailable power. The victory he is holding celebrates martial success. The imperial eagle at his feet, and the humbled prisoner, reinforces the powerful message.
Licinius, born Valerius Licinianus Licinius, ruled from 308 to 324 AD. Born in 250, he was a close friend of Emperor Galerius and accompanied him on a military expedition against the Persians. Galerius appointed him to Augustus of the western half of the Empire (Italy, Africa, Spain and Pannonia) in 308, following the death of Valerius Severus. This appointment was highly unorthodox, and ignored other, stronger claims from Constantine and Daia Maximinus. Licinius was concerned at his weak position, and so sided with Constantine against Maximinus, and even married his sister. His power was increased when he seized the Balkan states in 311 with the death of Galerius, but could not move fast enough to also seize Asia Minor, which was taken by Maximinus. Their territories ended at the Bosporus.
By 312, Maximinus and Licinius realised that each must defeat the other in order to equal Constantine’s strength. Maximinus was defeated by Licinius in Thrace in early 313, due to a combination of bad luck and bad weather. This left Constantine and Licinius as related emperors. Despite their fraternity, friction concerning Constantine’s appointment of a much-hated rival named Bassianus led to all-out war in 316 and again in 323. Constantine triumphed, shutting his enemy up within the walls of Byzantium. Kept alive due to the pleas of his wife, Constantine's sister, he was murdered in 324, accused of conspiring to raise troops among the barbarians. His son was executed two years later; his illegitimate son ended his days as a slave in a Carthaginian mill.
Licinius’ stellar rise to power started when he was already quite advanced in years, and his wiliness seems to have paid off in defeating younger and stronger foes. He was no prey to vanity: on his coins he looks every inch the grizzled warmonger he was. He supported the famous Edict of Milan, which promoted toleration of Christians, yet hounded them when he knew it would annoy Constantine to do so. He illegally appointed himself and his two sons as consuls in order to provoke Constantine, and was unrepentant even when he died while fomenting rebellion in his mid 70s, a good age for the time. The story of Licinius is in many ways emblematic of the late Roman Empire. It has grown too large, too corrupt and too mismanaged; the courts that controlled the armies were rotten with intrigue and betrayal. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that this period set the scene for much of Europe and the Near East’s development in the mid first millennium AD. It also sees the transformation of Christianity from a fringe religion to the main European faith.
This is an evocative and attractive piece of ancient history.