Classical Numismatic Group > Electronic Auction 547Auction date: 4 October 2023
Lot number: 988

Price realized: 250 USD   (Approx. 239 EUR)   Note: Prices do not include buyer's fees.
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Lot description:

Constantine I. AD 307/310-337. "BI Pseudo-Argenteus" – Follis (18mm, 3.44 g). Treveri (Trier) mint. Struck circa 310-313. Helmeted, draped, and cuirassed bust left / Two Victories standing vis-à-vis, holding between them shield inscribed VOT/ PR in two lines over altar; PTR. RIC VI 208A: RSC 643. Toned, light porosity. VF. Good metal quality.

Purchased by the consignor from Roman Lode, 15 September 2012.

The curious sometimes titled 'pseudo-argentei' or 'billon-siliquae' of Treveri (Trier) present a difficult anomaly for understanding early 4th century Imperial coinage. Issued only at Trier, there are three types within this series that correspond to the three rulers between AD 310-313: Constantine I, Licinius I, and Maximinus II Daia.

Dr. Bruun et al in RIC VII (1966) attributed the issues of Constantine and Licinius to 318-9 while Sutherland et al conversely attributed those of Licinius and Maximinus to 310-313 in RIC VI (1967). Given that there is an example from this series of Maximinus II as Augustus (310-313), the latter date would appear to be the correct one. If, of course, these three issues are indeed of the same series. For clarity, the coins of the series specifically in question are as follows: Constantine I, RIC VII 208A; Licinius I, RIC VI 211-212 = RIC VII 825; and Maximinus II, RIC VI 826. Given this background, the issue of what exactly these coins represent denominationally remains to be unpacked.

Easily dismissible from any serious discussion is the 'billon-siliquae' phraseology. The siliqua was not introduced as a denominational replacement for the argenteus (itself a replacement for the denarius) until Constantine's monetary reforms of 324. Consequently, any reference to these coins as being derivative of the siliqua is extraneous. Perhaps more valid is the sometimes-employed wording of the 'pseudo-argenteus.' Indeed, the argenteus was the silver denomination of the Tetrarchy which immediately preceded the time in question of 310-313. Thus, using its phraseology to help describe the curious phenomena encountered in these coins makes some sense. However, simply calling them pseudo-argentei makes assumptions about the successor to the argentus between the time of its discontinuation at Trier in 310 and before the introduction of the later silver denominations of Constantine – conventionally titled the siliqua and miliarense.

As such, what exactly these coins represented as circulating currency and were valued at is difficult to say. In the intervening period between the Argenteus' discontinuation and the introduction of new silver denominations in Constantine's later currency reforms, the question is begged as to what denomination was held as the median coin between the highly valued aureus and the much lower valued follis. Ultimately, future more extensive research may uncover this missing link, if indeed there is one to be uncovered at all. Alternatively, as seen in the fallout from Diocletian's 301 edict on maximum prices, the Roman public may have simply generally ignored the central government's directives and efforts to preserve its currency standards and systems by largely resorting to localized barter methods. But this hypothesis still fails to explain what could be represented by these so-called "pseudo-argentei," many of which seem to feature a noticeably higher silver content then other folles. However, other examples, apparently from this same series, feature lower silver content more in-line with the silver wash treatment that folles received of approximately 2-5%. Could it be that perhaps only the early issues of this series at Trier were given this higher silver content "billon-treatment." If so, what was the purpose and reasoning behind this decision to seemingly release these coins at a higher silver content before abandoning this technique?

The answers to these questions, or even well-thought-out hypotheses, are unlikely to become apparent or be provided without additional and extensive research into the monetary system of 301/10-324. In the meantime, this curious series provides an interesting research window and area of interest for those intrigued by the changes in to the Roman monetary system between Diocletian's efforts to revive, stabilize, and rebalance monetary policy, and the later reforms of Constantine I following his triumph over Licinius I.

Estimate: 150 USD