Numismatic and History Discussions > Roman Coins

Diocletian's coins

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"Personally, I just call them all antoniniani absent any evidence they were monetarily different at the time, and not knowing the ancient name used for these coins (a universal scholarly frustration)."

I think pre- and post-Aurelian's reform radiates were monetarily different in a significant way. That's why we recognize the coin reform of Aurelian. That's why "XXI" was added to the coins. I think the difference was still relevant at the time of Diocletian's reform and even later, at the time of his Currency and Maximum Prices Edicts of 301.

(I don't think anyone uses "aurelianus" for "XI" marked coins. They appeared under Tacitus (after Aurelian) and are very rare and played virtually no role in the coinage system.)

We don't know the ancient names of the 3rd century radiate so we have been using "antoniniani" for coins of Caracalla, coins of Gallienus and Claudius II, coins of Aurelian pre- and post-reform, up to coins of the reform of Diocletian. But, obviously, they had different values at the time. As collectors, we don't need to care about their ancient values--one word fits all. As scholars, we do care about the difference. By parallel with "antoninianus" perhaps "aureliani" should be "aurelianianus," but it a made-up word either way and I prefer the shorter and simpler version which is clear enough. 

Among collectors, it is accepted that the pre-reform radiates of Diocletian can be called antoniniani as they have been for many years. But, if you want to understand the coinage of the tetrarchy it helps to distinguish coins with low, but significant, silver from those with very little or no silver. Post-reform radiates (a.k.a. radiate fractions) have no added silver and are, intrinsically, worth their copper, whereas the 3-4% silver of the "aureliani" makes their intrinsic worth maybe 4 times as much. I believe the older "antoniniani" of Claudius II were regarded as different from aureliani and of lesser value.

Scholars don't know for sure the nominal values of the post-reform denominations of Diocletian, but it is thought that the Edicts changed the relative values of some of them. I, personally, think that the post-reform radiate started out as nominally equal to the aurelianus (both 2 d.c.) but was later adjusted to half by doubling the nominal values of the other  denominations (the aurelianus became 4 d.c. while the post-reform radiate remained 2 d.c.). Some think that coins of Claudius II might have then been 1 d.c.  I do not know if they were circulating in 301.

So, in summary, I think it is fine for collectors to use the term "antoniniani" for "XXI" coins of Diocletian, as they have for many years. However, if we want to distinguish pre- and post-reform coins of Aurelian, as the ancients did, then we should use different terms for them.


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