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I wonder wether there are reminiscences in the coinage related to the big struggle of Athanasius (homoousios) against Arianism (homoiousios) and his victory over Arianism at the council of Nicaea AD 325. Any issue which celebrates the victory of the Orthodoxia? Or any issue which reflects the deep religious confrontations of this time?

Any information highly appreciated!


Well, Constans was fiercely orthodox, and Constantius II was as strongly Arian...there would be a place to look for evidence of conflict.

I've always been rather confused by the declaration of "victory" over Arianism at Nicea in 325.  Constantius II actively persecuted Athanasius, assassinated Paul, Bishop of Constantinople, and forced acceptance of Arianism upon the Empire around 359 or so.  

Orthodox Christianity was suppressed until the accession of Jovian, where it finally and permanently gained the ascendancy.

Magnentius's "Chi-Rho" type is believed to have been issued to garner orthodox support in the west (which he gained after having killed Constans) as he went against the Arian Constantius II in the east. Given that the Chi-Rho (whatever it may mean!) was a symbol of Constantine's who supported Athanasius's orthodoxy established at the council of Nicea in 325, it does seem reasonable to regard the Chi-Rho as an orthodox symbol.

Whether Magnentius himself was Christian/orthodox or was just using this symbol for strategic advantage is a matter of dispute... Athanasius says he was baptized, yet he (Magnentius) also passed laws reenabling pagan sacrifices!

Here's my own example - a double maiorina (the only type issued for this denomination).

I keep on meaning to start a thread on the meaning & origin of the (nominally) alpha-omega on this coin. The official explanation is that this refers to Revelations 22:13 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.", which could also be taken as a statement of orthodoxy. I have to wonder though if there might not be a more prosaic explantation... Magnentius was in the habit of putting a letter, often an "A" on his reverses, and perhaps the "omega" was just a value mark for this unusual denomination?!

It's also interesting that the alpha is upper case ("A"), while the omega is lower case ("w"), and also that what is supposedly meant to be an "A" is quite often actually an "N" or even reverse "N" as on my example!

If it does refer to Revelations 22:13, then I'm curious how it got on this coin... was there any precedent for using alpha-omega as an abbreviation before then, and was there any precedent for using it together with the "Chi-Rho"?


Steve Minnoch:
Without a great deal of direct knowledge all I can do is quote the work of others:
In this case from Adkins, Lesle and Roy A, Dictionar of Roman Religion, 1996,  p46, from the entry headed "Chi-Rho"

"...The chi-rho was often accompanied b the Greek letters alpha and omega (in upper or lower case). These were the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet, known to Christians from Revelation 1:8 and 21:6, and signified the beginning and the end. In western provinces, the chi-rho and alpha and omega would not have been understood as Greek letters but only as Christian symbols.  The chi-rho is found on numerous portable and nonportable objects such as tableware, votive plaques and lead tanks."

It is accompanied by a sublime photo of a chi-rho (with A and W) on a coffin.

That seems to count heavily against the suggestion that the W has a numismatic purpose: it is hard to believe that it's appearance on a coin led to its general use as a religious symbol when the "reference to Revelation" theory works so well.  I can't point to a dated use of the A-W though.

I know it is dangerous to draw on modern comparisons, but the use of A-Z is so prevalent in obvious in our own culture to refer to the full range of options, I would be surprised if the use of A-W for the same thing did not predate christianity by quite a long time!  But the important question is, did bad actors back then cover the range of emotions from Alpha to Beta?  :)


Steve Minnoch:


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