A Popular Coin of the Constantinian Period

To the man on the 4th century Roman street, one of the most important services of government was protection from the barbarian invasions that had troubled Rome for over 200 years. This is evidenced by coin types relating to the military. One popular type is known as the campgate. Primarily dating to the era of Licinius and Constantine (there are a few nearly a century later) we are shown a block structure with varying decorations and details. On some, the doors are indicated; on most the door is merely an opening. Some are simple block structures; some have other decorations on some of the blocks. On top were a varying number of beacons (some call them 'turrets') which look like Weber barbecue kettles and served to signal, by smoke or fire, the next fortification down the line of the frontier. On some gold issues there are more details of a larger camp. On bronzes, we see a simple tower which may have been a freestanding outpost or the gate section of a larger fortification. Our page will examine three relatively common examples of this general type but it should be remembered that there are many minor variations from several different mints. Specialists place considerable importance on details like the number of rows of blocks, the type of doors and the number of Weber kettles. Our examples are among the most often seen varieties but hardly a comprehensive sample. Most collectors will enjoy any example of the general type as representative of a coin commemorating Roman efforts at security in a time when this was the prime concern of all Romans.

The most common coins of the campgate series are from the years of civil war or unrest between the Emperors Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East. During part of the period there was an uneasy truce between the two resulting in each issuing coins from his mints in the name of the other. Rarities in the series are usually examples of these crossover issues. At other times, the Licinian mints ignored Constantine and visa-versa. The vast numbers needed to support the war effort make these among the most common of coins. There are also campgate issues using the reverse legend VIRTVS AVGG but most seen will be PROVIDENTIAE AVGG.

On the left we see a coin of the Siscia mint issued by Constantine the Great after the death of Licinius. Campgates were the common coins being issued at the end of the civil war and the type continued for quite a while into the sole reign of Constantine. This example shows the portrait as a simple head wearing a diadem. The neatly cut campgate is more decorated than most with arches and dots in the blocks of the top row (of 10). On top are two turrets and a star. The issue is distinguished by a double crescent following the workshop or officina (B=2) and mintmark (SIS). It is interesting that the legend ends in the plural AVGG even though the death of Licinius left only one Augustus.

In the center is the coin identified by the standard reference Roman Imperial Coinage, RIC, as the last campgate issue by Licinius from Heraclea before that mint fell to Constantine in the early 320's AD. The issue is identified by the lambda (meaning??) in the right reverse field. Coins of this issue also exists for Licinius II but not for Constantine or his sons suggesting it dates to a period of active war (at least relative unrest) between the two. The portrait shows Licinius in consular attire holding the scepter and mappa (a roll of cloth) symbolic of the office of consul. The plain campgate uses large blocks in six rows and shows three turrets. The mintmark SMHB translates Sacred Money of Heraclea, 2nd workshop.

On the right is the earliest of our three examples. Also from Heraclea and dating from 317 AD it commemorates the naming of Licinius II as Caesar. The issue also included coins in the names of both Augusti and two sons of Constantine I (Crispus and Constantine II) also made Caesar at that time. This was a period of relative peace and cooperation between the rulers of East and West. The portrait is like the one of Licinius I but faces left and is smaller indicating the diminished status of the very young Caesar. Fancy obverse varieties are numerous in this period and, in general, do not indicate increased value of the coins. The reverse shows a rather sloppy campgate with seven rows of blocks. Other dies of the same series will vary on the row count. The mintmark MHTD translates as 'Money of Heraclea, Thrace*, 4th workshop'. This example retains much of its original silver coating. The other two show green patinas. All were about 1% silver and were originally silver (sometimes tin?) washed to remind people that the precious metal was included in the coin. Most examples seen today have lost their coating and appear green, brown or black as expected of ancient bronze coins.

Campgate coins, like all late Roman bronzes, are collected by some specialists who place great importance in mintmarks and minor differences in the designs. Some of these minor variations are relatively scarce but usually do not sell for a great (if any) premium over the common versions. To be worth more, a rare variety needs to find a home with a specialist who needs that exact coin. RIC listed rarity values for each minor variation based on how many museums held examples of that particular version. Too many collectors read these rarity numbers as meaning their coins are rare and delude themselves into thinking this makes their coin valuable. For example, the Licinius II above (RIC 19, page 545, volume VII) is listed as C2 or a very common '31-40 coins known'. This simply means almost every museum checked had it. The exact same coin (also RIC 19) with officina 'E' in place of the delta in MHTD is listed as R5 'unique'. This means that only one museum had a coin struck by the 5th workshop. Additional specimens of either coin exist elsewhere in uncertain numbers. It does not guarantee that there are legions of collectors willing to pay big money to own the 'E' variety. Certainly the 'E' coin is more rare and some specialists would like to own one. Market value, however, will be more determined by the condition and appearance of the coin. Each of our examples is a pleasant looking and very common (thousands and thousands) variety of a popular type. Each is common enough that it is possible to find handsful in even better condition than these. We each must decide whether we will collect primarily for condition, for style, for rarity or for historical interest. Your answer to this question will determine what you say to someone offering late Roman varieties that require RIC to attribute and whether you would be willing to pay even a dollar more for the product of a different workshop. Would you pay twice the price for the coin with silver remaining compared to the other two? Decide what you prefer and vote with your purchases. There are dozens of ways to approach the hobby of collecting ancient coins. None is right or wrong unless practiced by collectors who let someone else tell them what is worth collecting. Those primarily interested in investment return generally should avoid Constantinian bronzes (if not all ancient coins). The right coins for you to collect are the ones you find attractive and interesting.

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(c) 2000 Doug Smith