Theodosius I AE4

The last centuries of the Roman Empire saw a decreased production of large denomination silver and bronze and a proportional increase in very small bronze coins that collectors call "AE4". The other commonly produced coin was the gold solidus. Relative values between the two seems to have varied from day to day.

Portraiture, by this time was in transition from the Roman Imperial realism to the Byzantine stylized formalism. Emperors still can be identified from one another but the faces became cold and without personality. Reverse types also became less varied. The demise of the pagan pantheon left mostly types relating to the army, victory and security of the state. Rome was constantly at war with barbarians and the success of the army was of prime importance.

Theodosius I - AE4 / Victory walking - 379-383 AD
Siscia mint (second officina) - 12 mm diameter - 1.4g.

Theodosius I is most notable as a ruler for his follow-up to Constantine's conversion of the Empire to Christianity. Under Constantine it became legal to be Christian; under Theodosius it became illegal to practice paganism. Theodosius also set the stage for the middle ages with his edict forbidding tenants from leaving the land on which they were born without permission from the landowner. He allowed no property to go untaxed; an attitude of government then far ahead of its time.

This week's Featured Coin shows the reverse legend ending AVGGG indicating issued during a time when there were three Augusti. In this case the three were Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I. For a short time following the deaths of his collegues, Theodosius alone ruled the entire Roman Empire. Upon his death in 395 AD, it was divided between his sons Arcadius (in the East) and Honorius (in the West). The fall of the Western Empire to barbarian control was well under way. The East would develop into what we now call the Byzantine Empire.

These tiny bronze coins of the late Empire are common and available to collectors of modest means. Because of its better condition, this coin was priced by a different dealer at twice the cost of the Constantine.

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(c) 1997 Doug Smith