November 25, 2014

Coining in Roman Britain Part 5: Constantine and the London Mint

Diocletian and the ‘Tetrarchy’ continued to strike coins in London after the fall of Allectus. These coins came in the form of bronze nummi, which formed part of Diocletian’s reformed currency system. They were struck pretty much uniformly across the empire, featured stylized portraits, indistinguishable from one another, and likely bore virtually no resemblance to the rulers themselves.


Copper-alloy nummus of Constantine I from the London mint (note the mint-mark PLN).

The reverse depicts Sol standing left holding a globe, surrounded by the inscription SOLI INVICTO COMITI.

Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Unique ID: WILT-78C118

After Constantine was declared emperor by the army in Eboracum (modern day York) in AD 306, the London mint began producing coins showing his portrait. Though Constantine would famously convert to Christianity, these early depictions tended to feature his portrait juxtaposed with depictions of the sun god. Sol, a pagan deity, was associated with invincibility and victory, ideal traits for an emperor to associate himself with. In the early years of his reign Constantine also struck in the Gallic and German cities of Lyons and Trier. After Constantine had taken Rome from the emperor Maxentius, all mints across the empire struck coins for him and his family. The House of Constantine coinages are some of the most common found in Britain today, and feature the emperor himself, as well as his sons and extended family.

crispus_coin.jpg constantius_coin

Copper-alloy nummi of the London mint. A coin of Crispus (left) displays a globe on an altar and an issue of Constantius II (right) depicts a camp gate with two turrets. Coins such as these are common finds in Britain. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Unique ID: DUR-E3ADF4, HESH-B1C990

The coinage of Constantine’s family comprise small bronze coins with simple designs. Coin types depicting inscribed altars, camp-gates and votive wreaths were struck at London until around the year AD 326. The reason for the London mint’s closure is unknown. It was certainly one of the smallest mints in the empire at this time, operating with only one officina or mint workshop (the ‘P’ in the mint mark), compared to the three at Trier and two at Lyons. Following the closure of the mint at London, later coin types are imitated in large numbers for decades. This may indicate a lack of fresh coin reaching Britain due to the lack of a mint on the island.


This month's coin series on Roman Britain is written by Dom Chorney, a young numismatist from Glastonbury, Somerset. He studied for his undergraduate degree at Cardiff (in archaeology), and achieved a 2:1. Dom is currently studying for an MA in Ancient Visual and Material Culture at the University of Warwick, and intends to undertake a doctorate in 2015. His main areas of interest are coin use in later Roman Britain, counterfeiting in antiquity, coins as site-finds, and the coinage of the Gallic Empire.

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