Constantine the Great

Constantinian Victory


   The mint at Constantinople opened in 326. The Dafne issue began as early as 327, and replaced the other reverse types issued for Constantine. The previous reverse types showed traditional messages such as Libertas, Securitas and Spes. The mint struck the Dafne type without interruption until the restructuring in 330. Dafne coins were only struck for Constantine; the mint struck other types for the Caesars. The Constantinople mint began issuing the Dafne at seven officinae A (alpha), B (beta),Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, S (digamma), and Z (zeta). Constantinople issued the Dafne type primarily to pay the workers re-building Constantinople, but it was also a commemorative coin. Some people think that the coin commemorated a fort on the Danube. The man responsible for popularizing this belief was an Austrian numismatist named Joseph Hilarius Eckhel (1737- 1798).

    “Various have been the opinions expressed by the learned respecting it.- Eckhel (viii. 81), in citing them all, considers that interpretation to be decidedly and most probable, which Gretser and Spanheim drew from Procopius, viz. that by Constantiniana Dafne is to be understood the castle or camp (castrum) Dafne, constructed by Constantine on the bank of the Danube.”1

The Primary Sources

    The Romans built many forts; but they did not commemorate these other forts on coins. The only reason anyone even thinks that the coin commemorated a fort is because of Procopius, who was a historian during the reign of the emperor Justinian (ruled A.D. 527- 565). Around A.D. 550,  Procopius wrote Buildings,which was an account of construction during Justinian's rule. The following selection is from Buildings, book IV, vii. 5-13.

    "Just opposite this, on the other bank of the river, Constantine, Emperor of the Romans, once built with no small care a fort, Daphnê by name, thinking it not inexpedient that the river should be guarded on both sides at this point. As time went on, the barbarians destroyed this entirely; but the Emperor Justinian rebuilt it, beginning at the foundations."

    So some people choose to believe that the Dafne coinage was named after this fortress mentioned by Procopius, when the coins and the fort might not be connected at all! Remember, that Procopius was also writing more than two hundred years after the fact. The fort was also on the north bank of the Danube, so a bridge would have been needed.

    The Paschal Chronicle was written by an anonymous Byzantine writer. He identified himself as a contemporary of the Emperor Heraclius (ruled A.D. 610- 641). According to the Paschal Chronicle,2 a bridge was indeed built over the Danube. "Constantine the pious crossed the Danube very many times, and made a bridge for it in stone." This took place in 328 A.D.

    Aurelius Victor was a historian who lived circa A.D. 320- 390. He also mentioned the bridge in De Caesaribus 13.4 and 41.13. This bridge probably marked the start of a Gothic campaign. Victor said that the bridge was built and then, "camps and forts were strategically placed in many locations."

    There was also a bronze medallion issued to commemorate this bridge.3  As the Dafne coins were possibly issued as early as 327, it seems unlikely a coin was issued to commemorate a fort that was yet to be built. At best, the fortress was in the planning or initial construction stages when the first Dafne coins were issued.

    The Dafne fort is also mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. 330-395) in his history of the later Roman Empire. The emperor Valens (ruled A.D. 364- 378) was preparing for a campaign against the Goths and he "established his base near a fort called Daphne, and crossed the Danube on a bridge of boats."4  Marcellinus must be mistaken in calling this fort Daphne, though. Procopius said that the fort across from Dafne on the south bank of the Danube was called Trasmariscas. Procopius also said that the Dafne fort was destroyed; and the bridge must also have been destroyed, since Valens had to use boats to cross. So by the campaign of Valens, the Dafne fortress and bridge across the Danube had already been destroyed by the Goths. 5

            showing the Daphne and Transmarisca fortress
Map showing the Daphne and Transmarisca fortress

The Meaning of Victory

    This coin most likely symbolized the defeat of Licinius because the Greek word for laurel is daphne, and laurel wreaths were signs of victory.6  The legend of the Dafne coin would actually translate as 'Constantinian Laurel/Victory'. The fort on the north bank of the Danube could very well have been named "Daphnê". Dafne in Greek, after all, has a secondary meaning of victory; so a fort called victory seems more than appropriate. So, if the fort was named Dafne, it could actually have no connection with the Dafne coinage, other than the use of the word Dafne-- or victory. John of Ephesus mentioned another fort or camp called Daphnudii Castra, which was located near the sea.7  Constantine did have a victory over the Goths in the Danube area. In 332 A.D., Constantine was awarded the title Gothicus Maximus.8 Coins issued in 327-8 would not celebrate an anticipatory victory, but rather an accomplished victory. After looking at the evidence, it seems very evident that the Dafne coinage commemorated the A.D. 324 victory of Constantine over Licinius.

    This coin replaced other reverse types for Constantine and was the only type issued for almost three years in the name of Constantine--and exclusively for him…this seems like an important point. If this coin commemorated an obscure fortress, three years would be a very long time for a coin to have been issued. However, becoming the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and building a new capitol might merit a special coinage! Engravers also never used the adjective CONSTANTINIANA except on this issue; so the word is unique to this series. I also believe that Constantine was addressing his new city of Constantinople with a message... the city was being reborn and spurning the old ways.

    Eusebius wrote in his "Oration of Constantine to the Assembly of the Saints" in chapter eighteen:

 “having been devoted by the folly of her parents to this service, a service productive of nothing good or noble, but only of indecent fury, such as we find recorded in the case of Daphne.  On one occasion, however, having rushed into the sanctuary of her vain superstition, she became really filled with inspiration from above, and declared in prophetic verses the future purposes of God…”

Illustration from the Peutinger table of the Daphnaean
            Apolllo temple and spring surrounded by woods (including
            laurel trees) located beside Antioch in the Daphne district
Illustration of  the Daphnaean Apollo temple from the Peutinger table. There was a Daphne suburb of Antioch.

     This passage relates how the oracle realized the error of her old pagan beliefs. Maybe the Dafne coins also alluded to this change in spirituality. This coin may have had a message from Constantine to the people of Constantinople that his new city would be a Christian city and it also represented his victory over Licinius-- which was a victory of Christianity over paganism.

    RIC describes the reverse as a victory holding a palm branch in each hand; but this is an error. Anyone that looks closely at the coinage will see that it is obviously a laurel in the right hand and palm in the left hand of victory. Laurel symbolizes victory while the palm symbolizes peace. It is interesting that besides turning away from the captive, victory is also turning away from the laurel branch and trophy of arms. This could symbolize a rejection of the pagan, like laurel crowns. On the Dafne coinage Constantine is depicted wearing the kingly diadem. Maybe it is just a rejection of old war-like ways. Maybe it is just a coincidence and means nothing! It is interesting though that Dafne in mythology was associated with laurel. She was turned into a laurel tree to protect her from Apollo.

Victory or Angel ?

    At some point, the pagan victory also became the Christian angel. In this transition, the image of victory did not even change. She still had wings and is depicted with the victor's wreath and palm. "This is perhaps the only case in which the transition from pagan goddess to Christian angel is perfectly clear."9Did the victory on the Dafne coinage represent an angel? It certainly could have to some people, but in keeping with the ambiguous religious themes used by Constantine, this imagery would have been acceptable to pagans and Christians alike.

The Barbarian Attribute

    There are different portrayals of the barbarians on the Dafne coins. Since barbarians are represented, some people think that these coins must have referred to the pacification of a local tribe. The barbarian is actually a symbol of imperial power-- the barbarian attribute. Small barbarian figures appear on many Roman coins and generally have nothing to do with a specific victory, but rather the representation of barbarians had been given a symbolic meaning. Barbarians are general symbols of victory.10

captives on the
            reverse of CONSTANTINIANA DAFNE issued by Constantine the

Diadems and the Physical Transformation

        All Dafne issues have the new diadem, instead of the laurel crown. Constantine made a choice to stop being portrayed with the pagan laurel headdress or radiate headdress associated with Sol and starting using the kingly diadem. Philostorgius said that Constantine began wearing the diadem as a sign "of his sole rule and victory over opponents."11 Maybe the Dafne coinage is an allegorical representation of Constantine turning his back on the pagan ways. Constantine is also never bearded again. In fact, Constantine undergoes an amazing physical transformation, perhaps symbolizing his spiritual transformation. The pictures below illustrate the three bust types for the Dafne issue.

    "The distinction between plain diadem and the rosette diadem is at times rather arbitrary. Diadems, structurally consisting of bands adorned with pearls and jewels and with small forehead jewel, if any, have been classified as plain diadems."12

    "This is further evidence for the argument that the diadem varieties which are known from only 1-3 examples from isolated officinae may be stylistic variations. RIC points out in a footnote to RIC 29 that 28 different diadem types have been noted for the Dafne reverse, giving immense weight to the argument that diadem varieties, especially those which are unique or nearly so, may be insignificant variants, undeserving of separate RIC numbers." 13

     Since the authors noted 28 different diadem types and admit the difficulty in distinguishing diadems, there should probably be only three types (especially since some of those types were only seen in just one or a few coins)

1. head with diadem (plain, rosette, pearl) RIC 30
2. head with diadem (plain, rosette, pearl) looking upwards RIC 32
3. diademed (plain, rosette, pearl), draped, cuir. bust RIC 35, RIC 38

Constantine the Great head with diadem (plain,
                    rosette, pearl) RIC 30
Constantine the Great head with diadem (plain,
                    rosette, pearl) looking upwards RIC 32
Constantine the Great diademed (plain, rosette,
                    pearl), draped, cuir. bust RIC 35, RIC 38
RIC 30
RIC 32
RIC 35 & RIC 38

      The first, RIC 30, shows a bull-necked Constantine with sharp features and short hair. I believe that RIC 30 is an accurate portrayal of Constantine. Constantine appeared thick-necked on his statues and had a nickname of "bull-neck".14 The RIC 30 bust also looks more like earlier issues from Rome, Arles and Ostia. By the last bust type, RIC 35, Constantine has softened, even feminized. His features are softer, his neck is thinner and more graceful and his hair is now curling down his neck.

    The middle bust is RIC 32, issued in late 327 A.D. This is the ‘looking up to the heavens” type. “It is tempting to associate the short use of the eyes raised type with the vision of Constantine in November 327 in conjunction with the founding of the enlarged capitol, but it is only speculation to do so, though the chronology must be very close.” –Speck and Huston.

"How deeply his soul was impressed by the power of divine faith may be understood from the circumstance that he directed his likeness to be stamped on the golden coin of the empire with eyes uplifted as in the posture of prayer to God: and this money became current throughout the Roman world." (Eusebius IV.15)

       RIC 38 (issued circa Jan. 328 to late 329) has a star in the exergue. Some scholars believe that the star commemorated the residence of Constantine in Constantinople because he adopted the star as his personal symbol. A variation of RIC 38 has a dot in the exergue. The authors of RIC mention this coin in the footnotes. "Some coins not with star but with dot in exergue, the dot most likely intended for a star." The authors noted one specimen for officina 'A'. Speck and Huston in Constantine's Dafne Coinage have noted a coin from officina 'B', the only one not footnoted in RIC, so every officina has been filled to match RIC 38. "This mintmark with the dot in exergue matches a coin in gold struck circa 330, suggesting strongly that the issue with dot is from the Gold mint and follows the issue with and without star as a separate issue in this continuous series, deserving of its own listing in RIC, rather than a 'footnote variety'."15

Dafne with CONS star
Constantinian Dafne with CONS dot
CONS star
CONS dot



    The chart below is adapted from Constantine's Dafne Coinage. This chart was originally made in 1992, and more Dafne coins have entered the market since then. The original chart has been modified based on observations of the marketplace and estimates.
Reorganization of issues for the series of Dafne reverses
obverse type
number of coins
30 (mid 327 A.D.)
diademed head
32(late 327 A.D.)
diad. hd, eyes raised
35 (Jan. 328 into 329 A.D.)
cuir.,dr. bust
38 star (Jan. 328 until late 329)
cuir.,dr. bust
38 dot (late 329 into early 330 A.D.)
cuir.,dr. bust


     There is only one more Dafne type to talk about, and it is an obverse not mentioned in RIC. It is an eyes heavenward type without the obverse inscription (anepigraphic). This type was not known until 1989. According to Speck and  Huston in Constantine's Dafne Coinage at Constantinople, note 8, there were three specimens of this coin in the Bankhaus H. Aufhaeuser Munich auctions 7. 1990, 777; 8, 1991, 704; and 9, 1992, 522. Two of these coins were officina A and one was officina S, so officina Epsilon is a new example of this rare type. An example from officina gamma and officina Z is also known. Speck and Huston placed this type with the other 'raised eyes' type for chronology but speculated that these coins could have been for special presentation pieces.

            CONSTANTINIANA DAFNE issued by Constantine the Great

    "How deeply his soul was impressed by the power of divine faith may be understood from the circumstance that he directed his likeness to be stamped on the golden coin of the empire with eyes uplifted as in the posture of prayer to God: and this money became current throughout the Roman world." Eusebius (IV.15)

anepigraphic Helena coin

The above coin is a very rare, possibly unique coin from Helena. It is very similar in style to Constantine's Dafne coinage and was probably issued at the same time. The obverse is anepigraphic and the reverse is Victory seated on a cippus, right foot on a prow; holding a cornucopia in the left arm, and right holding an olive branch.

DAFNE gallery



Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, Translated by Walter Hamilton, New York: Penguin Classics, 1986.

Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus (Book on the Caesars), edited by H.W. Bird.

Chronicon Paschale, translated by Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby, Liverpool University Press, 1990.

Ecclesiastical History of John, Bishop of Ephesus, Translated from the original Syriac by R. Payne Smith, Oxford University Press, 1860.

Eusebius, Life of Constantine, edited by Averil Cameron & Stuart Hall, Oxford University Press,1999.

Procopius, Buildings, translated by H.B. Dewing & Glanville Downey, Loeb Classical Library, 1940.


John McGregor, "Constantiniana Dafne: A Different Point of View". Journal for the Society of Ancient Numismatics 15, No. 3 (Fall 1984) : 44-46.

Iliescu Octavian, “Constantiniana, Dafne: Anciennes et Nouvelles Theories.” Numismatica e Antichità Classiche 16 (1987) : 265-292.

R. S. Speck and Stephen M. Huston, Constantine's Dafne Coinage at Constantinople, Stephen M. Huston, 1992.

R. Mowat, “Constantiniana Dafne.” Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France (1912) : 310- 315.

Sutherland and Carson, Roman Imperial Coinage VII. Spink & Son, 1997.

1 This quote is from Seth W. Stevenson, A Dictionary of Roman Coins, originally published in 1889. He is referencing Eckhel, Doctrina Numorum Veterum, 8 vols., published 1792-1798.

2Chronicon Paschale 284- 628 A.D. Translated by Michael and Mary Whitby. New York: Liverpool University Press (2007) : 15.

3  RIC VII Rome 298. The reverse is SALVS REIP bridge with three arches, whereon emperor advancing right in military dress, holding transverse spear, shield, preceded by Victory, holding trophy,  turning  head towards him, in front, suppliant; beneath, to left, Danube resting; in exergue DANVBIS. This medallion was struck between 327-333. For an article on this medallion see Andreas Alföldi, “Die Donaubrücke Constantins des Grossen und verwandte historische Darstellungen auf spätrömischen Münzen” Zeitschrift für Numismatik 36 (1926) : 161- 167.

4  Ammianus Marcellinus  book 27, v-5.

5For more on the chronology of the bridge's destruction, see the article by  E.A. Thompson, “Constantine, Constantius II and the Lower Danube Frontier,” Hermes 84 (1956) : 372- 381.

6 John Melville Jones, A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins. Numismatic Fine Arts Intl (1990) : 81.

7 John of Ephesus lived circa A.D. 507- 588 and spent many years in Constantinople. Translated from the original Syriac by R. Payne Smith in Ecclesiastical History of John, Bishop of Ephesus, Oxford University Press, 1860 : Book III, section 8 talks about the fort.

8T. D. Barnes, “The Victories of Constantine.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 20 (1976) : 153.

9Harold Mattingly, The Man in the Roman Street. New York: W. W. Norton & Company (1976) : 79.

10Annalina Calo Levi, "Barbarians on Roman imperial coins and sculpture." American Numismatic Society 1952 (offprint)

11Noel Lenski, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine. Cambridge University Press, 2005, pg. 29.

12 Sutherland and Carson, Roman Imperial Coinage VII. Spink & Son (1997) : 574.

13  R. S. Speck & Stephen M. Huston, Constantine's Dafne Coinage at Constantinople, Stephen M. Huston (1992) : 10.

14 Samuel N.C. Lieu & Dominic Monserrat. From Constantine to Julian. Pagan and Byzantine: Views A source of History. Routledge (1996) : 5. For more on the meaning of the phrase "bull-neck" see  Christer Bruun, "The Thick Neck of the Emperor Constantine. Slimy Snails and 'Quellenforschung'" Historia : Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 44.4 (1995): 459 – 480.

15 R. S. Speck & Stephen M. Huston, Constantine's Dafne Coinage at Constantinople, Stephen M. Huston (1992) : 10.

last modified on 22 Feb 2012

Constantine the Great