Constantine the Great

Barbarians at the Gate
A.D. 318-324

Map of barbarians on the frontiers during the reign of Constantine the Great.
larger map

    This map does not include every barbarian tribe, there were many more. The tribes are not placed exactly either, just roughly. The Saxons  were not that far south yet, the Huns were not quite that far into Europe yet, and the Picts were not quite so close to London. This map should give an idea of the tensions building (especially in the Rhine frontier, among the Germanic tribes) as these tribes are pushing against each other, which forces some into Roman territory.
 


From 318-324 A.D., Constantine had barbarian troubles. The Romans believed that anyone who could not read or write Latin was a barbarian, so this meant there were a lot of barbarians! There were many barbarous tribes spilling into the Roman Empire, especially from what is present day Germany, but Constantine had barbarians on all his frontiers.The coins issued from 318-324 tell the story of frontiers besieged by barbarians and also show how Romans used propaganda on their coins.
 

 
Constantine the Great  VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP
Constantine the Great  VIRTVS-EXERCIT
Constantine the Great  BEATA TRANQVILLITAS
VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP
VIRTVS-EXERCIT
BEATA TRANQVILLITAS

 
 
London
Lyons
Trier
Arles
Rome
Ticinum
Aquileia
Siscia
Thessalonica
VLPP
318-320
319-320
318-319
319-320
x
318-319
x
318-320
x
VIRTVS
320-321
320-321
320-321
320
x
319-320
320
320
320
BEATA
321-324
321-323
321-323
x
x
x
x
x
x

During these years, Licinius issued IOVI CONSERVATORI types from his mints.

Map of the mints controlled by Constantine the Great 318-324 A.D.
larger map

     In 318, Constantine started issuing the VLPP series out of six of his nine mints.The VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP [ Joyous (well-earned) victory to the eternal Prince] type usually depicted Constantine in armor and often with spear and shield. The victory referred to is more likely the expectation of the victory against the barbarians. The use of the word prince on the reverse made reference  to Constantine’s role as “Prince of Youth,” a title he had claimed since his elevation to the rank of Caesar in 306.
 
 
 
 

Constantine the Great VLPP from Lugdunum with two captives in the exergue
Constantine the Great Lugdunum VLPP
RIC VII Lyons 65
2 captives back to back in exergue 
RIC VII Lyons 79 
P [2 captives] L in exergue

    Some of the VLPP have two captives in the exergue. This coin was issued circa 320 A.D. in Lugdunum, or modern day Lyons (Lugdunum was named after the Celtic sun-god, Lug or Lugh).There was only one other mint that did this around the same time- Arles (Arles only used one captive). Both of these mints are in Gaul and were having problems with barbarians. Around this time Crispus, who was born in Gaul, was made commander of the armies in Gaul. Crispus was victorious in military operations against the Franks and Alamanni in 318 and 320 A.D.His victory in 323 would be celebrated by the ALAMANNIA DEVICTA coinage. I don't think a specific victory is represented on these VLPP issues, but rather it is a little something to show for the years of fighting. The captives in the mintmark must have alluded to Crispus and his military operations against the Alamanni. Maybe they were meant to be a bit of a morale boost for the citizens- a little propaganda …. Rome is beating the barbarians!

    The VIRTVS issues started circa 319 in the same six mints plus two others. This type is definitely a military type- VIRTVS EXERCIT [Valor of the army] with the reverse showing two captives under a banner. The two captives on the reverse are also wearing pants, and only barbarians wore pants! In the late fourth century, legislation even banned the wearing of pants in the city limits of Rome- “Within the City of Rome no person shall wear either trousers or boots. But if any man after the issuance of this regulation of Our Clemency should obstinately persist in such contumacy, he shall be punished according as his legal status permits and expelled from our sacred City.” (Codex Theodosianus 14.10.3 June 6, 399)

    Circa 321, BEATA TRANQVILLITAS [Blessed Peace (calm)] type was issued. The reverse does mean blessed peace(calm), but it does not mean the Empire was at peace. The Rhine frontier was in turmoil.This series also has many busts wearing armor, meaning all is not calm. Rather,these coins seem to be "an expression of the expectation of peace and order on the Rhine frontier." (RIC VII p 38) This series was issued shortly after the Alamannian war and around the same time as Constantine's war with the Sarmatians.

    It is interesting that Rome never issued any of these coins during the years 318-324, but that makes sense because Rome was far from the frontier and did not experience any barbarian invasions during these years. London, Lyons and Trier issued all three of these coins and must have had many problems with barbaric incursions. The London mint even closed in 324 (Constantine was starting to shift his resources and focus on the East). Lyons issued some coins in 324-5 and then it closed until 330.
 

    The campgate reverse replaced these types circa 324.PROVIDENTIAE AVGG [In honor of the foresight of the Emperors] seemed to imply Constantine had halted the barbarians...or at least he wanted his subjects to think so. Constantine, by no means, ended the threat of barbarian invasion by 324, but he did have some big victories.

SARMATIA DEVICTA

Constantine defeated the Sarmatians in 322 A.D. (see above coin) Zosimus wrote about this--

“When Constantine learned that the Sarmatians, who live near Lake Maeotis, had sailed across the Danube and were pillaging his territory, he led his army against them…he killed many, took more prisoners and put the rest to flight.”  Zosimus 2:21

This victory was, however, a big reason for the second civil war with Licinius in 324; since the territory that Constantine fought the Sarmatians in was under the control of Licinius. So Constantine had not completely pacified the barbarians by 324, but his attention was diverted by something more pressing...the second Civil War with Licinius. Shortly after the war, Constantine made his newly won city of Byzantium (soon to be called Constantinople) the capital of the Roman Empire. The fate of the old capital had almost been sealed by Constantine, and by the fifth century there was very little to stop the germanic tribes from entering the West.

Map showing the theoretical order of battle of the Roman army in the fifth century
 
 

Barbarous issues
 
 
 

Constantine the Great