A quick overview of Diocletian's Tetrarchy

When Diocletian assumed the rule of the Roman Empire, he did so with the realization that the empire, with all it's far-flung provinces, was far too vast to be ruled effectively by one man. Accordingly, he formed a system of governing known as the "Tetrarchy", or the rule of Four.

The novel idea behind the Tetrarchy was that the empire would be divided into four quadrants, which were to be ruled over by two Augustii, who would be assisted by two Caesars, or "junior emperors". This system was intended to provide an orderly and smooth answer to the question of succession. The two Augustii would be training the two Caesars as their eventual replacements. Upon the retirement of the Augustii, the two Caesars would be elevated to the position of Augustii, and would then pick two new Caesars.

Under Diocletian's strong leadership, the system worked quite well.

A more complete review of the progression of the Tetrarchy, and its eventual breakdown can be found here:

A brief bio of Constantine I, the Great

Coins of the Tetrarchy

Diocletian's original idea for the tetrarchy was somewhat along the lines of "Four Rulers, but One Empire", and the coins struck during this period tend to reflect that philosophy. The portraits of the leaders on the large follii struck during this period show a remarkable similarity, intending most likely, to show a unity of purpose among the four rulers. On a similar note, the reverses of the large coins have three basic themes: Jupiter, Hercules, and the Genius of the Roman People.

The first four Rulers

Diocletian, Ruler in the East
Maximianus, Ruler in the West
Constantius I, Caesar under Maximianus
Galerius, Caesar under Diocletian

As seen in the examples above, the portraits of the four rulers are quite similar, lacking the individually distinguishing features present on coins struck in the previous centuries.

While many of the coins from this period have very similar portraits, there are many examples that show enough subtle differences to make this an interesting collecting theme.

Tetrarchy coins from my personal collection

Diocletian

Billion Antoninianus
22mm, 3.98g
OBV: IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG
REV: CONSERVATOR AVGG
Diocletian and Jupiter, holding scepters, sacrificing over altar
EXG: XXI (pellet) O (pellet)
FR: B
This coin is one of a three coin set that spells the Greek
word for Jupiter (IOBI) in the exerge

Diocletian

Post-reform Radiate
Alexandria mint
20mm, 3.00g
OBV: IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG
REV: CONCORDIA MILITVM
Emperor receiving Victory on globe from Jupiter
EXG: ALE
FC: r

Diocletian

Billion Antoninianus
Siscia mint
24mm, 2.97g
OBV: IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG
REV: IOVI CONSERVATORI AVG
Diocletian receiving Victory on globe from Jupiter
EXG: XXI
FC: B

Galerius

Billion Antoninianus
Rome mint
22mm, 7.78g
OBV: IMP MAXENTIVS DIVO MAXIMIANO SOCERO
REV: AETERNAE MEMORIAE
Domed temple topped by eagle. One door slightly open
EXG: RET

Maximianus

Billion Antoninianus
23mm, 3.91g
OBV: IMP C M A VAL MAXIMIANVS AVG
REV: VICTORIA AVGG
Maximianus, holding spear,receiving Victory on globe from Jupiter
EXG: XXI
FC: B

Maximianus

Reduced Follis
Alexandria mint
23mm, 6.36g
OBV: IMP C MAXIMIANVS PF AVG
REV: VIRTIVS EXERCITVS
Virtus advancing right, carrying spear and shield, trophy over shoulder
EXG: ALE
FR: B

Maximianus

Billion Antoninianus
Ticinum mint
22mm, 3.65g
OBV: IMP C MA VAL MAXINIANVS AVG
REV: IOVI CONSERVAT
Jupiter standing left, holding thunderbolt and scepter
EXG: S XXI T

Maximianus

Large Follis
Aquileia mint
29mm, 10.14g
OBV: IMP MAXIMIANVS PF AVG
REV: SAC MONET AVGG ET CAESS MOST
Moneta standing left, holding scales and cornucopiae
EXG: AQP
FR: VI
FL: Crescent

Constantius I

Large follis
Alexandria mint
25mm, 10.32g
OBV: FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB CAES
REV: GENIO POPVLI ROMANI
Genius standing left, holding patera and cornucopiae
EXG: ALE
FR: C P
FL: S

Maximinus II

Reduced Follis
Nicomedia mint
20mm, 4.93g
OBV: IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMINVS PF AVG
REV: SOLI INVICTO
Sol standing right, raising right hand, holding head
of Serapis in left hand
EXG: SMN
FL: (Delta)

Maximinus II

Reduced Follis
Thessalonica mint
23mm, 4.3g
OBV: MAXIMINVS PF AVG
REV: IOVI CONSERVATORI
Jupiter standing left, holding globe and scepter
EXG: SM (pellet) TS
FR: (episilon)
FL: Wreath

Maximinus II

Reduced Follis
Antioch mint
25mm, 4.94g
OBV: GAL VAL MAXIMINVS NOB CAES
REV: GENIO CAESARIS
Genius standing left, holding cornucopiae and patera
EXG: ANT
FR: r

Maximinus II

Large Follis
Carthage Mint
25mm, 9.89g
OBV: GAL VAL MAXIMINVS NOB CARS
REV: SALVIS AVGG ET CAESS FEL KART
Salvis standing right, head left, holding patera and
(?) fruit
EXG: U
FL: I

Maxentius

Large Follis
Aquileia mint
25mm, 5.64g
OBV: IMP C MAXENTIVS PF AVG
REV: CONSERV VRB SVAE
Roma seated in temple with four columns, presenting
globe to Maxentius
EXG: AQP

Maxentius

Quarter follis
17mm, 1.9g
Uncertain mint
OBV: MAXENTIVS PF AVG
REV: Wreath surrounding VOT (pellet) QQ MVL X

Licinius I

Reduced follis
Alexandria mint
23mm, 2.77g
OBV: IMP LIC LICINIVS PF AVG
REV: IOVI CONSERVATORI AVGG
Jupiter standing left, holding spear and Victory
on globe. Eagle at his feet
EXG: ALE

Licinius I

AE3
20mm, 3.01g
Hereclea mint
OBV: IMP LICINIVS AVG
Consular bust right
REV: PROVIDENTIAE AVGG
6 stone campgate, three turrets
EXG: SMHA
FR: A

Licinius I

Reduced follis
19mm, 4.09g
Rome mint
OBV: IMP LICINIVS PF AVG
SOLI INVICTO COMITI
Sol standing left, raising right hand. Globe in left hand
EXG: R T
FR: F
FL: R X

Licinius II

Reduced follis
20mm, 2.66g
Antioch mint
OBV: D N VAL LICIN LICINIVS NOB C
REV: IOVI CONSERVATORI
Jupiter standing left,leaning on scepter topped with eagle
holding Victory aloft on globe. Captive at feet
EXG: SM ANT r
FR: X II r


Copyright 2006, Steve Niederloh
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