Common coins with many variations

One of the delightful aspects of our hobby/obsession is the fact that even the most common types of coins can show a wonderful variety of subtle differences.

One such type is the bronze GLORIA EXERCITVS (Glory of the Army) coins minted during the Constantine era.

Anyone that has spent time cleaning ancient coins, or digging through dealer's "junk boxes" at coin shows has come across hundreds (maybe even thousands) of these humble coins, but many toss them aside, thinking, perhaps, that they are not as worthy of study as the more "glamourous" coins, yet these coins have an appeal all their own. For one thing, since they are so common, they are quite inexpensive. It is very possible to find VF coins of this type for a few dollars. This alone makes them attractive to those of us on a fairly limited coin budget.

As many emperors during the proceeding years had learned (often too late), it was a wise emperor who made sure that the army was kept happy. This was often accomplished with increases in pay, land grants, bonuses and outright bribes, reductions in the soldier's length of required service, etc. Woe to the emperor who failed to remember that it didn't pay to ignore the fellows that carried the spears!

Constantine apparently had a appreciation for the importance of keeping good relations with his army, as the various mints throughout the empire produced a huge number of coins with the GLORIA EXERCITVS ("The Glory of the Army") reverse.

Keeping in mind that one of the important reasons for the use of coinage was to pass along various messages to the population of Rome and her various provinces. These messages, or propaganda, if you prefer, used phrases or images that could convey important ideas to the mostly illiterate citizens of the empire. In the case of the GLORIA EXERCITVS coins, the emperor was apparently praising the Army, as without their support (real or perceived)he could never survive.

While the coins are quite common, there is enough difference in the various devices on them to constitute an interesting area of study.

These are just a few of the different reverses available in this delightful series of coins, and while it is beyond the scope of these pages to dig into reasons for these differences, perhaps these images will spark an interest in the reader to do some research into the subject.

Letters in banners

Two soldiers with one standard, "M" in standard

Two soldiers, one standard, "X" in standard

Two soldiers, one standard, "Y" in standard

Two soldiers, one standard.
Is that a letter, a number, or another symbol?
I don't know.....what are your thoughts?

What is the purpose of the letters? Did they designate specific units? Were they meant to refer to a specific event? Did they serve as a mint control mark, or where they a type of code? Again, I don't have the answer. More study with a larger statistical universe than I have available is needed.


Two soldiers, one standard with Chi-Rho
The "Chi-Rho" is the symbol that Constantine was said to have seen in a dream just before the battle with Licinius at the Milvian bridge.

Two soldiers, one standard
Another Chi-Rho

Constantine seemed to place a great value on the Chi-Rho. It was revealed to him in a dream that he would gain victory over the forces of Licinius under this symbol. It first appeared on coins struck under his authority, and continued to be used right through the Byzantine/Romaion era.

Other symbols

Two soldiers, two standards
Circles with dots

Two soldiers, one standard
Is that a crescent, or a thick circle?

Two soldiers, two standards
Long banners on the top of the standards with what appears to be drapery of some kind inside. Wreath between standards.

Two soldiers, two standards
Wreath between standards.

Two soldiers and two standards, wreath between.
The objects in the standards almost look like they have horns.....Whats up with that? Also...look at the "faces" of the soldiers. Just round dots, like the ones on the banners. It looks like the celator that carved the die got lazy and just used a rounded punch rather than actually carve faces on the soldiers. Must have been getting near the end of his shift, maybe?

A rather strange portrait of Constantius II. He looks like a chipmunk with the mumps.
At first glance, this looks like a reverse with one standard, but look closely. There are actually two standards with dots inside and a star above.

Two soldiers, two standards
I wouldn't call those letters in the standards, as they seem to be continuations of the rest of the devices on the shaft of the standard.

Two soldiers, two standards
Grain ears between standards

Additional study

If you are interested in further study of these coins, Doug Smith was kind enough to inform me that a book by Victor Failmezger will be published some time next year. It is going to focus on Roman bronze coins produced from 294-364 AD, and will include information on over two dozen letter/symbol combinations for the Soldier/standard coins, as well as a similar number for the two Victories, the Wolf/Twins, and the Constantinople coins.

My thanks to Paco Melqart, Ken, and Gary Leonard for their kind permission to use their coins in the construction of this page.

Copyright © 2002 - Steve Niederloh
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