Intro
The History of Byzantine Coinage
Mints
Uses of Coins
Christianization of the Coin
Representation of Christ
Representation of the Virgin
Constantine I's defeat of his rival Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. was a turning point in the history of Christianity, for Constantine attributed his victory to the protection of the Christian God. On the eve of this battle, he had a vision of a luminous cross accompanied by the inscription, "In this [sign], be victorious." He also had a dream advising him to place the monogram of Christ, or Christogram (the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, X P) on his soldiers' shields (photo right). The Edict of Toleration, allowing Christians to worship freely, was issued by Constantine in the year following his victory. During the course of the 4th century, succeeding emperors issued legislation that increasingly restricted pagan practices, forbidding sacrifices and closing the temples; in 392, Theodosius I banned even private pagan worship.

Constantine's coinage reflects the syncretic and ambiguous nature of his religious beliefs: the image of the Sun God (Sol Invictus) continues until 325 and the emperor is occasionally shown with the radiate solar crown of Apollo (photo below), while Christian symbols are both rare and very discreet (photo middle right).

Under his successors (except the pagan Julian), the victorious standard of 312 with the Christogram, known as the labarum, was frequently shown on coins held by the standing figure of the emperor; it is sometimes shown alone piercing a snake (photo lower right). Other coins retained images of pagan personifications, such as Rome and Constantinople, or the winged Victory, because none of these still received sacrifices.


Gold Medallion of Constantine I
Multiple solidus struck at Sirmium in 324

More than 10 years after his victory under the sign of the
cross, the emperor is shown wearing the radiate crown, a
reflection of his continued devotion to the Sun God, Apollo.

Back to Top or Go to Next Page