Rare Roman gold medallion leads Bonhams' June 1 auction
- Published: May 11, 2015, 3 AM
A rare gold medallion of 9-solidus weight — one of three similar pieces sold at auction in 30 years — highlights Bonhams’ June 1 auction in Los Angeles.
The possibly unique circa 330 A.D. gold medallion of Constantine I was struck in Constantinople. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It is among a series of “money medallions,” which have weights that are multiples of gold and silver coins and could legally be used as money.
The offered medallion has what Bonhams calls an “ancient” suspension loop mounted to the top, aside from which the medallion is “otherwise Very Fine.”
The medallions were distributed by the emperor as gifts to high-ranking members of the empire, either military or civilian, or to foreign ambassadors. They were as little as the 1.5-solidus pieces issued by Constantine the Great and as large as the 72-solidus pieces issued by Valens.
The example offered by Bonhams may have been issued by Constantine to mark the consecration of Constantinople in 330, though some researchers do not agree, suggesting it was instead issued as early as 326 or as late as 336, based on other examples and evidence.
A grouping of medals similar to this one was discovered in a hoard in Normandy, France, in 1780, but many of those were melted in 1831 after a robbery, according to Bonhams. Few survive, though casts of many examples had been made for scholarship.
The pieces in the hoard have a slightly different reverse design compared to that found on the medallion in the Bonhams sale. The throne on the hoard pieces is more elaborately engraved than the thinly drawn version on the example offered by Bonhams.
The medallions of Constantine feature two different portrait styles on the obverse, with this example offered by Bonhams showing the emperor wearing longer hair.
The medallion weighs 41.88 grams and measures 48.8 millimeters in diameter.
Best known as the first Christian emperor and the founder of Constantinople, Constantine the Great was the illegitimate son of Constantius Chlorus and Flavia Helena (venerated as St. Helena).
He was born in 274, and his troops declared him Augustus in 306 after his father died.
Constantine could not claim control of the entire empire until 324, with his efforts to consolidate control interrupted by internecine war, and rebellion, though he was able to enter into short-lived alliances.
Constantine died in Nicomedia in 337.
Few fourth century gold medallions of this significant size have come to market.
A medallion of 9 solidi of Constans from the Aquileia Mint, graded Good Fine with ancient suspension loop, realized 46,200 Swiss francs, including 10 percent buyer’s fee, in the 1984 sale of the Garrett Collection.
A medallion of 9 solidi of Constantine the Great from the Trier Mint was once part of the Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection that was sold in 1990. Described as Good Very Fine with some light graffiti, it realized $231,000, including 10 percent buyer’s fee.
To learn more about the June 1 auction, visit the auction house website.