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Soul of an Ancient Collector

Julia Cornelia Salonina, wife of the Imerator Gallienus, marble bust, middle of the 3rd century AD. A29 Hermitage, Jupiter Hall. St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo by George Shuklin 16 June 2007, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons


In a 1903 handbook on ancient coins, Francesco Gnecchi grumbled:

"The first collectors did not lay much stress on the state of preservation of their specimens, to which in the present day very great, and I might say excessive importance, is attached."
-Roman Coins, Elementary Manual by Francesco Gnecchi, translated by Alfred Watson Hands

Perfectly centered and well preserved coins, are certainly worthy of admiration and I am happy to even own a few. However, as a collector of ancients, I find beauty in this coin and a perfection of its own, earned over centuries.


An Ancient Tetradrachm

Roman Provincial, Egypt, Alexandria, Salonina, AD 254-268, Potin Tetradrachm (22.5mm, 10.13 g, 12h), dated RY 12 of Gallienus (AD 264/265)

Obv: Draped bust right, wearing diadem

Rev: Eirene standing left, holding branch and scepter; palm frond to left, IB/L (date) to right

Ref: Köln 2969; Dattari (Savio) 5331; K&G 91.33; Emmett 3855.12

Salonina's Portraits from Alexandria


Portraits of Salonina varied over the years, making this coin easy to identify as RY 12 although the date is obscured by the reddish brown encrustation. Coins of Salonina with Eirene (Peace, daughter of Zeus and Themis - Justice) were issued in RY 3, 12, 13, 14, and 15, with the most common coin being RY 12. This coin also can be mistaken for a similar RY 12 coin with Elpis (Hope) if you don't look closely. Elpis looks similar but does not have a scepter.

Eirene & Elpis

Eirene and Elpis compared side by side (Left is Eirene, right Elpis) from Alexandrian Tetradrachms.

The Empress Salonina

There is not much known about Salonina, her birthplace (modern speculation that she was from Bithynia) and even her family origins a bit obscure. There are a few hints and speculations that she was politically a good choice of wife for Gallienus, that she was well educated, that she was sympathetic and even curious about Christianity, that she tolerated Gallienus' concubine (Pipa, daughter of the Marcomanni king Attalus), she had three sons with Gallienus (Valerianus II, Saloninus, Marinianus), that she was a loyal partner to Gallienus in reign.


Concordia (Gallienus & Salonina)

This coin issued ~256-260 AD in Samosata falls in a time period that is not aligned to Gallienus and Salonina becoming Augusta (253), or the date of their marriage, ten years earlier. It does align with the end of the war with the Macromanni. ~AD 258, which begs the speculation, was the treaty and "a kind of marriage" to Pipa or Pipara the reason that coins were issued emphasizing Concordia between Gallienus Salonina?

"a concubine -- Pipa by name -- , whom, when a portion of Pannonia Superior had been conceded through a treaty by her father, king of the Marcomanni, he had accepted in a kind of marriage."
-Aurelius Victory, Epitome, Gallienus, 21.3

Valerian was captured by Shapur at Emesa, <100 miles from Samosata in June of AD 260. The legions under Valerian declared Macrianus' two sons as joint emperors. Samosata was soon issuing coins in the names of Macrianus and Quietus.


Valerianus II, Gallienus' oldest son, was died in Sirmium in 258. Saloninus was made Caesar in 258 and was killed in a dispute over control of plundered booty with Postumus as Postumus revolted and was declared emperor in September of 260. This another potential reason to show the concord of the emperor and empress.



Roman Imperial, Salonina (wife of Gallienus), BI Antoninianus 3.73g 21mm, minted in Samosata, AD 256-260

Obv: CORN SALONINA AVG, diademed and draped bust to right, set on crescent

Rev: CONCORDIA AVGG, emperor, Gallienus, standing to left, clasping hands with empress, Salonina, standing to right

Ref: RIC V.1 63 (Asia, joint reign); MIR 1691p; RSC 31.

AVGG representing two Augusti on the reverse. Generally this might be interpreted as AVGG referring to Valerian and Gallienus, however with the emperor and empress, both Augusti, on the reverse, it seems at least possible that the Augusti in the legend are the pair shown.

Although examples from auction vary as described in auction listings, the figure on the right is Salonina, note that the figure's hair is the same as the empress on the obverse, and this figure is also unambiguously female.


Salonina's death in Mediolanum at the end of Gallienus' reign is unconfirmed.

"a plot involving his Praetorian Prefect and two future emperors, Claudius and Aurelian, all three men Illyrians popular with many of the soldiers, lured Gallienus away from the city on a false pretext and assassinated him.The emperor's brother Valerian and young son Marinianus were also murdered. In spite of the bitter resentment which many of the senators must have felt toward the dead emperor and his reform policies, Claudius II, perhaps only to legitimize his own reign, persuaded the Senate to deify Gallienus."
-De Imperatoribus Romanis, Valerian & Gallienus, Richard Weigel 

This coin struck for Salonina in Mediolanum (Milan, Italy) 265AD:

Salonina Augusta, AD 260-268, AR Antoninianus (20mm, 1.72g very lightweight), wife of Gallienus, mint of Mediolanum (Milan, Italy) AD ~265, approximatesly same time as the AVG IN PACE coin below.

Obv: SALONINA AVG, bust of Salonina, diademed, draped, right, on crescent

Rev: FELICIT PVBL, Felicitas, draped, standing left, legs crossed, leaning on column, holding caduceus in right hand

Ref: Mir 61


Salonina and Gallienus are credited with in intellectual renaissance in art and philosophy. Plotinus, a Platonic philosopher, was a friend of the court:

"The Emperor Gallienus and his wife Salonina greatly honoured and venerated Plotinus, who thought to turn their friendly feeling to some good purpose. In Campania there had once stood, according to tradition, a City of Philosophers, a ruin now; Plotinus asked the Emperor to rebuild this city and to make over the surrounding district to the new-founded state; the population was to live under Plato's laws: the city was to be called Platonopolis; and Plotinus undertook to settle down there with his associates. He would have had his way without more ado but that opposition at court, prompted by jealousy, spite, or some such paltry motive, put an end to the plan."
- Porphyry, On the Life of Plotinus

This flawed coin of Salonina fueled modern speculation about the Christianity of the empress - however there is no other evidence and it is unlikely that the conversion of a Roman empress would not have been recorded elsewhere.

Salonina. Augusta, AD 254-268. Antoninianus. Mediolanum (Milan) mint, 1st officina. 5th emission, AD 265.

Obv: SALONINA AVG, Draped bust right, wearing stephane, set on crescent

Rev: AVGVSTA IN PACE, Salonina seated left, holding olive branch and scepter; P in exergue.

Ref: RIC V 60


Francesco Gnecchi in 1908 was among the challengers of the Christian reference, with this explanation:

"This interpretation appears, to me, strained, at least, and that of Augusta sotto le spoglie della Pace appears to me a rather more obvious meaning." 

Historian John Bray in his posthumously published book on Gallienus also rejects the suggestion:

"These coins have been exhaustively discussed by S.L. Cesano in an article entitled "Salonina Augusta in Pace". I agree in general with her conclusions about them except for the final one, that the coins prove the Christianity of Salonina."
- Bray, Gallienus, 1997, p.162

The Soul of an Ancient Collector

"XXVIII. On Travel as a Cure for Discontent Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate."
-Seneca the Younger, Letters, XVIII

Seneca goes on to explain "your faults will follow you whither-so-ever you travel".


Faults are part of the beauty of ancient coins, and perhaps Seneca would agree that if you are discontented with coins with faults, you might not have the soul of an ancient coin collector.

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