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The Battle of Milvian Bridge

This coin is properly attributed as RIC VI Heraclea 75. It comes from a time period close to the Battle of Milvian Bridge before which Constantine had a dream of vision that resulted in his committing his armies under the sigh of the Chi-Rho or cross and attributing his under-dog victory over Maximinus to the God of the Christians.

This particular coin is a bit unusual as Constantine doesn't normally have a beard - however the engravers from this officina (workshop) were used to doing portraits of Maximinus and Licinius so they just added the beard on Constantine too.

Constantine I the Great (307/10-337), Follis (3.65g, 22mm), Heraclea, struck 313-314

Obv: IMP C FL VAL CONSTANTINVS P F AVG, laureate head right

Rev: IOVI CONSERVATORI AVGG, Jupiter standing facing, head left, holding Victory on globe and sceptre; at feet to left, eagle, Γ in right field, and SMHT in exergue.

Ref: RIC VI Heraclea 75

Licinius I, AD 308-324, Heraclea, Follis Æ,

Obv: IMP C VAL LICIN LICINIVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right

Rev: IOVI CONSERVATORI, Jupiter standing left, holding sceptre and victory on globe, eagle standing left before, head upturned, with wreath in beak, bound captive seated right behind, X-IIΓ in left field, SMHA in exergue

Note: Γ (in X-IIΓ) is an episemon standing for 1/2 denarius - the coin as a whole valued at 12.5 denarii, which was 3.4 g, 1/96 lb in AD 313.

DiMaio, Zeuge, and Zotov note that a planetary event on October 27, 312 could have been behind Constantine's vision. Shortly after sunset in the southwest, the planets Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus were visible close together in almost a straight line in the constellations Capricorn and Sagittarius. (see image above).

Both coins were issued by Licinius who controlled about 5-8 eastern mints at this time including Heraclea.

This coin interests me not only for it's excellent preservation and artistry, but also for the time of issue a turbulent period for the Roman Empire and spread of Christianity. There was a lot going when this coin was minted. Yet another civil war was being waged for control of the Roman Empire - uneasy alliances formed and battles raged.

  • 312 Maxentius and Maximinus II (Daia or Daza) join forces, driving together Licinius and Constantine.

  • Licinius marries Constantine's half-sister, Constantia to cement their partnership.

  • Constantine defeats Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312, after which Maxentius is found drowned. According to popular interpretation it is before the battle of Milvian Bridge that Constantine has a vision that leads to his acceptance of (perhaps conversion to) Christianity, "(ἐν) τούτῳ νίκα" (with this symbol conquer).

  • February 313, Constantine & Licinius issued the "Edict of Milan" granting tolerance for Christians

  • 30 April 313, Licinius defeated Maximinus (aka Daza, aka Daia) at the Battle of Tzirallum.

  • Maximinus fled and died of illness in Tarsus.

  • Constantine and Licinius struggled between co-rule and battle for supremacy in from this point on.

  • 18 September 324 Licinius was defeated by Constantine in the Battle of Chrysopolis (in Bithynia near Chalcedon) and although initially spared, circa 325 Licinius was hanged for conspiring against him.

Looking at the Rafael School painting the bridge is shown in that image as "intact" , perhaps illustrating the separate "bridge of boats" option:

The full version of the etching from Audran appears to show the bridge breaking in the moment (or rigged to fail in the moment).

Perhaps not unreasonable for the artists to be historically inaccurate or misinformed with contemporary accounts and other early sources varying in their detail of exactly what happened:

  • a separate bridge of boats

  • a rigged bridge that would callapse

  • a bridge cut before the battle

I like Eusebius' description: "he dug a pit and opened it and fell into the hole which he had made".

"when he [Mazentius] fled before the power of God which was with Constantine, and passed through the river which lay in his way, over which he had formed a bridge with boats, and thus prepared the means of his own destruction. In regard to him one might say, he dug a pit and opened it and fell into the hole which he had made; his labor shall turn upon his own head, and his unrighteousness shall fall upon his own crown."
-Eusebius, Church History, 9.9.5-6

"Maxentius, while engaged against Constantine, hastening to enter from the side a bridge of boats constructed a little above the Milvian Bridge, was plunged into the depth when his horse slipped; his body, swallowed up by the weight of his armor, was barely recovered."
-Aurelius Victor, Epitome, 40.7

"The bridge in his rear was broken down. At sight of that the battle grew hotter. The hand of the Lord prevailed, and the forces of Maxentius were routed. He fled towards the broken bridge; but the multitude pressing on him, he was driven headlong into the Tiber."
-Lacantius, Mort. Pers., 44.9

[2.15.3] Both being thus prepared, Maxentius threw a bridge over the Tiber, which was not of one entire piece, but divided into two parts, the centre of the bridge being made to fasten with irons, which might be drawn out upon occasion.
[2.15.4] He gave orders to the workmen, that as soon as they saw the army of Constantine upon the juncture of the bridge, they should draw out the iron fastenings, that the enemy who stood upon it might fall into the river.
-Zosimus, New History, 2.15.2-3 

.....and others. I think the Arch of Constantine is used as definitive authority in support of "cut before the battle", although for more fun with this thought:

"This article proposes that nearly all of the sculpted frieze of the Arch of Constantine in Rome, generally regarded as Constantinian, derives from a triumphal monument of Diocletian commissioned shortly after his Vicennalia in 303 CE."

-Reconsidering the frieze on the Arch of Constantine, Journal of Roman Archaeology , Volume 34 , Issue 1 , June 2021 , pp. 175 - 210.

References in addition to those linked above

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