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Research Coins: Feature Auction


First Coin of Ravenna

Triton XXI, Lot: 866. Estimate $20000.
Sold for $32500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Julian II. AD 360-363. AV Solidus (19.5mm, 4.33 g, 12h). Ravenna mint. FL CL IVLIA NVS P P AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bearded bust right / VIRTVS EX ERC • GALL, soldier, head left and holding trophy, draging bound captive right; RAV (wreath). RIC VIII –, but cf. 226 (Lugdunum) and 303 (Arelate); Ranieri –; DOC –; Depeyrot –; Hunter –; Biaggi –; Cohen 76 = Welzl von Wellenheim 15358. Choice EF. Extremely rare, perhaps the second known.

Cohen, who included this type in his catalog of Roman coinage and cited coin 15358 in the collection of Leopold Welzl von Wellenheim (1773-1848), noted after the description that “this coin seems to have been misread; the mint of Ravenna was not yet seen under Julian the Philosopher.” As Welzl von Wellenheim's collection was unillustrated and had been dispersed prior to Cohen's publication, Cohen was apparently unable to check the reference or view the actual coin, therefore relying on the otherwise unknown foundation of the Ravenna mint in AD 402 for his conclusion that the coin had been misread. Subsequent numismatists have taken Cohen at his word, and not included this extremely rare gold issue of Julian in their studies of this mint. Our coin confirms that Welzl von Wellenheim's reading was correct, while Cohen's assumption was incorrect, and that, if only for the briefest moment, a mint was in operation there.

The likely circumstances leading to this issue become clear on a review of the events in Julian’s rise to power. Although Julian had spent his early years in scholarly pursuits, in his early 20s he was ordered by his half-cousin Constantius II to come to the service of the empire. In 355 Julian was appointed Caesar and was entrusted with the defense of Gaul against Germanic invasion. Julian proved a talented soldier as well as an outstanding administrator, and earned the loyalty of his troops. Constantius II, concerned at the growing popularity of his junior colleague, sought to the limit Julian’s success, and finally ordered a large part of Julian’s army to leave Julian and join Constantius’ eastern army.

Julian’s army refused to obey Constantius’ command and instead raised the reluctant Julian to the rank of Augustus in Paris in February AD 360. Julian spent the next year securing the Rhine frontier. Then, in the spring of AD 361, before marching on Constantinople, Julian moved to secure Italy and the Balkans. He sent a portion of his troops to Northern Italy while leading another portion down the Danube. However, in June forces loyal to Constantius captured Aquileia, threatening to cut Julian off from his forces in Italy while Constantius’ own forces approached from the east. Troops loyal to Julian then besieged Aquileia. The anticipated clash between the main armies was avoided only by the death of Constantius in Constantinople on 3rd November.

The present coin, struck in Ravenna and with its reverse type honoring the Gallic army, must date from the summer or autumn of AD 361. Julian’s Gallic forces in northern Italy apparently needed to strike an emergency coinage in order to defray urgent expenses. These may have been connected with naval operations, as Ravenna was the home port for the Roman fleet guarding the eastern Mediterranean, and control of the sea would have been critical in the efforts to retake Aquileia.

This dating, if accepted, also indicates that J.P.C. Kent was correct when he proposed in 1959 that the VIRTVS EXERC GALL coinage (otherwise struck by Julian only at Arelate and Lugdunum) was to be dated to AD 361 (J.P.C. Kent, ‘An introduction to the coinage of Julian the Apostate’, NC 1959, p. 112). Kent later changed his mind and re-assigned the VIRTVS EXERC GALL coinage to the end of Julian’s reign (RIC VIII p. 175). However, assuming that the VIRTVS EXERC GALL coinage was all issued in the same general period, the present coin of this type from Ravenna must prove Kent’s earlier view to be correct. There is no occasion later in Julian’s reign that would require an emergency coinage at Ravenna. Moreover, the issue at Ravenna of this type honoring the Gallic army only makes sense in the context of AD 361 when a portion of the Gallic army itself was in northern Italy. Remarkably, forty years elapsed before Ravenna next issued coinage in AD 402.