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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
11100819

Procopius: Julian’s Choice?

CNG 111, Lot: 819. Estimate $40000.
Sold for $50000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.



Procopius. Usurper, AD 365-366. AV Solidus (22mm, 4.43 g, 6h). Constantinople mint. Struck September–end of AD 365. D N PROCO PIVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right / REPARATI O FEL TEMP, Procopius, in military dress, standing facing, head right, holding spear in right hand, resting left hand on shield set on ground; CONS. RIC IX 2a.1; Depeyrot 14/4; Biaggi 2271 (same dies); DOC –; Hunterian –; Jameson –; Kent & Hirmer 699; Mazzini dopo 5; PCR –. EF, lustrous, a couple of minor marks. Very rare.


Procopius was the last member of the house of Constantine to don the diadem. A maternal cousin of Julian II, Procopius had a successful career as a civil servant and was made a comes, or count, after Julian won the throne in AD 361. When Julian prepared his invasion of Persia a year later, he placed Procopius in command of a 30,000-man force intended to hook up with the allied Armenian army and join Julian’s legions in Mesopotamia. Procopius later claimed that his cousin also gave him a purple cloak, along with instructions to take over as emperor should Julian be killed in battle. At any event, Procopius failed miserably in his role, contributing to the defeat of Julian’s main force and his death in battle on June 27, AD 363. When the army chose Jovian as emperor, Procopius made no protest and took Julian’s body back to Tarsus for burial. But when Jovian abruptly died a few months later and the brothers Valentinian I and Valens took over, Procopius decided to make a try for the throne. While Valens was away from the capital, Procopius re-emerged at Constantinople on September 28, AD 365, wrapped in Julian’s purple cloak. The garrison proclaimed him emperor, and Procopius quickly established control of western Asia Minor. But he showed little strategic sense and soon some of his best officers and soldiers began defecting back to Valens. Meanwhile, Valens built his own forces and maneuvered Procopius into a decisive battle at Nicolea, Phrygia in May of 366. Procopius suffered a crushing defeat and was summarily executed in the aftermath, ending his eight-month usurpation.

The gold coinage of Procopius carries on the Constantinian tradition of fine portraiture and crisp execution. The exceptional portrait on this issue shows him wearing a close beard, probably a symbol of sympathy and mourning for his kinsman Julian II. His beard and the lack of any Christian symbolism on the reverse also hint at possible Pagan sympathies. The solidi of Procopius are particularly rare, with only 14 examples sold at auction since 1996.