An Ancient Soap Opera

crispus crispusrev

Here we have another follis struck during the reign of the emperor Constantine I, the Great around 321 to 324 A.D. The portrait here is of Constantine’s eldest son Crispus with the legend IUL CRISPUS NOB C, or Julius Crispus Nobillisimus Caesar. Note that he wears a laurel wreath rather than a pearl diadem, denoting his position of Caesar rather than Augustus. On the reverse we have the legend CAESARUM NOSTRORUM, meaning “our Caesar”, surrounding a wreath with VOT X in the center. This signifies that he has ruled by the grace of the people for the last 10 years (loosely). The mint and officina are denoted by A SIS, or Siscia, a city in modern day Yugoslavia and officina 1 with a sun afterwards (?).

321-324 A.D.

The period btween 321 and 324 A.D. would encompass a civil war, a drastic change in the religious outlook of the empire, and events leading to the execution of the eldest Caesar, Crispus himself.

In 321 Crispus’ father Constantine I, the Great passed a law proclaiming Sunday, “the venerable day of the Sun”, as a day of rest. Events were also set in motion for the Nicaean Council of 325 in which Arius, Archbishop of Alexandria, whose beliefs that Jesus Christ was subordinate to God and used as an instrument for salvation rather than as one substance with God, was branded as a heretic, erupting the Eastern empire into riots and chaos.

During the years 322-323 the Empire was thrown into a civil war when Licinius, co-emperor with Constantine, used an incursion of Constantine’s troops into his territories to put down a Gothic invasion as a stepping stone toward furthering his ambitions toward imperial domination. Crispus was instrumental in crushing Licinius’ navy, preventing reinforcements from reaching land and paving the way for Constantine’s victory.

Unfortunately for Crispus, these events sowed the seed of jealousy in his father. Crispus was popular with the army and the citizenry. Suddenly, in 326, Crispus was arrested and put to death. Rumors flew that he was having an affair with his stepmother, Fausta, who was executed shortly afterward. At least four ancient historians associate her with  the fate of the Crispus. See John Julius Norwich’s  A Short History of Byzantium for more on this ancient soap opera.

The City

Siscia became a Roman colony in the time of the emperor Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) under the name of Colonia Flavia. The city became a part of Trajan’s new province of Upper Pannonia around 103 A.D. and became an important military headquarters and center for arms manufacture. Around 262 A.D. during the reign of Gallienus, Siscia became one of the greatest inperial mints, continuing to issue extensive coinage until it fell into the hands of the Ostrogoths early in the fifth century.

It would have been a fascinating time to be alive. Your day might consist of a trip to the forum where you would receive the news of the day from a town crier. Two of this particular coin might purchase a loaf of bread or a couple of portions of watered down wine for you and a friend. Chances are you would be scandalized by the news that the Archbishop had been branded a heretic and exiled to a backwater town overrun by barbarians. You might worry for the safety of your own soul, being a follower since before you could remember. Political strife and uncertainty would have been the order of the day during this tumultuous time.

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