Collecting Ancient Roman Coins Part V: Last Pagan Emporer

Julian- the last pagan emperor and his monetary reform.

It is known that the first emperor of Rome who became a Christian was Constantine the Great. It is still unknown if he did that after 324, the moment when he killed his son, Crispus, or it was on the last day of his life, as some sources indicate. From that moment on, a Christian emperor was something natural for Rome, especially because Constantine’s family inherited the empire.

Ancient Roman Coins Part V Last Pagan Emporer

He left 3 sons and a large number of brothers, nephews and sons-in-law, all of them Christians and with the authority to claim the imperial throne. It is true that in 337 the army massacred some of the “second class relatives” like Delmatius or Hannibalianus, maybe on direct order from Constantius II, Constantine’s son and Delmatius nephew.

One of the survivors of the massacre from 337 was Julian and his older brother Constantius, nephews of Constantine and cousins of Constantius II.

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Julian was a very talented young man; he studied philosophy and was very good at holding speeches. He studied in Athens and around 346 when he was still a teenager, he decided to give up his Christian religion and go back to the old pagan faith. His decision was regarded as temporary, in a time when religion divided the empire but the two mystic opinions coexisted.

This decision wasn’t meant to influence history but in 351 it did… His older brother, Constantius Gallus, was made Caesar and heir of Constantius. In 355, Constantius Gallus was accused of treason and killed. Julian expected the same faith but Constantius II decided to make him Caesar in place of his brother and gave him his daughter, Helena, as wife. Julian was given command of the western part of the empire, with the task to protect the border with the barbarians, one of the most serious tasks of the empire.

Julian was a devoted Caesar to his emperor and Augustus but in 361, after some court intrigues, Constantius decides to kill Julian. He asks his Caesar to send his army away in the Far East and await further orders. But Julian’s army decides to revolt. Julian is made Augustus by his loyal troops and prepares for the decisive battle, battle that didn’t take place because suddenly, Constantius dies and left his cousin as sole emperor.

Julian as a pagan decided to give his coreligionary back their rights. They were free once again. The Christian ceased to have the support of the state.

Julian also tried to make a monetary reform, an attempt that bares the pagan view.

In 361, the bronze coinage of the empire was almost collapsed. Created by Diocletian and Constantine the Great, the system suffered from inflation and the bronze follies went down from 10 gr. to almost 1.

Julian minted a new heavy coin, around 11 gr. The legend is SECURITAS REIPUBLICAE (“the Safety of the Republic”) and the image of a bull appears on reverse, while the obverse shows the emperor’s head. The subdivision was a 3 gr. coin, usually with the legend VOT V MULT X within a laurel wreath, a classical quotation used to commemorate 5 years of reign and hope for the 10th year of reign.

Also Julian was depicted different from his relatives. All members of Constantine’s family are shown on coins as young and beardless. Julian is shown with beard, the image of a philosopher, and usually with a helmet, a shield and a spear.

Julian died in 363. In that year, he started a campaign against Rome’s most fearsome enemy, the Parthian Empire. He died before the battle in his tent. The loss was regretted by the army, who elected the new emperor, Jovian, only because his name resembled to that of the old emperor.

His monetary system also died that year… Inflation was still high and the coins quickly withdrawn from circulation by Julian’s successors, all of them Christian.

The heavy SECURITAS REIPUBLICAE coin is now rare and hard to find. The smaller ones are only scarce.

Vasilita Stefan

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