Roma Numismatics Ltd.   |   Auction XIII   |   23 March 2017 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 906

Estimate: 25'000 GBP   |   Starting price: 20'000 GBP ---
Diocletian AV Aureus. Rome, AD 284-293/4. VIRTVS DIOCLETIANI AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right, holding spear in right hand, left hand holding strap of ornamented shield and two javelins / IOVI CONSERVAT AVGG, Jupiter standing left, wearing chlamys, holding thunderbolt and sceptre; PR in exergue. RIC 140; C. 223; Calicó 4475; Depeyrot 4a/3. 5.21g, 22mm, 12h.

Extremely Rare; apparently only the fourth known example, and the only one in private hands.

The obverse of this coin displays a most remarkable portrait of the emperor Diocletian. A half-length bust of highly militaristic character has been most ingeniously engraved within the confines of the aureus die, and it is noteworthy for the attention to detail that has been lavished on the subject. It follows closely in the tradition of military bust types so favoured by Probus, but surpasses those types in richness of detail and complexity. It is fitting for an emperor who rose through the ranks of the army to become cavalry commander to the emperor Carus, prior to assuming the purple himself after the former’s death in battle, and whose reforms had widespread and long-lasting effects on the Roman military.

Though not chiefly remembered as a military figure in the same manner as the general-emperor Probus, Diocletian’s reign is nonetheless marked for having secured the empire’s borders and purged it internally of all threats to his power. Diocletian well understood the dangers presented to the empire by the concentration of supreme power in one individual; the assassinations of Aurelian and Probus had amply demonstrated this in the preceding years. The internal and external threats to the empire were too many for one man to deal with, and thus in 285 Diocletian made his fellow-officer Maximian co-emperor. This diarchy would soon be made a tetrarchy, to better distribute the responsibilities and military commands required.

Diocletian’s administrative and bureaucratic reforms encompassed far more than the decentralisation of imperial power. Some of his most enduring changes were to the Roman military. Instituting systematic annual conscription for the first time since the days of the Republic, Diocletian increased the overall size of the Roman army by roughly 33%, and more than doubled the number of legions and auxiliary units by creating smaller, more mobile detachments. A massive upgrade of the empire’s defensive infrastructure was undertaken across great swathes of the borders including new fortifications and roads. Centralised fabricate were introduced to provide arms and armour for the army on an industrial scale. The most significant change to the Roman military structure was the establishment of large personal escort armies (comitatus praesentales) which typically comprised 20-30,000 elite palatine troops. These highly mobile armies were designed to quickly reinforce the border defences or crush potential usurpers. Indeed, though while they proved highly effective during Diocletian’s reign, in his retirement he would live to see them misused by his successors, who now each had a substantial comitatus at their disposal to enforce their claims.

Yet it would ultimately be religious legitimisation, not military, that would elevate Diocletian above his predecessors. The quasi-republican ideals of Augustus' ‘primus inter pares’ system were abandoned for all but the tetrarchs themselves. Diocletian took to wearing a gold crown and jewels, and forbade the use of purple cloth to all but the emperors. His subjects were required to prostrate themselves in his presence (adoratio); the most fortunate were allowed the privilege of kissing the hem of his robe (proskynesis). The reverse of this coin further alludes to the quasi-divine aspects of the new ‘dominate’ system of government. Around 287 Diocletian assumed the title Iovius, and Maximian assumed the title Herculius; these grandiose new titles not only reflected the working dynamic between Diocletian and Maximian (while the one acted as supreme strategist, the other enforced imperial will by brute force), but more importantly by taking on divine attributes Diocletian intended to make the person of the emperor inviolate as the gods’ representative on earth.

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