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Gold medallion showing Constantine the Great at prayer

326/327

British Museum

British Museum

Constantine's reign (AD 306-337) marks a turning point in Roman history. He created the city that would become the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople) and adopted Christianity as the official state religion.Constantine was constantly looking for divine guidance to help him win his battles. His coins record his sympathies first with the god Mars, next with the sun-god Sol and finally with the Christian God. At first there was no artistic convention for representing this new religion. However, the early Christians did use symbols, the best example being the Christogram, which first appears during Constantine's reign.Constantine is shown here gazing heavenwards, perhaps in an attitude of prayer or looking to make some sort of sacred contact. This is not a new or specifically Christian invention since it is seen on portraits of Alexander the Great (336-323 BC). Constantine makes this connection even clearer by being crowned with a diadem, the Greek symbol of kingship rather than the Roman laurel wreath.In ancient times both pagans and Christians prayed with arms outstretched and eyes raised to the sky, as seen on the wall painting from a Roman villa at Lullingstone, now in The British Museum. However, it is clear that Constantine's allegiance to Christianity is suggested here, as confirmed by the contemporary church historian Eusebius. The historian reports that Constantine believed that the Christian god had shown his support by sending him a vision of the Christogram before his greatest battle, fought before the gates of Rome.The reverse of the medal depicts Constantine brutally dealing with his enemies, the legend GLORIA CONSTANTINI AVG proclaiming this activity as glorious.

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Details

  • Title: Gold medallion showing Constantine the Great at prayer
  • Date Created: 326/327
  • Physical Dimensions: Weight: 6.820g; Diameter: 25.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: emperor/empress; prisoner
  • Registration number: R.244
  • Production place: Minted in Siscia
  • Period/culture: Roman Imperial
  • Material: gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Constantine I
  • Acquisition: Donated by George IV. Previous owner/ex-collection George III

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