Late Roman Coins with Fortuna, from the period of the first tetrarchy at the end of the fourth century AD.


Diocletian

Diocletian, Augustus 284-305 AD
IMP DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG
28 mm. 8.88 grams. 12:00 die axis.
FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
Fortuna seated left holding rudder and cornucopia.
B in left field, * in right field, TR in exergue.
Struck at Trier (Treveri) [Now in Germany]
c.298-299 AD.
RIC Trier 230a.
Failmezger 2.

 


Fortuna was the Italian goddess of chance or luck in the sense of good fortune, bad fortune, and the future. She contributes to steering the course of events, hence the rudder. Good fortune brings abundance, hence the cornucopia. Our terms "fortunate" and "fortune teller" derive from Fortuna. One aspect pertained to fortune in battle. Fortuna REDVX is her aspect relating to a safe return from trips. The reverse legends on this issue under the tetrarchy are in plural AVGG NN = "of our Augusti," which emphasizes the unity of the college of emperors. Some were away and would hopefully return safely.

The Greek "Tyche" is a similar goddess considered the eastern Greek equivalent of Fortuna. Many Roman provincial coins from eastern Greek cities illustrate the Tyche of the city with a turretted head. However, they do not name "Tyche" the way many Roman coins name Fortuna.
  
The coins on this page are all of the large "follis" denomination which succeeded the "radiate" or "antoninianus" denomination in Diocletian's coin reform of 293 AD.

The type was issued for the four emperors of the first tetrarchy: Diocletian and Maximian as Augusti, and Constantius and Galerius as Caesars. Unlike the common GENIO POPVLI ROMANI reverses which were issued at every mint, this issue was only at Trier. (Similar legends occurred on very rare gold of Trier and Antioch.)  There are two main types, one with Fortuna seated as above and the other with Fortuna standing, as next.

Galerius
Galerius, Caesar 293 - 305 and Augustus 305 - 311.
IMP MAXIMIANVS NOBIL CAESS
Laureate head right.
FORTVNAE REDVCI CAESS NN
Fortuna standing left, holding rudder and cornucopia, with globe at her feet.
* in field right. BTR in exergue.
30-27 mm. 9.97 grams. 6:00 die axis.
Stuck at Trier, c. 298-299.
RIC Trier 414b
Failmezer 4.

 

 


The first coin has legend with AVGG and this one with CAESS because Galerius was only Caesar at the time. The obverse legend names him "Maximianus," but, to distinguish him from the other Maximianus we call this emperor by one of his other names, Galerius (He was Caius Galerius Valerius Maximianus). The  emperor we call "Maximianus" was Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus. He was never Caesar. When Diocletian chose him for promotion in 286 he was immediately made Augustus. (This is often the easiest way to tell their coins apart. If it says MAXIMIANVS CAES you know it is not Maximianus; it must be Galerius.) Until 293 there were only two Augusti (Diocletian and Maximian) and the system was not yet the "tetrarchy." The two Caesars (Constantius and Galerius, completing the tetrarchy) were created at almost the same time as the coin reform that produced this "follis" denomination. The previous "radiate" or "antoninianus" denomination was replaced and exists for both Caesars, but is rare for them, which shows the coin reform was not long after they were promoted.

Here is a coin of Maximian:

Maximianreverse

     Maximian, Augustus 286-305
     IMP MAXIMIANVS PF AVG
     FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
     Fortuna seated left, holding rudder and cornucopia
     B in field left, * in field right. TR in exergue.
     27-26 mm. 11.49 grams. 12:00 die axis.
     Light surface silvering.
     Struck at Trier, 298-299.
     RIC Trier 230b.
     Failmezger 2.
    



Maximian is often distinguished by a slightly, or prominently, upturned nose. The above example hardly shows this characteristic.

The remaining member of the tetrarchy, the other Caesar, was Constantius, also known as Constantius I to distinguish him from Constantius II who was his grandson. The tetrarch Constantius was the father of the famous Constantine the Great who was the father of Constantius II.

Here is a coin of Constantius:

ConstantiusConstantius
     Constantius I, Caesar 293-305 and Augustus 305-306
     CONSTANTIVS NOB CAES
     FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
     A in field left and * in field right. TR in exergue.
     Follis. 27 mm. 8.79 grams. 6:00 die axis.
     Some surface silvering.
     Struck at Trier, c.298-301.
     RIC Trier 394variety.
     Failmezger 2.
     This pairs the obverse of a Caesar with the reverse legend appropriate to an Augustus (which is not uncommon)
     but the exact variety is not in RIC because it has A in the left field which is not listed with this obverse.
     In RIC the obverse is given to AD 298-299 and the control marks to 300-301.
    

Now we have seen one coin from each tetrarch.  What next?



Fortuna Redux was the goddess of safe returns. Where were they returning from?

According to RIC, the first issue (distinguished by mintmark TR, as opposed to BTR or ATR) refers to
"Constantius' successful Rhenish campaigns" and possibly the conclusion of his British campaign in 296-297, and
"Heraclius' [Maximian's] African campaign (followed by his visit to Rome)" which followed his return from the Rhine (on his way to Africa).

All four tetrarchs were included in the very first issue, but another "return" could be celebrated as time went on:
"Galerius returning from Persia to Illyricum."
RIC does not note that Diocletian went to or came back from anywhere, but as a tetrarch he participates in the issue.

There are a large number of obverse legend and bust varieties. Most are not illustrated here. Here is one that is different in two regards.

Galerius
     Galerius, Caesar 293 - 305 and Augustus 305 - 311.
     MAXIMIANVS NOBIL CAES
     Head left
     FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
     Fortuna seated left on wheel, holding rudder and cornucopia,
     with globe at her feet.
     No field marks, BTR in exergue.
     28-26 mm. 8.79 grams. 6:00 die axis.
     Surface silvering.
     Struck at Trier c.300-301
     RIC Trier 392
     Failmezger 2.
    


The concept of the "wheel of fortune" still exists and this coin illustrates the Roman recognition that fortunes can turn.

Here is another Galerius from that issue, but with bust right (the examples above all had a head and not a bust,) with a regular seat and not the wheel.

Galerius
Galerius, Caesar 293 - 305 and Augustus 305 - 311.
MAXIMIANVS NOB CAES
Bust right, seen from the front.
FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
* in field right, BTR in exergue
29-26 mm. 8.84 grams. 12:00 die axis.
Surface silvering.
Struck at Trier c. 300-301
RIC Trier unlisted. Would follow 395 (which lacks drapery)
Failmezger 2.




Here is a Diocletian from that issue:

Diocletian

Diocletian, Augustus 284-305 AD
IMP DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG
Bust right, seen from the rear.
FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
* in field right, BTR in exergue
28-27 mm. 11.22 grams. 6:00 die axis.
Surface silvering.
Struck at Trier, c.300-301.
RIC Trier 381a.
Failmezger 2.





Comment for collectors:  These Fortuna types are scarcer than generally acknowledged. RIC lists 89(!) varieties, almost all "S" for "scarce" or "R" for "rare" (RIC Trier 228-263 and 378-417, some with both a and b varieties).  There are probably many more varieties; two are shown above. Failmezger considers the Fortuna type overall as "RR," very rare. I am inclined to call it rare overall. If there really were many "Scarce" varieties, Fortuna would appear on the market more often than it does. Those individual varieties are more likely "rare" or "very rare" and together they add up to "scarce." Collectors who see a list of 89 varieties imagine it is common and not worth as much as asked by dealers (who know that it should be worth more, but they can't make buyers buy). Therefore, it is not an extremely expensive type, although it is perhaps five times as expensive as a common GENIO POPVLI ROMANI in the same condition.
  I think, but am not certain, the silvered ones above all came from one hoard disbursed beginning in 2013 (or earlier, and I don't know how many FORTVNA coins were in it).

Fortuna before and after the tetrachy:  Almost all emperors from Augustus through Severus Alexander (222-235) issued coins with Fortuna types [Gnecchi]. After that in the third century most did, but some emperors were too short-lived to get around to it. This issue under the tetrarchy was the last. No emperors after the first tetrarchy ever used Fortuna again.

References:
RIC = Roman Imperial Coinage, volume VI.  (The standard reference for all post-Diocletian's-reform coins, 293-312)
Failmezger = Roman Bronze Coins from Paganism to Christianity, 294-364 AD, by Victor "Tory" Failmezger (Highly recommended for AE coins of this period.)
A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins, by John Melville Jones. (Highly recommended for explaining all the words encountered in the study of ancient Roman coins.)
Coin Types of Imperial Rome, by F. Gnecchi. (Very old and not recommended. However, it does list in a big table which emperors issued coins with which personifications.)



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