Maximinus Thrax, Roman emperor 235-238 A.D.  (19 March 235 - May/June 238)

What's new?  Jan. 19, 2017, Four sestertii and an as at the end.

His portraits on silver coins

The denarii of Maximinus Thrax (Thrax = "The Thracian") are among the best-produced silver coins of the entire Roman empire. There are three distinct portrait styles. The earliest is simply a modified portrait of the previous emperor, Severus Alexander. Maximinus was unexpectedly elevated to the throne while on the Rhine and, apparently, at first his actual appearance was not known at the mint in Rome.
    Maximinus was a literal giant, said to have been the tallest and strongest man in the empire, but this page discusses the changes in his portrait over time, not his biography. For one of many biographies on the web, see here.

Early Style:
VASEverus Alexander

Left:  Maximinus I / VICTORIA AVG 
Right: Severus Alexander / SPES PVBLICA

The legends, IMP <name> PIVS AVG, are the same except for the name, the hair is cut similarly, and the chin and beard are very similar. The nose is different, with the nose of Maximinus larger and humped and the nose of Alexander straight. The curvature at the top of the nose of Maximinus disappears in the second style and returns as a larger curve in the third.
(The first coin of Maximinus at the top left is 20-18 mm, BMC 25. Sear 8317v, with early style as opposed to the big chin illustrated in Sear. The corresponding SPES PVBLICA coin of Severus Alexander on the right is 20 mm, BMC 898, Sear 7927, struck 232.)

The second portrait style is called "heavy chin" by James Casey and I call it "big chin." The first-issue VICTORIA AVG type (above left) above continues with the big-chin style:

Big Chin:
VA
VICTORIA AVG
Struck May 235 - 236 [Casey]
BMC 105
Sear 8317 (the photo has this big chin, not the early style of the above coin).
20-19 mm. 2.92 grams.
This reverse also exists with the early style portrait [BMC 25, above]
and the late style [BMC 181] which is not illustrated on this web page.




The nose is straight and the chin more prominant. He looks older. Severus Alexander was only 26 years old when he died and the early portrait reflects the youth of Alexander, not the age of Maximinus who was at least 56 at his accession. BMC thinks this big-chin portrait is a modification of the early style in the right direction to look more like he really did, but it still does not get the nose right and is not an accurate portrait which begins with the late style.

The third portrait style, the late portrait, is established by years 3 and 4, but probably began somewhat earlier. Here is an example from year 3:


Late Style:
TRPIII

PM TRP III COS PP  (TRP III = year 3)
Struck 237
with the obverse legend omitting "IMP" and adding "GERM" for his German victories:
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM
BMC 161
Sear 8311
21-19 mm. 3.92 grams.






  Here is another example from year 4, his final year:

TRP IIII

PM TRP IIII COS PP  (year 4)
Struck 238 before April [BMC]
BMC 219
Sear 8314 (no photo)
22-19 mm. 2.25 grams.

This issue is very small. Maximinus lost control of the Rome mint when the Gordians were proclaimed emperors at Rome in the beginning of April, 238. BMC suggests the mint had been preparing even before that by not issuing many coins in the name of Maximinus in 238.  

Maximinus was literally a giant, said to be the tallest and strongest man in the empire. The medical condition of giantism is sometimes associated with large chins, so this "late style" portrait is most likely very realistic.

Note for collectors:  All three portrait styles are very available and common, although the early style is a bit less common. All three are frequently found well-struck and in high grade. There are, to be sure, rare reverse types, but if what you want is one portrait of each type, it should be easy to find examples without any price premium.



Dating

All three portrait styles are illustrated above. Their dating and the associated reverse types are discussed next.


Year 1 began with the early style and continued the same types with the big chin style. This reverse type of a standing soldier holding two standards occurs dated to each of his four years.

TRP
Early style.
PM TRP PP  (TRP without a numeral = year 1)
Struck Spring 235 [Casey]
BMC 9
Sear 8311 (his photo has this early portrait)
20-19 mm. 3.58 grams.


TR P

Big chin portrait.
PM TRP PP  (year 1)
Struck May 235-end of 235 [Casey]
BMC 9 has the early portrait, not this big chin. BMC lists four pieces with this legend,
but the others are not photographed and it is not certain they have one like this with the big chin.
Sear 8311 variety (his photo, like BMC, has the early portrait)
19 mm. 2.80 grams.



So the question arises, when was the transition from the early style to the big chin style?

James Casey, in an excellent article in the Celator, August 1996, argues that the change was sooner than thought by BMC, which dated the change to the beginning of 236. However, Casey thinks the early style lasted only until May 235, not long after his elevation in March 235. (The reasons are discussed below.) Nevertheless, the early style is not rare, although it is less common than the others. The accession of new emperors was almost always accompanied by a burst of coin production such that their early issues are much better represented than their short time span would suggest (Duncan-Jones).


The big chin style continues in year 2:

Maximinus

PM TRP II COS PP (year 2)
Struck 236
BMC 78
Sear 8312 (no photo)
18 mm. 3.19 grams.

[For years 3 and 4 with this reverse design, see above]
[For dating the transition to the later legend and late style portrait, see below.]






Reverse types that occur in all three styles include FIDES MILITVM:

FM

FIDES MILITVM
Struck Spring 235 [Casey]
Early style.
BMC 1
Sear 8307 (no photo)
21 mm. 3.37 grams.



FM
FIDES MILITVM
Struck May 235 - early 236 [Casey]
Big chin.
BMC 59 [ says Issue 2, 236]
Sear 8307 (no photo)
21-20 mm. 3.37 grams.

[The late style is not illustrated on this web page.]





SALVS AVGVSTI also occurs with all three portraits:

SALVS

SALVS AVGVSTI
Struck Spring 235 [Casey]
Early style.
BMC 21 [99 and 173 are with the other styles]
Sear 8316 [however, illustrated with big chin portrait]
19 mm. 2.70 grams.

[The other varieties are not illustrated on this web page.]




PAX AVGVSTI also occurs in all three styles:

PAX
Early style.
PAX AVGVSTI
Struck Spring 235 [Casey]
BMC 6
Sear 8310 (however, illustrated with big chin portrait)
20 mm.


PAX
Big chin--but with some features of the late portrait.
PAX AVGVSTI
Struck May 235-early 236
BMC 69 [144 is late style]
Sear 8310 [photo in this style]
19 mm.

[The late portrait with this type is not illustrated on this web page.]




PROVIDENTIA AVG occurs in all three portrait styles.

PROV
Big chin portriat.
PROVIDENTIA AVG
This variety struck May 235-236
BMC 88 [15 and 170 have the same reverse with the other portraits,
which are not illustrated in this web page.]
Sear 8315 (with this big chin variety illustrated)
20 mm. 3.24 grams.




Victories against the Germans

Maximinus won victories against the Germans and assumed the title "GERMANICVS" which is abbreviated GERM in his second obverse legend.
The only two obverse legends are:
1)  IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG   (only with the early and big-chin portraits, 235-6)
2)  MAXIMINUS PIVS AVG GERM  (only with the late portraits, 236-8)

When did this transition occur? BMC thinks the victories were in 236 and the title assumed in late 236. The TRP II type of 236 (above) occurs with both legends. Because there are far more examples with the early legend than with the second legend (164 to 26 in their sample) they put the change late in year 2 (that is, late in 236). The coins with the title GERM on the reverse have the late portrait style.


VG
Late style.
VICTORIA GERM
Struck late 236-237 [BMC]
BMC 186
Sear 8318 (photo in this late style--the only style for this reverse)








Special Issues

There are three rare types issued in a "special" issue or "consulship" issue of 236 or, perhaps more likely, of mid 235 as soon as possible after his accession.

VOTIS

Early style.
VOTIS / DECENNA /LIBVS
BMC 17
BMC, page 90, comments that this reverse type is found with both the early and big chin portraits.
Sear 8319, not illustrated there.




LIBERALITAS AVG
Big chin.
LIBERALITAS AVG
BMC 45
Sear 8309, not illustrated there.



LIBERALITAS AVG clearly refers to the accession donative, which would have been issued as soon as possible. It seems unlikely that it would have been delayed for nine months until the assumption of the consulship in January 236 as suggested by BMC. The early style portraits on some of these coins and big chin style on others, when attributed to that occasion, forced previous scholars to defer the begining of the big chin style to early 236, but Casey convincingly argues for a lesser duration of this early style, which allows the big chin to begin much earlier -- he thinks May 235, which seems likely.

The other special issue silver type is INDVLGENTIA AVG (Sear 8308, not illustrated) which is illustrated in BMC as 31* (big chin), but the piece is not in the BM (which is why the number is starred. It is in Paris collection).

Note for collectors:  Most reverse types of Maximinus are common and frequently offered. Even the historical VICTORIA GERM reverse is common and does not demand a premium. The TPR III and especially the TRP IIII pieces are scarce and distinctly less frequently offered than TRP and TRP II, but there are few specialists to drive their prices up. Expect to pay about the same for those scarce types. The VOTIS special-issue type is rare, obviously special, in high demand, and consequently expensive. The LIBERALITAS AVG type is rare, but not in high demand. Sear gives it only a small premium. The INDVLGENTIA AVG is very rare and Sear gives it triple the value of a regular type, but that low multiple reflects the lack of demand for reverse rarities in his coins.


His Relatives

Maximinus issued rare coins for his son, Maximus, as Caesar and his late wife, Paulina.

Maximus
Maximus
IVL VERVS MAXIMVS CAES
PIETAS AVG
BMC 203
Sear 8404
19 mm. 3.39 grams.


The date when Maximus became Caesar is unknown, but might be when Maximinus became Augustus. This piece has the obverse legend from the first issue. The legends C IVL VERVS MAXIMVS CAES and MAXIMVS CAES GERM are later.

All the coins of Paulina have the obverse legend DIVA PAVLINA. They were all issued posthumously.

Paulina
Paulina
DIVA PAVLINA
CONSECRATIO
BMC 127
Sear 8400
20 mm. 2.77 grams.



No ancient written records connect Paulina to Maximinus, but the coins clearly do. That she was the wife of Maximinus is inferred from the the facts that her coins often have his nose and chin line and the coin quality is much like that of Maximimus's coins. That is, the engravers merely put a female spin on his portrait. A stone inscription gives the title Augusta to Paulina (suggesting she was alive at the time) but her coins are all posthumous, which may explain why her portraits are not more individual; she was not around to serve as a model for the image.

Note for collectors:  Coins of Maximus and Paulina are much rarer than coins of Maximinus. Among hoards published before 1962 (the date of BMC VI) that cover this period, BMC notes 1855 coins of the family, of which only 19 are of Maximus and 1 of Paulina. It is possible that some of the rare Paulina and Maximus coins were found in those hoards, but removed before they were recorded. They don't really seem, on the market, that extremely rare. In any case, prices are not as high as their rarity might suggest because they were not emperors and far more collectors want portraits of emperors than of Caesars and wives.



Conclusion:

The silver denarii of Maximinus are among the best-produced denarii of the entire Roman empire. They come with two obverse legends and three styles--early, big chin, and late. Although the early and big chin styles are beautifully executed, only the late style is likely to be a realisitic portrait.

For further and more-detailed information about the types, see BMC VI.





Of course, the portrait styles appear on other denominations too. What follows is a small sample.

The selection of sestertii below were all struck with his second obverse legend mentioning his German victories: MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM.  Therefore, they are not from the beginning of his reign.

MM


 



Maximinus I, sestertius, 30-28 mm. 18.44 grams. 12:00.
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM. "Big chin" style.
SALVS AVGVSTI
Sear 8338 variety (Sear's has the final portrait),  RIC 85, BMC 101


PP

Maximinus, sestertius, 30 mm, 23.33 grams, 12:00.
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM. "Big chin" style.
PROVIDENTIA AVG
Sear 8337, RIC 61, BMC 90


PAXPAX

Maximinus I, sestertius, 29-28 mm, 19.32 grams, 12:00.
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM. Final portrait style.
PAX AVGVSTI
Sear 8332, RIC 81, BMC 148


VGVG

Maximinus, sestertius, 32 mm, 19.70 grams, 12:00.
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM. Final portrait style (even more hooked nose than the previous coin)
VICTORIA GERMANICA
Sear 8341, RIC 90, BMC 191



An as:

MM

Maximinus, as, 26-25 mm, 11.47 grams, 12:30.
MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM
SALVS AVGVSTI
Final portrait style.
Sear 8363 variety (8363 is illustrated with the early portrait and without "GERM" in the obverse legend), RIC 87,  BMC 180

A note for collectors:  If seems asses are much scarcer than sestertii and rarely come in good shape.



Roman Provincial coins:

There are very many Roman provincial coins of Maximinus and of Maximus. Here is a two-headed type showing both father and son:

MM
A large 34 mm "sestertius" struck at Ninica-Claudiopolis in Cilicia.
Maximinus / Maximus
IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG / C IVL MAX MAXIMVS C C NI CLVA
The obverse has a star countermark on the neck and the reverse has a Victory countermark struck three times.
L&K 1561 and A1561A. SNG Levante 620 variety. Howgego countermarks 451/262.
Sear GI --, Lindgren III --, Weber --, SNG Copenhagen --, von Aulock --.



For references, see the page of references.

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