The Fourth Century A.D. brought about a great deal of turmoil for the Romans, as the center of their empire gradually shifted from Rome to Constantinople. During these uncertain times, usurpers used their personal armies to seize the title of emperor during the multiple succession struggles that plagued the later Empire. Procopius was one such claimant, who revolted against the emperor Valens for control of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire.
The vast Mediterranean empire the Romans had created had grown too large for a single man to rule properly. The extent of the Roman territories stretched from England to Egypt, Germany to North Africa, and included Spain, France, Turkey, and Greece. When the emperor Jovianus died, he appointed his son Valentinian I as the sole emperor of the entire Roman Empire. He inherited a volatile situation, and after a month of sole rule he appointed his younger brother, Valens, as co-emperor for the – slightly – more manageable Eastern portion of the Empire. At this point in the evolution of the Roman state, the Empire was formally split into Western and Eastern halves.
This sudden regime change forced the general Procopius into hiding, as he had long been rumored to be the rightful successor. The new eastern emperor Valens began a campaign in Syria while Procopius hid in the eastern capital of Constantinople. The city was governed by a corrupt relative of Valens, and Procopius had little trouble raising an insurrection against the crooked city officials and the Emperor. These soldiers proclaimed Procopius Emperor on September 28 in 365 A.D. A shrewd general, Procopius realized he needed outside support to overthrow Valens, and sought help from the Visigoths. Despite initial success, his allies soon began defecting to Valens, and eventually betrayed him. Procopius was defeated and executed on May 27, 366. The reign of emperor-claimant Procopius ended after a brief and bloody eight months, but he did mint a number of coins before his demise.
Procopius managed to control, and mint from, four mints during his brief rule: Heraclea, Constantinople, Cyzicus, and Nicomedia. The silver Siliqua denomination of coinage was introduced by Constantine the Great as a high purity silver coin. In general, this type did not circulate to a great extent, and are quite scarce. This Siliqua of Procopius is even scarcer, as its type and issuer were limited. This piece weighs a mere 1.86 grams, and has a nice tone. The obverse features a right facing, bearded bust of Procopius. He is adorned with a pearl diadem, cuirass, and drape. The legend around his bust reads: “D. N. PROCO-PIVS. P. F. AVG.” The first initials “D.N.” stand for ‘Dominus Noster’ which translates to “Our Lord” the contemporary title associated with the empire. The next title of “P.F.” stands for ‘Pius Felix’ which roughly means dutiful and wise, but Felix is also translated as luck as well. The final title is “AVG” the ceremonial title of Augustus, or emperor. The reverse of the coin offers a hopeful petition for a long reign. A wreath dominates the design, with the inscription: “VOT/V” within. The first line of ‘VOT’ means vows, and on coins it is based on the custom of offering a promise of sacrifice to the gods in return for a prosperous reign. The Roman numeral V indicates that Procopius was pragmatically hoping for a five year reign. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t live to see the first year completed. The inscription “KVA” is a mintmark for Cyzicus in Northern Turkey near Constantinople. Despite the unsuccessful rebellion, Procopius did manage to produce coins as if he were a legitimate Roman emperor. History may be written by the victors, but thanks to this numismatic piece we gain insight into the usurpers and the instability behind the Roman Empire.
Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this August at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine California or in New York City. For details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.566.2580.