Author Topic: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field  (Read 10359 times)

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Offline Victor

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VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« on: July 25, 2013, 02:38:18 PM »
This is one a bit rough, but it has what many call a Chi-Rho on the reverse in the left field. This should probably be called an Iota-Chi, rather than a Chi-Rho, since it looks very little like the Greek Rho and more like an Iota combined with a Chi. On some examples there is a bit of roundness to the top of the Iota, but not enough to call the symbol a Rho. The second picture is another example that has more detail.


Constantine I
A.D. 320
18mm   2.4gm
CONSTANTINVS AVG; Helmeted, cuirassed
VIRTVS-EXERCIT; Standard inscribed VOT/XX with captive seated on ground on either side. Stylized Chi-Rho in left field.
In ex. AQP
RIC VII Aquileia 58

Offline Victor

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Re:VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2014, 02:42:50 PM »
I recently got an example for Licinius I from Thessalonica and the symbol in the left field looks more like a stylized star. Each of the six ends is rounded a bit, with the top perhaps more pronounced.

Licinius I
A.D. 320
18mm     3.2gm
IMP LI-CINIVS AVG; Helmeted and cuirassed bust right.
VIRTVS-EXERCIT; [Valor of the army] Standard inscribed VOT/XX with captive seated on ground on either side, in left field Chi-Rho.
in ex. dot TS dot A dot
RIC VII Thessalonica 82

Offline Nikko

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2014, 02:59:37 PM »
Of course it isn't a chi-rho but possibly the monogram chi-iota.

Offline Genio popvli romani

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2014, 04:13:16 PM »
But would the Iota-Chi meaning be appropriate to Licinius?
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Offline Victor

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2014, 04:25:38 PM »
But would the Iota-Chi meaning be appropriate to Licinius?

Not in a Christian sense, but if it is an Iota-Chi (which I doubt, I think it is most likely a star) it might be used for some other reason than religious, like the Chi-Rho used on 3rd century B.C. bronzes of Ptolemy.


Offline Victor

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2014, 07:20:26 PM »
I just got another example. I am starting to think more and more that the symbol is a stylized interpretation of a star…stars are very common on late Roman bronze coins and the simplest answer may just be the right one.


Licinius II
A.D. 319- 320
18x19mm   2.7gm
LICINIVS IVN NOB C; Laureate, draped, Victory on globe in right hand, mappa in left hand.
VIRTVS-EXERCIT; Standard inscribed VOT/XX with captive seated on ground on either side, in left field Iota-Chi.
in ex. TT
RIC VII Ticinum 119

Offline seth

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2014, 07:29:51 PM »
Here is an Aquileia Crispus with this so called chi-iota symbol.

Offline livingwater

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2014, 07:47:49 AM »
Hi all,
This symbol is interesting.  The historian Alfoldi understood the account by Lactantius to be a chi-rho that was hastily painted on the soldiers shields so as to look more like an iota-chi.  The die engravers would have had more time to get it right I would think.  Another possibility is that the symbol stood for Jesus Christ, in Greek Iesos Xristos (spelling?).  The iota-chi symbol for Christ is found on a few late Roman tomb inscriptions of Christians.  According to Eusebius whose account I assume to be biased, Constantine entrusted fifty soldiers to care for his chi-rho standard and Licinius was afraid to attack Constantine's soldiers where the standard was located (Life of Constantine).  We may never know for certain the exact meaning of this symbol on these issues.  We could easily conclude this symbol as a simple star if it weren't for the possibility it has Christian meaning.  Back in 2003 I wrote an article for The Celator about these symbols.  I hadn't read it for years so I reread it this morning, refreshed my mind on the subject.   Attached are two of my coins.  My Constantine with chi-rho on helmet is one of my favorites in my collection.  It's pretty rare.  I've only seen two or three for sale.  Mark
« Last Edit: April 20, 2014, 08:30:46 AM by livingwater »

Offline Victor

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2014, 09:45:15 AM »
Hello Mark, welcome to the forum. I remember your Celator article well and believe that I still have that issue. Thanks for posting your VLPP with the chi- rho, that was really a great buy on that one.

Offline livingwater

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #9 on: April 28, 2014, 08:58:47 PM »
Hi Victor,
I forgot to add that there's a rare Ticinum issue of Constantine II (RIC 129) with iota-chi in left field and an obvious star in right field.  Makes me think the iota-chi is something other than a star.  I saw another rare coin type on ebay about two years ago.  I won the bid but it was lost in the mail, darn.  The seller refunded my sixteen bucks.  It's a Constantinopolis with rev two soldiers and chi-rho standard.  I hadn't seen one of these before.  It's in rough shape but here it is, wherever it ended up...
« Last Edit: April 28, 2014, 09:04:47 PM by livingwater »

Offline Victor

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #10 on: April 28, 2014, 10:37:38 PM »
I forgot to add that there's a rare Ticinum issue of Constantine II (RIC 129) with iota-chi in left field and an obvious star in right field.  Makes me think the iota-chi is something other than a star. 

If that issue exists, then it would definitely preclude the possibility that the symbol might be a star; however Bruun could not find examples of that mark, but included it anyway. The problem I see with positively saying this is an iota-chi is that it does not look exactly right and it seems that engravers would have known how to make the symbol. Maybe an engraving error at one mint, but it seems odd to have this same symbol engraved similarly across all the mints that produced coins with this field mark. Of course, I don't believe that it couldn't be a Christogram, only that it is an exceptionally strange way to portray it, if it is indeed one, so I like to keep my mind open to other possibilities. Perhaps there is even significance to the fact that this mark appears only on the VIRTVS EXERCIT type.


It's a Constantinopolis with rev two soldiers and chi-rho standard.

That is a shame about your coin.


Offline livingwater

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2014, 09:16:51 PM »
Hello all,
I thought I'd comment about a coin I posted earlier and post it again.  It's unlisted in RIC and I've seen just a few for sale.  It's from Siscia with mint mark ESIS*, seems to be a star as part of the mint mark.  The left field symbol iota-chi or maybe primitive chi-rho does not look like a star to me.  We may never know for sure but in my humble opinion this symbol is something other than a star.  I assume this coin was struck around 320 like the others of this type.  The Battle of the Melvian Bridge where Constantine I supposedly saw the vision of Christ's symbol took place in 312 as I remember.  The Edict of Milan giving Christians more freedom to worship without persecution was made in 313.  Both Constantine I and Licinius I agreed to this edict so they were both aware of the growing faith of Christianity.  The great Church Council at Nicaea (Nicene Creed) was in 325.  This period of Roman history is interesting in terms of how the empire was already gradually shifting from polytheism to monotheism.  If this IX symbol meant Christ it would have been no big deal to many Romans, just another god among all the gods.  I can imagine the mints being ordered to strike this symbol and the engravers saying "ho hum just Constantine's favorite god."  Of course by the time the chi-rho was being struck late in Constantine's reign there is no doubt as to its meaning.  I cannot think of any other meanings for the iota-chi symbol other than a very unusual star or a symbol for Christ.  When someone living at the time, Lactantius, specifically states this is what Christ's symbol looked like on the soldier's shields it is not too far a leap in logic to think this stylized Christ symbol was also placed on the coins.  This reverse does have a military theme with the banner and captives.  Imagine hundreds if not thousands of soldiers carrying their spears and shields with this symbol.  What a sight.   I'm not one hundred percent convinced the iota-chi is a Christ symbol but I lean that way more than it being an odd looking star.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2014, 09:59:31 PM by livingwater »

Offline Genio popvli romani

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2014, 02:27:41 AM »
Interesting development.
On the other hand, the star of six rays is an already non-Christian known symbol  on Roman coins for centuries. So, would it have been recognized by the common man as an already common known/seen symbol or as an already seen symbol with a new meaning?


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Offline livingwater

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2014, 06:48:26 AM »
Thanks Genio for posting your Republican coins.  You are right, the three intersecting lines star had been used before just as the chi-rho.   I think the four lines star was more common during the Constantinian era.  Other than part of the mint mark and this VIRTVS series, any more examples out there of three lines stars during Constantine's time?  I think some of the Roma/she-wolf twins type have three lines stars.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2014, 07:31:49 AM by livingwater »

Offline Victor

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Re: VIRTVS EXERCIT with "Chi-Rho" in field
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2014, 11:57:23 AM »
Other than part of the mint mark and this VIRTVS series, any more examples out there of three lines stars during Constantine's time?

The VLPP series frequently have six rayed stars in the fields of the helmet. A few examples below, note that the ends are usually rounded-