Roman Empire, Constantine I - The Army of Gaul

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The reverse of this coin honours the army of Gaul which was responsible for supporting Constantine's (illegal) elevation to the purple upon the death of his father at Eboracum (York) in AD 306, fought under him against the Frankish and Germanic tribes in several campaigns between 306 and 310, and which ultimately delivered him Rome and sole rule of the West in 312.

The army of Gaul was a battle-hardened and effective force, regularly tested against the barbarian tribes which at this time made frequent incursions into Roman lands. They had also demonstrated a strong sense of loyalty to Constantine in 308 when the former emperor Maximian, then an exile in his realm, attempted to subvert a contingent of the army by declaring that Constantine was dead, taking the purple and pledging a large donative to any who would support him. Maximian failed to win them over and was forced to flee, and then commit suicide.

It was on account of this devoted and veteran army that Constantine was able to win a crushing victory over the numerically superior force of Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The army of Gaul was drawn up in two lines, according to their customary tactics, but Constantine, perceiving that the opposing force outnumbered him and could envelop his line, suddenly reduced the second line and extended the front of his first to match that of Maxentius. Such manoeuvres in the moment of danger can only be executed without confusion by experienced troops, and commonly prove decisive. Yet because the battle was begun towards the end of the day and was contested with great obstinacy throughout the night there was, in the words of E. Gibbon, 'less room for the conduct of the generals than for the courage of the soldiers' (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1, Ch. XIV, 150). Maxentius' units were forced back until he had no choice but to attempt a desperate retreat over the wooden pontoon bridge he had hastily built across the Tiber, the stone one having been destroyed in the course of siege preparations. This bridge collapsed, trapping Maxentius' soldiers who either surrendered or, like his Praetorian cohorts, were killed to a man. Maxentius himself drowned while trying to swim across the river in desperation for escape.

Thus from the very moment he had defeated Maxentius, gold, silver and bronze coins were struck at Constantine's former capital and stronghold of Augusta Treverorum (Trier) celebrating the glory and heroism of the Gallic Army ('GLORIA EXERCITVS GALL' and 'VIRTVS EXERCITVS GALL').

Constantine I AV Solidus. Trier, AD 312-313. CONSTANTINVS PF AVG, laurel and jewel diademed head right / VIRTVS EXERCITVS GALL, Mars walking to right, carrying spear and trophy, chlamys over left shoulder; TR in exergue. RIC -; Depeyrot 26/1. 4.39g, 20mm, 6h.

Good Extremely Fine. Extremely Rare, Depeyrot notes only one example.