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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Roman Coins ▸ Constantinian Era ▸ HelenaView Options:  |  |  | 

Helena, Augusta 8 November 324 - 328 to 330 A.D.

Helena was the first wife of Constantius I and mother of Constantine I. Although abandoned by her husband, Helena was brought to the Imperial court by her son and was given many titles. She exercised immense influence over the government of the empire and was instrumental in the continued growth of Christianity. Famed for her piety, Helena is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. Her feast day as a saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on May 21, the "Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles." Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on August 18. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons. Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces (though not her discovery of the True Cross). She is the patron saint of new discoveries.


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In 318, Emperor Constantine the Great renamed Drepana in Asia Minor, Helenopolis, after his mother Helena.
RL79456. Billon reduced centenionalis, RIC VIII Trier 63; LRBC I 112; SRCV V 17493; Voetter 7; Cohen VII 4; Hunter V p. 218, 2 var. (1st officina), EF, mint luster, tight flan, areas of slight porosity, weight 1.604 g, maximum diameter 15.0 mm, die axis 165o, 2nd officina, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL IVL HE-LENA AVG, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, •TRS• in exergue; $95.00 (€84.55)
 


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Jerusalem was still being rebuilt following the destruction caused by Emperor Hadrian. He had built a temple over the site of Jesus's tomb near Calvary, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Accounts differ concerning whether the Temple was dedicated to Venus or Jupiter According to tradition, Helena ordered the temple torn down and, according to the legend that arose at the end of the 4th century, chose a site to begin excavating, which led to the recovery of three different crosses. The legend is recounted in Ambrose, On the Death of Theodosius (died 395) and at length in Rufinus' chapters appended to his translation into Latin of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, the main body of which does not mention the event. Then, Rufinus relates, the empress refused to be swayed by anything short of solid proof and performed a test. Possibly through Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem, she had a woman who was near death brought from the city. When the woman touched the first and second crosses, her condition did not change, but when she touched the third and final cross she suddenly recovered, and Helena declared the cross with which the woman had been touched to be the True Cross. On the site of discovery, Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; churches were also built on other sites detected by Helena. Sozomen and Theodoret claim that Helena also found the nails of the crucifixion. To use their miraculous power to aid her son, Helena allegedly had one placed in Constantine's helmet, and another in the bridle of his horse.
RL79446. Billon reduced centenionalis, SRCV V 17500 ff. (various mintmarks), EF, mint luster, light marks, tight flan, weight 1.409 g, maximum diameter 15.7 mm, die axis 0o, 1st officina, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL IVL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, cross lower left, TRP or similar (off flan) in exergue; $90.00 (€80.10)
 


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Helena is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and famed for her piety. Her feast day as a saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on May 21, the "Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles." Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on August 18. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons. Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces (though not her discovery of the True Cross). She is the patron saint of new discoveries.
RL79448. Billon reduced centenionalis, SRCV V 17500 ff. (various mintmarks), EF, sharp detail, glossy dark green patina, spots of porosity, both sides slightly off-center, tiny edge crack, weight 1.637 g, maximum diameter 15.8 mm, die axis 0o, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, [...]TR[...] in exergue; $90.00 (€80.10)
 


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Helena gave birth to the future emperor Constantine I on 27 February of an uncertain year soon after 270 (probably around 272). At the time, she was in Naissus (Nis, Serbia). In order to obtain a wife more consonant with his rising status, Constantius divorced Helena some time before 289, when he married Theodora, Maximian's daughter under his command. (The narrative sources date the marriage to 293, but the Latin panegyric of 289 refers to the couple as already married). Helena and her son were dispatched to the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia, where Constantine grew to be a member of the inner circle. Helena never remarried and lived for a time in obscurity, though close to her only son, who had a deep regard and affection for her.
RL79451. Billon reduced centenionalis, Hunter V p. 281, 2 (also 1st officina); RIC VIII Trier 63; LRBC I 112; SRCV V 17493; Cohen VII 4, Choice EF, well centered on a slightly tight flan, sharp detail, some luster, slightly rough in areas (die rust?), weight 1.647 g, maximum diameter 14.9 mm, die axis 0o, 1st officina, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, •TRP• in exergue; $90.00 (€80.10)
 


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In the 12th century, Henry of Huntingdon included a passage in his Historia Anglorum that Constantine's mother Helena was a Briton, the daughter of King Cole of Colchester. Geoffrey of Monmouth expanded this story in his highly fictionalized Historia Regum Britanniae, an account of the supposed Kings of Britain from their Trojan origins to the Anglo-Saxon invasion. According to Geoffrey, Cole was King of the Britons when Constantius, here a senator, came to Britain. Afraid of the Romans, Cole submitted to Roman law so long as he retained his kingship. However, he died only a month later, and Constantius took the throne himself, marrying Cole's daughter Helena. They had their son Constantine, who succeeded his father as King of Britain before becoming Roman Emperor. Historically, this series of events is extremely improbable. Constantius had already left Helena by the time he left for Britain. Additionally, no earlier source mentions that Helena was born in Britain, let alone that she was a princess.
RL79452. Billon reduced centenionalis, SRCV V 17500 ff. (various mintmarks), EF, nice sharp portrait, attractive glossy green patina, tight flan, edge cracks, areas of slight porosity, weight 1.271 g, maximum diameter 15.0 mm, die axis 180o, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, [...]TR[...] in exergue; $90.00 (€80.10)
 


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Helena died around 330, with her son at her side. She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, although the connection is often questioned. Next to her is the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). Her skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany.
RL79455. Billon reduced centenionalis, Hunter V p. 281, 2 (also 1st officina); RIC VIII Trier 63; LRBC I 112; SRCV V 17493; Cohen VII 4, EF, well struck and centered on a ragged flan, end of reverse legend not fully struck, some light corrosion, weight 1.921 g, maximum diameter 16.0 mm, die axis 30o, 1st officina, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, •TRP• in exergue; $90.00 (€80.10)
 


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Several relics purportedly discovered by Saint Helena are now in Cyprus, where she spent some time. Among them are items believed to be part of Jesus Christ's tunic, pieces of the holy cross, and pieces of the rope with which Jesus was tied on the Cross. The rope, considered to be the only relic of its kind, has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also founded by Saint Helena. According to Byzantine tradition, Helena is responsible for the large population of cats in Cyprus. Local tradition holds that she imported hundreds of cats from Egypt or Palestine in the fourth century AD to rid a monastery of snakes. The monastery is today known as "St. Nicholas of the Cats" and is located near Limassol.
RL79449. Billon reduced centenionalis, RIC VIII Trier 63; LRBC I 112; SRCV V 17493; Voetter 7; Cohen VII 4; Hunter V p. 218, 2 var. (1st officina), EF, some mint luster, light corrosion on reverse, tight flan, weight 1.455 g, maximum diameter 14.4 mm, die axis 180o, 2nd officina, Treveri (Trier, Germany) mint, 337 - 340 A.D.; obverse FL IVL HE-LENA AVG, diademed and mantled bust right wearing necklace; reverse PAX PVBLICA, Pax standing left, olive branch pointed down in right hand, long scepter transverse in left hand, •TRS• in exergue; $80.00 (€71.20)
 







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OBVERSE LEGENDS

FLHELENAAVGVSTA
FLIVLHELENAEAVG
FLAVIAHELENAAVGVSTA
HELENANF


REFERENCES

Bruun, P. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VII, Constantine and Licinius A.D. 313 - 337. (London, 1966).
Carson, R., P. Hill & J. Kent. Late Roman Bronze Coinage. (London, 1960).
Carson, R., H. Sutherland & J. Kent. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VIII, The Family of Constantine I, A.D. 337 - 364. (London, 1981).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Vol. 7: Carausius to Constantine & sons. (Paris, 1888).
Depeyrot, G. Les monnaies d'or de Dioclétien a Constantin I (284 - 337). (Wetteren, 1995).
Failmezger, V. Roman Bronze Coins From Paganism to Christianity, 294 - 364 A.D. (Washington D.C., 2002).
Milchev, S. The Coins of Constantine the Great. (Sophia, 2007).
Robinson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Glasgow, Vol. V. Diocletian (Reform) to Zeno. (Oxford, 1982).
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. IV: The Tetrarchies and the Rise of the House of Constantine: The Collapse of Paganism and the Triumph of Christianity, Diocletian To Constantine I, AD 284 - 337. (London, 2011).
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. V: The Christian Empire: The Later Constantinian Dynasty and the Houses of Valentinian and Theodosius and Their Successors, Constantine II to Zeno, AD 337 - 491. (London, 2014).
Vagi, D. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. (Sidney, 1999).
Voetter, O. Die Münzen der romischen Kaiser, Kaiserinnen und Caesaren von Diocletianus bis Romulus: Katalog der Sammlung Paul Gerin. (Vienna, 1921).

Catalog current as of Sunday, April 30, 2017.
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Roman Coins of Helena