Licinius I. AD 308-324. AV Aureus (21.5mm, 5.33 g, 11h). Decennalia issue. Nicomedia mint, 4th officina. Struck AD 321-322. LICINIVS AVG OB D V FILII SVI, bareheaded, draped, and cuirassed facing bust / IOVI CONS LICINI AVG, Jupiter, holding Victory on globe in right hand and scepter in left, seated facing on high-backed throne set on platform inscribed SIC •X•/SIC •XX• in two lines; at feet to left, eagle standing left, head right, holding wreath in beak; SMNΔ. RIC VII 41; Depeyrot 31/1; Calicó 5094; Hunter –. Superb EF, fully lustrous. Exquisitely detailed and artistically important facing portrait struck in high relief, paired with an equally skilled and evocative Jupiter. Among the finest known.
Ex Tkalec (24 October 2003), lot 412.
Earlier facing head portraits can be found on aurei of Postumus, Carausius, Maxentius, and Constantine I, but the great rarity of these issues today suggests they were only struck in very limited quantities for special occasions or were experiments that failed to gain traction. The facing head aurei of Licinius I and II, struck for their tenth and fifth anniversaries, respectively, thus mark the first effort to put facing-head aurei into general circulation in somewhat sizeable numbers and set a precedent for what will eventually become the norm for later Roman and Byzantine issues.
It is often remarked that while earlier portraits of emperors attempt to capture individuality (not necessarily reality), late Roman portraits subsume individuality in favor of a quasi-divine image. While the Licinian issues are not devoid of individualized features (see for example, NAC 62, lot 2093, which shares the same reverse die as our coin but carries a more mature portrait of Licinius II wearing long sideburns), through their rigid frontality and intense gaze they transfix the viewer in a startlingly bold and immediate way. They are, like religious icons of their time, both didactic and devotional.