Image: Laureate head of Diocletian looking right
Inscription: IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG
Image: Genius standing left, pouring out patera and holding cornucopia
Inscription: GENIO POPVLI ROMANI
This follis, minted between 295 and 296 CE at Cyzicus, depicts on the obverse the head of Diocletian and on the reverse the Genius populi romani, an abstract protective entity, embodied with a divine nature, which designated the collective body of individuals constituting the Roman people. The inscription on the obverse refers to Diocletian as imperator, Caesar, Caius Valerius Diocletian, Pius, Felix, Augustus. Diocletian is presented as imperator, or commander in chief of the Roman army, chosen and elected by his soldiers. Caesar was a title which indicated the continuity of imperial rule from Augustus onwards. Yet, by then, the title Caesar was associated with the heir to the throne, or with the junior ruler. In fact the previous year, Diocletian had conferred the title to Maximian. Still, the title remains part of the senior emperor’s titulature. Augustus was a title which served to emphasize the emperor’s sacral standing. Besides, the title Augustus indicated his primacy vis-à-vis Maximian, in the diarchy established in 286 CE.
The follis was a large bronze denomination introduced by Diocletian in 294 CE, in the framework of the emperor’s economic reforms, one year before this issue was minted. In fact the follis, which weighted 10 grams, was covered by a thin layer of silver, which was just 4% of the total weight of the coin. Diocletian’s rule was indeed characterized by various economic reforms, first and foremost a reform of taxation. From then onwards, the peoples living in Italy, but not in Rome, were under the obligation to pay taxes to the state as the rest of the provincials. Diocletian also reformed the coinage. While the gold denomination, the aureus, maintained its stability, gone were the silver denominations which characterized the earlier period, the denarius and the antoninianus. The main silver denomination was the argenteus, made of pure silver, but the follis or laureatus A was considered a silver denomination too because it was covered by a thin layer of silver. By 301 CE, the inflation was back. Therefore, Diocletian published the Edict on Coinage, the result of which was that from that moment onwards, the follis lost half of its value. Thus, soon afterwards, Diocletian issued the well-known Edict on Maximum Prices, which froze the prices. The edict listed more than one thousand produces with the associated retail prices, which could not be exceeded under threat of heavy penalties.
The inscription on the reverse refers to the Genius of the Roman people. As a deity, it was worshiped. It seems that the first evidence for the worship of the Genius of the Roman people, mentioned by Livy, is connected to a sacrifice made with the purpose of hastening the deliverance of the Roman Republic in the wake of the battle of Trebia (Livy, History of Rome XXI.62). The Genius of the Roman people possibly appears for the first time on denarii minted in 100 BCE by P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, representing Rome crowned by the Genius populi romani (Denarius minted by P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, representing Rome crowned by the Genius populi romani). Yet, its depiction becomes common on issues minted during the rule of Nero. The Genius of the Roman people was depicted following two different iconographies, either as an old man, or, as on this issue, as a young man, in a heroic pose. Later on, the first iconography type came to characterize the depiction of the Genius of the Roman Senate (Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 16-17). On this issue, the Genius of the Roman people is depicted standing and naked, albeit covered by a short mantle, which falls from his shoulders. He holds a cornucopia, a symbol of prosperity, in his left hand, and he is pouring wine from a patera, or large round bowl, as in a sacrifice. Possibly the presence of the cornucopia suggests that the Genius was in an earlier period associated with the Tychē of a city (in the East) as well as with the personification of its dēmos, the people of the city (Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 286). From the Flavian period onwards, on state reliefs, the Genius of the Roman senate makes its appearance side by side with the Genius of the Roman people (Cancelleria’s Reliefs depicting the Adventus of Vespasian and the Profectio of Domitian (93-95 CE)). The Genius of the Roman senate was portrayed as an older bearded man, dressed in a tunic, and draped in a toga. From then onwards, the two Genii are depicted together on state reliefs.
This issue emphasizes the close association between the Roman ruler and the Roman people. After the Constitutio Antoniniana, the edict of Caracalla which in 212 CE granted Roman citizenship to nearly all the free men living within the empire, the Roman people encompassed the vast majority of the population who was ruled by the Caesars.
(RIC VI, Diocletian, Cyzicus, no. 10a, p. 580)