Saint Helena’s Portrait
Saint Helena was the wife of the Roman emperor Constantius I and the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great. Due to her significant influence during his reign, Constantine minted coins with her name, titles and portrait.
Influence of Helena
Helena was married to Constantine’s father, Constantius, until they divorced around 289 A.D. After he divorced Helena, Constantius married Theodora, the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinianus. After his father died and he ascended to the throne, Constantine’s mother became an influential figure in his life, becoming a member of the imperial courts and helping him rule Rome.
Helena is most remembered for spreading Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Helena is credited with overseeing the construction of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem and the Church on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was said to be born and ascend to heaven. According to legend, Helena’s search for Christian relics resulted in the discovery of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. She reportedly found three crosses under a pagan temple. To determine which is the right cross, Helena had a deathly ill girl is brought to the site. When she touched the True Cross, she was cured. Helena subsequently ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the site of her discovery.
Helena is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. She is considered the Patron Saint of archaeologists, divorced mothers, and converts to Christianity.
Coins Honoring Helena
In 318 A.D., Constantine first struck small, bronze coins honoring his mother. They coincided with him proclaiming her Helena Nobilissima Femina. Six year later, Constantine bestowed the title of Augustus on Helena. A variety of follis coins were subsequently minted to honor her.
The most common version of the Helena Follis features her portrait on the obverse. Her draped bust faces right wearing a necklace and pearl diadem. The obverse includes the inscription FL HELENA AVGVSTA. The reverse shows Securitas (Security) standing left, lowering a branch with her left hand, raising a robe with her right hand. It also includes the inscription SECVRITAS REIPVBLICE.
The coins were minted in various locations across the Roman Empire, including Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Siscia, and Thessalonica. Each coin includes letters in the coin’s exergue indicating the mint of issue, i.e. TS for Thessalonica.