Coin Jewelry Part VI: Spreading rumors

helena, coin jewelry, coin pendantAs we have discussed in earlier Coin Jewelry blogs, coins could be used to commemorate rulers and acted as a testimony to their achievements.  Within that same vein, coins also had the power to influence one’s reputation.  Inscribed with one’s positive traits, the coin (and thus its message) would spread far and wide.

Such a tactic was employed by Constantine to dispel any rumors about his mother, Helena, who may or may not have been actually married to Constantine’s father.  In cases like this, coins could be used to spread some much-needed positive PR!

(Need to catch up on our Coin Jewelry blog series? Discover our coin pendants and learn about the history of coinage in Part I: From Cattle to Coinage, Part II: Fakes and Forgeries, Part III: Heads or Tails, Part IV: Hammer Time, Part V: The Good, the Bad, and the Deceptive, and Part VII: The Son Also Rises.)

All About Helena


Not much is known of Helena’s birth or early life.  Many believe that she was a Briton, the daughter of Colchester’s King Cole, a fact first cited in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum and expanded upon in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s dramatized Historia Regum Britannaie.  However, these claims are disputed by the fact that Constantius (Helena’s future husband) was already separated from Helena by the time he arrived in Britain.  Perhaps these stories derive from the fact that Helena’s origins were far more humble than the royal life of a princess.

It is uncertain where or when Helena was actually born.  Most sources point to Drepanum (in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor) as her birthplace since Constantine renamed the city “Helenoplis” after her death.  It seems strong evidence that her son should believe she was born there, anyhow.

She was a stabularia, or barmaid, before having her only child, a son, with Flavius Constantius.  The nature of their relationship, however, is also unclear.  Some sources say that they were married while others claim that she was merely his mistress.  What we do know is that upon being delcared deputy emperor of the Empire, Constantius was forced to leave Helena for a more appropriate bride, Theodora, daughter of emperor Maximian (Theodora is portrayed on another one of our coin necklaces, which we had covered in an earlier blog here).  It simply was not fitting for the deputy emperor to be in a relationship with someone from the lower echelons of society (an issue which was later resolved by Justinian and his wife Theodora).

“Thereafter Helena disappears from view for many years. She reappears after Constantine had become emperor in the west and had taken control of Rome. There she was presented with the Sessorium, an imperial palace outside the city walls.”  Constatine was devoted to his mother and sought to improve her earlier reputation.  On some coinage, Helena is described as “‘most chaste wife of the late emperor Constantius’ (divi Constanti castissimae coniugi), as if to dispel rumors that she had only been Constantius’ concubine.”  He also made sure that barmaids and other tavern workers were protected to anti-adultery laws, making sure that his mother’s low origins were not equivalent to prostitutes (or actresses, like poor Empress Theodora).

A life of discovery and piety

While much is unknown of Helena’s earlier life, her later years are well-documented and, by contrast, filled with adventure and discovery.  Under her son, Helena’s political influence was instrumental in the growth and spread of Christianity.  Emperor Constantine, a deeply pious man, gave his mother unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judaeo-Christian tradition. 

He “deeply revered the victory-bearing Sign of the Cross of the Lord, and wanted to find the actual Cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. He sent his mother, Helen, to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to St. Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.” 

Helena was successful in her journey, discovering three crosses in an excavated temple.  One of the three crosses, she deduced, must be the True Cross but it was difficult to determine which.  She brought a sickly woman from a nearby village to the three crosses; the first two crosses did not heal her upon touching them but the third did.  This, Helena discovered, was the True Cross.

Saints Constantine and Helena. Via

During her pilgrimage, Helena is also said to have discovered part of Christ’s tunic and the nails of the crucifixion (these she had put into her son’s helmet and bridle to protect Constantine).  She also she ordered that churches be built at each of the places connected to Christ and the Virgin Mary to commemorate their earthly lives.  According to Eusebius of Caesarea she was responsible for the construction or beautification of two churches, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ’s birth and ascension, respectively.”

Helena died at the age of 80 in 330.  Today, St. Helena is celebrated with her son on May 21.  Naturally (given her amazing finds), she serves as the patron saint of new discoveries and is revered for her unwavering piety.

Our Helena Coin Pendant dates between 324-329 and features the profile of the saint and is inscribed with “FL HELENA AVGVSTA,” or “Flavia Helena Augusta” (a title bestowed upon her by son Constantine).    The reverse shows Securitas standing left holding a branch. Securitas is the Roman goddess of security and stability. She is protective and watches over individuals and entire empires.

Main photo –
Forum Ancient Coins –
Saint Helena –
St. Helen, Mother of Emperor Constantine, Equal of the Apostles –
St. Helena, Discoverer of the True Cross –
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