Copper Follis of Anastasios I

Copper Follis of Anastasios I


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Anastasius I

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Anastasius I, (born 430?, Dyrrhachium, Epirus Vetus [now Durrës, Albania]—died July 9, 518, Constantinople [now Istanbul, Turkey]), Byzantine emperor from 491 who perfected the empire’s monetary system, increased its treasury, and proved himself an able administrator of domestic and foreign affairs. His heretical monophysite religious policies, however, caused periodic rebellions.

After serving as an administrator in the department of finance and as a personal bodyguard to the emperor Zeno, Anastasius was chosen at the age of 61 to be emperor by his predecessor’s widow, Ariadne, who married him shortly thereafter. He began his rule by abolishing the sale of offices, reforming taxation, and refusing rewards to informers.

Among the first actions of Anastasius was the expulsion of Zeno’s rebellious and powerful countrymen, the Isaurians, from Constantinople and their later resettlement in Thrace. To protect Constantinople against the raiding Bulgarians and Slavs, Anastasius built a wall (512) from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. In foreign affairs he recognized Theodoric’s Ostrogoth rule in Italy (497), but the two rulers were soon in opposition, Anastasius sending a fleet to ravage the Italian coast (508). Meanwhile, war with Persia erupted in 502, when Anastasius refused to pay a share for the defense of the Caucasian Gates, a pass through which nomadic tribes often raided Persia and Byzantium. After the Persians attacked, Anastasius built forts to secure his eastern frontier. The status quo was restored when peace was concluded in 505, with Anastasius agreeing to payments to the Persian king.

At first professing orthodoxy, Anastasius gradually adhered more to monophysite doctrine, which held that Christ had one, divine nature. Although this stand caused great unrest in Constantinople and in the European provinces, it did buy peace with Egypt and Syria. In Thrace, however, it inspired rebellion by the military commander Vitalianus, who revolted twice, withdrawing each time after being promised satisfaction when he attacked a third time, he was defeated (515).

Anastasius was succeeded by the 70-year-old Justin I, commander of the guard and uncle of his illustrious successor, Justinian.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.


Contents

Early Byzantine coins continue the late Greco-Roman conventions: on the obverse the head of the Emperor, now full face rather than in profile, and on the reverse, usually a Christian symbol such as the cross, or a Victory or an angel (the two tending to merge into one another). The gold coins of Justinian II departed from these stable conventions by putting a bust of Christ on the obverse, [note 1] and a half or full-length portrait of the Emperor on the reverse. These innovations incidentally had the effect of leading the Islamic Caliph Abd al-Malik, who had previously copied Byzantine styles but replacing Christian symbols with Islamic equivalents, finally to develop a distinctive Islamic style, with only lettering on both sides. This was then used on nearly all Islamic coinage until the modern period.

The type of Justinian II was revived after the end of Iconoclasm, and with variations remained the norm until the end of the Empire.

In the 10th century, so-called "anonymous folles" were struck instead of the earlier coins depicting the emperor. The anonymous folles featured the bust of Jesus on the obverse and the inscription "XRISTUS/bASILEU/bASILE", which translates to "Christ, Emperor of Emperors"

Byzantine coins followed, and took to the furthest extreme, the tendency of precious metal coinage to get thinner and wider as time goes on. Late Byzantine gold coins became thin wafers that could be bent by hand.

The Byzantine coinage had a prestige that lasted until near the end of the Empire. European rulers, once they again started issuing their own coins, tended to follow a simplified version of Byzantine patterns, with full face ruler portraits on the obverse.

The start of what is viewed as Byzantine currency by numismatics began with the monetary reform of Anastasius in 498, who reformed the late Roman Empire coinage system which consisted of the gold solidus and the bronze nummi. The nummus was an extremely small bronze coin, at about 8–10 mm, weight of 0.56 g making it at 576 to the Roman pound [3] which was inconvenient because a large number of them were required even for small transactions.

New bronze coins, multiples of the nummus were introduced, such as the 40 nummi (also known as the follis), 20 nummi (also known as the semifollis), 10 nummi (also known as the decanummium, and 5 nummi coins (also known as the pentanummium) other denominations were occasionally produced. The obverse (front) of these coins featured a highly stylized portrait of the emperor while the reverse (back) featured the value of the denomination represented according to the Greek numbering system (M=40, Λ=30, K=20, I=10, E=5). Silver coins were rarely produced.

The only regularly issued silver coin was the Hexagram first issued by Heraclius in 615 which lasted until the end of the 7th century, [4] [5] minted in varying fineness with a weight generally between 7.5 and 8.5 grams. It was succeeded by the initially ceremonial miliaresion established by Leo III the Isaurian in ca. 720, which became standard issue from ca. 830 on and until the late 11th century, when it was discontinued after being severely debased. Small transactions were conducted with bronze coinage throughout this period.

The gold solidus or nomisma remained a standard of international commerce until the 11th century, when it began to be debased under successive emperors beginning in the 1030s under the emperor Romanos Argyros (1028–1034). Until that time, the fineness of the gold remained consistent at about 0.955–0.980.

The Byzantine monetary system changed during the 7th century when the 40 nummi (also known as the follis), now significantly smaller, became the only bronze coin to be regularly issued. Although Justinian II (685–695 and 705–711) attempted a restoration of the follis size of Justinian I, the follis continued to slowly decrease in size.

In the early 9th century, a three-fourths-weight solidus was issued in parallel with a full-weight solidus, both preserving the standard of fineness, under a failed plan to force the market to accept the underweight coins at the value of the full weight coins. The 11 ⁄12 weight coin was called a tetarteron (a Greek comparative adjective, literally "fourth-er"), and the full weight solidus was called the histamenon. The tetarteron was unpopular and was only sporadically reissued during the 10th century. The full weight solidus was struck at 72 to the Roman pound, roughly 4.48 grams in weight. There were also solidi of weight reduced by one siliqua issued for trade with the Near East. These reduced solidi, with a star both on obverse and reverse, weighed about 4.25 g.

The Byzantine solidus was valued in Western Europe, where it became known as the bezant, a corruption of Byzantium. The term bezant then became the name for the heraldic symbol of a roundel, tincture or - i.e. a gold disc.

Former money changer Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034–41) assumed the throne of Byzantium in 1034 and began the slow process of debasing both the tetarteron nomisma and the histamenon nomisma. The debasement was gradual at first, but then accelerated rapidly. about 21 carats (87.5% pure) during the reign of Constantine IX (1042–1055), 18 carats (75%) under Constantine X (1059–1067), 16 carats (66.7%) under Romanus IV (1068–1071), 14 carats (58%) under Michael VII (1071–1078), 8 carats (33%) under Nicephorus III (1078–1081) and 0 to 8 carats during the first eleven years of the reign of Alexius I (1081–1118). Under Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) the debased solidus (tetarteron and histamenon) was discontinued and a gold coinage of higher fineness (generally .900-.950) was established, commonly called the hyperpyron at 4.45 grs. The hyperpyron was slightly smaller than the solidus.

It was introduced along with the electrum aspron trachy worth a third of a hyperpyron and about 25% gold and 75% silver, the billon aspron trachy or stamenon [6] valued at 48 to the hyperpyron and with 7% silver wash and the copper tetarteron and noummion worth 18 and 36 to the billon aspron trachy. [7]

During Andronicus II's reign he instituted a some new coinage based on the hyperpyron. They were the silver miliaresion or basilika at 12 to the hyperpyron and the billon politika at 96 per hyperpyron. [7] along with the copper assaria, tournesia and follara [8] The basilikon was a copy of the Venetian ducat and circulated since 1304 for fifty years. [9]

The hyperpyron remained in regular issue and circulation until the 1350s, remaining in use thereafter only as a money of account. After 1400, Byzantine coinage became insignificant, as Italian money became the predominant circulating coinage.

These scyphate (cup-shaped) coins known as trachy were issued in both electrum (debased gold) and billon (debased silver). The exact reason for such coins is not known, although it is usually theorized that they were shaped for easier stacking.


Contents

Anastasius was born at Dyrrachium the date is unknown, but is thought to have been no later than 431. He was born into a Greek [6] or Illyrian family. [7] Anastasius had one eye black and one eye blue (heterochromia), and for that reason he was nicknamed Dicorus (Greek: Δίκορος, "two-pupiled"). [8] Before becoming emperor, Anastasius was a particularly successful administrator in the department of finance. [9]

Following the death of Zeno (491), there is strong evidence that many Roman citizens wanted an emperor who was an Orthodox Christian. In the weeks following Zeno's death, crowds gathered in Constantinople chanting "Give the Empire an Orthodox Emperor!" [9] Under such pressure, Ariadne, Zeno's widow, turned to Anastasius. Anastasius was in his sixties at the time of his ascension to the throne. It is noteworthy that Ariadne chose Anastasius over Zeno's brother Longinus, [5] who was arguably the more logical choice this upset the Isaurians. It was also not appreciated by the circus factions, the Blues and the Greens. These groups combined aspects of street gangs and political parties and had been patronised by Longinus. The Blues and Greens subsequently repeatedly rioted, causing serious loss of life and damage. [5] Religiously, Anastasius' sympathies were with the Monophysites. [5] Consequently, as a condition of his rule, the Patriarch of Constantinople required that he pledge not to repudiate the Council of Chalcedon. [10]

Ariadne married Anastasius on 20 May 491, shortly after his accession. He gained popular favour by a judicious remission of taxation, in particular by abolishing the hated tax on receipts which was mostly paid by the poor. He displayed great vigour and energy in administering the affairs of the Empire. [11] [12] His reforms improved the empire's tax base and pulled it from financial depression and bleak morale. By the end of his reign, it is claimed that the treasury had 320,000 lb gold reserve. [13]

Under Anastasius the Eastern Roman Empire engaged in the Isaurian War against the usurper Longinus and the Anastasian War against Sassanid Persia. [14] [15]

The Isaurian War (492–497) was stirred up by the Isaurian supporters of Longinus, the brother of Zeno, who was passed over for the throne in favour of Anastasius. The battle of Cotyaeum in 492 broke the back of the revolt, but guerrilla warfare continued in the Isaurian mountains for several years. [11] The resistance in the mountains hinged upon the Isaurians' retention of Papirius Castle. The war lasted five years, but Anastasius passed legislation related to the economy in the mid-490s, suggesting that the Isaurian War did not absorb all of the energy and resources of the government. [4] After five years, the Isaurian resistance was broken large numbers of Isaurians were forcibly relocated to Thrace, to ensure that they would not revolt again. [14]

During the Anastasian War of 502–505 with the Sassanid Persians, the Sassanids captured the cities of Theodosiopolis and Amida, although the Romans later received Amida in exchange for gold. The Persian provinces also suffered severely and a peace was concluded in 506. Anastasius afterward built the strong fortress of Daras, which was named Anastasiopolis, to hold the Persians at Nisibis in check. [15] The Balkan provinces were denuded of troops, however, and were devastated by invasions of Slavs and Bulgars to protect Constantinople and its vicinity against them, the emperor built the Anastasian Wall, extending from the Propontis to the Black Sea. He converted his home city, Dyrrachium, into one of the most fortified cities on the Adriatic with the construction of Durrës Castle. [1] [11]

The Emperor was a convinced Miaphysite, following the teachings of Cyril of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch who taught "One Incarnate Nature of Christ" in an undivided union of the Divine and human natures. However, his ecclesiastical policy was moderate. He endeavoured to maintain the principle of the Henotikon of Zeno and the peace of the church. [11] Yet, in 512, perhaps emboldened after his military success against the Persians, Anastasius I deposed the Patriarch of Chalcedon and replaced him with a Monophysite. This violated his agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople and precipitated riots in Chalcedon. [5] The following year the general Vitalian started a rebellion, quickly defeating an imperial army and marching on Constantinople. [5] With the army closing in, Anastasius gave Vitalian the title of Commander of the Army of Thrace and began communicating with the Pope regarding a potential end to the Acacian schism. [5] Two years later, General Marinus attacked Vitalian and forced him and his troops to the northern part of Thrace. Following the conclusion of this conflict, Anastasius had undisputed control of the Empire until his death in 518. [16]

The Anonymous Valesianus gives an account of Anastasius attempting to predict his successor: Anastasius did not know which of his three nephews would succeed him, so he put a message under one of three couches and had his nephews take seats in the room. He believed that the nephew who sat on the couch with the message would be his heir. However, two of his nephews sat on the same couch, and the one with the concealed message remained empty. [17]

After putting the matter to God in prayer, he determined that the first person to enter his room the next morning would be the next Emperor. That person was Justin, the chief of his guards. Anastasius had never thought of Justin as a successor, but from this point on he treated him as if he would be. Anastasius died childless in Constantinople on 9 July 518 and was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles. He left the Imperial treasury with 23,000,000 solidi, which is 320,000 pounds of gold or 420 long tons (430 t). [18] The illiterate, peasant-born Justin then became the next emperor. [19] Meanwhile, the heir apparent Justinian engrossed himself in the life of Constantinople. [20]

Anastasius is known to have had a brother named Flavius Paulus, who served as consul in 496. [21] With a woman known as Magna, Paulus was father to Irene, who married Olybrius. This Olybrius was the son of Anicia Juliana and Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus. [22] The daughter of Olybrius and Irene was named Proba. She married Probus and was mother to a younger Juliana. This younger Juliana married another Anastasius and was mother of Areobindus, Placidia, and a younger Proba. [23] Another nephew of Anastasius was Flavius Probus, consul in 502. [24] Anastasius' sister, Ceaseria, married Secundinus, and gave birth to Hypatius and Pompeius. [24] Flavius Anastasius Paulus Probus Moschianus Probus Magnus, consul in 518, was a great-nephew of Anastasius. His daughter Juliana later married Marcellus, a brother of Justin II. [23] The extensive family may well have included several viable candidates for the throne. [25]

Anastasius is famous for showing an uncommon interest in administrative efficiency and issues concerning the economy. [16] Whenever it was possible in governmental transactions, he altered the method of payment from goods to hard currency. This practice decreased the potential for embezzlement and the need for transportation and storage of supplies. It also allowed for easier accounting. [5] He also applied this practice to taxes, mandating that taxes be paid with cash rather than with goods. [5] He eliminated the practice of providing soldiers with their arms and uniforms instead he allotted each soldier a generous sum of money with which to purchase their own. [5] These changes to imperial policy seem to have worked well taxpayers often paid smaller tax bills than they had before, while government revenue increased. [5] The increase in revenue allowed the emperor to pay soldiers a higher wage, which attracted native Roman soldiers to the military, as opposed to the barbarian and Isaurian mercenaries which some previous emperors had been forced to rely on. [26] Anastasius is often cited for his "prudent management" of the empire's finances. [27]

Amidst these reforms, though, Anastasius continued the practice of selling official positions. [4] He sold so many that he has been accused of having facilitated the creation of a civilian aristocracy. This claim is strengthened by the growth in influence of families that often held high level positions in the government, such as the Appiones from Egypt. This has puzzled historians, given that the emperor seems to have minimised government corruption/inefficiency in other areas. [4] Anastasius I also gave official positions to his close friend General Celer, his brother-in-law, his brother, his nephews, and his grand-nephews. [4]

The complex monetary system of the early Byzantine Empire, which suffered a partial collapse in the mid-5th century, was revived by Anastasius in 498. The new system involved three denominations of gold, the solidus and its half and third and five of copper, the follis, worth 40 nummi, and its fractions down to a nummus. It would seem that the new currency quickly became an important part of trade with other regions. A follis coin has been found in the Charjou desert, north of the River Oxus. [28] Four solidi from his reign have been recovered as far from the Roman Empire as China. China might seem an unlikely trading partner, but the Romans and the Chinese were probably able to do business via Central Asian merchants travelling along the Silk Roads. Some Roman trading partners attempted to replicate the coins of Anastasius. The currency created by Anastasius stayed in use and circulated widely for long after his reign. [28]

A 40-nummi coin of Anastasius is depicted on the obverse of North Macedonia's 50 denar banknote, issued in 1996. [29]


Anastasios I, Copper, Follis, Constantinople, 507-512

 with cross above, Ε below, crescent in right field, and six-pointed star in left field.

Exergue

Obverse

Bust of Anastasios I facing right.

Reverse

 with cross above, Ε below, crescent in right field, and six-pointed star in left field.

Exergue

Accession number BZC.1975.4
Ruler Anastasios I
Date of Reign 491–518
Metal Copper
Denomination Follis
Mint Constantinople
Date 507 – 512
Diameter 21.0 mm
Weight 8.4 g
Relation of Dies 6 :00
Shape Flat

Commentary

This is a small-series follis.

Type not noted in DOC but similar to MIBE 86, no. 26.

Acquisition History

Gift of Herman Bork, 2 September 1975

Dumbarton Oaks
Research Library and Collection
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007


Anastasios I, Copper, Half Follis, Constantinople, 498-507

Bust of Anastasios I facing right wearing diadem, cuirass, and paludamentum. Cross above head.

Reverse

Κ with cross in left field.

Obverse

Bust of Anastasios I facing right wearing diadem, cuirass, and paludamentum. Cross above head.

Reverse

Κ with cross in left field.

Accession number BZC.2015.053
Catalogue ID DOC 1:13, no. 18
Ruler Anastasios I
Date of Reign 491–518
Metal Copper
Denomination Half Follis
Mint Constantinople
Date 498 – 507
Diameter 19.0 x 20.0 mm
Weight 2.32 g
Relation of Dies 6 :00
Shape Flat

Commentary

MIB 1:101, no. 31 (sometimes with cross).

Acquisition History

Warren P. Esty, 12 December 2015, from the Rev. Dom Clark collection and from Münzhandlung Ritter, Dusseldorf (23.1)

Dumbarton Oaks
Research Library and Collection
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007


Coinage in the Christian Roman Empire – a quick view

Constantine I introduced the gold nomisma (Latin solidus) at 72 nomismata per pound of gold. The nomisma was used primarily by the state to pay its soldiers and bureaucrats, and in its relations with other states. Beyond that it served as a constant standard to which the other gold, silver, and copper coinage (whose types were inevitably less long-lived) were related. Thus, the gold semissis was half a nomisma, and the gold tremissis was a third of a nomisma both types lasted until 878. The tetarteron, introduced by Nikephoros II Phokas was a quarter of a tremissis. The basic silver coin was the miliaresion, evaluated at 12 to the nomisma. The follis, the chief copper coin introduced by Anastasios I, was calculated at 288 per nomisma, and 24 per silver miliaresion. Rigorous maintenance of an unadulterated nomisma of standard weight made it an international currency until the late 11th century, by which time it had been adulterated and was in need of reform. Alexios I Komnenos introduced a reformed nomisma, called the hyperpyron in 1092, an electrum worth a third of the new nomisma, which became the standard gold coin until the empire fell to the Ottomans. It was much competed against by the foreign gold and silver coins that were increasingly used within the empire.

(Source: «Historical Dictionary of Byzantium», by John H. Rosser)

Byzantine currency, money used in the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West, consisted of mainly two types of coins: the gold solidus and a variety of clearly valued bronze coins. By the end of the empire the currency was issued only in silver stavrata and minor copper coins with no gold issue.

Iconography

Early Byzantine coins continue the late Roman conventions: on the obverse the head of the Emperor, now full face rather than in profile, and on the reverse, usually a Christian symbol such as the cross, or a Victory or an angel (the two tending to merge into one another). The gold coins of Justinian II departed from these stable conventions by putting a bust of Christ on the obverse, and a half or full-length portrait of the Emperor on the reverse. These innovations incidentally had the effect of leading the Islamic Caliph Abd al-Malik, who had previously copied Byzantine styles but replacing Christian symbols with Islamic equivalents, finally to develop a distinctive Islamic style, with only lettering on both sides. This was then used on nearly all Islamic coinage until the modern period.

The type of Justinian II was revived after the end of Iconoclasm, and with variations remained the norm until the end of the Empire.

In the 10th century, so-called “anonymous folles” were struck instead of the earlier coins depicting the emperor. The anonymous folles featured the bust of Jesus on the obverse and the inscription “XRISTUS/bASILEU/bASILE”, which translates to “Christ, Emperor of Emperors”

Byzantine coins followed, and took to the furthest extreme, the tendency of precious metal coinage to get thinner and wider as time goes on. Late Byzantine gold coins became thin wafers that could be bent by hand.

The Byzantine coinage had a prestige that lasted until near the end of the Empire. European rulers, once they again started issuing their own coins, tended to follow a simplified version of Byzantine patterns, with full face ruler portraits on the obverse.

Denominations

The start of what is viewed as Byzantine currency by numismatics began with the monetary reform of Anastasius in 498, who reformed the late Roman Empire coinage system which consisted of the gold solidus and the bronze nummi. The nummus was an extremely small bronze coin, at about 8–10 mm, weight of 0.56 g making it at 576 to the Roman pound[3] which was inconvenient because a large number of them were required even for small transactions.

New bronze coins, multiples of the nummus were introduced, such as the 40 nummi (also known as the follis), 20 nummi, 10 nummi, and 5 nummi coins (other denominations were occasionally produced). The obverse (front) of these coins featured a highly stylized portrait of the emperor while the reverse (back) featured the value of the denomination represented according to the Greek numbering system (M=40, K=20, I=10, E=5). Silver coins were rarely produced.

The only regularly issued silver coin was the Hexagram first issued by Heraclius in 615 which lasted until the end of the 7th century, minted in varying fineness with a weight generally between 7.5 and 8.5 grams. It was succeeded by the initially ceremonial miliaresion established by Leo III the Isaurian in ca. 720, which became standard issue from ca. 830 on and until the late 11th century, when it was discontinued after being severely debased. Small transactions were conducted with bronze coinage throughout this period.

The gold solidus or nomisma remained a standard of international commerce until the 11th century, when it began to be debased under successive emperors beginning in the 1030s under the emperor Romanos Argyros (1028–1034). Until that time, the fineness of the gold remained consistent at about 0.955–0.980.

The Byzantine monetary system changed during the 7th century when the 40 nummi (also known as the follis), now significantly smaller, became the only bronze coin to be regularly issued. Although Justinian II (685–695 and 705–711) attempted a restoration of the follis size of Justinian I, the follis continued to slowly decrease in size.

In the early 9th century, a three-fourths-weight solidus was issued in parallel with a full-weight solidus, both preserving the standard of fineness, under a failed plan to force the market to accept the underweight coins at the value of the full weight coins. The 11⁄12 weight coin was called a tetarteron (a Greek comparative adjective, literally “fourth-er”), and the full weight solidus was called the histamenon. The tetarteron was unpopular and was only sporadically reissued during the 10th century. The full weight solidus was struck at 72 to the Roman pound, roughly 4.48 grams in weight. There were also solidi of weight reduced by one siliqua issued for trade with the Near East. These reduced solidi, with a star both on obverse and reverse, weighed about 4.25 g.

The Byzantine solidus was valued in Western Europe, where it became known as the bezant, a corruption of Byzantium. The term bezant then became the name for the heraldic symbol of a roundel, tincture or – i.e. a gold disc.

Alexius I reforms

Former money changer Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034–41) assumed the throne of Byzantium in 1034 and began the slow process of debasing both the tetarteron nomisma and the histamenon nomisma. The debasement was gradual at first, but then accelerated rapidly. about 21 carats (87.5% pure) during the reign of Constantine IX (1042–1055), 18 carats (75%) under Constantine X (1059–1067), 16 carats (66.7%) under Romanus IV (1068–1071), 14 carats (58%) under Michael VII (1071–1078), 8 carats (33%) under Nicephorus III (1078–1081) and 0 to 8 carats during the first eleven years of the reign of Alexius I (1081–1118). Under Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) the debased solidus (tetarteron and histamenon) was discontinued and a gold coinage of higher fineness (generally .900-.950) was established, commonly called the hyperpyron at 4.45 grs. The hyperpyron was slightly smaller than the solidus.

It was introduced along with the electrum aspron trachy worth a third of a hyperpyron and about 25% gold and 75% silver, the billon aspron trachy or stamenon valued at 48 to the hyperpyron and with 7% silver wash and the copper tetarteron and noummion worth 18 and 36 to the billon aspron trachy.

Andronicus II reforms

During Andronicus II’s reign he instituted a some new coinage based on the hyperpyron. They were the silver miliaresion or basilika at 12 to the hyperpyron and the billon politika at 96 per hyperpyron. along with the copper assaria, tournesia and follara The basilikon was a copy of the Venetian ducat and circulated since 1304 for fifty years.

The hyperpyron remained in regular issue and circulation until the 1350s, remaining in use thereafter only as a money of account. After 1400, Byzantine coinage became insignificant, as Italian money became the predominant circulating coinage.

These scyphate (cup-shaped) coins known as trachy were issued in both electrum (debased gold) and billon (debased silver). The exact reason for such coins is not known, although it is usually theorized that they were shaped for easier stacking.

1367 reform

During this last phase of Byzantine coinage gold issues were discontinued and a regular silver issue was commenced. The denomination was the Stavraton issued in 1, a half, an eighth and a 16th of its value. Also issued were the copper follaro and tornesse.

Buying power

It is possible to get some small snapshots in time, specific to region, culture and local inflation. The literary world is littered with references to prices from different time frames. A good portion of them may be inaccurate or tainted by translation.

At Jerusalem in the sixth century a building worker received 1/20 of a solidus per day, that is 9 folles. 1/23 of a solidus was earned by a casual labourer at Alexandria in the early seventh century. A family’s vegetable allowance for one day cost 5 folles. A pound of fish 6 folles, a loaf of bread was 3 folles worth at a time of shortage. The cheapest blanket was worth ¼ of a solidus, a second-hand cloak 1 solidus, and a donkey 3-4 solidi.


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Constantine the Great was the first Christian emperor of Rome. Nonetheless, many of the coins issued during his reign still incorporated pagan designs.

Reign of Constantine

Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, ruled the Roman Empire from AD 306 and 337. He rose to power during a time of civil war, becoming the Western Roman emperor after the death of his father. Following a vision, Constantine converted to Christianity. In 313 A.D., he issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed that Christians were free to worship throughout the Roman Empire.

In 324 A.D., Constantine defeated Licinius, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, uniting the entire Roman Empire under his control. He went on to found the city of Constantinople on the site of Byzantium and make it the new capital of the Roman Empire. During his time as emperor, Constantine worked to advance Christianity, resulting in the Nicaean Creed. He also sought to strengthen the Roman Empire and its military, which allowed him to fend off attacks from the Visigoths and the Sarmatians. Constantine died of illness in 337 A.D.

Roman Follis

Emperor Diocletian introduced the follis around 294 A.D. The large coin had a copper core and a five percent silver plate.

By the time Constantine became emperor, the coin was smaller and contained very little silver. In the mid-4th century, Constantine introduced a bronze version of the coin. They are known as the AE1, AE2, AE3 and AE4 follis, with the former being the largest follis (approximately 27 mm in diameter) and the latter being the smallest (approximately 15 mm in diameter).

The obverse of the Constantine AE Follis includes the inscription “CONS TANTINVS AVG” around helmeted and cuirassed bust of Constantine to the right. The reverse designs vary. One version featured the inscription “VIRTVS EXERCIT” to the sides of two captives seated at the base of a vexillum (flag of the ancient Roman cavalry).

Another version of the coin includes the inscription “SOLI INV-I-CTO COMITI” with Sol standing nude, wearing only a chlamys (cloak) over his shoulders and left arm. The sun god is raising his right hand commanding the sun to rise, with a globe in left hand. Yet another reverse design includes the inscription “IOVI CONSERVATORI.” Jupiter is depicted standing left, holding Victory on a globe and scepter. There is a wreath at her left foot.


Constantius II copper Follis

Joey C. writes: I came across a coin that is labeled, “A.D. 337 Constantius II”. The coin certainly looks like it could be that old. The ‘heads’ side is in excellent condition showing a profile of a young man wearing a band of leaves around his head. The “tails” side has some wear to it, but it looks to be two men standing w/ letters or numbers in line down the middle of the coin separating them. Is this coin of any value? Thanks for your time. – Joey

Constantius II was one of the sons of Constantine, the Great (Emperor of Rome in 307 AD). The small copper Follis that is often seen brings less than $10 in worn condition. There are many of these in the market place, many of them found in digs in archaeological sites. Still, it is historic and interesting, as well as a great point in which to start an ancient coin collection. (I got interested in the subject with coins from the same family).

It goes to show that old doesn’t necessarily equal rare or valuable. It also means that you could put together a decent collection for less than it cost to buy many United States coins. Try to put together a family portrait, you have one family member already. Find the following copper folli:

  • Constantine I (dad)
  • Helena (grandma and mother of Constantine)
  • Fausta (2nd wife of Constantine)
  • Crispus (son of Constantine and his first wife Minervina)
  • Constantine II – son of Constantine and Fausta
  • Constantius II – son of Constantine and Fausta
  • Constans – Son of Constantine and Fausta

A cool thing to do is to look up the history of Constantine and his family. The coin in your hand WAS THERE 1,700 years ago.


Byzantine Emperor Justinian I copper follis

This may be my favorite coin for a few reasons. First of all, this is by far the largest ancient coin in my collection. It weighs 19.7 grams. It measures 37 mm in diameter, and it’s real thick. It’s my only Byzantine coin (so far). It’s the only ancient coin that I own that gives you the year that it was minted. On the reverse, it says “ANNO X VI,” which means that this coin was minted in the 16th year of Justinian’s reign, so it was minted in 542-543 AD. I also love how straightforward the mint mark is. “CON” on the reverse means that this coin was minted in Constantinople.

Lastly, Justinian is my favorite Byzantine emperor because of how memorable and controversial he is. Some people call him one of the best emperors. Some people call him one of the worst. Was his near success of reclaiming old Roman lands admirable and a great achievement? Or was it a giant waste of time, lives, and manpower that nearly bankrupted the treasury? We also have Justinian’s law code, which is the basis for many legal systems in the west today, but we can’t forget about how he slaughtered thousands of civilians during the Nika riots.

I wish you guys could see it in person. The picture doesn’t do it justice.


Watch the video: DIY Cleaning Antique Coins Via Electrolysis


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