A fine Virgin Mary Follis just arrived

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Only a Poor Old Man, Oct 26, 2020.

  1. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Initially I thought I would stick this coin in the anonymous follis thread, however when it arrived this morning it looked so nice in hand so I decided to give it its own thread. After all, it is a double divinity bonus coin where you can enjoy both a bust of Christ Pantocrator on the obverse and a bust of Theotokos (Virgin Mary) on the reverse. This classifies it as a type G in the long and very interesting series of Byzantine anonymous follis, and the double portrait makes it a particularly desirable one. Furthermore, you don't find it often in such a nice condition, especially for both sides and portraits. It has a delightful greenish patina and the legends on both sides are particularly legible (IC XC - MP ΘΥ) which is also unusual.


    It is the second appearance of the Virgin Mary on a coin. The first was in a particularly rare gold coin of Leo VI, so I guess this makes it a first appearance in copper and in a mass-circulated coin. Being part of the anonymous series doesn't mean that it wasn't struck by a particular emperor, and in this case the culprit was Romanos IV Diogenes who reigned for a short period between 1068 and 1071 AD. As with most Byzantine emperors, his life was far from boring and his death was unnatural and sad, and he is also associated with a dark chapter of Byzantine history that often gets overlooked. This of course is the battle of Manzikert where the Byzantine defeat established the permanent presence of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor. Modern Turkey may not have existed today if the outcome had been different.

    Romanos wasn't born a prince and he got himself in the throne through marriage to the regent Eudokia Makrembolitissa. She did fancy him, but the marriage was a necessary move in order to secure the regency and use Romanos' proven military abilities to organise the fight against the Turks who by that time had already occupied Cappadocia and the city of Caesarea. He was fairly confident that he would not have much trouble against the Turks who he viewed as nomadic bandits of some sort. The problem is that by that time the Byzantine army wasn't what it used to be and consisted mainly of irregular and poorly trained and undisciplined mercenaries. He had some minor successes in the first year of the campaign, but in 1069 the situation was overturn mainly because of the rebellion and disarray caused by his Frankish mercenaries possibly due to irregularities with their payment. Austerity did not apply only to the army, and Romanos made cuts to every aspect of public financial planning which made him deeply unpopular. Eventually he found it difficult to concentrate to facing the Turks, so Manuel Komnenos was drawn in to assist with the campaign. He in turn managed to get himself captured and had to persuade Romanos to call a truce. This encouraged the Turks to prepare for further and more daring attacks, with the battle at Manzikert being the climax of the hostilities. This battle could have been avoided altogether as the Turkish leader Alp Arslan was prepared to settle for a treaty, but Romanos was over-confident about the abilities of his army and rejected the offer. Needless to say, things didn't go too well for him as he got defeated and captured by the Turks. A famous incident (as described by the Byzantine historian John Skylitzes) was the humiliation of the Byzantine emperor when Arslan put his foot on his neck. After he made his point though, he treated the captured emperor fairly well and they parted as friends with a treaty and a hefty ransom which eventually had to be reduced as Romanos simply couldn't afford to pay it.

    All this didn't go down very well in Constantinople, where the Doukas family (Romanos' main rivals) forced Eudokia to retreat to a monastery and demanded for Romanos' resignation. There was a brief civil conflict where Romanos was again defeated. Initially he thought that he got off lightly as his life was spared and the usual Byzantine punishment of eye-gouging was chosen instead. Unfortunately the wound got infected and Romanos suffered a slow, painful and undeserving death. Another chapter in the tumultuous Byzantine history had ended...

    Show me your examples of coins form his reign or other coins with Virgin Mary or Christ on. If I recall correctly he wasn't the first or the last emperor that got mutilated for his actions, so perhaps we can see some coins from them too!
    Justin Lee, Limes, robinjojo and 29 others like this.
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  3. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Very nice Class G. These are very rare with broad flan, and fully struck like this.

    Class G is scarcer than the earlier issues usually, (A-D), and Class I, but more available than the rarities of the series, E, F, H, and J.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Romanus IV (1068 - 1071 A.D.)
    Æ Follis
    Anonymous Class G
    O: Bust of Christ facing raising hand and holding Book of Gospels, IC XC in fields.
    R:Bust of Virgin Mary facing with both hands upraised.
    SB 1867
    7Calbrey, Limes, robinjojo and 17 others like this.
  5. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Nice Byzantine follis. Thanks for sharing. :happy:
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

  7. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    Very interesting thanks for posting them.
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  8. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Very nice example. I like that there is an abundance of visible facial characteristics on both Jesus and Mary. Size and weight is quite different from mine, but I guess with copper coins weight doesn't really matter that much, does it? In Numiswiki it states that a class G has a maximum diameter of 26.6 mm which is less than mine, but according to @Valentinian 's site my diameter is bang on.
    Edessa and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  9. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Weights and size can vary greatly. You are correct that since these were token coinage, weights were not strictly controlled. The main reason weights and sizes come into concern is differentiating Class A1, A2, and A3 issues. Generally, as the issues get newer, (save for Class A1 vs A2), the issues get smaller and lighter, but individual examples within an issue vary greatly. Yours, as I noted, was much larger than average for the issue, which is a very good thing. :)
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
  10. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Numiswiki is written by people like you and me that take the time to add to it or edit it. Maybe that was a reference to one particular coin having that maximum diameter. If it really was a general statement about all the coins of class G, remember that not everything written there (or elsewhere on the web) is correct.
    Edessa and Only a Poor Old Man like this.
  11. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    As solid as your and @Mat's examples are, @Only a Poor Old Man, your writeup is good enough to make me want to offer you mine in a swap. Granted, the legends and patina ...and, on second thought, flan on yours are spectacular.
    ...Your observation about this issue being nearly the first with a portrait of Mary set off some synapses. With this and all the earlier anonymous folles, 'just' with Christ, I've wondered, on a barely articulate level, whether, aggregately, they were intended, in part, to function as miniature ikons. Sort of expanding the graphic dimension of the Church into the popular sphere. ...Right, mine. COINS, BYZANTINE, ANON CLASS G OBV..JPG COINS, BYZANTINE, ANON CLASS G REV..JPG
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
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  12. tibor

    tibor Well-Known Member

    Is there a link to the Leo VI gold coin?
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Dang, guessing I did what you did, look it up in Wildwinds. People here will know....
  14. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Poor Old Man, Thank you for an excellent article & congrats on your Virgin follis :D! The patina on the coin enhances it's eye appeal :cool:. Pictured below is the only Byzantine coin in my collection that depicts the Virgin Mary, & pictured below the coin is a bronze Enkolpion of the same period that depicts the Virgin Mary on the back side, 110 mm long.

    4883666-002 AK Collection.jpg
    Byzantine Encolpian, 9th-11th Century.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
    tibor, Edessa, TIF and 7 others like this.
  15. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Aaah, Lovely, on both counts.
  16. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Beautiful coin @Only a Poor Old Man , I love the perfect centering. Here is my example, great portraits but poorly struck on the outer part.
  17. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    I like your coin. That double strike has almost turned the Virgin Mary into the Hindu Godess Durga! :jawdrop:

    The Byzantine Empire was always religious, but from the 10th century onward it almost became theocratic. I am sure that when Jesus first appeared on the earlier gold solidi it must have been a bit controversial, but by the time of the anonymous follis it must have looked quite normal. Perhaps it was also an attempt form the Byzantine Emperors to appear pious, when in reality they were far from it. There must have been plenty of gossip going on the streets of Constantinople about the shenanigans of their rulers. Also, icons are strongly venerated in Orthodox tradition, so I think it is likely that individuals would put their hands in their pockets to look for a follis when in need for a quick prayer.

    Very nice coin. The strike looks fine to me. What are the dimensions?
    Edessa and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Yikes. Didn't make the transition to Durga.
    Your expansive treatment of how the coins would have functioned as (sorry, my language) 'miniature ikons,' in real time, is nothing less than poignant.
    ...Would the convergence of increasingly quasi-theocratic rule, from the 10th century (Macedonians and ...who, before them?), with quasi-ikonic types from roughly the same interval, have anything to do with the aftermath of the (mostly much earlier) iconoclasm controversy?
    Only a Poor Old Man and BenSi like this.
  19. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Mat, That's a stunning, well struck coin :D. As other members have pointed out the weights on these coins can vary to an extreme. Notice the weight on this A2 follis I sold years ago.

    NGC 2491169-006 obv..jpg
    robinjojo, tibor, Edessa and 5 others like this.
  20. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    BenSi, It's almost a blessing that the strike weakens on your follis the farther it gets from the portraits :smuggrin:. Now the eye is drawn directly to the center of the coin emphasizing the exquisite engraving of the portraits :D. I wonder how many common people at that time understood the inscriptions anyway :rolleyes:.
  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Well, a follis was still more money than a lot of people are likely to have seen in a day. It's an easy guess that the issues circulated more among the vague equivalent of a middle class. (...A little like we have now.)
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