Featured A magnificent rarity from a devious womanizer

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Only a Poor Old Man, Oct 31, 2020.

  1. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    When I got my Virgin Mary Follis (anonymous class G) a few days back, it rekindled my interested for Byzantine copper coinage. They are not to everyone's taste, as they often come in poor shape, but once you get used to them they get pretty darn addictive as the historical drama, significance, and gossip that often is attached to them is impossible to overlook (and quite fun too). Additionally, one certainty about them is that they are not hoard coins and were used by the common man - a lot! After all they were recalled and restruck all the time when they became too worn or the new emperor didn't want any reminders of the previous one left around. And even if their condition sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, the benefit is that they are quite affordable. You could build a decent collection on a teenager's allowance.

    The most common denomination is the Follis (nice and bulky), while the smaller ones are a bit rarer as they are harder to find and they often are so worn that they don't even look like coins anymore. Imagine my surprise then when I came across a rarity that was also in great condition! The denomination was quite rare to begin with - a tetarteron (τεταρτηρον)! This literally means a 'quarter' and it is exactly that; the 1/4 of a Follis. These were introduced quite late, around 1092 by Alexios I Komnenos. They lasted until the 13th century and plenty were struck, but they are really hard to find especially in an acceptable condition. And then there is the holy grail of tetartera, a particularly rare type that was struck during the very short reign of Andronikos I Komnenos that also happens to feature a very attractive design. A facing Virgin Mary holding a facing baby Jesus! This is my new arrival that I am presenting to you today :)


    When I came across this one I was surprised at the level of detail that survived on the coin. You could actually tell that Virgin Mary is holding a haloed baby Jesus, an image quite familiar to those who are accustomed to the Eastern Orthodox iconography. Also the legends were quite readable too. I can easily read the ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚΟΥ on the reverse without having to resort to my imagination. I looked around on wildwinds and acsearch for other examples of that type and I was surprised to see how rare it is and that their condition wasn't as good as the one of my coin. I know that there are at least two examples of the type on Cointalk, so I am curious to see if there are more lurking around, perhaps in an even better condition. Overall I am very happy with my purchase. There is of course the issue of the split flan that makes the coin look like it was run over by a truck (twice!), but at least it doesn't affect the design and in my opinion adds to the charms of the coin. But what makes this coin extra special is the man who struck it. I can't think of any other Byzantine celebrity whose entire life was like a movie (an X-rated one) even way before he even became an emperor. This of course is Andronikos I Komnenos (Andronicus Comnenus latinized).

    (From Extracts of History by Zonaras, 15th century - Wikimedia Commons)

    It is difficult to sumarise this guy. He was on the run for much of his life. He slept around with the wrong women - a lot! He got imprisoned and kept escaping - a lot! He suffered one of the most brutal deaths (even for Byzantine standards), yet he lived to old age. And he was actually on the throne for only the last 3 years of his life, but he made a right mess of it... His actions (or lack of) contributed to the collapse of relations between Byzantium and the west, but let's start from the beginning... He was probably born in 1118 and was of noble blood being the grandson of emperor Alexios I. However as he was way down the succession line, he didn't have any realistic prospects of ending up in the throne so he pursued a military career where he did fairly well. That was until he was captured by the Turks for a year and afterwards ended up in the court of his emperor cousin Manuel I Komnenos to recuperate. This is where his problems/adventures really began. He was a tall handsome fella with an eye for beautiful women and the good life. He didn't think before he acted and he was of the mindset that if he wanted something then it was rightfully his. His cousin was fascinated by him and they were great friends. They were around the same age after all. We know lots of details of what happened in Andronicus' life, and this is mainly down to 3 contemporary sources. John Cinnamus, the archbishop of Thessaloniki Eustathius, and the historian Nicetas Choniates. While he was staying in the court, Andronicus seduced Manuel's niece Eudoxia. That was a bit of a scandal, but Andronicus laughed it off as the emperor himself was in an affair with Theodora, Eudoxia's sister. Her family was understandably fed up with the whole situation, so in order to calm things down, in 1152 Manuel appointed Andronicus to a post in Cilicia and then Hungary, where an alleged conspiracy to overthrown Manuel got him into trouble. So close was the relationship with his cousin though, that his only punishment was a mere luxurious exile in the not-so-far-away Pelagonia where Andronicus managed to rekindle his affair with the fair Eudoxia. This time Eudoxia's brothers had enough and came close to assassinating him, but he literally escaped at the last moment by fleeing through a hole in the tent where he and Eudoxia were having a sexy time.

    His enemies kept spreading the rumors that he was conspiring against his cousin's life (we don't know if that is true) and that eventually led him to be imprisoned in the imperial palace in Constantinople. He managed to escape twice to various degrees of success and sometimes hilarity. He found a way to access a disused drain next to the tower he was kept that allowed him to hide around the palace and return as he pleased. When his captors realized he was gone, they arrested his wife of that time and put her in the same cell. One day Andronicus returned to the cell to the horror of his wife who thought she had seen a ghost. He eventually took the gamble to escape for good and flee the city but was recaptured and thrown back to prison until 1164, where he escaped again by having his servant make a wax copy of his cell key. He was almost caught by a patrol after climbing down the palace wall, but he outwitted them pretending to be a poor slave escaping from an abusive master. He fled to the black sea, but so big was his infamy that he was soon recognized and captured again. He managed to escape again on the way back to prison by faking diarrhea and he literally fled with his pants down. He found refuge in the court of a Russian prince, and at that point emperor Manuel decided to pardon his cousin as he thought by doing that he would be much less trouble.

    It didn't take long for Andronicus to return to his old ways and after a disagreement with Manuel he decided to go to Syria to romantically pursue Manuel's wife sister, princess Phillipa of Antioch. Manuel was outraged but luckily for him Andronicus got tired of Phillipa fairly quickly and he then ventured to Jerusalem to socialize with its Frankish rulers, while wasting official funds at the same time. His womanizing did not stop at all even though he was now in his fifties, and this time his next target was another niece of the emperor, Theodora Komnene the widow of King Baldwin of Jerusalem. This time Manuel had enough and ordered the blinding of Andronicus. He managed to flee just in time taking Theodora with him, and their romance surprisingly lasted for another 12 years. Through that time they were traveling around the Muslim world where Andronicus was the guest and advisor to various rulers, often assisting in raids of Byzantine territories. One day Theodora and his children were captured and Andronicus had to surrender to Manuel. He was a man of theatrics and somehow he managed to convince the emperor of his remorse thus avoiding death or a harsh punishment. Manuel must have been the sentimental type. Quite understandably Adronicus calmed down a bit and he led a quiet life for a few years in the region of the Black Sea where he was appointed as the governor of Oenaeum. All this was to change though when Manuel died in 1180.

    (Maria of Antioch - Wikimedia Commons)

    Manuel was married to Maria of Antioch who was known as 'Ξενη' (the foreigner) a Latin princess and Phillipa's sister. When he died she became a regent as their only son Alexios was only 11 years old. This didn't go down well with the populace of Constantinople as they hated the idea of Maria ruling them. One of the characteristics of Manuel's reign was that he had western-friendly attitudes giving plenty of rights and tax-breaks to the Latin merchants that resided in Constantinople and enriching the trade and relations with Venice and Genoa. Maria followed the same policies making the Greek speaking majority population feel that they were discriminated against the Latin minorities. Rampant corruption didn't help either as it only fed that resentment. Andronicus grabbed this opportunity to get involved firmly back in the political scene of Constantinople. He marched into the city with a rather insignificant army, but popular support forced Maria to accept him as 'protector' of the young emperor. She was forced to retire to a monastery effectively leaving Andronicus to run the affairs of the empire. And this is where he made his biggest mistake as he allowed one of the darkest chapters in the city's history to take place. This is known as the massacre of the Latins of 1182. This is a very complex subject that deserves a write-up of its own, but in essence it was the result of pro-western corruption, religious resentment, and the geopolitical games between Venice, Genoa, and the Byzantine empire. We don't know if Andronicus took an active part in ordering the massacre but we know for sure that he allowed it to happen. For days, the mob attacked the Latin quarters of Constantinople killing indiscriminately men, women and children. It was what we nowadays call a 'pogrom'. Tens of thousands were killed and many thousands were sold off as slaves. This sent shock-waves throughout Europe and outraged the Frankish countries. Enrico Dandolo, one of the Latin emissaries that was in direct negotiation with Andronicus at the time, would later become Doge of Venice and be responsible for the 4th crusade and the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

    It is important to remember that Andronicus is not even an emperor yet. He took his time removing one obstacle after another. Maria's other children started dropping like flies (poison was suspected) and eventually Maria herself was accused of conspiring against the state. Her own son the young emperor was forced to sign her death sentence and she was strangled with a silk cord. Andronicus managed to convince everyone and himself that he should become a co-emperor and he 'reluctantly' accepted the position. Now only the young boy emperor stood between him and complete rule, and soon he followed the fate of his mother. The poor lad was
    strangled with a silk cord, beheaded, and the headless body was thrown in the Bosporus. Andronicus, now 63 years of age, was the sole emperor of the Byzantine empire in 1183.

    As an emperor, he tried to make some effort towards reform in the beginning. He tried to fight corruption and he succeeded to a degree, but this damaged his relationship with the army and the aristocracy. He was harsh with his perceived enemies and executed lots, but somehow he had the support of the people due to his talented populism. This was to change though when William the King of Sicily attacked the empire and pillaged Thessaloniki. Andronicus was blamed as he failed to protect the city and its inhabitants. During that time he married the 11 year old fiance of the murdered Alexios, Agnes the daughter of the King of France. That was another scandal as she was too young even for the standards of the time. As his popularity was waining, his paranoia increased and he started seeing enemies everywhere. He started executing people left and right. As Nicetas Choniates notes: "A day on which he ordered no man's death, was a day wasted". One of these orders led to his demise. When he ordered the arrest of popular aristocrat Isaac Angelos, the people objected and there was a riot. When Isaac took sanctuary in Hagia Sofia, the crowd proclaimed him emperor. Andronicus realized the game was lost and fled the city in a small boat along with two women, his child-bride and his favorite mistress. He was soon captured and what followed was the most gruesome death in the history of Byzantium. He was paraded in front of the new emperor while the courtiers were pulling out his hair and his beard. They knocked out his teeth and chopped of his hand. After a few days he was thrown to the mercy of the mob which wasn't in a merciful mood. They blinded him, but only in one eye so he could see what was happening to him. He was paraded through the forum on a camel and all sorts of humiliations were bestowed upon him ranging from urine and boiling water thrown at his face and manure shoved into his nostrils. He was eventually hung upside down at the hippodrome so the mob could focus on his genitals. There was a contest about who could stab him deeper in the buttocks and anus and the grand finale was when somebody shoved a sword through his mouth and throat. As Andronicus wasn't a trained sword swallower it is safe to assume that it was the final blow. The fascinating and often questionable life a very colorful character was now over.

    (Death of Andronicus , Guillaume de Tyr, Historia - Wikimedia Commons)

    If you want some additional reading, there is an excellent lecture by Melville Jones which is one of my primary sources:


    Also, as we are approaching the general US election, here is an article I found on Trump, populism, and Andronicus:


    I hope you liked this write-up and managed to read it to the end! :bookworm:
    Post your tetartera, and as they are scarce, post any Byzantine coins you find interesting!

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  3. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Poor Old Man, Wow :jawdrop:! Congrats on this in-depth article. It read like a TV drama. Byzantine history is fascinating :D, & a great coin added to your collection.
    ominus1 and Only a Poor Old Man like this.
  4. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Cheers! This coin made me quite excited and Andronicus' life story even more. That's why I decided to give him a proper write-up.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2020
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  5. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Well-Known Member

    Wow, what a story! Sounds like he needed to see my therapist...

    ...she told me it would be cathartic for me to write letters to my enemies and then burn them.

    So, I did that & it did provide me relief. The only problem I have now is what to do with all these letters! :D

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Brilliant writeup, @Only a Poor Old Man. I like the tetarterons, too, for the same reason as you. Here's the one that's easiest to find the pics of; the no less notorious, if less colorful Isaak II Angelos. Not nearly as solid as your example, with St. Michael instead of the Virgin Mary.
  7. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    @Only a Poor Old Man , Congratulations of your new Andy. I will point out to you that example is the heaviest known example and it is very attractive.

    This coin I pointed out in my post earlier this year, is found in three different die sizes, 18mm, 15mm 12mm , the catalogs only not 2 different sizes the 18mm and the 12mm. ( https://www.cointalk.com/threads/di...the-12th-century-byzantine-tetarteron.360937/ )

    Here is my favorite and one of the first coins in tetartera I collected.

    OBV Bust of Virgin nimbate orans, wearing tunic and maphorion; beardless, nimbate head of Christ on breast.
    REV Bust of emperor wearing stemma, skaramangion or divitision, and sagion; holds in r. hand labarum headed scepter, and in left globus cruciger.

    Size 21.96 mm

    Weight 5.1gm

    This is a Thessalonica minted coin, it contains no silver. It is believed to be valued at 1/864 Hyperpyron and the Metropolitan (Constantinople) issues at 1/288 Hyperpyron. This coins are much more common than Metropolitan coins and very abundant in today’s marketplace.

    DOC lists 6 examples with weights ranging from 2.54 gm to 4.91 gm with sizes from 20mm to 23mm

    Its little brother , this is the 12mm version but it was struck on a oversized flan making it much heavier than it should be.
    OBV Bust of Virgin nimbate, orans, wearing tunic and maphorion; beardless. Nimbate head of Christ on breast.

    REV Bust of emperor wearing stemma, skaramangion or divitision and sagion; holds in r hand labrum headed scepter, and in l. globus cruciger.

    Size 22 mm

    Weight 3.4 gm

    Size is off on this example but the die size is 12mm making it a half tetartera, it is aEF example, again large flan making it an excellent example.

    DOC lists 3 examples with weights ranging from 1.38 gm to 2.46 gm with sizes from 15mm to 18mm.

    One part of your article I must question, the tetartera was named because of its original shape matched the gold coin and then the prereform tetarteron that was a silver coin. The value of the coin is thought to be 1/3rd a follis. The Metropolitan issues contained silver , they were thought to be the replacement for the follis. The Thessalonica and over mint issue contained no silver , 3 of those equaled a Metropolitan tetarteron and that was thought to be equal to a follis. The follis of the post reform was around 6gm. My main source of information is Michael Hendys work in Dumbarton Oakes Catalog IV.

    Congratulations again on your outstanding example and wonderful write up.
  8. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    @BenSi Regarding the definition of the name 'τεταρτερον' my source was wikipedia, so you are probably right as you have researched this a lot more than me. The wikipedia source is stated as Kazhdan 1991 and the actual wiki text is:

    "In 1092, Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) reformed the imperial coinage, introducing the hyperpyron gold coin instead of the devalued histamena and tetartera. Alexios also instituted a new copper coinage (although many of the first examples were struck of lead) to replace the old follis. Apparently due to its similar dimensions and fabric to the gold tetarteron, it was also named tetarteron or tarteron. It has, however, also been suggested that its name derives from it being worth one quarter of the late, debased follis of the 1080s."

    The literal Greek translation is 'Quarter' so who knows, maybe there is some base to that theory.

    I really enjoyed your post, so full of details! I took my measurement tape and measured the die strike of the coin and I can confirm it is 18 mm.

    Your thread from earlier this year is also a goldmine. All the info one needs regarding this denomination is there! :happy: Which brings the question, how do we make sure that gem-threads like that don't get forgotten? We need some index of the most important threads of some sort.

    Going back to the coin in question, I wonder how many other examples can be found in this forum. I have seen the ones from @Quant.Geek and @catadc before, but can we get them all here so we can compare weights and styles?

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @BenSi, I'm still 'processing' your amazing half-tetarteron. Maybe time to shut up now (imaginary imojee for 'benign, intentional irony' inexorably ensues).
  10. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Thank You, if you type Tetarteron in search engines the article comes up under coin talk. So I don't know if tags are in it or because administration made it a feature but it is not getting lost. As for the coinage we still do not know everything, in fact some basic questions remain unanswered. I think some one will figure it out.

    Another member of this board and Forum started calculating average weights , it is an ongoing project for him. Ross is the most knowledgeable person I know on post 1204 coinage so it was nice to see him go earlier in time to 12th century for his studies.

    SBCV 1987 does hit the market in waves, during his reign a ton of money was stolen during a riot. I don't know if it was raw metal or struck coins but a lot was stolen. Somewhere I have the exact quote. I will share if I find it.

    Thank You it is a once in a life time piece. The large flan made it an excellent strike.
  11. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    As requested another example, also heavy weight. Also in my collection.

    OBV Bust of Virgin nimbate orans, wearing tunic and maphorion; beardless, nimbate head of Christ on breast.

    REV Bust of emperor wearing stemma, skaramangion or divitision, and sagion; holds in r. hand labarum headed scepter, and in left globus cruciger.

    Size 22mm

    Weight 5.9gm

    This is a Thessalonica minted coin, it contains no silver. It is believed to be valued at 1/864 Hyperpyron and the Metropolitan (Constantinople) issues at 1/288 Hyperpyron. This coins are much more common than Metropolitan coins and very abundant in today’s marketplace.

    A really nice example much heaver than norm, beautiful portrait of Virgin.
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  12. catadc

    catadc Well-Known Member

    @Only a Poor Old Man That is a very nice coin and one of the best for the type.

    The SBCV 1987 is for sure not the holy grail of the tetartera. It appeared frequently on the market during the past year. It is difficult to find a nice one because of weak strikes and of wear, but is it easy to just find one.

    I've seen reverses with ANDRONIKOC or ANDRONIKOC DECPOTHC; yours is the first type; second is on Labarum website:

    The project that BenSi mentioned with average weight is here. Feel free to contribute. I also want to contribute some new coins.

    Last, my second SBCV 1987, 3.2 grams.
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  13. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    I agree, it is a very nice example and with the rarer ΔΕCΠΟΤΗC legend on it. This is of course where the word 'despot' comes from. I find that with copper coins patina is very important and it can greatly improve the coin as in this case. Even if poor Theotokos looks like she is sporting a nose-ring.

    One thing I omitted from my write up is the meaning and significance of the designs on these coins. They are of course directly related to the popular iconography of the Orthodox faith, and those themes are still popular today and are reproduced in both portable icons and church wall paintings. Here is an almost contemporary example of the 'Our Lady of the sign' which is the theme that can be found on the Adronicus tetartera.

    virgmar (2).jpg
    (13th century, Yaroslavl, Russia - Wikimedia Commons (cropped))

    For a more detailed explanation of the religious significance behind the 'Theotokos of the sign' theme, you can read this article I found:

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  14. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    In the OP and in the other posts, the Virgin is NOT holding the baby Jesus; the baby Jesus is depicted as being in her womb. Her hands are extended outward. If you understand Byzantine iconography and hymnography (I'm rather expert in the latter), this is a no-brainer. It is the icon of the Platytera (ΠΛΑΤΥΤΕΡΑ) which is commonly seen behind and above the altar of many Orthodox Churches. The inscription on these icons is "Η ΠΛΑΤΥΤΕΡΑ ΤΩΝ ΟΥΡΑΝΩΝ", "(She who is) wider than the heavens", which is a reference to the hymn chanted as the megalynarion when the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, and during Matins when the 8th tone is the tone of the day. It is a reference to Mary's womb; since it contained He who is uncontainable, her womb is sung of as being "wider than the heavens". "ΜΡ ΘΥ" is an abbreviation of "ΜΗΤΗΡ ΘΕΟΥ", "Mother of God".
  15. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ..wow @Only a Poor Old Man ...kool coin..& that would make a good docu-movie or an interesting mini-series...:)
  16. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    I'm curious as to your sources regarding Byzantine history. A good one in my view is A. A. Vasiliev's History of the Byzantine Empire, which is in two volumes. Are you familiar with it? I find Vasiliev to be very fair in his treatment. Some authors are biased.
  17. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I know this was not addressed to me but I like Norwich for general byzantine history, his three volume set was quite a read.

    Here s a fun site with short Byzantine history. It just gives basic stats on the 94 rulers of the empire. Its Fun.

  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Kindly allow me to second the question. Besides Norwich (who, for popular history, really knew how it was done), the best I have for the period are the Penguin translation of Anna Komneni's Alexiad (the 2003 revision is a huge improvement), and a secondary source, Byzantium and the Crusades, by Jonathan Harris (2nd ed., 2014).
  19. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for the wonderful telling of the amazing story. Byzantine indeed!

    Here is my example of the OP type, Sear 1987


    21-17 mm. 4.29 grams.
    It is a variety which spells out ΔEΠSΩTHC (or is it ΔECΠΩTHC ?) [Edited to add the Pi in where it goes. Thanks @Only a Poor Old Man .
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2020
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  20. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    It is true that when it comes to writing about history bias always plays a strong role. Does the writer have a positive or a negative view of the personality or event they are writing about? And when writing specifically about Byzantium there are some additional factors that will determine the tone of the work. Has the author a positive or negative view towards Christianity? Do they consider Byzantium equal or inferior to classical Greece? Do they regard it as a continuation of the Roman Empire or just a Greek diversion of that history? The key is to read as much as you can and make your own conclusions.

    Haven't seen this site before. Looks like fun.

    It should be ΔΕCΠΩΤΗC? There is definitely a Π there, but the C does look like an S...

    I haven't read Norwich or Vasiliev, I will definitely check them out. Another author that dedicated most of his life's work to Byzantium and has written famous books on the subject is Sir Steven Runciman.
    manny9655, BenSi and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  21. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    The C and Σ (sigma) are interchangeable. They are just different forms of the same letter. ΔΕCΠΩΤΗC (or ΔΕΣΠΩΤΗΣ) is perhaps an alternate spelling or a misspelling, it should be an omicron instead of omega. It means "Master". But I'm surprised that the word ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ("Emperor" or "King") was not used instead.
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