Born in the Purple

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Sulla80, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    The coronation of the young Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus as Byzantine co-emperor in 908 from a 12th or 13th century illuminated manuscript known as the Madrid Scylitzes which chronicles the reigns of Byzantine emperors from the death of Nicephorus I in AD 811 to Michael VI in 1057.

    Constantine VII is called Porphyrogenitus on my latest coin, struck in Constantinople. "Born in the Purple", emphasizes his legitimacy. He was the illegitimate child of Leo VI however, his mother gave birth to him in the Purple Room of the imperial palace. Leo VI did marry Zoe after the birth of Constantine - but as his 4th marriage, this marriage was also of questionable legitimacy.

    This is the only coin to explicitly use this moniker (ΠORFVROG on line 2 of the reverse) and this is the first time this appears on any Byzantine coin. This coin is a silver miliaresion from the "period VIII" defined by Wroth in the British Museum Collection as April AD 945- November AD 949.

    There is a long calendar of events from his reign, very nicely and read-ably documented in the DOC reference. There is also an interesting coin from Constantine VII overstruck on Romanus I from @Valentinian in a related CT post. Constantine is known as an accomplished ruler, an important scholar and a patron of literature and art. Several of his works are available to read on His rule ends with his death of natural causes in Nov 959.

    Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus.jpg
    Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, with son Romanus II. 913-959, AR Miliaresion, Constantinople mint. Struck 945-959
    Obv: IESuS xRIStVS nIcA, Cross-crosslet set on three steps; globus below
    Rev:+ COҺST’ τ’/ ΠORFVROG,/ CЄ ROmAҺO/ ЄҺ X’ω EVSEЬ’/ Ь’ RωmEOҺ in five lines
    Obv Translation: Jesus Christ Victor
    Rev Translation: Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Romanus, by the grace of Christ, Pius, Emperors of the Romans

    While DOC is unequivocal:“The small lettering and the redesigned cross on the reverse make it clear that they belong to the period of Romanus II, not that of Romanus I”

    I am surprised that all the CNG coins of this type (e.g. this one) are listed as Romanus I - I usually trust CNG attributions, so it does make me wonder if there is more recent information or some controversy here? As always, interested in any corrections, additions, or other information related to this coin or the history of its time.

    For those interested, I have a longer article on my blog site.

    Note: the full text of the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript that accompanies the illustrations shown is available at Wortley, J. (2010). John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057: Translation and Notes, Cambridge University Press.

    Post your miliaresia, coins of Constantine VII, Leo VI, Alexander, Romanus I or II and any others from this time period, or anything else you find interesting or entertaining.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  3. David@PCC


    These are great silver coins that are usually affordable.
    Romanus I
    931 to 945 AD
    Mint: Constantinople
    AR Miliaresion
    Obvs: IhSЧS XRIStЧS nICA, Cross potent on three steps with cross beneath. At center oval medallion of Romanus, RW left and MA right.
    Revs: +ROMANO CONSTANt StЄFAnOS CЄCONSTA ЄnWbR in five lines.
    23mm, 2.85g
    Ref: Sear 1755
  4. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Very only coin from this era is this Leo VI:

    Leo VI the Wise, Constantinople, AE Follis (27mm, 6.04g), 886-912 A.D., SB 1729
  5. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Outstanding post and a great coin! Byzantine silver coins are actually fun to collect and as been pointed out, very affordable. Here is one where I should probably update the attribution a bit:

    Byzantine Empire: Basil II Bulgaroktonos with Constantine VIII (977-989 CE) AR Miliaresion, Constantinople (Sear-1810; DOC 17)

    Obv: Cross crosslet, with X at intersection, on base, globus, and four steps. In field left, facing bust of Basil, bearded, wearing loros and crown with cross and pendilia. In field right, facing bust of Constantine, beardless, wearing chlamys and crown with cross and pendilia. Triple linear border
    Rev: with ornament above and beneath. Triple linear border

  6. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Great coin. I would love to get a Byzantine Miliaresion. I am just waiting for the right one :)

    We had silver, we had bronze, let's have a gold one now! This one is mine and one of my favorites. For some reason Constantine VII Jesus Christ gold solidi are the most affordable on the market.

  7. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Very cool miliaresion. I don't have any examples in my collection yet, but I've seen them priced at around $250-300, so less than a solidus.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  8. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Nice additions, all! I will also mention that there are some "edges" visible on my coin - and in the photo if you look at full image - that make me wonder - is there some overstruck coin underneath? e.g.
    other opinions?
  9. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    The miliaresion was the Byzantine response to the dirhems and thus, it is not uncommon to see overstrikes between the two. In fact, I have been on the hunt for a nice overstrike for a while now. Here is one that came to auction a while ago:


    You can read more about the overstrikes here:
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  10. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Thanks for sharing - I enjoyed the article. Given this one is later than the time period discussed, I am wondering if it might be more likely Constantine VII - re-minting common coins naming his father-in-law and brothers-in-law:
  11. Edessa

    Edessa Supporter! Supporter

    I like this one because it has peck marks...

    Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus with Romanus I, AD 913-959. AR Miliaresion (23mm, 3.20g). Constantinople mint, struck AD 945-959. Obv: IhSYS XRI–StYS nICA; Cross crosslet on base and three steps, ornamented with X at intersection; below, small globe. Rev: + COҺST' τ'/ΠORFVROG,/CЄ ROmAҺO/ЄҺ X'ω EVSEЬ'/Ь' RωmEOҺ; in five lines. Ref: SB 1757; DOC 21. About Very Fine with peck marks.

  12. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    I see you list "Romanus I" - and based on DOC I see Romanus II. "peck marks" does invite a smile, and questions e.g. what type of bird, when and where?
  13. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    Great post, Sulla80. Is always so nice to see illustrations from other media, in this case, the Madrid Scylitzes. Thank you for sharing! You rightly questioned some of CNG’s attributions of Sear 1757, where they indicate Constantine’s colleague as Romanus I. Where they have done so, they are simply wrong. I did a test search of the CNG database using only “SB 1757” as the search. This produced 12 hits, 9 of which refer to Romanus I, while on 3, they call him correctly Romanus II.

    Here are a few of mine to add to the fun. Leo III introduced the lighter, thinner miliaresion, in contrast to the heavier hexagram that had formed the basis of silver currency in the East for much of the 7th century. The general appearance of the miliaresia resembles that of the contemporary lead seals, having an inscription in several lines across the field and the inscription Ihsus Xristus Nika surrounding a cross on steps. However, their thin flans, aniconic character, and triple dotted border show their derivation from the Muslim dirhem. For the first century of its existence, the miliaresion always bears the names of joint rulers, never that of a single emperor. Their initial function seems to have been ceremonial, struck to celebrate the accession of a junior imperial colleague. This ceremonial nature explains the use of the vocative case for the emperors’ names, with some expression as “tu vincas” understood. For a discussion of the miliaresion, see DOC Vol. 3:1, p. 62 sqq.

    All coins: top row, left to right, followed by bottom row.

    First photo, to set the stage:

    1. Constantine V. Miliaresion overstruck on dirhem . Constantinople, 751-775. 1.42 gr. 20 mm. hr. 6. Sear 1554; DO 5.5; BNP 3; BM 13-14; R. 1753.

    2. Leo VI. Miliaresion. Constantinople, 886-912. 2.68 gr. 23 mm. hr. 12. Sear 1726; DO 3; BNP 1-3; BM 4-5; R. 1870-1.

    3. Leo VI and Alexander. Follis. Constantinople, 886-912. 7.14 gr. 27 mm. hr. 6. Sear 1730; DO 6; BM 11-12; R. 1875.

    4. Same as no. 3, cut down to amulet? 1.95 gr. 22 mm. hr. 6.

    5. No. 4 overlaid on no 3.
    Leo VI.jpg

    Second photo, Constantine and the Lecapeni. The literature of the long reign of Constantine VII and his unwelcome Lecapeni in-laws is extensive, but 2 books that sit on my shelves may be of interest: Steven Runciman’s The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his reign : a study of tenth-century Byzantium. Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1988, c1929 and Arnold Toynbee, Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his world. London, New York, Oxford University Press, 1973.

    1. Romanus I and Constantine VII. Copper pattern solidus, DO class IX. Constantinople, 931. 3.23 gr. 21 mm. hr. 5. Pattern coins, i. e., trial issues struck usually in copper that for some reason or other failed to receive official approval as regular issues make their first appearance in the Byzantine numismatic record with the Macedonian dynasty. Grierson, in DOC vol. 3:1, p. 98 notes that “nearly half of the small number we possess are from the reign of the art-loving Constantine VII…”Sear 1742A; DO 9.

    2. Constantine VII and Romanus II. Solidus. Constantinople, 945-959. 4.36 gr. 20 mm. hr. 6. Sear 1751; DO 15; BNP 15-22; BM 60-61; R. 1905.

    3. Constantine VII alone. Miliaresion. Constantinople, 914-921. 3.13 gr. 26 mm. hr. 12. Sear 1752; DO 16. This very rare issue, struck before Romanus I forced himself upon the throne, is characterized by the large lettering. Cf. with the lettering of no. 6.

    4. Romanus I, Christopher, and Constantine VII. Miliaresion. Constantinople, 921-931. 2.57 gr. 25 mm. hr. 11. Sear 1754; DO 18; BNP 1-3; BM 41; R. 1894.

    5. Romanus I, Constantine VII, Stephan and Constantine Lecapenus. Miliaresion. Constantinople, 931-944. 2.87 gr. 24 mm. hr. 1. Sear 1755; DO 20; BNP 4-9; BM 42; R. 1895-96. On this class, Romanus places his portrait in the center of the cross.

    6. Constantine VII and Romanus II. Miliaresion. Constantinople, 945-959. 3.08 gr. 23 mm. hr. 12. Sear 1757; DO 21; BNP 10-14; BM 67-69; R. 1906.
    Lecapeni et al..jpg
  14. Edessa

    Edessa Supporter! Supporter

    The same "bird" that pecked all those English pennies, which I could see this coin circulating beside in a Scandinavian context. I would refer you to:

    "Metal analyses of Viking-Age coins. In: Metal analyses of coins 2018:1. Stockholm Numismatic Institute" by Eeva Jonsson.

    This fascinating paper discusses the wide range of silver coins imported into Viking-Age Sweden and is available on

    Hmm, I am certainly guilty of cutting and pasting attributions. Just looking at the auction records on AcSearch, it appears that several Auction Houses changed from the DOC Romanus II attribution to a Romanus I attribution sometime around 2010. But if the dating of AD 945-959 is correct, then it must be Romanus II.

    Outstanding posts by Sulla80 and Voulgaroktonou. Thanks for sharing!
  15. Edessa

    Edessa Supporter! Supporter

    As an act of contrition for "caught being lazy" with attributions, here is another SB 1751 for your viewing pleasure.

    Constantine VII & Romanus II, AD 913-959. AV Solidus, (20mm, 4.39g, 6h) imitative or irregular mint. Obv: EH XIS H EOX J STIN +; Facing bust of Christ, with cross nimbus having two pellets in each arm, right hand raised, and holding book of Gospels. Rev: GIHSHTE IOWLTUGGC; Facing crowned busts, left one wearing loros, right with chlamys, jointly holding patriarchal cross between them. Ref: cf. SB 1751; Cf. DOC III 15.28; BN p. 570, 24 (same obverse die). Ex ORC.

  16. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Great coin, although I'm not sure we want to set a precedent where acts of contrition are required :) thanks for the Eeva Jonsson reference too!
    Fantastic - thanks for the great collection of relevant coins, additional information and references. I love the amulet overlay photo. There must been a major astrological event in 1973 - as there seems to have been an unusual surge of publications related to Byzantine history, Constantine VII, and coins. Glad too to be reassured on the Romanus I or II question.
    Voulgaroktonou, Edessa and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Wow. And Wow. Not done saying, Wow. Peck marks. That just Has to elicit speculation. Could this have been by way of the established Rus' trade routes, or, Just Maybe --especially as of the earlier 10th c.-- Varangians?
    Edessa likes this.
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Edessa, is this paper online? Honest, and stuff.
  19. Edessa

    Edessa Supporter! Supporter

    From the Jonsson paper, what I find fascinating is this map of the mints represented in coins found in Swedish contexts. I may have missed one or two, but just scanning the text, she notes the following types:

    Islamic coins: 83,353
    Sasanian: 206
    Volga-Bulgar imitations: 3,172
    Byzantine: 627
    Georgian: 1
    Indian: 1
    Spain: 2
    Carolingian: 75
    Other French: 20
    German: 107,749
    Italian: 78
    Bohemian: 378
    Polish: 14
    Russia: 6
    Hungary: 144
    English: 43,184
    Hiberno-Norse: 538
    Hiberno-Manx: 4
    Nordic: 769
    Scandinavian imitations: 2,116
    Danish: 5,317
    Norwegian: 232
    Swedish imitations: 781

    The paper discusses XRF analysis of a cross section of these coins and finds that the silver content may not, in general, have been as high as previously believed.

    To quote: "The coins were regularly bent and pecked to control the fineness. By bending or breaking the silver, coins with a deceptive silver surface could be noticed. It is also believed, that the quality of silver was easy to assess for the experienced trader by pecking."


    This paper is available in Search for "Metal analyses of Viking-Age coins". Link below:
    Sulla80 and DonnaML like this.
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