Featured Echoes of Byzantium

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AussieCollector, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Echoes of Byzantium

    I originally posted this in Coin Chat, but I think it sits best in Ancients - even though this post is not specifically devoted solely to ancient coins. Anyway...

    As should be no surprise to anyone who knows me on this forum, I have a passion for history, especially the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire, and ancient Greece.

    All my Christmases came true late last year, when the other half agreed to a holiday to Greece completely devoted to history (and food and wine). I will do another post on ancient Greece, but this one focusses on the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire.

    On our Byzantine tour, we visited Athens (more known for ancient Greece, but there is a cultural museum dedicated to the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine), Meteora, Thessaloniki (the logic being it was the “second capital” of Byzantium), and Mt Athos.

    Here are some historical highlights from the trip, including (of course) coins.

    Byzantine architecture

    Byzantine architecture is truly impressive, from when it was barely distinguishable from Roman architecture, all the way through to the end of the Empire. Unfortunately a lot of what still stands today is towards the end of the Empire. Nonetheless, you can truly get a sense of the grandeur of the Empire – even in its twilight years – when you visit them.

    City Walls, Thessaloniki, circa late 4th/early 5th century

    Thessaloniki Castle, circa 13th century (I didn't manage to catch the grandeur of this structure)

    Byzantine Fort, Ouranoupoli, circa 13th century (with later additions and repairs)

    Great Meteoran Monastery, Meteora, 14th century (I climbed almost 100 floors that day)

    Just another street in Byzantium

    Varlaam Monestary, Meteora, 14th century

    Byzantine Corinthian Pillar with middle ages artwork, inside St Demetrios, circa 8th century (it was destroyed and re-built many times over, so difficult to put a precise date on)

    Byzantine art

    I have a strong appreciation for Byzantine art, particularly at the start of the Empire and at the end end of empire. But holy smokes, there was so much Orthodox iconography. You can definitely have too much of a good thing. The mosaics were also truly amazing.

    Military Saints, 14th century

    Mosaic, 6th century

    (we have a max of 10 pictures per post, so continued below)
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2020
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  3. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Mosaic, 6th century

    Byzantine coins

    And of course, I bee-lined to any display of coins at any museum or monastery, trying to get as much detail as reasonably possible.

    It was with some pride that I could stand there in a museum and say “I have that coin. And that one. And that one over there... wait, maybe it’s a different variant. Anyway, close enough. Oh, and that one!”






    Mt Athos

    And of course, the crowning glory of my trip to Byzantine was visiting what is (arguably) the last Byzantine state – Mt Athos. Over a decade ago I read about a place in Greece that still flies the Byzantine flag (technically it’s the Eastern Orthodox Church flag, but close enough), where life hadn’t changed for 1,000 years. I decided that I had to visit. And so I did.

    Government House, Athos (the Byzantine flag still flies!)

    For those not familiar with Mt Athos, it is an autonomous state within Greece (much like the Vatican), answerable to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Only males are allowed to enter, essentially to protect the 2,000 monks who have taken vows for life. Those visiting need special permission, and must carry a visa. As a ‘non-Orthodox pilgrim’, I was at their mercy on the dates, and had to build my trip around when I was allowed in.

    There are no hotels in Mt Athos, no restaurants (although there is a café), no malls, and no tourist information centres. Transport is mostly by walking.

    Pilgrims are required to stay with the monks in their 13th and 14th century monasteries (oh no!), and eat what the monks eat (they're vegetarian/pescatarian), which was basic but actually pretty good all things considered.

    Monastery and port, Mt Athos

    Pantokrator Monastery, Mt Athos, 14th century

    Dawn over Mt Athos (the actual mountain), from Pantokrator Monastery
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2020
  4. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Also, here is a handy guide to the Byzantium dynasties (poor Phocas, he's usually ignored) and related gold coins:


    upload_2020-1-12_11-40-38.png upload_2020-1-12_11-40-42.png upload_2020-1-12_11-40-47.png upload_2020-1-12_11-40-52.png upload_2020-1-12_11-40-56.png upload_2020-1-12_11-41-1.png upload_2020-1-12_11-41-8.png
  5. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Must have been a wonderful trip, great photos. That last one is fantastic.
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  6. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    Very beautiful photos and nice trip to Greece! I went last year and it was amazing. Visited Athens, Chania, and Rethymno. I really could feel the Roman vibe walking through the the ancient streets at night and hearing Greek left and right.

    Those museums in Athens were incredible. I basically spent the whole day looking at coins. :D
  7. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Yes, the museums in Athens were great. Funnily enough, the Athens museum had more Byzantium coins than the museum in Thessaloniki.
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Khnum-Hotep

    Sounds like a great trip.

    I have not been to Greece yet. I did, however, love my trip to Istanbul a couple of years back - favorite sites: Hippodrome with columns, Hagia Sophia and its mosaics and airiness. The 5th century columned cistern, Rumeli Hisar and Anadolu Hisar (two castles on either side of the Bosporus), and various other sites. The hostel where I stayed actually was built into the Theodosian walls, so that was kind of cool. Also enjoyed the cafes and Turkish coffee, and the hookah pipes on occasion.

    Managed to see the mehter, or Ottoman military band which accompanied the jannisaries into battle.

    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
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  9. Theodosius

    Theodosius Unrepentant Fine Style Freak! Supporter

    Great post thanks for sharing that and all the pictures. Looks like you had a really awesome trip.

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  10. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    That would have been quite the experience! Love the fact that you stayed inside the Theodosian walls.

    My I should go to Istanbul one day too.
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  11. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    That is something I would love to do! Greece, Rome, and Istanbul are high on my to go places...
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  12. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Yes! I think many of us like ancient coins because they connect to history. If you walk around Greece or Italy or Turkey, you are never very far from ancient historical sites and history is alive there. I live in Oregon, not Tuscany, but when I visited Tuscony two months ago I could feel the medieval history in the hilltop towns. If I lived there, I'd probably collect medieval coins (in addition to ancients).

    Thank you very much for posting your pictures.
  13. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    I've been to Greece and Rome, and I think I'll do Istanbul. I can't think of anything better to do than walking down the streets of the old Roman capital at night.
  14. wegm10

    wegm10 New Member

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.
  15. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Great post @AussieCollector. I hope you really enjoyed your Byzantine pilgrimage. In which monasteries did you spend the night in Athos? I imagine Pantokrator was one of them judging by the photos.

    Funilly enough, not only we took the same photo from the same exact spot (only difference is the time of day), but we both chose to post it in Cointalk! See my recent thread below:


    I have been to all the museums you mention, however back then I wasn't collecting coins so I didn't spend as much time looking at the coins as I would now!
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  16. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Thanks Poor Old Man, yea, it was amazing. Certainly a highlight of my life (and I'm not exaggerating).

    I only stayed 2 nights in Mt Athos (at first it was one, then I stretched it to two, but my wife wasn't having it for the third). As you rightly observed, the first night was at Pantokrator. The second night was at Koutloumousiuo.

    I didn't post a picture of it because I just wasn't able to capture the grandeur of the monastery. Here is the front entrance:


    And the seal in front of the entrance:


    And yes, I did see that we took the same photo. I guess it makes sense, you walk out of the monastery, look to your left and see a truly amazing view.

    I hope that one day I can go back to Mt Athos. But it is a significant investment for me to make it happen, and I don't know that I will get the chance again. But, we will see! Perhaps the excuse next time can be visiting the Greek islands and lying on a beach... and while we're there... I just might hop over to Byzantium :)
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  17. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Beautiful, thank you for sharing!
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