Featured Emperor/Despot John Comnenus Ducas - One of the Most Prolific Byzantine Minters - History + Coinage

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by The Trachy Enjoyer, Apr 11, 2021.

  1. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    The History:
    John Comnenus Ducas was ruler of the Empire/subsidiary of Thessalonica from 1237-1244. His father, Theodore I Comnenus Ducas, was emperor of a wide swath of territory. Theodore started with the small kingdom of Epirus but quickly conquered Thessaly, Thessalonica, Macedonia, and parts of Thrace. Theodore was the leading Byzantine figure of the era, only rivaled by the alternative claimant to the Byzantine throne, Nicaean Emperor John III.
    Carte_Thessalonique_1204.png
    Theodore was highly capable and seen by most as the man who would retake Constantinople from the Latins after the fourth crusade. Theodore was preparing to do just this in 1230 when he amassed an army to march on Constantinople. At the last minute, however, Theodore diverted his army for unknown reasons to Bulgaria where he suffered a crushing defeat. Captured along with his son John Comnenus Ducas, both were imprisoned for 7 years by the Bulgarian emperor John II Asen. At some point in captivity, Theodore was blinded, thus ending his eligibility to rule the Empire of Thessalonica.

    In the mean time, Theodore's brother Manuel became ruler of Thessalonica with the support of John II Asen. He did not take the title emperor, however, but the lower title of Despot (equivalent to the use of Caesar in the older Roman empire). In 1237, however, Theodore agreed to marry his daughter to John II Asen in exchange for his freedom. Theodore and his John returned to Thessalonica after this long imprisonment to find a much weakened state. Manuel fled and Theodore installed his son John onto the throne, Theodore himself being ineligible himself after his blinding. John Comnenus Ducas ruled Thessalonica from his coronation in 1237 until 1242 when Thessalonica was attacked by their old rivals, the Nicaean Empire.

    The Nicaean Emperor John III decided to attack after John Comnenus Ducas had himself crowned emperor, a title not used in Thessalonica for over a decade and a direct attack on the authority of Nicaea. Theodore was first invited to visit John III, at which point the old blinded man was seized and imprisioned. John III was fearful of Theodore and saw him as the only real threat to Nicaea's claim to be the heir of Byzantium. John Comnenus Ducas was left on the Thessalonican throne without his father and was allegedly more interested in becoming a Monk than ruling his domain.

    After capturing Theodore, John III led a full invasion into Thessalonica. John III surrounded the city and released Theodore to negotiate surrender with his son. At this moment the Seljuks were causing trouble in the East and John III needed to return home quickly. He offered John Comnenus Ducas to the take the lower title of Despot and become a vassal of Nicaea in exchange for keeping his throne. John Comnenus Ducas accepted and John III returned East, securing the nominal overlordship of his only real rival.

    John Comnenus Ducas ruled as Despot from 1242 until his death in 1244. Theodore's other son was crowned Despot and ruled for a further two years until John III deposed him and secured Thessalonican lands under the direct rule of Nicaea.

    Theodore lived out his days in exile in Vodena. Theodore is described as, "energetic, resourceful, and exceedingly ambitious statesman, who inherited from his ancestor Alexios I Komnenos his endurance and persistence, but not the latter's intelligence, diplomacy, and ability to adapt". Theodore had much potential but it was squandered.

    Theodore's brother Manuel returned 4 years later and captured key cities in southern Greece, establishing the Kingdom of Thessaly. John III would go on to lead a flourishing Nicaean empire and future generations would look back to his reign as a golden age. His lands flourished, the arts were patronized, trade was increasing, and peace was (mostly) established. He great consolidated power in the shattered world of Byzantium post 1204. The ground work laid by John III would serve Michael VIII well when Constantinople was retaken. The question was no longer after John III...only when. John III would eventually become a Saint and was widely revered in Greek lands (then Turkish) as a quasi-mythical king up until the 19th century. He is still revered in the city of his birth today.

    The history of John Comnenus Ducas reads like a story where everyone is notable but himself...his coinage is quite different.

    The Coinage:
    John Comnenus Ducas is one of the most prolific rulers in terms of coinage produced. The standard rate of AE coins minted in the post 1204 Byzantine world was one new coin type per regnal year. Theodore I, father of John and ruler of Thessalonica for 6 years, minted 7 AE coin types. Manuel I, brother of Theodore, ruled for 7 years and minted 7 different AE coins. John III, emperor of Nicaea, ruled for 32 years over Nicaea and minted 30 different AE types. John III ruled over Thessalonica for 12 years and minted 13 types there. John Comnenus Ducas stands in stark contrast.

    Ruling Thessalonica for just 7 years, John Comnenus Ducas minted a total of 29 different AE types and 53 if you differentiate on module size! This large disparity in coins produced is quite remarkable and John's prolific minting is not like any other comparative figure. The designs of John are not only more varied, but also more creative. Whole new types appear on his coins not seen anywhere else before. These, referred to as "novel" types, don't have an explanation as to why so many new types were introduced.

    IMG_7032_scrubbed.png IMG_7033_scrubbed.png IMG_7035_scrubbed.png
    (This hand drawn table was created by Simon Bendall is his article "Notes on the Coinage in the name of John Comnenus-Ducas of Thessalonica (AD 1237-44)". It was published in The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-) , 2002, Vol. 162 (2002), pp. 253-263. I received the article from JSTOR and am sharing just a small portion of the article with these drawings for the purpose of collaboration and discussion about the coinage of John Comnenus Ducas. These drawings should be free and fair to use according to JSTOR's terms. However, if that for some reason is not the case please contact me and I will remove them immediately. The article is a great read I would recommend all interested to read it in its entirety as much great information is there contained.)

    Of note, John's types tend to be scare to rare. It appears that many different types were minted but perhaps the overall amount of coins minted is roughly the same or less as his predecessors. Based on hoard evidence, about 0.7% of coins in circulation were of John Comnenus Ducas which points to his coinage as being quite scare indeed (less than 1 in 100 of the already scare coins from the era being from him...combined with 29 different types...good luck to the collector:oops:). The exception to this number being one outlying hoard found where 23% of coins were of John Comnenus Ducas (Of note, this was a small hoard with 26 trachys. The other hoards found had hundreds or thousands of trachys, all of which fell below 1% of the total coins). 6 known hoards contain coins of his.

    On the topic of module size, Simon Bendall writes, "These coins were struck in three sizes which are identified as Series I, II and III. Series I coins tend to weigh between c.3.00 g and 2.40 g and have a diameter of between c.28 and 24 mm. Series II coins are of approximately the same weight but are somewhat smaller, thus being a little thicker. Series III coins are considerably smaller, c.15 mm or less and weigh between 1.50 g and .50 g". Series III is the most common and series I the most scare, with many series I coins found clipped to series III size. It appears that series III types were only struck in Thessalonica for trade with Bulgaria. Nicaean Emperor John III minted no known series III coins upon taking over Thessalonica in 1246 after the dethronement of Demetrios Comnenus Ducas. Series III types copy all known series I types and it could be that series III are imiations. Series I is very scare and not many types survive. Future finds might discover more Series I types which could confirm or deny the imiation theory.

    Hendy speculates that the module III of John Comnenus Ducas were perhaps of a moving Venetian mint into the 1250s. This is not likely and well debunked by Ross Glanfield at https://glebecoins.net/paleos/Artic...nenus-Duc/the_coins_of_john_comnenus-duc.html . That article also discusses the proposed module IV introduced by CLBC which would classify coins roughly the same size as module III but of a lower weight.

    Bendall also points out that due to no known overstrikes of John Comnenus Ducas' coins, they can not be dated beyond his general reign. Interestingly, John Comnenus Ducas is the only ruler of this era to featured as beardless on his coins! The sucessor of John Comnenus Ducas, Demetrios, probably minted only one scare type but Bendall suggests that the coins of John might have been continually minted under Demetrios, extending the production time from 1237-44 to 1237-46.

    The coins of John Comnenus Ducas are very interesting but many questions remain to be answered.

    My examples (pictures have the reverse first, sorry:hungover:):

    John Comnenus-Ducas, as emperor of Thessalonica, 1237-1242. Trachy, Thessalonica
    1B1AA9CF-2E44-4AAA-BF58-366984BB7040_scrubbed.png
    Obverse: St. Theodore, bearded and nimbate, standing facing in military attire, holding sprear in his right hand and placing his left on shield set on ground.

    Reverse: IωANIC ΔHC John standing facing on the left, wearing divitision and loros, holding anexikakia in his left hand and labarum in his right, crowned by the St. Demetrius, nimbate, standing facing on the right and holding hilt of his sword with his left hand. DOC 2; SB 2188
    This coin is an example of a Series I coin clipped down to series III size.
    --------

    John Comnenus-Ducas, as emperor of Thessalonica, 1237-1242. Trachy, Thessalonica
    76EB3569-B4AC-4A58-843D-E03C92FCA5EA_scrubbed.png
    Obverse: Facing bust of the Virgin Mary, orans

    Reverse: Winged emperor standing facing, holding labarum. DOC 34; SB 2219; CLBC R4
    --------

    John Comnenus-Ducas, as emperor of Thessalonica, 1237-1242. Trachy, Thessalonica.
    A48C66D6-B843-466F-B612-8D0B5A5157AA_scrubbed.png

    Obverse: Eagle with wings outstretched, head to left

    Reverse: Patriarchal cross between facing busts of John and St. Demetrius. DOC 20; SB 2205; CLBC R3

    Sources:

    http://www.forumancientcoins.com/ancient-maps/displayimage.php?album=lastup&cat=0&pos=6

    https://glebecoins.net/paleos/Articles/The_Coins_of_John_Comnenus-Duc/the_coins_of_john_comnenus-duc.html


    Notes on the Coinage in the name of John Comnenus-Ducas of Thessalonica (AD 1237-44) on JSTOR

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Komnenos_Doukas


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Doukas


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Komnenos_Doukas


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_III_Doukas_Vatatzes

    Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV part 1 and 2

    Late Byzantine Coins in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
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  3. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Very nice write up. I especially love the tables. Very useful.

    I have no direct coins form the despotate of Thessalonica, however I have a couple from their rivals, the empire of Nicaea. In a period of great need with the Latins occupying Constantinople and the Turks advancing from the east, one would have expected from the Greeks to unite against the common enemies. Alas, they kept fighting each other... I guess they never really abandoned the city-state mentality.

    theo_combo2.jpg

    nicaeacombo2.jpg
     
  4. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I have one of his coins at hand, a tetarteron of course.
    mmx.jpg
    John Comnenus -Ducas (1237-1244) Half tetarteron
    OBV IC XC in field Cross potent on three steps.

    REV + :Greek_Iota:W / / :Greek_Omicron:C / :Greek_Lambda:C

    Size 16mm

    Weight 1.00gm
     
  5. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Woah! I have not seen one of those outside of reference books before:woot:! Nice coin!
     
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  6. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    I like John Comnenus-Ducas and I have several of his coins (and a few that still needs to be photographed):

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Small Module Trachy, Thessalonica (CLBC 14.29.3; Penchev p. 52, No. 224; CNG Lot 1521/2001)
    Obv: Θ ΔΙ or similar; Full-length figure of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate, wearing chiton, body armor with pteryges, and saigon; in right hand holding sword, resting over shoulder, and in left, shield, resting on ground
    Rev: IШ ΔЄ or similar; Full-length figure of emperor wearing stemma, divitision, orarion, and cloak; in right hand hold labarum on long shaft, and in left, anexikakia

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Small Module Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2216; DOC IV, Type Q B.30; CLBC 14.20.3; Grierson 1226)
    Obv: Cross, radiate, decorated with pellets
    Rev: IШ to left, ΔC to right; Full-length figure of emperor wearing stemma, chiton, body armor with pteryges, and sagion; holds in right hand sword, resting over shoulder, and in left, castle with three towers

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Small Module Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2220; DOC IV, Type V B.35; CLBC 14.26.3; Lianta 424)
    Obv: Wing to left or to right
    Rev: Winged, beardless bust of emperor, wearing stemma, divitision and collar-piece; holds in right hand sword resting over shoulder or jeweled scepter, and in left, anexikakia; surmounting the crenelated walls of a city

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (CLBC 14.1.4; Jordanov pl. XXXVI, 4-6)
    Obv: Brockage
    Rev: Full-length figure of emperor on left, and of Virgin nimbate, holding between them cross within circle, surmounting triangular decoration on long shaft. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and paneled loros of simplified type; holds anexikakia in right hand. Virgin wears tunic and maphorion.

    [​IMG]


    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (CLBC 14.10.4; Jordanov pl. XXXVII, 12; Petrich p. 47, 199-200)
    Obv: Brockage
    Rev: IШAN ΔЄCΠΟΤ or no legend; Emperor seated upon throne without back. Wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece, and paneled loros of simplified type; holds scepter cruciger in right hand, and anexikaika in left hand
    Dim: 12mm, 0.65g

    [​IMG]
     
  7. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (CLBC 14.14.3; Lianta 405; Metcalf 1973, No. 117)
    Obv: Full-length figure of angelic being with four wings, beardless and nimbate, with outstretched arms, holding short spear in each hand; wears tunic and cloak
    Rev: IШΛNIC - OAΓAM; Full-length figure of emperor on left, and of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate, on right, holding between them cross, surmounted by globule, on long shaft. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece, and jeweled loros of simplified type; holds in right hand anexikakia. Saint wears chiton, body armor with pteryges, and sagion, holds short spear, in left hand, resting over shoulder

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (CLBC 14.5.4.A)
    Obv: Brockage
    Rev: Half-length figure of emperor on left, and of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and paneled loros of simplified type. Saint wears chiton, body armor with pteryges, and sagion; Emperor holds shaft with left hand, the Saint with both hands

    [​IMG]


    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2200; DOC IV, Type B 15; Lianta 378-80)
    Obv: ΓⒶ ΔΘЄOΔPC in two columnar groups. Full-length figure of St. Theodore, bearded and nimbate, wearing short military tunic, breastplate and sagion; right hand holds spear; left hand holds shield; Lily in field to either side
    Rev: IШΛNHCΔCCΠT - OAΓIC; Full-length figure of emperor on left, crowned by St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and panelled loros of simplified type; right hand holds labarum-headed scepter; left hand holds anexikakia. Saint wears short military tunic, breastplate and sagion; left hand holds sword, point resting on ground. Star in upper center field.

    [​IMG]


    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2202; DOC IV, Type D 17a; Lianta 384-86)
    Obv: ΛΘЄOΔШPS in two columnar groups; Half-length figure of St. Theodore, bearded and nimbate, wearing tunic, breastplate and sagion; right hand holds sword resting over shoulder; left hand holds sheath?
    Rev: IШΔCCΠO - ΛΔHMHT; Half-length figure of emperor on left, and of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate; between them large cross within circle, surmounting triangular decoration on long shaft; Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and jeweled loros of simplified type; Saint wears tunic (breastplate?) and sagion; Emperor holds shaft with left hand, saint with both hands

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2205; DOC IV, Type G B.20; CLBC 14.8.3)
    Obv: Eagle with wings outstretched; head turned to left
    Rev: Busts of emperor on left, and of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate; between them patriarchal cross-crosslet on long shaft, at the base of which, steps; Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and jeweled loros of simplified type, Saint wears tunic, breastplate and sagion; left hand holds spear

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2207; DOC IV, Type B 15; Lianta 378-80)
    Obv: Bust of the Theotokos facing
    Rev: John standing facing, holding akakia and being crowned by Christ standing left

    [​IMG]


    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2210; DOC IV, Type L B.25a; Grierson 1223; CLBC 14.13.3; Lianta 401-404; Bendall, Notes 20/III)
    Obv: Head of cherub nimbate, with wings
    Rev: IШ - OAΓOC; Full-length figure of emperor on left, and of beardless, nimbate saint (Demetrius?) in military dress; between them cross, surmounted by globule on long shaft. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece, and jeweled loros of simplified type; right hand holds anexikakia; Saint wears short military tunic, breastplate and sagion; left hand holds sword resting over shoulder

    [​IMG]


    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear 2214; DOC IV, Type O B.28; CLBC 14.18.3; Lianta 411-13)
    Obv: MP - ΘV in field; Virgin seated upon throne without back; holds head of Christ on breast
    Rev: ΔЄCΠΟΤIC - IШANNIC; Full-length figure of emperor wearing stemma, divitision, collar-piece and jeweled loros of simplified type; right hand holds labarum-headed scepter; left hand holds anexikakia. Manus Dei in upper right field

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas (1237-1242) BI Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear-2206; Bendall, Notes 13/III; DOC 21)
    Obv: Half-length figure of emperor wearing stemma, divitision, panelled loros of simplified type and sagion; right hand holds scepter cruciger.; left hand holds globus cruciger
    Rev: St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate, seated upon throne without back, wearing tunic (breastplate?) and sagion; right hand holds sword; left hand holds sheath, held horizontally across knees; Lily above cushions of throne, on both sides

    [​IMG]

    Kingdom of Thessalonica: John Comnenus-Ducas, as Despot of Thessalonica (1242-1244) Æ Trachy (Sear 2215; DOC IV, Type P 29.2; CLBC 14.19.3) Obv: Crescent between four stars and pellets in groups of four
    Rev: ΔЄ - CΠO; Full-length figure of beardless emperor wearing stemma, divitision and chlamys; right hand holds labarum-headed scepter; left hand holds globus cruciger

    [​IMG]


    and so on...still got tons that need classifications, photographing. He had tons of coins and they were great...
     
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  10. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Here are a few that I photographed, but didn't classify, even though I know what catalog numbers they are:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Amazing collection of John Comnenus Ducas! That is quite the group you have assembled
     
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  12. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Aside from a few pieces I bought, they come from two large lots. Too bad I missed out on a third lot :(. The second lot is yet to be photographed...
     
  13. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Wow!!! That is amazing. The three I have all came from a single four coin group lot...I was surprised to see them there as the eagle trachy especially has a unique style and design...these coins sell for crazy amounts in auction the few times they come for sale so I am very glad to have gotten the few I have unattributed by the firm. I also have an unidentified John Comnenus Ducas type
    480D0DBD-C75E-44B0-9C41-36F5A1127576.png
    Reverse is a cull...

    Im thinking John Comnenus Ducas- St Demetrius both holding a model city type (Thessalonica) Sear 2213. Example from CNG:
    FA8109F8-6A5E-4D4E-B97B-03CCD984EEB0.png

    The only problem is, my example has the emperor holding a labarum and two “U”s in the middle, one rightside up the other upside down
     
  14. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Interesting...Can you provide a better picture of the reverse? Several of John's coins are uni-face coins, especially the smaller ones...
     
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  15. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    722BF4C8-673E-41D2-B39B-F97A3FAC1139.png
    This is a bit blurry. I am not sure which orientation is correct.
     
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  16. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Ah, I misread. I will take better pictures of the coin tomorrow, both sides

    Edit: I had some on hand, see below
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
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  17. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    06E46EEC-02E8-45AA-975E-FB00C9227D01.png A515B4B9-987A-4E29-B7A9-E9937644340D.png 0BCB75F4-6C5B-41F5-95BD-2B90040B1B43.png
    Here are somewhat better pictures (should be less blurry) plus the coin next to Bendall’s drawing for the possible ID type
     
  18. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Ram your collection is amazing, most of your pieces are examples that are in the best condition I have seen. My hats off to you Sir.
     
  19. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Yes, he blew me away. These are literally better than the plate coins I pour over all the time...these are really great (and then you remember these are of John Comnenus Ducas who is known for a diminutive style...quite exemplary coins from quant):hungry::arghh:

    If you ever want to sell duplicates ;)
     
  20. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

  21. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    One of those lucky acquisitions I would say, aside from the singular ones I picked up. I am just bummed I didn't purchase the other singular coins when it was offered.
     
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