Featured John III "The Merciful" - Emperor, Saint, Restorer, Statesman, General - Trimetallic Examples

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by The Trachy Enjoyer, Jun 14, 2021.

  1. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    John III Vatazes -- emperor, Christian Saint, restorer of Byzantium and general wellbeing through out Anatolia and Greece, distinguished intellectual and statesman, successful soldier and general -- possesses a rare combination of talent and charisma seen in few humans across history. Such capable individuals shape and define the world around them, impacting people for hundreds of thousands of years to come. If the great man theory isn't true, then people such as this do all they can to disprove it..
    john va.jpg

    The History:
    Born into a humble family in the early 1190's (comparatively so...this was the era of powerful magnate families: Comnenus, Doucas, Phocas, Angelus, Lascaris, Palaeologous, Kantakouzenos), John's father saw rapid promotion under the Byzantine emperor Isaac Angelos. Not much is known of John's childhood, however, and he first pops up on the historical radar in 1204. After the Venetians sacked Constantinople, Theodore Lascaris set up an empire in exile in Anatolia to which John fled.

    The young man found himself welcomed by Theodore I Lascaris like many other fleeing Byzantine nobles. To what extent John served Theodore during the fallout of the fourth crusade is not known but it must have been significant because shortly after Theodore's assumption of the title of Byzantine Emperor in 1208, he gave his second daughter in marriage to John. With this marriage came the designation of heir, something which did not sit well Theodore's four brothers. That the emperor would choose John over his own kin as heir is testament to the potential of the man.

    Upon Theodore's death, John became emperor John III. To the north, John III's rival Andronikos I Gidon of Trebizond claimed to be the true byzantine emperor. To the north-west, John's rival Robert of Courtenay claimed to be the true emperor of byzantium. To the west, Theodore I Comnenus Ducas claimed to be the true byzantine emperor. Somewhere out there, Theodore's brothers were plotting revenge...the game of musical chairs was alive and well.

    The battle of Poimanenon was John III's first large act as emperor, in which a Lascarid (Theodore's brothers and their allies) and Latin coalition fought against him. John III won the battle, and his soldiers massacred any Latin invaders they could find while John III blinded the Lascarids who betrayed him. With this victory in hand, the Latins conceded most of Asia Minor to John III. From here, John III fought the venetians and captured key Aegean islands.
    John III continued to campaign and sieged the city of Constantinople multiple times. Although failing to take the city, the sieges allowed John to conquer more lands around the city. John continued to campaign through the out the 1230s, attacking the rival Byzantine state of Thessalonica. John III first forced the Thessalonican emperor John Comnenus Ducas to renounce the title of emperor and become a subservient despot. After the death of the Thessalonican John, John III deposed Thessalonican John's brother and annexed the despotate of Thessalonica, thus unifying two of the four contenders of the claim to be the true Byzantium. John III also forced the suzerainty of Epirus, controlling 3 out of the 4 successor states and more or less forming them into one unit (control of Epirus varied under his successors). John III more than doubled the territory he inherited as emperor and left behind a militarily strong Byzantium...in less than 10 years after his death, the empire would retake Constantinople under Michael VIII.

    John III's governance earn him as much credit as his exploits. He instituted a census and gave every citizen of the empire a plot of land to farm. Unlike many previous emperors before him and to the chagrin of the magnate families, John III promoted men of talent into the government and military, not just those with illustrious backgrounds. John "led a very frugal life, and took additional measures to curtail excessive spending of private wealth" (wiki). John III enacted rules to prevent political actions controlling the Church. He is well known for supporting the copying of manuscripts, many of which were lost to the West but were still appreciated in Byzantium. The foundational texts of Western civilization (the likes of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides and more) would only have survived in fragments and in many cases not at all had Byzantium alone and emperors like John III not preserved these texts for a thousand years. "With rare unanimity Byzantine historians unanimously glorify him...In spite of his epilepsy, John had provided active leadership in both peace and war. And even if there is some exaggeration by the sources in their estimate of the Emperor of Nicaea, John Vatatzes must be considered a talented and energetic politician, and the chief creator of the restored Byzantine Empire" (wiki).

    Michael Hendy writes in Dumbarton Oaks Catalogue IV, "John III is himself probably the most intelligent and attractive of the rulers of the thirteenth-century successor states; although he doubtless had his share of good luck in such matters, nevertheless he was an immensely successful politician and general...he was a prudent husbander of his empire's resources and manager of its expenditures, with some rarley coordinated concepts of an economic program; and he long possessed a repuation for the excercise of justice and mercy, being of good - even saintly - memory".

    Wiki quote:) "Internally, John's long reign was one of the most creditable in history, witnessing the careful development of the internal prosperity and economy of his realm, and encouraging justice and charity and a cultural blossoming. Despite expensive campaigns to restore Byzantine unity, he lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture, built schools, libraries, churches, monasteries, hospitals, and homes for the old or the poor. Literature and art prospered under him, and he took steps to ensure the harmonious coexistence of the State with the Church, so that Nicaea became one of the richest, fairest cities of the thirteenth century."

    It is not for nothing that he is known as John the Merciful. John III was canonized as a holy Saint and he is still worshipped in the Orthodox Faith to this day with a particularly strong following is home town of Didymoteicho.

    (On a side note of interest, John III was one of the first emperors to promote himself as not just Roman but equally Roman and Hellenes. John said, "the Greeks are the only heirs and successors of Constantine". John's son and heir Theodore II would go one step further and call his empire "Hellas". A new spirit of the Hellenes was awakening, but the "Greek" people would not consider themselves as truly such until the Greek revolution for independence in the 1840s)

    The lasting impact of John III was to leave behind a strong Byzantium which withstood against the Ottoman Turks against all odds until 1453. His governance lead to a bout of prosperity unmatched for rest of the empire's history. Constantinople, as the bulwark of Christianity, protected Western Europe for 200 years. Considering the devastating effects of Christian Muslim conflict in the 16th century, it is safe to assume that the course of history could have turned out very different without this stymying of Ottoman expansion

    The Coinage:


    (Top left: AE trachy, top right: AE tetarteron, center: AV hyperpyron, center right: AE trachy, bottom left: AR trachy, bottom right: AE trachy)

    John III was the first emperor to issue a trimetallic currency in over 30 years. With the sacking of Constantinople, no gold coins were issued in the successor states of Epirus and Thessalonica at all and none in Nicaea until John III (a few one off, ceremonial coins do exist in AV. Two AV pieces are known to exist for Theodore Lascaris). The new hyperpyron issued under John bear his name, the perperi boctazati - "hyperpyron of vatazes". John's hyperpyron varied in purity. The presence of a large amount of signa found on the coins obverse seem to correlate both to the year minted and to the purity of the coins. The Florentine banker Pegolotti wrote a book in antiquity describing signa in relation to purity. Those coins with no signa had the highest purity at 18 carats. Those with the + signa had the lowest at below 16 2/3 carats.
    IMG_9936_scrubbed.png IMG_9937_scrubbed.png

    AR Trachy:
    At least 17 EL/AR trachy types were known to Hendy upon publishing Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV in 1999. It appears that AR trachy designs were issued annually like the AE trachys. Unlike AE trachys, however, EL/AR trachys are extremely scant and hard to come by. Hendy points out, "...it should again be emphasized that many of them [EL/AR Trachys] are known from very few, even single, specimens, indicating both the small quantities produced and the brief duration of their production". Its unclear whether these served any real function in the economy.
    Screenshot (357).png Screenshot (358).png
    (Plate pictures from Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV Part 2, available for free through the Dumbarton Oaks website. These images are shared through fair use and are intended to be purely educational and to help facilitate discussion on ancient coins for the benefit of the public. This is just a small sample of what is contained in the volume which I highly recommend you download from Dumbarton oaks yourself. If you are the owner of the images and believe they do not constitute fair use, please contact me and I will remove them)

    I have one such AR piece which game from a group lot.
    Obverse: MP (OV) / the Virgin Mary seated on a backed throne holding Christ as her breast
    Reverse: IC (XC) John III Vatazes holding a labarum and Anexikakia, crowned by Christ holding the book of Gospels.

    This coin isn't in the best shape but I can't complain as it is unpublished. I am aware of one other example of the same type which I found while researching online. It was sadly misidentified by the seller so I wasn't able to learn much new but this example is in better shape (https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=7342679). Notice the style similarities with Dumbarton Oak type(s) 24(a-b) and 34a. The AR trachys on the whole tend to have a finer style, especially so when compared with AE trachys. Reasons for this vary but probably have to do with low mintage and more fresh dies being used. Compare the plates above and below to see the similarties and differences.

    John III issued a wide variety of trachys, only beaten in production by John Comnenus Ducas (write up on the history and coinage of John CD linked below). Sadly Bendall didn't draw the trachy types for John III like he did for John Comnenus Ducas. However, for anyone interested in the wide variety of types, Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV Part 2 (free online) and Late Byzantine Coins 1204-1453 would be recommendations ($40-50 hardback in print). Here are some of the Magnesian types of John III. Check out Dumbarton Oaks to the rest.
    Screenshot (359).png
    Screenshot (360).png
    (Plate pictures from Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV Part 2, available for free through the Dumbarton Oaks website. These images are shared through fair use and are intended to be purely educational and to help facilitate discussion on ancient coins for the benefit of the public. This is just a small sample of what is contained in the volume which I highly recommend you download from Dumbarton oaks yourself. If you are the owner of these images and believe they do not constitute fair use, please contact me and I will remove them)
    Types 56-62 are tetarteron, not trachys. The trachy types of John III were issued with a new design annually as can be seen above. The types vary but not excessively so like the coins of John CD.

    Like the hyperpyron, John III was the first Byzantine ruler to issue the tetarteron coin in almost 30 years. The tetarteron is a fun denomination and I recently created a write up about this so check out the link below for more information

    Further Readings:
    The tetarteron:

    For the coinage and history of John Comnenus Ducas, emperor deposed by John III:

    For the History and (one) coin of Theodore I Lascaris, predecessor of John III:

    Dumbarton Oaks Volume IV Part 2
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2021
    svessien, Ryro, Pavlos and 23 others like this.
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  3. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Great write-up. He certainly deserves it as he was one of Byzantium's great rulers.

  4. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    I ran out space on the thread but figured I might as well share these! These are my AE John III trachys
    IMG_0042.jpg IMG_3468.jpg IMG_0043.jpg
    Please share your John III or related byzantine coins!:)
  5. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    Great write up @The Trachy Enjoyer.

    Here is a John III tetarteron, his tetartera are not that rare , the most common being the St George Variety.
    John III (Magn.) AE Tetarteron SBCV -2119 DOC 61
    OBV. * in field. Three quarters length figure of Virgin nimbate and orans, wearing tunic and maphorion, turned slightly. R.

    REV Full length figure of emperor wearing stemma, divitision and jeweled loros of simplified type; Holds in r. hand labarum-headed scepter, and in l. globus surmounted by patriarchal cross, which he holds by the shaft.

    Weight 2.4gm

    Size 18.37mm

    Doc lists 4 examples with weights from 1.63 to 3.73gm and sizes from 18 to 22mm

    I think it is important that you point out that your tetartera article was based on Julian Bakers work and that was Greece alone ( I just finished ) He did not disagree in the billion variation but it did not circulate in Greece in any mass therefore it was not part of the study.
    I do have great respect for Julian Bakers work but I am finding it a bit hard to agree with a lot of his findings. One mint for official issues, no half issues , and the multitude of imitation tetartera created in the 13th century but the coinage was no longer important as a currency. I think the work is thorough but I disagree with the conclusions. Pagona Papadopoulou seems more focused in the time period , I am waiting for her work to be published, Pagona seems to agree with Michael Hendys work and Julian seems to be agreeing with very little of it, he seems to side with D.M. Metcalf where ever he can.

    We are still trying figure out Why John III imitated the gold coinage of John II? To the point the only way to determine between the two is purity of gold. John II 20 carats and John III 17 carats ( On average.) We also are still trying to figure out where he got the gold, a new vein somewhere?

    Eleni Lianta article discusses that in depth. Jump to conclusions for a quicker read.

    (13) (PDF) John II Comnenus (1118-43) or John III Vatatzes (1222-54)? (Distinguishing the Hyperpyra of John II from those of John III).pdf | Eleni Lianta - Academia.edu
  6. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Excellent writeup! I wasn't aware he was quite so important! I always thought of Michael VIII as being the main guy, since he retook Constantinople. Sounds like he could never have done it without John III.

    Like my only one!
    john iii tetart.jpg

    I also have a trachy:
    John III nicaea.jpg
  7. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @The Trachy Enjoyer........Wow! What an interesting write up....Thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a great deal...Thanks
    The Trachy Enjoyer likes this.
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Thanks for the write-up @The Trachy Enjoyer - I hope @Peter T Davis decides to feature it. I learned quite a bit about John III and hadn't realized his importance in the revival of the Byzantine state and how they kept the Ottomans at bay for many years. I did take an Ottoman history course in college which focused a bit on late Byzantine times, beginning around the reign of Osman who was born in 1258.
  9. pprp

    pprp Well-Known Member

    Intentionally or not you left a part of the story out of your post.

    "There is a sleeping General named John, who the Archangel Michael will reveal to the Christian people, and he will now reign."
    Elder Ephraim of Arizona

  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Magnificent OP and follow-up, @The Trachy Enjoyer, with the usual coins to match!
    It's been too recently that I posted my one, representative trachy of John. And I have a confession of sorts. I got it only for his significance to the late career of Jean de Brienne, who ended his days (d. 1237) as Latin emperor; father-in-law and regent for the equally incompetent Baldwin II (--relative to both John and, to a lesser extent, Jean). ...And who I collect expansively and obsessively. (France to Acre to Italy to the Latin empire --quite an arc.)
    ...Honest, who knew Wiki was That Good? Gotta find the article. I'll bet the bibliography for that will be an eye-opener, too. But your OP already did as much!!!
    ...There's something downright poignant about rulers of this calibre, who show up during serious low points in the polity's history. Like the Illyrian emperors in Rome.
  11. Antonius Britannia

    Antonius Britannia Well-Known Member

    Fantastic article! Well researched with great examples!
    The Trachy Enjoyer likes this.
  12. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Agreed! I somehow left that out...After John’s death and the decline of Constantinople, it was said John III would rise again (as a mirror of Christ), to shepherd the people of his empire back to prosperity

    Wiki says (better than I could) “The legend states that since that time, he has been awaiting the liberation of Constantinople. It also states that the holy king has his sword with him in its sheath, and that each year the blade of the sword emerges a few millimeters, until the time comes for the entire sword to emerge completely, which will signify the time for the liberation of the City”
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Very reminiscent of English lore about the return of King Arthur.
    ...Just wondering. From top-of-my-head memory, the Archangel Michael shows up on Byzantine coins from the later Komneni to this interval. Along with St. George (the traditional favorite English martial saint --but only that much more relevant to the Byzantines). Does anyone know about the official patronage of saints, at the imperial level? (More English precedent: Henry III especially venerated St.Edward 'the Confessor;' his son and heir was ...drum-roll,please--Edward I.)
  14. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    I think Justinian was worshipped as a Saint for building the Hagia Sophia and Irene for restoring icons

    Beyond those two, I am not sure (Constantine V saw worship from soldiers)
  15. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    @The Trachy Enjoyer A. A. Vasiliev's History of the Byzantine Empire, in part, says this about him: "With rare unanimity the sources praise him. His son and successor, Theodore II Lascaris, wrote in a panegyric: "He has unified the Ausonian land, which was divided into very many parts by foreign and tyrannic rulers...punished robbers and protected his land...He has made our country inaccessible to enemies." The generations after John Vatatzes looked back upon him as "the Father of the Greeks."

    If you do not have Mr. Vasiliev's book (a 2-volume set), I highly recommend it.
  16. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    Justinian was also honored for being a hymnographer. He wrote the hymn "O Only-Begotten Son", still sung today, as his response to the 5th Ecumenical Council.
  17. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    @The Trachy Enjoyer : You made one small but noticeable error: Greece's revolt for independence happened in 1821, not the 1840s. In fact this past March 25, they celebrated their bicentennial.
  18. The Trachy Enjoyer

    The Trachy Enjoyer Well-Known Member

    Thanks! Fact checks are welcome!
    Also I will look into those books you recommended! They seem interesting:)
    +VGO.DVCKS and manny9655 like this.
  19. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @manny9655, I'm going to see what Vasiliev looks like, pricewise, among the usual online suspects. Been looking for relatively comprehensive academic references, in (...Oops) English, for the Byzantines and early /contemporaneous Russia. Many thanks, just from here.
  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @manny9655, I followed up on your recommendation of Vasiliev. Found out that the 2nd, revised translation went back to 1958, only to be republished by the same, U of Wisconsin Press in 2012! Kind of amazing, not only to Vasiliev's credit, but also as a symptom of the paucity of academic histories of Byzantium in English.
    ...Then I found out that Vol. 2 begins with the Komneni. I could've wished it began a century and change earlier. But for my own typical, overwhelmingly 'High Medieval,' western-eurocentric purposes --especially at 450+ pages-- that was Just Fine. And at a certain venue, copies of that volume start (paper, with clean text) at $7.00 and change.
    Better believe I nabbed one! ...I've got the three volumes of Norwich. For 'popular history' (a distinction which, for all its ambiguity, remains valid), he's among the very best. But, well, it just ain't the same as something with some annotative /documentational meat on its bones.
    Just, from here, Massive thanks for your recommendation.
  21. manny9655

    manny9655 Well-Known Member

    No problem! It's a good read. I hope you like it!
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