Featured Medieval - St. Wenceslaus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Mar 29, 2020.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Well, the following post will feel a little out of season, but that’s because I intended to post it in December and never got around to it. Unfortunately my work situation continues to get crazier and unnecessarily hectic, which has left me little time for coining. Spring Break (and Coronavirus) has given me a little time to engage in the hobby again, and hence I was able to finish this up...

    I’m sure many of us are familiar with the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas”:

    Good King Wenceslas looked out
    On the Feast of Stephen
    When the snow lay round about
    Deep and crisp and even
    Brightly shone the moon that night
    Though the frost was cruel
    When a poor man came in sight
    Gathering winter fuel

    While this is a modern carol (written in the 19th century to a 13th century tune), it tells the fictional tale of the Duke of Bohemia, delivering alms to a poor peasant on December 26 (The feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr). Duke Wenceslaus, who was posthumously declared a king, was raised a Christian by his grandmother, but had a pagan mother. When he began his rule in Bohemia in 921, he actively promoted the Christian Church, and began bringing in German priests to follow the Latin traditions. His religious zeal angered many of the pagans, and his mother attempted to turn his younger brother, Boleslaus, against both Wenceslaus and Christianity. When Wenceslaus agreed to begin paying tribute to the Germans in order to stave off an invasion, many more nobles became dissatisfied and joined in a conspiracy with Boleslaus. As Wenceslaus went to mass one day, the conspirators murdered him, and discarded the body. Soon after he had taken charge of the duchy, Boleslaus repented for his role in his brother’s murder, and had Wenceslaus’ body translated to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague where he would be venerated as a martyr and saint. Boleslaus remained a Christian, and Christianity would continue to grow in Bohemia.

    87453A2C-C0A6-4E7F-8DEE-BE2BCD2E7435.jpeg
    The Assassination of Duke Wenceslaus as he attempts to enter a church

    It is under Boleslaus that coins begin to be minted in Bohemia (although there is disagreement, and many believe it began solely in the reign of his son Boleslaus II). The early coins of Bohemia are imitative in style to Carolingian coins, and late Anglo-Saxon coins. A stylistic shift began during the reign of Dukes Jaromír (r. 1003, 1004-1012, 1033-1034) and Oldřich (r. 1012-1033, 1034). As the two brothers fought for control of the duchy, they would each issue coins depicting a haloed figure. While Jaromír‘s coins did not name the figured (which has been assumed to be Christ), Oldřich‘s coins clearly name the figure on his coins as Wenceslaus. Wenceslaus would continue to be featured on coins during the reign of Oldřich‘s son, Bretislaus I (r. 1034-1055).

    Med-15-Boh-1050-Bretislaus I-D-B-8-15.jpg Bohemia
    Bretislaus I, r. 1034-1055 (1050-55)
    Prague Mint, AR Denar, 15.33 mm x 1.0 grams
    Obv.: BRACIZLAVS DVX. Bust facing, a pellet to either side
    Rev.: SCS WENCEZLAVS. Bust right, cross to right
    Ref.: Frynas, B.8.15; De Wit 2719

    This brings me to my final purchase of 2019, a denar of Bretislaus I featuring Wenceslaus on the reverse. I was first made aware of this time a few years ago when one came up for auction, and was quite enamored with the design. It is very Medieval in style with simplistic lines forming the busts. The bust of the Duke seems to be a bit of a mystery, as it is often described as “bust facing, a pellet on either side” with no mention of the two oval shapes in the foreground. I suspect these are shields, but this is mere speculation (and having two shields seems a bit unusual). The right-facing bust of Wenceslaus also has a good amount of charm to it, with some interesting detail making up his dress. While the legend of my coin is a bit blundered, from what I have read, this s not unusual for the coins of this region.

    This coin also marks the beginning of an important reform in Bohemia. The denar had been in the process of being debased. This coin would see the beginning of the Prague Mark being used as the basis from which coins were minted (instead of the Carolingian pound), which would result in both the weight and size of the denar being reduced.

    While the focus of my collecting will remain the Normans, there are some beautiful coins which came out of medieval Bohemia, as well as much of Eastern Europe. Please feel free to post anything relevant!
     
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  3. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    Well that was a fantastic write-up for a very interesting coin. Thanks for teaching me something!
     
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  4. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    I had no idea that type even existed. Officially on my want list!
     
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  5. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE

    Very nice writeup and a very cool coin! Surprisingly, I knew a lot of his story, but you really fleshed a lot about him that I was not really aware! Thank you. Very nice coin, and what a great Historical capture!

    Ugh, good luck with the online / home-style school programs. Hope it is going well and smoothly for you. Lotta anticipation with all my Grandkids education programs this year. I am sure it is a challenge for you!

    Best,
    Brian
     
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  6. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta

    Great post, coin and history. I love how coins can be a take off point for learning something new. Each one is a little historical artifact that tells a story about a time and place. Those that are more obscure are even more interesting.
     
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  7. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Great post! I didn’t know anything beyond the Christmas carol...excellent writeup and very interesting coin.
     
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  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Eye of Horus

    Great write up.

    Bring me flesh and being me wine
    Bring me pine logs hither
    Thou and I will see him dine
    When we bear them thither
     
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  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks all - I actually just got another Bohemian coin in the mail. It’s going to have to sit in quarantine for the next couple of days though...
     
  10. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    What a great looking and historical coin @FitzNigel I completely understand why you added it to your collection. Your write-up was also a great read. I didn't know any of the actual history of Wenceslaus. Needless to say, I'll be adding this type to my want list. Thank you for sharing the coin.
     
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  11. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    There are several out there that depict Wenceslaus - this one design in particular just caught my attention
     
  12. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray QUARANTINED! Supporter

    Excellent coin and presentation, @FitzNigel ! This is one of my favorite carols. We always use it during our Christmas Fund Drive for the Homeless.
     
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