The end of the Roman Empire!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Loong Siew, Jan 18, 2023.

  1. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    I decided to repost this from an article I wrote on another board. It is easy to dismiss the Eastern Roman Empire when it became Christian, but it is difficult to hide the reason for the name change.

    The Byzantines spoke Greek, did not rule in Rome nor were they Roman Catholic, thus they were not Roman.

    That is the basis for all arguments that dismiss the title of the Eastern Roman Empire. In a complex world, its history becomes complex as well.

    Constantine the Great created a second capital for the Romans in the 4th century, it was called New Rome and then Constantinople after its creator Constantine. Its creation was because the Empire was too large and to spread out. The location he chooses was excellent for defense and for trade and taxation. At the time of its creation, it had no enemies close by, just conquered lands of the Romans. Originally the population spoke Latin, that changed after the revolt of Heraclius in the early 7th century.

    As time Changed, the city of Rome fell. The Empire changed and new ones appeared in it place but the Empire of the Romans still stood in Constantinople. In the west it was referred to Res Publica Romana, In the mid-8th century the popes of Rome made a change, in the west, the empire became known as Graeci. That is the earliest test to the empires name and Emperor’s title.

    In the 9th century the real push to remove the title from the Eastern Roman Empire, they began to question if the Eastern Emperor had the right to call himself Emperor of the Romans. This came about as the Germans powers were drawing heavily on Roman prestige. They saw the Eastern claim to the title as a major obstacle.

    As the title Graeci was used with more frequency, it became known as a name with many negative connotations, treachery, excessive sophistication, love of luxury, verbal trickery and cowardice.

    During the time of the Empire, they themselves called it the “Roman Empire” and their enemies called it “bilad al-Rum ( Lands of Rome)

    In the West It again changed, Western literature began calling the Emperor, Emperor of the Greeks and Emperor of Constantinople, also less frequently used, The Low Empire, The Late Empire, The Roman Empire. These remained in usage until long after the fall of Constantinople. The 19th Century was the first regular usage of the word Byzantine.

    Now the first usage of the word Byzantium in an Academic sense came from the title of a commissioned book of translations, the author was a translator Hieronymus Wolf the work was” Corpus Historiae Byzantinae” ( 1557-62) In it he makes his contempt for the Empire known.

    “I am surprised, not sorry, that such dregs and bilge water of a iniquitous people so long remained unmolested and were not conquered earlier.”

    So the word Byzantine was born after the empire and not as a compliment, just another way to disassociate it from Rome.

    At this point the word Byzantine was not in regular usage to describe the Empire, the real time when this word becomes common is in the mid-19th century. No one knows for certain what created the movement of referring to the Romans as Byzantines, it seems to be a buildup of modern politics, racism and theological conflict. Some have surmised it was brought into use after the Modern Greek state in 1820 to deny the Greeks their history and claim to their old territories. In other theories it was to prevent Russia from creating a new Puppet state in the Ottoman territory. This story is more complex, but it again had to do with the Modern Greek state.

    Regardless, the results are the same, with the name Byzantine in leaves an empire without a known heritage, it was based on the original long forgotten town the city of Constantinople was built on.

    It is interesting that this question is being asked in multiple books, now Byzantium is a name of convenience to represent the time. For Numismatics Byzantine begins at the coin reform of Anastasias, for some it is the change of language after the revolt of Heraclius and for some The Roman Empire ended during the fall of Constantinople in 1453 so Byzantium as an empire never existed.

    My primary sources for this write up were two newly published books, both are filled with abundant info, far more detailed than my brief write up.

    Romanland Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium by Anthony Kaldellis

    The Invention of Byzantium in Early Modern Europe Edited by Nathanael Aschenbrenner and Jake Ransohoff

    I have always been curious on the renaming, I thought I would share the story. I realize it won't change anything, but the truth is always interesting.
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  3. Gallienus


    I was curious about one aspect of this. Since the coins state "Zeno" on them and also carry portraits of Zeno, how do you know that they were made by Odoacer?

    Zeno ruled from 474 to 491 and Odooacer from 476 to 491. Why are coins from Odoacer extremely rare? After all he ruled for 16 years. Are all coins which have Zeno's titles on them and depict Zeno made by Odoacer? Is it due to the mint? Are all types with this Eagle reverse attributed to Odoacer?

    "After all, Zeno had never officially recognized Odoacer, the conqueror of Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor. Theodoric marched into Italy in 488 CE, fought with Odoacer's forces until 493 CE, and agreed on co-rulership of Italy only to kill Odoacer at a dinner shortly thereafter. Theodoric then claimed Italy as a representative of the Byzantine Empire, at least originally. In time these conquests, potentially initiated on the orders of Zeno, developed into the powerful Ostrogoth Kingdom and Theodoric is remembered by history as Theodoric the Great, one of the greatest barbarian kings."

    A very confusing time in Roman history.
    Loong Siew likes this.
  4. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

  5. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Good questions best left to the experts who cataloged and researched these in detail. One possible aspect was the style of issue and metal used which may differ from the main circulating standard from Zeno's territories. Odoacer also minted some very crude AE coins with his personal symbol and 1 unique specimen to date with his purported image.
  6. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I suppose the easiest explanation is this: Western Emperors Anthemius (d. 472), Olybrius (472), Glycerius (473 - 474), Julius Nepos (474- Aug. 476) and Romulus -Augustus (475 - 476) all minted coins in their own names. When Odovacer sent the last emperor into retirement in August 476, the west reverted to minting in the name of the eastern emperor Zeno.
    For Odovacer this must have been a logical step, as he argued that Zeno was now the only emperor of the entire empire. Odovacer tried to optain recognition from Zeno as de facto ruler of the western part of the empire, but under formal suzerainty of Zeno.
    Zeno never quite obliged, but for years couldn't do much about Odovacer. For most of Odovacer's 10 year rule he maintained the facade, by minting in the name of Zeno.
    Gallienus likes this.
  7. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    One of the "unique" half-siliquae with Odovacers' name is in the British Museum. Another example (and a forgery) are in the Berlin coin cabinet. Interestingly, the decription in the Berlin coin cabinet states that "all coins of Odovacar with his name are doubtful". Unfortunately, Italien forger Luigi Cigoi produced such coins in the 19th century.

    There is more information about the "genuine" piece under this link

    MK-B | Odovacar 476-493 (

    The coin has an old provenance and a plausible find spot. The problem here is that the previous owner was Dr Friedrich Stefan. Stefan was a renown Austrian numismatist, who unfortunately also engaged in coin forgery. There are other extremely rare coins in public collections that were acquired from Stefan and which later turned out to be forgeries.

    From the picture, the coin looks absolutely genuine to me, and I think the Berlin Coin Cabinet thinks that it is genuine, but given its history doubts remain.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2023
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  8. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    The silver coins minted in the name of Zeno under Odovacer's rule are of course very rare. This is in line with the rarity of silver coins at this time more generally.
    I think the fact that silver coins with Odovacer's name are excessively rare and unavailable to private collectors, is easily explained by the way in which his rule ended and how he was portrait by his successors. While we now know that he was a competent ruler, who brought stability and and some prosperity, the Ostrogoths under Theoderic painted him in the darkest colours, literally as satan himself. Hence, coins in his name were most likely actively removed from circulation and molten down. Indeed, the (likely) genuine piece in the Berlin Coin Cabinett was found outside Italy in Sremska Mitrovice in modern day Serbia. So it had somehow found its way outside the Ostrogothic domain (the area was under Gepidic rule until 504), which is perhaps why it excaped destruction.
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  9. Gallienus


    Thanks very much for your explanation of this era of Roman history. I find the 5th century quite interesting and one which is not as highly discussed as it should be.

    I was vaguely aware that silver was a little uncommon in the West during this time and also silver coinage of the early Byzantine Empire is scarce or non-existent.

    Wild Winds lists that Julius Nepos struck a silver half-siliqua and also I dimly recall maybe seeing {an} additional silver coin in the Bodin Museum in Berlin.

    In the early days of the Roman Republic silver was indeed very scarce which is why they made the Aes Graves. I guess as the Empire's territory shrank, the outside sources of silver were no longer accessible?

    May I make a pdf of your comments and link it to my website as an article? I think you made a typo in Julius Nepos' 1st reign. It should be until Aug., 475.
  10. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I don't think that the lack of silver coins was due to a lack of silver. Instead, I think the lack of silver coins indicates the demise of small trade, i.e. an increasing return to barter. The Roman economy was increasingly demonetized in the 5th century.

    People used gold coins only for certain transactions (paying taxes, paying foreign troops or paying off foreign enemies, paying for high value luxury goods), but the demise of towns (big cities became small cities and small cities became villages) meant that the population shrank and most of those who remained became subsitence farmers, who had no need for coins.

    I think that silver and copper coins were only used in what little remained of urban life in places like Ravenna, Milan and Rome.
    Gallienus likes this.
  11. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    The notion that the Roman Empire collapsed because of religion was de-bunked years ago. Instead, I think you might find that a primary driver of decay was inflation (due to printing money the Empire didn't have to pay troops they couldn't afford).

    And you're aware that the Renaissance was basically triggered by Eastern Roman scholars fleeing Constantinople, who then shared their ideas in the west, right? It's interesting that just when the Eastern Roman Empire was collapsing, it reached it's cultural zenith.
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  12. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    If I seemed to make the case that Christianity was solely responsible for the downfall of Rome and overall regression of society, then I overstated that particular case (Germanic Tribes, the Huns, mismanaged economy, and disease probably cover the majority) . The argument that I was addressing was something along the lines of "When was Rome not Rome anymore", and I think that the shift to Christianity does play a significant role when addressing that question. The simple shift in power is enough to support that argument IMO.

    As for the Dark Ages (Early Medieval), I also wouldn't pin that on Christianity, as the process of coming out of this period was largely about the conversion of pagan tribes across Europe to the religion.

    But, Christianity definitely didn't shine through the remainder of the Medieval Period. The systematic suppression of literacy, demonization of sex, extreme corruption among the Papacy and church hierarchy, and general expectation that every person's life focus would be about religion was very damaging and further delayed the rebound and progression for many centuries.

    Any society that becomes to pious and fundamentalist in a world view like religion is doomed to, at best, stagnation. The only worthwhile worldview from a state of society perspective is one based on secular humanism. The church actively suppressed this type of thinking for a very long time, and that is ultimately how the damage was done. Again, IMO..... but I think that this barely constitutes "opinion".
  13. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Agree it was due to a range of issues @Cherd

    I think the religious angle is often overstated, but I agree the church did not cover itself in glory.

    That said, the Eastern part of the Roman Empire survived for another 1,000 years, post the fall of the west, with the church at its centre. And the "brain drain" from Constantinople fleeing to the west in the 1300s was under this same Empire. They were able to bring and trigger enlightenment.

    For these reasons, I don't think one can really lay the blame at the feet of the church.
    Cherd likes this.
  14. LukeGob

    LukeGob Active Member

    That's nice! Rather jealous
    Victor_Clark likes this.
  15. LukeGob

    LukeGob Active Member

    Beautiful coin. Just wonderful. Congrats!
    Seems like a good place to post this coin I got a while back of the Re type. It seems to be a fouree (silver plating still visable in places), with the Ob an incuse strike of the Re. I thought maybe a button at first, but the Ob is not just the back of the eagle, but an actual incuse-strike with the relief reversed, plus the axis is a few off 0° (abt 15°). I don't know what to make of it. If you're gonna counterfeit coins, why plate a mess-up? Did it just get overlooked somehow (poor quality control among forgers?)? Was the silver coat applied as part of the strike? Opinions welcomed
    15mm X 15mm
    20230301_115046(1).jpg 20230301_115056(1).jpg
  16. Gallienus


    I'd like to mention an interesting article that appeared in Time, written by Edward Watts, entitled "Rome Didnt Fall When You Thought It Did", Oct 6, 2022.

    It makes the point that Rome i.e. the Western Roman Empire, fell around 546 - 552 AD. To quote:

    The fall of Rome in 476 is a historical turning point that was invented nearly 50 years later as a pretext for a devastating war.

    The Times Link is here:

    My website with links to Times & a pdf copy is here:
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