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Today in A.D. 610


wittwolff
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Today marks the day when Emperor Phocas the first "tyrant" of byzantine history gets toppled by a revolt in favor of Heraclius.

Phocas reign is painted in a very bad light today. Its starts with the murder of his predecessor and his whole family and ends in disaster with a Persian invasion ravaging though the Empire, Africa in revolt and the important campagnes of his predecessor set on halt.

Murder of Emperor Maurice and his family

Modern depiction of the murder of Emperor Maurice and his family on the orders of Phokas.

The Emperor himself seems to have no answer for the problems of the Empire, instead he seemed to have acted like a cruel, incompetent drunkard. While parts of the stories about Phokas surely are propaganda from his successors it seems to be sure that Phokas was a bad ruler. The only part of the world where Phokas seemed to have been popular was in Italy. He made peace with the Langobards, saved the Pantheon by gifting it to the pope and possibly even tried to unite the church under the pope. All this brought him much praise by said Pope who called him a great peacemaker and defender of freedom. The Romans even erected a column with a golden statue on top in his honor. This was the last column of its kind erected in Rome.

564693983_Fokassule.jpg.084d737beac0032147a69c8d4a5a1f3c.jpg

The column of Phokas in Rome. The golden statue of the Emperor is missing today.

As said above Phokas meet his end today in the year 610. The Exarch of Karthage Heraclius the elder revolted together with his son Heraclius in quickly got control over Africa. This cut of the grain supply of Constantinople and also brought the imperial fleet under control of Heraclius. Soon after this a naval invasion of Greece was started, followed by an attack on Constantinople. But before Heraclius even had to lay siege to the city an revolt already toppled Phokas. The disgraced Emperor was dragged unto the flagship of Heraclius waiting before the city and executed there.

Phocas_delivered_to_Heraclius.jpg.57b136c8f3ca5b50dce1259e1ff97be9.jpg

Modern depiction of the downfall of Phokas.

Phokas left us an interesting numismatic legacy by his use of roman numerals on his coinage instead of the Greek ones used mostly on byzantine coins. This has been done before on coins of Tiberius II. and Maurice but not in the scale as under Phokas. He also brought back the fashion of imperial beards which lasted from that point onward till the end of the byzantine Empire. The last Emperor before him sporting a beard has been Julian (well and lets not forget Procopius, Eugenius and Johannes - one has to wonder if their beards where part of their rebellion against their beardless foes.)

Here a coin from my collection from the reign of Phokas:

Emperor Phokas - Follis / 40 Nummi - Cyzikus mint - Year 5 of the reign of Phokas

Focas_2-removebg-preview.png.70b21bd3de1129667d0f4edf9cee7ab0.png

Obv.: DN FOCAS PERP AVG

Rev.: ANNO U

And here a coin from todays victor:

Emperor Heraclius - Follis / 40 Nummi - Nicomedia mint - Year 1 of the reign of Heraclius

Heraclius_1-removebg-preview.png.eb435b7f1910cadcaf5b54f0bb56000e.png

Obv.: DN HERACLI PERP AVG

Rev.: ANNO I

An interesting little detail about this Heraclius coin is the mintmark "NIKO" where the engraver ran out of space in the exergue.

Feel free to add your coins and opinions from and about the reign of Phokas and Heraclius to this thread!

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image.jpeg.ff536e641076608608f524b95915f890.jpeg

Phocas (Focas) * Solidus of the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire Period 603/607 AD * Material: Gold * Diameter: 21.00mm * Weight: 4.50g * Mint: Constantinopolis * Reference: MIB 7, DOC 5j, SB 618 * Obverse: Draped and cuirassed bust of Phocas facing, wearing crown and holding globus cruciger in his right hand. The Inscription reads: o N FOCAS PЄRP AVI * Reverse: Angel standing facing, holding long linear staff surmounted by staurogram in his right hand and globus cruciger in his left. The Inscription reads: VICTORIA AVGG I CONOB.

 

Fantastic and interesting article - thanks for that. I have only one Phocas coin.

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Great post, @wittwolff!  I hadn't noticed about the beard thing.  I wonder if Phocas had secret pagan affinities?

I find this transitional time to be endlessly fascinating.  We start with Maurice's success against the Sassanids, then there's the ill-advised rebellion with Phocas being popped on the throne, followed by the renewed and massive Sassanid invasion and Heraclius's heroic rescue. This left both sides exhausted, facilitating the era-changing Islamic conquests.

Maurice, Antioch in 592:

image.jpeg.213e088d026509d6c0ea2ba07a6865a6.jpeg

Here's a Phocas year 1 = 602 (Nicomedia):

image.jpeg.31beea57829f921411c7146b2618046f.jpeg

... a stunningly bad portrait on a pentanummium from Constantinople (my "Lowly Worm" coin 🙃😞

image.jpeg.c5b0bd5c8aced21b5852f9012da154c3.jpeg

which starkly contrasts with my newest Phocas, this half follis from Antioch (his Antioch portraits can be fabulous but are hard to come by):

image.jpeg.cae321cdeded053b8f503c03a7509993.jpeg

I also have a rare half siliqua issued in Carthage not long before the Heraclian revolt there:

image.jpeg.69a2991785a2421c6916ed6b3b5c29e1.jpeg

Here's my favourite year 1 follis of Heraclius, from Nicomedia:

image.jpeg.aaacab5978b1b341927878464c34febc.jpeg

A Sassanid invasion coin c. 611-625, overstruck on a big follis of Anastasius:

image.jpeg.3b6f78674ac9d76570442294c71f1dad.jpeg

And finally, an early Arab-Byzantine coin dating to around the time of the second and third Caliphs, 'Umar and 'Uthman (640s-650s):

image.jpeg.a8aa0d1e01263002d67d78b3ffec0788.jpeg

I have more of this kind of thing, I can't seem to get enough!  Am thinking I maybe need to trim it down a bit... 🤭

Edited by Severus Alexander
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On 10/4/2022 at 6:08 PM, Magnus Maximus said:

Good write up! I tend to view the reign of Maurice as the last gasp of late Antiquity, as after him the ERE never really recovered fully both territorially and economically. 

So do I. Even though I am not a fan of the "Byzantine" distinction, I always intuitively view Heraclius' reign as when the Roman Empire had changed enough to somewhat justify being called something else. 

In terms of coins, Phokas Solidii are almost always the cheapest. Is this simply due to his unpopularity as a ruler? Did he mint a lot of solidii? Are his solidii particularly uninteresting? Were a lot of them buried in hoards due to the chaos around that time?

Edited by Steppenfool
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On 10/4/2022 at 12:47 PM, wittwolff said:

Today marks the day when Emperor Phocas the first "tyrant" of byzantine history gets toppled by a revolt in favor of Heraclius.

Phocas reign is painted in a very bad light today. Its starts with the murder of his predecessor and his whole family and ends in disaster with a Persian invasion ravaging though the Empire, Africa in revolt and the important campagnes of his predecessor set on halt.

Murder of Emperor Maurice and his family

Modern depiction of the murder of Emperor Maurice and his family on the orders of Phokas.

The Emperor himself seems to have no answer for the problems of the Empire, instead he seemed to have acted like a cruel, incompetent drunkard. While parts of the stories about Phokas surely are propaganda from his successors it seems to be sure that Phokas was a bad ruler. The only part of the world where Phokas seemed to have been popular was in Italy. He made peace with the Langobards, saved the Pantheon by gifting it to the pope and possibly even tried to unite the church under the pope. All this brought him much praise by said Pope who called him a great peacemaker and defender of freedom. The Romans even erected a column with a golden statue on top in his honor. This was the last column of its kind erected in Rome.

564693983_Fokassule.jpg.084d737beac0032147a69c8d4a5a1f3c.jpg

The column of Phokas in Rome. The golden statue of the Emperor is missing today.

As said above Phokas meet his end today in the year 610. The Exarch of Karthage Heraclius the elder revolted together with his son Heraclius in quickly got control over Africa. This cut of the grain supply of Constantinople and also brought the imperial fleet under control of Heraclius. Soon after this a naval invasion of Greece was started, followed by an attack on Constantinople. But before Heraclius even had to lay siege to the city an revolt already toppled Phokas. The disgraced Emperor was dragged unto the flagship of Heraclius waiting before the city and executed there.

Phocas_delivered_to_Heraclius.jpg.57b136c8f3ca5b50dce1259e1ff97be9.jpg

Modern depiction of the downfall of Phokas.

Phokas left us an interesting numismatic legacy by his use of roman numerals on his coinage instead of the Greek ones used mostly on byzantine coins. This has been done before on coins of Tiberius II. and Maurice but not in the scale as under Phokas. He also brought back the fashion of imperial beards which lasted from that point onward till the end of the byzantine Empire. The last Emperor before him sporting a beard has been Julian (well and lets not forget Procopius, Eugenius and Johannes - one has to wonder if their beards where part of their rebellion against their beardless foes.)

Here a coin from my collection from the reign of Phokas:

Emperor Phokas - Follis / 40 Nummi - Cyzikus mint - Year 5 of the reign of Phokas

Focas_2-removebg-preview.png.70b21bd3de1129667d0f4edf9cee7ab0.png

Obv.: DN FOCAS PERP AVG

Rev.: ANNO U

And here a coin from todays victor:

Emperor Heraclius - Follis / 40 Nummi - Nicomedia mint - Year 1 of the reign of Heraclius

Heraclius_1-removebg-preview.png.eb435b7f1910cadcaf5b54f0bb56000e.png

Obv.: DN HERACLI PERP AVG

Rev.: ANNO I

An interesting little detail about this Heraclius coin is the mintmark "NIKO" where the engraver ran out of space in the exergue.

Feel free to add your coins and opinions from and about the reign of Phokas and Heraclius to this thread!

I enjoyed the writeup & illustrations ☺️. Pictured below is my only coin of Phocas, along with a coin of Heraclius & his eldest son. 1982518339_NGC4280854-003.jpg.b03c2d41290fe633b5638c9075c80df6.jpg

84973748_NGC4094371-002AlKowskyCollection(2).jpg.639a87a630bfd41eb7c181d3d52ea3f4.jpg

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5 hours ago, Severus Alexander said:

Great post, @wittwolff!  I hadn't noticed about the beard thing.  I wonder if Phocas had secret pagan affinities?

I find this transitional time to be endlessly fascinating.  We start with Maurice's success against the Sassanids, then there's the ill-advised rebellion with Phocas being popped on the throne, followed by the renewed and massive Sassanid invasion and Heraclius's heroic rescue. This left both sides exhausted, facilitating the era-changing Islamic conquests.

Maurice, Antioch in 592:

image.jpeg.213e088d026509d6c0ea2ba07a6865a6.jpeg

Here's a Phocas year 1 = 602 (Nicomedia):

image.jpeg.31beea57829f921411c7146b2618046f.jpeg

... a stunningly bad portrait on a pentanummium from Constantinople (my "Lowly Worm" coin 🙃😞

image.jpeg.c5b0bd5c8aced21b5852f9012da154c3.jpeg

which starkly contrasts with my newest Phocas, this half follis from Antioch (his Antioch portraits can be fabulous but are hard to come by):

image.jpeg.cae321cdeded053b8f503c03a7509993.jpeg

I also have a rare half siliqua issued in Carthage not long before the Heraclian revolt there:

image.jpeg.69a2991785a2421c6916ed6b3b5c29e1.jpeg

Here's my favourite year 1 follis of Heraclius, from Nicomedia:

image.jpeg.aaacab5978b1b341927878464c34febc.jpeg

A Sassanid invasion coin c. 611-625, overstruck on a big follis of Anastasius:

image.jpeg.3b6f78674ac9d76570442294c71f1dad.jpeg

And finally, an early Arab-Byzantine coin dating to around the time of the second and third Caliphs, 'Umar and 'Uthman (640s-650s):

image.jpeg.a8aa0d1e01263002d67d78b3ffec0788.jpeg

I have more of this kind of thing, I can't seem to get enough!  Am thinking I maybe need to trim it down a bit... 🤭

Wonderful group, I especially like the Arab follis ☺️!

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Posted (edited)

Thx for posting your wonderful coins everyone! Seeing those shiny solidi I remember having read that a new hoard of solidi from around the reign of Heraclius has just been discovered in Israel. It seems to have been hidden there during the Arab invasion. At this time Rome lost vast amounts of land so hoards like that might be the answer to @Steppenfools question.

https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/gold-coin-hoard-israel-0017353

Edited by wittwolff
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My latest acquisition happens to be a solidus of Heraclius.  I like the perfectly centered strike on the obverse, and the untreated surfaces  .  

 

image.jpeg.a7ffc209e3e455fda7f5770c4e1ac3b9.jpeg

 

And here is a consular solidus of Phocas, from a rather rusty die.  I have previously joked that the alternative explanation for the coin’s appearance is that the cross held in his wicked, wicked hand has burst into flame.  Phocas is wearing the Loros, a long and winding scarf only donned at times of great solemnity, such as celebration of a consulship.image.png.d7e6c9ff78f35af390471932dbe5feb1.png

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Minted at Constantinople during the reign of Phocus between 23 Nov. 602 – 5 Oct. 610. Obv. FOCAS.PERP.AVG.: Crowned bust facing, wearing consular robes and holding mappa and cross. Rev. Large XXXX; above, A/N/N/O, usually to r., numerals representing regnal year, in ex., CON. BCVS #640.

image.png.3d7344a8a3ac873f61c6530414b87401.pngimage.png.5ddc6702add6b9af9c69ec42356ac48b.png

Minted at Antioch during the reign of Phocus between 23 Nov. 602 – 5 Oct. 610 with a regnal date (VI) of 607/8. Obv. D.N.FOCA.NE.PE.AV.: Phocas (on l.) and Leontia (on r.) stg. facing, Phocas holds gl. Cr., Leonita, who is sometimes nimbate, holds cruciform sceptre; between their heads, cross. Rev. Large m between A/N/N/O and numerals representing regnal year (sometimes above which, pellet); above, cross; in ex. tHEUP. BCVS #671.

image.png.f68f21678bac6f1ede9e2c40e480591c.pngimage.png.e8d201051374dfe4b1204e3a6069fd63.png

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8 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

The History of Byzantium podcast has an episode entitled, In Fairness to Phocas, which shows Phocas in a less terrible light.

The podcast is quite interesting, and I've gone through most of the episodes.

While Focas was given a bad situation, he never made any attempt to rectify it. In addition, he was wholly unsuited to be Emperor. The fact that he lasted as long as he did, is probably the most admirable thing of his reign. 

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