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My Most Awesome Purchase Ever: a Supreme Thessalonican AR Trachy (and a unique AR Trachy Fragment to boot?)


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AR Aspron Trachy of Thessalonican Emperor Theodore I Komnenodoukas 

(Make sure to turn the video quality setting on youtube up)

1.79 grams, 30 mm.

Obv: HAΓIA/Cω PHTHCA / MP - ΘV / Δ - Δ. 
Virgin Mary standing facing, orans.

Emperor and St. Demetrius standing facing, holding city model between them; manus dei above.

Sear 2159. DOC IV 2. LBC 321.


Theodore I Komnenodoukas was a claimant to the title of Byzantine Emperor following the devastating sack of Constantinople in 1204. Whereas many capital elite fled to the eastern provinces and founded the empire of Nicaea, Theodore Komnenodoukas followed his brother to the west and founded the empire of Epirus/Thessaloniki. Theodore Komnenodoukas was a pragmatic and intelligent statesman, the ruler who perhaps came closest to reuniting the Byzantine empire before Michael VIII did so decades later. Unlike Michael or the other lascarid/nicaean rulers, Theodore Komnenodoukas stands as a bulwark of Orthodoxy and refused to concede any church dogmas or positions to the latins. Whereas Theodore I Lascaris and the Nicaean Orthodox church hierarchy were ready to acquiesce and submit to Latin authority for recognition and other concessions in the wake of the fourth crusade, firm resolve remained in the Epirote lands controlled first by Theodore Komnenodoukas’ brother and finally Theodore himself. From Epirus, Theodore would conquer much of the Balkans and Macedonia, eventually closing in on Constantinople. In fact, it was Theodore himself who elevated the state of Epirus from despotate to the Empire.

(lands in light green were added by Theodore Komnenodoukas to his empire).

When on campaign to retake the city of Constantinople in 1230, Theodore Komnenodoukas turned north to Bulgaria where he was captured alive in battle and blinded. From here the tides rapidly turned against Theodore Komnenodoukas, and the empire he so painstakingly built crumbled after this devastating loss and without his brilliant leadership. After a seven year interjection by the brother of the Theodore, the old blind man returned from bulgar captivity to reassert his authority over the empire. Now deemed unfit to rule thanks to his mutilation, it was through his own sons that the once brilliant Theodore would again rule. While Thessaloniki did its best to simply survive as a state after Theodore Komnenodoukas’ capture and blinding, the rival state of Nicaea was gobbling up territory. A few short years after 1230, the nicaean state subjugated Thessaloniki and relegated the proud Komnenodoukas clan from the imperial rank to that of despot. Humbled in power and territorial size, the Komnenodoukids would bide their time as Nicaea slowly and surely reunited the Byzantine realm.


(territorial decline due to bulgar and nicaean victories after the blinding of emperor Theodore Komnenodoukas).

House Komnenodoukas wouldn’t see its revenge until the usurper Michael VIII blinded the rightful lascarid heir to the Nicaean throne. Michael’s elevation to the purple saw the quick reconquest of Constantinople and a shift of the empire towards a more western focus. The Komnenodoukids despots allied themselves first with the Princes of Achea and then the Sicilian House of Anjou to thwart Palaeologan expansion and attempt a latin reconquest of Constantinople. Michael VIII spent his entire reign dealing with first Achaean issues and then his legendary conflict with the Anjou king. Left neglected was the eastern frontier of the Palaeologan empire where a small but growing turkish threat existed. Michael VIII was eventually able to stave off Anjou reconquest by submitting his state to the Roman Church, thereby guaranteeing the further existence of a Palaeologan ruled state at the cost of earning himself the eternal hatred of the Orthodox for betraying their faith. His son would face many similar issues and continue to focus on western issues over the east. Behind many of the key events which prevented the House of Palaeologus from adequately stopping the turkish menace is the House of the Komnenodoukids.

Ultimately, Theodore and his ilk had the last laugh. While they were first subjugated and then eliminated by their rival state, crucial damage was done to Nicaean/Palaeologans by the Komnenodoukids which ultimately saw the Ottoman threat come to fruition. Had the rival states been able to peaceably unite, the fate of a post 1204 Byzantium could have been very different.

Had Theodore Komnenodoukas simply not turned north to face the bulgars but reconquered Constantinople, we could be talking about a very different Byzantium today.


More photos of the coin:


Compared to a roughly contemporary EL Trachy of rival (Nicaean claimant) emperor Theodore I Lascaris.


Compared to a roughly contemporary AR Trachy of rival (Nicaean claimant) emperor John III Vatazes




Unidentified and Unique Palaeologan (?) AR Trachy Fragment

(make sure to turn the video quality setting on youtube up)

This is one coin I am unsure of but I have given it a tenuous Palaeologan attribution. The obverse shows the seated Virgin on an ornately backed throne with sigla BB on either side towards the bottom. The reverse features an emperor holding a cross tipped scepter and akaka being crowned by christ. 


(Please let me know any attribution help you may have on number two!)

Feel free to share any Thessalonican empire, Palaeologan empire, Achea, Anjou, or other related coinage! 

Edited by TheTrachyEnjoyer
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Wow, interesting update. I was discussing this coin with @Zimm when we noticed this


This actually isnt Mary (Zimm called it). Zoom in on the top left to see XC. This is Christ seated on a throne holding the book of Gospels…with Christ again on the reverse crowing the Palaeologan emperor? I cant say I remember an issue where Christ appears on both sides in such a prominent manner (christ appearing in marian contexts with marian legends here excluded as marian iconographic types)


Very interesting and unusual 

Edited by TheTrachyEnjoyer
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What amazing coins! If I remember correctly, Andronicus II only has one other known AR trachy type for his sole reign, so should this really be a coin of him, it would be an astonishing discovery of great importance (as it‘d imply that the production of AR trachies continued properly, at least to some extent, during his reign).


Also that Thessalonican trachy isn‘t half bad either 😉.

Edited by Zimm
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2 minutes ago, Zimm said:

What amazing coins! If I remember correctly, Andronicus II only has one other known AR trachy type for his sole reign, so should this really be a coin of his, it would be an astonishing discovery of utmost importance (as it‘d imply that the production of AR trachies continued properly, at least to some extent, during his reign).


Also that Thessalonican trachy isn‘t half bad either 😉.

Definitely. Im currently have been working on an article about this topic and the current specimen should help

Thanks, this turned into quite the haul!

Edited by TheTrachyEnjoyer
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  • 2 weeks later...

@TheTrachyEnjoyer, this is truly amazing.  After reading the first couple of lines of your OP, I had to Wiki Theodore I Komnenodoukas, to find out how early he was in the Thessaloniki Empire.*  --Silly me; your OP, as it stands, covers all the relevant ground, if anything more concisely; certainly in no less detail.

(Edit:) But to @seth77's ongoing point that the Roumaion exiles following the fall of Constantinople, along with the dynamics in southern Greece under Frankish and Italian rule, back to the 13th century, did as much to set off the Italian Renaissance as any other set of cultural factors.  ...At least at royal and 'imperial' levels, Byzantine influence was integral to Germany, Italy and France from the 11th century.  Thank you, as the numismatic evidence will readily demonstrate.

*(I collect Byzantine mainly as context for the guilty pleasure of history and genealogy relating to western and central Europe.  As such, this includes as wide a range for Jean de Brienne as I can find.  Still on the lookout for Anything contemporaneous of Thessaloniki; I was very glad of the AE trachy of John I of Nicaea that I did land.  It's been posted already --and really doesn't belong in company with this amazing stuff.) 

Edited by JeandAcre
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My interest in 'Byzantine' coinage is mostly reserved to post-1204 and is a by-product of my study of the denier tournois, including the incredibly diverse and widespread denier tournois of the Frankokratia in Greece (and adjacent areas), as what the Greeks were doing in the neighboring principalities in terms of monetary policy and their relation to the Western denier system is a very intriguing topic.

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