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The Un-Good, The Bad and The Mediocre: Presenting Emperor Phocas


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Phocas is infamous among Byzantine History enthusiasts for being the worst possible man in charge of a vast Empire at a time where hope and recovery seemed to finally be on the menu. I'll always have a soft spot for Maurice and his 9 children, and thus, I can't but view Phocas as the villain of their story. They had so much potential... 😥 He certainly proved to be less capable than any member of the Theodosian, Leonid or Justinianic Dynasties and that's why nowadays he's merely a footnote in history, placed in between much more renowned names like Justinian or Heraclius. In spite of his mediocrity, he certainly helped prove a point: Rome could recover from the worst catastrophes and as such, avenging Maurice, Heraclius got rid of him. The consequences of Phocas' usurpation (which can be, in consequence, tagged to Heraclius' rising too) are vast: The total loss of the Levant and Egypt (and with it the many mints we know and love like Alexandria and Antioch), the destruction of resources, the Hellenization of the empire (it was doomed to happen but Heraclius just accelerated it) and the downfall of Byzantine military strength and prestige at a time where Medieval Western Europe was still in its infancy. Italy would be lost not much later, the Empire would take hundreds of years to recover and it would accelerate the rate at which Usurpers rose up successfully, further creating more chaos and making establishing a real succession line imppossible (Apart from Basiliscus' brief interregnum in 475-476, the Eastern Throne hadn't been "truly" usurped since its separation in 395)

All this to say that I've just recently acquired a follis of his... and I love it. It's the largest coin in my collection as of yet and it looks great. His beard is a nice change of pace from all the shaved portraits from the past 2 centuries.

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Phocas    (602-610)    Bronze Follis from Cyzicus (First Mint: KYZA)   

Obverse legend: D N FOCAS PERP AVG    

Reverse Legend: ANNO - XXXX   

SB 665

 

Have you got any nice coins of Phocas? 

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I think Phocas got a bad rap.....ok I'm sorry, I can't go on with that. Phocas was pretty awful for the job he had...

That being said, I do love his coins!

Here is a follis featuring Phocas and his wife Leontia
PhocasandLeontiaFollisTheopolis.png.0dbbdf21034c08b56ce78c558bfed195.png

 

and a half follis with an interesting shape
PhocasHalfFollisNikomedia.png.897e687fb326e470cf312779fc0d7f2f.png

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23 minutes ago, GordianAppreciator101 said:

Have you got any nice coins of Phocas?

 
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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; Provenance: Ex Leu Numismatic Winterthur, Switzerland; 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 for Dominus Noster Focas Perpetuus Augustus (Our Lord Phocas, Eternal Emperor); 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 for Victoria Vuggi, Constantinople ([Dedicated to] the Victory of the Emperor, City of Constantinople).

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phocas.jpg.03fb734be4d2494687ee0ac91192bab7.jpg

Phocas (602 - 610 A.D.)

Æ Follis
O: DN FOCA NE PE AV, Crowned bust facing, wearing consular robes, holding mappa and eagle-tipped scepter.
R: Large M; cross above, A/N/N/O Ч/III across field; τHЄUP
Antioch Mint,Dated RY 8 (609/10)
28mm
8.7g
DOC 90; MIB 84a; SB 672

 
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Dude was a real piece of work, but I do like his XXXX Follis’s. I want a Cyzicus one as they have the best styling. Here are a few of my pieces, not in front of the tags though.

Cathage half Follis. Chunky thing. Around 18mm 8g!

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Constantinople Follis. I did the cleaning which I’m pretty proud of.

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Nikomedia Follis. It’s ok.

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Constantinople pentanummi. Quite a nice portrait for a little thing.

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37 minutes ago, Furryfrog02 said:

Does anyone have an example of his XXX follis? Warren Esty had one on his site for sale for the longest time but I didn't bite. Then when I was ready, it was gone. Haven't seen another since 😞

I just very briefly searched ACsearch for these. Wow, they are quite uncommon. Seems like if you get another opportunity, you just have to buy.

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I am afraid the Constantinople solidi of Phocas do not offer much variety.  You can have have Sad Phocas with Pendillia.                             image.png.53daa2fbdd87682a146f11c346519931.png                                                      

Or, Consular Phocas.

image.png.00a12e3e8654ce8057aaed49439f2a75.pngimage.png.d3498c8027d8aad8cff98f08bfa33ee9.png

Or, your Garden Variety Phocas(es)image.png.45492a643b04ba138d9b44f8d4d9d78f.png

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Of note, Phocas was the object of opprobrium in the East, but he was esteemed in the West.  A column was raised in his honor in the Roman Forum to celebrate his donation of the Pantheon to the Church.  This is said to be the last monument constructed in the Forum. Two years later Phocas was seized, stripped, executed, mutilated, and burnt (one hopes, in that order.)  It is said that his executioners were particularly enraged because, among his many crimes, he raped a noblewoman who had dedicated herself to God.  

 

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8 hours ago, Furryfrog02 said:

Does anyone have an example of his XXX follis? Warren Esty had one on his site for sale for the longest time but I didn't bite. Then when I was ready, it was gone. Haven't seen another since 😞

There you go. If you want an xxx coin, can get one of Tiberius II, as those are more common.

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  • Benefactor

focas1.jpg.093016b9622f2926830acc7402472063.jpg

focas2.jpg.7b7790aec51891c9ada9267ee1e29a66.jpg

 

And the column of Focas in Rome. As it so happens, it was the last monument of Late Antiquity to be erected in the Roman Forum. 

Here is a snippet from its dedication speech/inscription on the 44 foot tall column:

“To the best, most clement and pious ruler, our lord Phokas the perpetual emperor, crowned by God, the forever august triumphator, did Smaragdus, former praepositus sacri palatii and patricius and Exarch of Italy, devoted to His Clemency for the innumerable benefactions of His Piousness and for the peace acquired for Italy and its freedom preserved, this statue of His Majesty, sparkling from the splendor of gold here on this tallest column for his eternal glory erect and dedicate, on the first day of the month of August, in the eleventh indiction in the fifth year after the consulate of His Piousness.”

He also managed to erect a colossal statue of himself in Constantinople which has not survived to the present day. (Cited from: https://www.cointalk.com/threads/the-usurper-phokas.359823/)

focas_column.png.f7fd8fbffb8181089e62e6e942c8c11b.png

Edited by Ancient Coin Hunter
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1 hour ago, catadc said:

There you go. If you want an xxx coin, can get one of Tiberius II, as those are more common.

image.jpeg.098a5b569781d9a45daaf27a0f709910.jpeg

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Awesome! Thanks!
I didn't know Tiberius II had them as well. 
I like them for the odd denomination. I am working on filling out my Byzantine copper denominations and this one has still eluded me.

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16 minutes ago, Furryfrog02 said:

Awesome! Thanks!
I didn't know Tiberius II had them as well. 
I like them for the odd denomination. I am working on filling out my Byzantine copper denominations and this one has still eluded me.

Sol Numismatik on biddr tends to have 3-4 Tiberius 30 nummi's in every auction. They are a gold mine for the less common nummi denominations. I see they have a 2, 2.5, 3, 6, (2x) 30, handful of 12's, and super rare 4 pentanummia, along with other stuff.

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Ceremonial silver miliaresion. Constantinople, 602/7. 1.21 gr. 18.9 mm. 7 hr. Sear 638A; Hahn 54. The portraits on Phokas’ fractional gold and occasional silver coins are generally beardless, unlike the bearded ones on his other issues.

Half follis, Kyzikos, 603/4. 6.50 gr. 25.9 mm. 6 hr. Sear 670 var.; Hahn 79 var.; DO 79a var.; BM 98 var.; R. 1239 var.  This variety, with the regnal year to the left of the mark of value, is not noted. The raised position of the officina letters (in this case A) on the halves from this mint shows that they were later added to the die. @Valentinian has earlier noted the eccentricity of the Kyzikene portraits for Maurice. We see the “tradition” alive and well on occasional half folles of his successor from this mint. Or as my wife, classically trained in Greek pottery, is wont to assert, “proof that space aliens interbred with inhabitants of the eastern Mediterranean in late antiquity.” And who am I to disabuse her?

 

Follis, Antioch, 608/9. 10.56 gr. 30.2 mm. 5 hr. Sear 672A; Hahn 84 b. Portrait of fine style. This is the second example of this portrait I have encountered. I published a better example of it in a private collection (now in DO) in The Celator, Aug. 2000, pp. 16-20:  “From the hand of a master – an Antiochene follis of Phocas”.

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We have to remember that the history books about Phocas are written by those who overthrew him.

There can be no doubt that they are significantly biased.

That said, the proof is in the pudding. There can also be no doubt that, at the very least, he was woefully incompetent.

Anyway, he was my first ERE Emperor.

Behold, my Phocas - the first ancient gold coin I bought.

coin4.jpg.49509b4c926f92866dd9904124a315fb.jpg

Solidus, Constantinople 

602-610 AD. Emperor Phocas

22mm, 4.48g

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