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Why I love Byzantine coins


Nerosmyfavorite68
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I started collecting for real in about 1993, and started collecting Byzantines soon after that. And thus began my on again, off again Byzantine collecting journey.  There would be phases where I would heavily be into Byzantine and years where I'd completely collect Roman or Hellenistic coins.

My mom began to call Byzantine AE, 'slag heaps'. While she's right in a sense, virtually none of them were as artistic as the best-done Roman or Hellenistic coins, these slag heaps are endearing. Some of them exude a dignity or even majesty.

My favorite periods are from 539-630, 668-c.720 and 1092-1204. My favorite mints are Rome and Ravenna, but since I don't have Bill Gates' type money, I only have a few of these, and no AV from these mints.  Ravenna made my favorite gold issues, but alas, I can only gaze at those in references.  It's a bucket list goal to obtain a Ravenna Solidus with an annular border.  Who knows?  I never thought I would get a Heraclius 'Jerusalem', but one popped up at a coin show.  A finder's gash, thankfully only affecting a couple letters of the beginning of the obverse legend, made it affordable.    At the same show, I also remember looking at a tray of 7th century Pegasi Ravenna AE and my eyes popping out when I saw $700 price tags.  More than my 'Jerusalem' cost.

After a collecting lull from 2014-2022 (I was still interested in coins throughout), I jumped back in, and with a bigger budget than before.  Maybe 70% of my purchases this year have been Byzantine.  The 'History of Byzantium' podcast was the main culprit in reviving my interest.

Byzantine coins are also one of the most 'affordable' realm of gold coins.  I can at least afford to slowly pick off a few of the emperors that way.  It's the most satisfying way to get a Leo or Zeno (I know, they're not 'Byzantine.').

My favorite affordable type; the large post-reform facing 40 nummi of Justinian I (although I also like collecting Justinian II).  Oh, and I'd like to find a nice VF example of the two bust Heraclius Seleucia 40 nummi. And perhaps a first-reign bearded Christ Justinian II Solidus.  I find the beardless second reign version kind of weird-looking.

My frustrating incompetence with coin photography has prevented me from photographing anything which doesn't have a dealer's picture. I can only share pics of coins which you've mostly witnessed previously.

I know, this one is ad nauseum, but it's my favorite buy of the year.  A lucky shopping accident and Dr. Haymann's patience enabled me to buy this Tiberius Apsimar (another bucket list emperor).  While the picture doesn't show it, it's by far my most lustrous gold coin.  The event also helped me trust DHL Express more. It's my second most expensive coin ever, although I feel I got a good deal on it.

8Yz8WT9nBmB43HMof2CiMp656JjqDy.jpg.c72bdba8a2269d88a5999223399c9cc8.jpg

 

While the AE and billon of the post 1092 reform don't do much for me, I rather love the scyphate gold.  And since gold has largely become too expensive for me, there's the electrum Trikephalon.

Easily my second favorite buy of this year, a John II electrum Trikephalon:

99293q00.jpg.6168e4deb108d1e5ae24fb5a8531df55.jpg

While I find some of the immediate post-1204 history interesting, I find the late, late period much too personally depressing to collect (not meant as an insult, just a personal preference).  There's many people here with magnificent late collections. 

Oh, it also didn't hurt that noted Byzantine collector Mike Braunlin was my college librarian.  That really helped fuel my Byzantine kick.

My collecting goes in phases. I'll probably soon return to Roman, but Byzantine will always have a place in my collection.

Please feel free to post Byzantine, especially coins from Rome or Ravenna, the huge Constantine IV folles, nice pre-1204 Hyperpyra, or Heraclius from Seleucia.

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34 minutes ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

I started collecting for real in about 1993, and started collecting Byzantines soon after that. And thus began my on again, off again Byzantine collecting journey.  There would be phases where I would heavily be into Byzantine and years where I'd completely collect Roman or Hellenistic coins.

I don't like them at all. But that is not meant to be an attack or an insult! It is also not meant to be derogatory! Everyone has different interests and tastes. Maybe it's because East Rome has let West Rome down 😉 ... - I can't do much with late Greek Orthodox history either. But hey - that's just how everyone is different. Nevertheless, there are very very beautiful coins from the area - even if the appeal is not there for me. But once again, this is not meant to denigrate the field of collecting!

And as luck would have it - I just "got" two new additions this afternoon.

 

image.jpeg.d20190a32d5b320a98f3586de7807713.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.

 

image.jpeg.a2399998d9b83af25821c74b6a60d3de.jpeg

Flavius Heraclius * Semissis of the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire Period 610/641 AD * Material: Gold * Diameter: 17.00mm * Weight: 2.24g * Mint: Constantinopolis * Reference: MIB 72, DOC 52, SB 785 * Obverse: Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Heraclius to right. The Inscription reads: d N hЄRACLIЧS C P P AV * Reverse: Cross potent on globe. The Inscription reads: VICTORIA AVζЧ S

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Posted (edited)

And per my 'depressing' comment, I meant the history - the final decline and fall of the Roman state.

An earlier bucket-list want, realized:

Bn9fm6H8Do5spmN3CM4iQ7trkp2KZ6.jpg.2f587a2d86f8a30e7f8baba1d274a4b2.jpg

Attribution: Sear Byzantine 323 Ravenna mint
Date: Dated Year 34 - AD 560/1
Obverse: Helmeted and cuirassed bust facing, holding globus cruciger, cross to right
Reverse: Large M, A/N/N/O to left, cross above, X / XX / IIII (date) in left field, RAVEN / NA below
Size: 34.13mm
Weight: 8.81 grams
Description:  Very Rare. From the Peter Lee Collection.

my grade: aVG

Of the common and affordable series, the Year 12-14 huge folles of Justinian I are my favorite.

My favorite Byzantine rulers: Anastasius, Justinian I & II, Constantine IV, Basil II, Nicephorus Phocas, 'The White Death of the Saracens' (a contemporary nickname, from the History of Byzantium podcast).

Drat, I forgot:  I also love the enigmatic military mint folles of Maurice (Grierson's Rome style, the bucket head ones).  Sadly, I only have one.

 

Edited by Nerosmyfavorite68
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I love Byzantines, they may not have the art of Greek, Roman, or even Parthia, but they have their charm.

Give me a bag of "slag heaps" vs China washers any day. I find all Cash Coins absolute junk.

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20 minutes ago, Kali said:

Give me a bag of "slag heaps" vs China washers any day. I find all Cash Coins absolute junk.

I don't want to say that. I have a collecting area that corresponds to my wishes. But I don't want to say anything bad about other collecting areas. It's good that we all don't like the same things. Long live diversity! 😉 

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I just picked up my new glasses, so now I can see my coins better!  I still need a magnifying glass for Forum's id tags, but it's an ultra-tiny font.  It's the 70's hit man/tv villain style, lol.  But isn't the whole point of Lenscrafters to be same day?  Took me 6 days.  And I wasn't about to get the $500+ frames (ugly).

Constantine IV does rather look like the undead in his huge Justinianic folles, but at least he was trying.  It takes a really ugly design to mess up a 40 mm. coin :classic_biggrin:

I want to find a nice example of a certain Valerian II Antoninianus so I'll probably pivot back to Roman soon.

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1 hour ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

And per my 'depressing' comment, I meant the history - the final decline and fall of the Roman state.

An earlier bucket-list want, realized:

Bn9fm6H8Do5spmN3CM4iQ7trkp2KZ6.jpg.2f587a2d86f8a30e7f8baba1d274a4b2.jpg

Attribution: Sear Byzantine 323 Ravenna mint
Date: Dated Year 34 - AD 560/1
Obverse: Helmeted and cuirassed bust facing, holding globus cruciger, cross to right
Reverse: Large M, A/N/N/O to left, cross above, X / XX / IIII (date) in left field, RAVEN / NA below
Size: 34.13mm
Weight: 8.81 grams
Description:  Very Rare. From the Peter Lee Collection.

my grade: aVG

Of the common and affordable series, the Year 12-14 huge folles of Justinian I are my favorite.

My favorite Byzantine rulers: Anastasius, Justinian I & II, Constantine IV, Basil II, Nicephorus Phocas, 'The White Death of the Saracens' (a contemporary nickname, from the History of Byzantium podcast).

Drat, I forgot:  I also love the enigmatic military mint folles of Maurice (Grierson's Rome style, the bucket head ones).  Sadly, I only have one.

 

@Nerosmyfavorite68, your comment about the history couldn't resonate more, from here.  Just mainly in a different context.  I start losing interest in western medieval after the beginning of the 14th century for the same reason.  Hundred Years' War (which comes across to me as Europe's first extended exercise in 'total war'), Black Death, the accelerating trend toward early modern absolutism... suddenly, it's just not as much fun anymore.

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Yes, it certainly was in no way meant to denigrate anyone who does collect the series. It was just a personal collecting opinion, more so because of the historyof the times. I  certainly respect their collections .  I don't know why, but while depressing, the 5th century Western empire is different for me. I would collect Avitus, Priscus Attalus, et al, but since I'm not a billionaire, I don't have to worry. I can't afford a Glycerius.

Anyway, I don't want this to derail the thread.  Feel free to post your Byzantine and/or why you like to collect Byzantine.

It's hard to explain why, but I enjoy collecting Sear 805.  They're not pretty and are usually overstruck sloppily, but they have a certain charm to them which I really enjoy.  This one, believe it or not, is actually about as good as these get, at least on the obverse.

Jt26N7KjEi3Qm5GAYn8wB4Cq6kRSdH.jpg.f2de3652bc31977a548abc1029b082cf.jpg

My S 844 is crappy, but I bought it because it had an unusually large flan (35 mm). and it was the best one on vcoins at the time.

mDY648GaqW7EB3gsZbM49JiRk5Jb2r.jpg.4a09bd8fc20360dfaf9da873d1448e83.jpg

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Yes, Byzantine coins are amazing.

A very recent numismatic revelation led me to an appreciation of Byzantine coins. I had listened to an excellent Yale online history course that covers roughly the years 284 - 1000, which included Diocletian, Constantine, the fall of the Western Roman empire, "Rebirth in the East," and early-mid Byzantium. Having also visited San Marco in Venice and digested some pretty delectable Byzantine art books, coins seemed like a natural progression.

I've posted these before in other threads, and I've only had them for a week or two, but since they represent the only Byzantine coins I currently possess, I'll post them here, too.

527_to_565_JustinianI_Follis_01.png.8850d97ee7289ff397a3599580949b25.png527_to_565_JustinianI_Follis_02.png.2041a37105f5a95962d4f75928c1348f.png

Justinian I Follis (540/1 - Year 14), Constantinople mint, Obv: DN IVSTINIANVS PP AVG, helmeted, cuirassed bust facing holding cross on globe and shield; cross to right. Rev: Large M, ANNO to left, cross above, XIIII (date) to right, A below, CON in exergue, Sear 163

813_to_820_LeoV_AE_Follis_01.png.ed7926a1883807413377599689c70f82.png813_to_820_LeoV_AE_Follis_02.png.43eff137310925a36b56db4e776b241b.png

Leo V AD 813-820, AE Follis (23mm, 4.43 gram) Constantinopolis; LEON S CONST; facing busts of Leo (l.) and Constantine (r.);
Large M between XXX and NNN; cross above and A below; Sear 1630

A copy of the Sear book also arrived and, as I'm sure everyone already knows, it not only includes a great survey of the coins, but a great survey of the history of Byzantium as well. Prior to that, I ordered a copy of The Beginner's Guide to Identifying Byzantine Coins. Though helpful to an absolute beginner - it has definitely helped me somewhat - the Sear book seems to cover it all, so I wouldn't call it a necessary addition. It does have far better photos than the much older Sear volume.

image.png.c325a87c33aca6d4e20aa72fbb607bcf.pngimage.png.8d6aeb19407f84a4bf444c8717cf7769.png

 

Edited by ewomack
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Posted (edited)

Byzantine bronze coins are generally crude, often times poorly struck, including multiple strikes and overstrikes (sometimes both).  Their legends are often illegible, garbled and sometimes nonsensical. They are usually quite dark, with rough surfaces and corrosion, their patina's often irregular with lots of crusty often hard deposits and the flans can be little more than ragged pieces of metal.  They are sometimes enigmatic, often times totally eccentric in character, off-beat and certainly following their own drummer!  And that is why I love them.  They challenge the collector and curator alike, unlike coins from other periods, whose regularity in design and fabric require little if any research.

Here's a common coin, a follis of Constans II, which came as part of a group lot last month.

At first I thought is was a follis of Heraclius, but the coin's portrait is wrong.  The obverse legend, which is quite clear, does not follow the format of the legends of Justinian I and his successors.  Finally I was able to nail this down.  Collectors of this type would probably identify it straight away, but for me an online search at "Early Byzantine Copper Coins, Catalog of an English Collection" lead me to the page that has my type of coin, page 293 for those wishing to look.  

While common, this coin, as mentioned has a pretty clear obverse legend.  The reverse is quite crude, as the coin is obviously a multiple strike or overstruck one - sometimes it is difficult to determine.  This coin has nice glossy brown surfaces with earthy fields which I think are natural.

The reference number for this coin in the catalog is 21.8, MIB 166.  Apparently this type was only struck in year 3 of Contans II's reign.

Constans II, AE follis, Constantinople, Class 2, 643/4 AD.

Obverse: Facing portrait of Constans II holding cross on globe, legend: INPER CONST.

Reverse: Large M center, cross above, A/N/A to left, RY II/I to right, officina A (?), NEOG below and off flan/obscured.

4.97 grams

34051145_D-CameraConstansAEfollisConstantinople641-668ADyear3643-44.97gMIB1668-20-22.jpg.b3749d674c36102e55000388a33c9d0b.jpg

Edited by robinjojo
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Honestly, the way I picked Eastern Roman was by need , so many collectors of Greek , Roman Imperial,  is just felt I was always walking in some one else's foot prints.  The beauty of of what I collect ( 12th century Byzantine) is we are still adding to a field that has only been seriously examined in the past 50 years. Myself and many other collectors have made so many discovery's in the last 20 years that we are still writing the numismatic history. 

I started with the coppers, now I have worked my way to the gold because the hard part of the coppers was done. 

Here is a small group of SBCV-1931 , All Alexius I but weights across the board and we have no idea why.  These coins got from 2.5 gm to 6gm . None of these are indications of being imitative. 

u3.jpg.33dbf053b252c7cf8a0357ee4a114a8d.jpg

 

Here is the only perfect example I have ever seen. Very happy to have it in  my collection.  The legend is complete, the example is beautiful. 

1931.jpg.de2833acb2dc30e75d32067280aacbd7.jpg

This example really opens the door, a coin that fits the description as SBCV-1910 more than likely is another example of of SBCV-1931 overstruck on an anonymous follis of an earlier rule. 

1931b.jpg.3f85130dc031e5d97d30f32af6658427.jpg

 

The point I am making is we know so little of this denomination its hard to believe these are all categorized as the same coin. We need to know more and that to me makes Eastern Roman coinage so interesting. The road less traveled. 

 

 

 

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I started collecting Byzantine coins solely due to being squeezed out of Indian and other Asian coins.  It became prohibitively expensive when there was an influx of Indian coin collectors about 8 or so years ago.  I decided to pivot to Eastern Christendom after spotting an Anonymous Follis and falling in love with it! I have been collecting Byzantine since then. I did expand my collecting themes into Eastern Christendom, Islamic Dynasties, Roman and Greek Empires, and I still collect Indian and other Asian coins as well. Now, there is an influx of Byzantine collectors!  You just can't win sometimes 😁... A recent pickup.

 

Byzantine Empire: Theophilus (829-842) Æ Follis, Constantinople (Sear 1666; DOC III.13)

Obv: ✷ ΘЄOFIL ЬASIL; Crowned and draped bust of facing, holding patriarchal cross and akakia
Rev: Large M; cross above, X/X/X to left, N/N/N to right, Θ below

 

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Here's an oldie but goodie, my 40 nummi of Justinian II.  I wanted a round one, which cut down on the possible candidates.  It looks less awful in person, and that's not active bd.

11129.jpg.e8e8d73611c75300313e584406f62711.jpg

 

Justinian II 1st Reign Bronze Follis, Sear-1260, Year-2, Officina-A, struck 686-687 at Constantinople, 8.07 grams, 26.6 mm.

Obv: IUSJINIANUS P - Bust of Justinian facing, with short beard, wearing crown and chlamys, and holding globus cruciger, a cross in the right field

Rev: Large 'M' between ANNO and numerals representing the regnal year, with cross above and officina letter below, CON in exergue

Ex: Dr. Michael Metlich Collection

Ex: Glenn W. Woods

 

Does anyone have any miltary mint folles of Maurice Tiberius or the enigmatic Heraclius folles with the Theup mintmark?  The latter appear in the e-book, Early Byzantine Copper Coins.

I don't recall anyone ever posting the large folles of Constantine IV, Sear number in the 1170's. The 3/4 military bust one is on my bucket list. 

Those are nice, Simon.  Quant.Geek, nice Theophilus. I'd like to pick up one of those early Indian silver coins, kind of squarish with punch marks.  What's the correct search term?  HJB always had a bunch in the 1990s pick bins. I was too busy picking out the Justinian II's and Heraclius from Sicily :0.  I also picked out a really decrepit Menander? Tetradrachm.

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The terminology is correct.  You should be able to find them either using Maurya or punchmarked coins. Here are a few in my collection:

 

Maurya: Anonymous (ca 270-175 BCE) AR Karshapana (GH-582, Series VIb)

Obv: Five official punches (see below)

Rev: Small, railed tree punch

normal_GH-582.jpg

image.jpeg.594828835bc8a996785c4ed3492976fd.jpeg

 

 

Indo-Greek Kingdom: Menander I Soter (ca 155-130 BCE) AR Drachm (Bopearachchi 3B; SNG ANS 686-690)

Obv: Diademed bust left, wielding spear, aegis on shoulder; ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ around
Rev: Athena standing right, hurling thunderbolt and holding shield; monogram in right field, Karosthi script around

normal_Bopearachchi-3B.jpg

 

and let's just add some Byzantine coins to make this post a bit "kosher"...

Byzantine Empire: Heraclius (610-641) ) Æ Follis, Thessalonica, RY 5 (Sear 824; DOC II.135)

normal_Sear-824.jpg

 

Byzantine Empire: Heraclius (610-641) ) Æ Half Follis, Thessalonica, RY 5 (Sear 830; DOC II.140)

normal_Sear-830.jpg

 

Edited by quant.geek
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21 hours ago, Kali said:

I love Byzantines, they may not have the art of Greek, Roman, or even Parthia, but they have their charm.

Give me a bag of "slag heaps" vs China washers any day. I find all Cash Coins absolute junk.

Funny you would say that. I think of Byzantine and Chinese similarly, both are not attractive to those who only collect for artistry, but for what the coin is and represents. I find they have more in common than Byzantine and Greek tetradrachms do.

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2 minutes ago, Medoraman said:

Funny you would say that. I think of Byzantine and Chinese similarly, both are not attractive to those who only collect for artistry, but for what the coin is and represents. I find they have more in common than Byzantine and Greek tetradrachms do.

The beauty of art lies in the eye of each individual beholder 🙂 

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18 hours ago, ewomack said:

A copy of the Sear book also arrived and, as I'm sure everyone already knows, it not only includes a great survey of the coins, but a great survey of the history of Byzantium as well. Prior to that, I ordered a copy of The Beginner's Guide to Identifying Byzantine Coins. Though helpful to an absolute beginner - it has definitely helped me somewhat - the Sear book seems to cover it all, so I wouldn't call it a necessary addition. It does have far better photos than the much older Sear volume.

image.png.c325a87c33aca6d4e20aa72fbb607bcf.pngimage.png.8d6aeb19407f84a4bf444c8717cf7769.png

 

The Prue Morgan Fitts book seems interesting.  I wonder if my coins are listed there as I bought several ex-Prue Morgan Fitts coins that went on the auction block a few years ago. For instance:

 

Byzantine Empire: Michael VIII Palaeologus (1261-1282) Æ Trachy, Thessalonica (Sear-2295; DOC 136-43; Lianta 582-83; Grierson 1369; Bendall T.2)

Obv: St. Demetrius enthroned facing, holding sword across knees
Rev: Michael, holding cross-tipped scepter and akakia, being crowned by St. Demetrius; Manus Dei above

ex Prue Morgan Fitts Collection; ex Dumbarton Oaks Collection

normal_Sear-2295.jpg

 

 

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be7JGag9cD2zs7Q5T8Ld6YxZcBq3CP.jpg.14c88bbd35302f681ba1ca12f95577c6.jpg

BYZANTINE: Heraclius, AD 610-641, Syracuse, AE Follis (32mm, 13.28g). Really nice example with brown and crayon green patina. Ex Laurel Certified coins, S844,

from collection of: Rodolfo Spahr (1894-1981), author of important book on Byzantine coins of Sicily (among others): Le Monete Siciliane, dai Bizantini a Carlo I d' Angio (582 - 1282). (Graz, 1976). (excerpted from CT).

This is one of my favorite Byzantine types.  I had a nice example of the smaller kind, but not this.  It's hard to top this one.  It's more of a glossy, jade green patina.

It also proves that coins of Anastasius through Justinian (pre-reform) were still circulating, or in storage somewhere.

 

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That stinks.  I had no idea of the sale and picked this coin up because it was poorly described.  I was on a mission to get the best possible example.  Did I overpay for it?  Possibly, but it was a bucket list want to find an exceptional piece, and it wasn't THAT much.

It's funny how memory works; I remember distinctly looking at less nice versions of this in HJB pick bins, c. 1995. Heck, I can still remember some of the types in there.  Yet, I forget some of my own coins.

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