Gallery

The Empress, her Son, her General and his Heir

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck at Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4598

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, his mother, with his dead ancestors on the reverse, struck at Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4598

Another day, another upload of Barber Institute coins to the web! This one is only small, 27 coins, and these comprise the coins of the notorious Empress Eirini, with her son Constantine VI (780-797) and then without (797-802), and those of her successor Nikephoros I (802-811). The former are here and the latter here. This turns out to be not quite all our holdings of his, but it’s a good start. The work of Maria Vrij lies behind this upload, again, and as usual extremely thorough, including working hard to track down all the provenance information that we have. This allows me to say something quite unusual about one of these coins, that we know where it was supposedly found—this one was sold to Philip Whitting on the understanding that it came to light in Paros in 1956. It’s better than we usually have!

Gold solidus of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck at Constantinople between 803 and 811 and found in Paros in 1956, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4613

Gold solidus of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck at Constantinople between 803 and 811 and found in Paros in 1956, with who knows what history between those dates? Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4613

Also, of interest mainly to numismatists perhaps but still interesting, here’s one that has been pretty clearly struck on an Arabic dirham, traces of which still show through on the reverse, where the right arm of the cross hasn’t made it down and around the left of the rim:

Silver miliaresion of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck between 780 and 797 on an Arabic dirham, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4601

Silver miliaresion of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck between 780 and 797 on an Arabic dirham, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4601

This raises questions about what happened to Islamic money that came into the Empire, where that was happening and how close in standard the Byzantine and Islamic silver coinages were. Presumably quite, which has been used to explain why these Byzantine silver coins, almost uniquely among the empire’s money, do not use any portraiture in their decoration, so that they would (despite the huge Cross!) be acceptable to Muslims… Thus this coin has something weirdly topical about it despite being 1200 years old, as a recent commentator has only too well illustrated.

Gold solidus of Emperors Leo IV and Constantine VI, struck between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4584

Gold solidus of Emperors Leo IV and Constantine VI, struck between 775 and 780, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4584

For those that don’t know the story of the rulers in this update, by the way, it’s all very bloody and Roman-seeming. Eirini was wife of Leo IV, whose coins already went online. When he died in 780, their son Constantine VI was still a child. He had already appeared on coins with his father, as you see above, but now had to share power with his mother acting as regent. This is also shown on the coins, as first he and she appear together with his ancestors:

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople 780-797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4585

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople 780-797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4585


Bronze 40-nummi coin of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4590

Bronze 40-nummi coin of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4590

… and then, before long (though we don’t know how long—in fact, I have to admit, we only assume that these coinages are sequential, though it seems plausible), the ancestors were dispensed with, leaving him and his mother a face each:

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, or possibly the other way around, struck in Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4597

Gold solidus of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, or possibly the other way around, struck in Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4597


Bronze 40-nummi coin of Empress Eirini and Emperor Constantine VI, struck in Constantinople between 780 to 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4608

Bronze 40-nummi coin of Empress Eirini and Emperor Constantine VI, struck in Constantinople between 780 to 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4608

Notice on the bronze here that the actual emperor is relegated to the reverse side, with the denomination mark and immobilised date. He did at least get named first on the silver:

Silver miliaresion of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck at Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4603

Silver miliaresion of Emperor Constantine VI and Empress Eirini, struck at Constantinople between 780 and 797, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4603

Eirini was removed from court between 790 and 792, but this doesn’t seem to have altered the coinage; Constantine never appears alone. Not so Eirini, however, who in 797 had her son blinded and deposed, after which he soon died. Her moneyers, faced with the problem of what to put on the now-free side of the coin, seem to have gone for a choice she was likely to be happy with:

Gold solidus of Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople between 797 and 802, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4609

Gold solidus of Empress Eirini, struck in Constantinople between 797 and 802, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4609

This was quite the big story at the time, and the theoretical vacancy on the Eastern throne (since it was held by some that a woman didn’t count) was one of the justifications used when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in Rome on Christmas Day 800. This supposedly didn’t stop Eirini proposing marriage to Charlemagne as her position, military and domestic, became increasingly desperate, but nothing came of it and finally in 802 one of her generals, Nikephoros, led a coup to depose her. She was exiled to Lesbos and died there in 803.

Bronze 40-nummi coin of Empress Eirini, struck at Constantinople between 797 and 802, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4611

Bronze 40-nummi coin of Empress Eirini, struck at Constantinople between 797 and 802, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4611

Nikephoros, on taking over, ruled alone at first:

Gold solidus of Emperor Nikephoros I, struck in Constantinople between 802 and 803, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4612

Gold solidus of Emperor Nikephoros I, struck in Constantinople between 802 and 803, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4612


Bronze 40-nummi coin of Emperor Nikephoros I, struck in Constantinople between 802 and 803, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4616

Bronze 40-nummi coin of Emperor Nikephoros I, struck in Constantinople between 802 and 803, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4616

but very quickly raised his son Stavrakios to be co-emperor.

Gold solidus of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck in Constantinople between 803 and 811, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4615

Gold solidus of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck in Constantinople between 803 and 811, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4615

Bronze follis of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck in Syracuse between 803 and 811, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4619

Bronze follis of Emperors Nikephoros I and Stavrakios, struck in Syracuse between 803 and 811, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4619

Thus it was that in 811 they were both on the field together in a battle against Khan Krum of Bulgaria that went badly wrong for the Byzantines. Nikephoros was killed, and his skull allegedly turned into a drinking cup for Krum, and Stavrakios was brought back to Constantinople badly wounded. Although he had been proclaimed emperor on the way, he was not the only one, and he was quickly persuaded that he could not rule, and abdicated, to die as a monk within two months. He never struck coins by himself either. As for his rival and successor, Michael I, Maria has already finished correcting the catalogue for his coins and they may even go to the web ‘ere I depart Birmingham. If so, you will hear about it here!

2 responses to “The Empress, her Son, her General and his Heir

  1. Pingback: Parting Shots: two Michaels and a Leo | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Pingback: The quiet return of the ruler of all | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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