Byzantine Coins of Basil I, the Macedonian, 867-886.
Basil was elevated to joint rule by his predecessor, Michael III, who had come to the throne at age six when his father Theophilus took ill and died in 842. Michael III had his mother as regent until he was about 20 when her brother Bradas removed her. Michael III remained sole emperor but was content to let advisors run the empire. In 866 Michael, at age 30, proclaimed Basil I, formerly a lowly stablehand, his co-emperor. Bad decision. The next year Basil murdered Michael and assumed sole rule as the founder of the "Macedonian Dynasty," rulers of the Byzantine empire from 867 to 1056.
Michael III, "the drunkard," 842-867 and Basil I, 867-886.
26 mm. 7.67 grams.
Struck in the last year of Michael's reign.
MIҺAЄL IMPЄRAT ', facing bust of Michael in loros
bASIL-IVS RЄX, facing bust of Basil in loros
The legends use the Latin terms imperator for Michael and rex for Basil which are titles not seen on other Byzantine coins.
Each holds a patriarchal globus cruciger
Sear 1693. This type with Michael III on one side and Basil I on the other is rare.
The first issue of Basil I included his infant son.
Portrait Convention: When a Byzantine coin has two figures on one side, the higher ranking person is on the viewer's left.
Basil I and his eldest son, Constantine
26 mm. 7.60 grams.
Struck in the winter months of 867/8.
Facing busts, both in chlamys, Constantine on our right only slightly smaller, even though he was just a child.
+bASILIOS S COҺSTAҺTIҺ..AVGG
Reverse legend in five lines:
S COҺSTAҺ (and Constantine)
TIҺOS ЄҺΘO (by the grace of God)
bASILЄIS R (kings of the)
Sear 1721. DO 8.
Clearly the busts are not portraits with individual features. Sometimes coins show a beard, short or long, or no beard, as an indication of age. On this coin rank is all that is shown--Constantine, his oldest son, has been made co-ruler. The type for co-rulers of two busts of very similar size was by then traditional and this type merely continued the tradition. The next type is different for differentiating the rulers by size.
Sear 1710. DO 9. Constantinople.
Portrait Convention: When a Byzantine coin has three figures on one side, the highest ranking person is in the middle, the second on our right, and the third on our left.
Basil I, the Macedonian, 867-886
with his sons Leo VI and Constantine (the eldest son, who predeceased Basil). Struck 870-879.
27 mm. 8.28 grams.
+LЄOҺ bASIL COҺST AVGG (labeling the rulers left to right)
5-line reverse legend (labeling the rulers most important to least imporant)
T S LЄOҺ ЄҺ (and Leo, by the grace of God)
ΘO bASILS (King of the)
Sear 1712. DO 11. Constantinople mint.
The ranking emperor, Basil, is in the middle and much larger. Constantine is on the right (as we see it), second in the reverse legend and slightly larger than Leo, who smaller on the left and third in the reverse legend. This is an extremely similar type, Sear 1713, which lacks the tiny "left hand holding akakia" visible just above 5:30 on the obverse of this coin.
Constantine was Basil's son by his first wife before he became emperor in 867. Constantine died in 879 for reasons unknown to us. Basil was devastated. Leo (Basil's second son, who became the next emperor, Leo VI) was next in line to the throne, but Basil dropped all reference on coins to Leo, possibly because he thought Leo was not really his biological son. The story is that before Basil became emperor he married, as his second wife, the mistress of Michael III who later gave birth to Leo. Rumor had it that Leo was really the son of Michael III, not Basil, and likely Basil believed it, too. In any case, he hated Leo and even had him imprisoned for conspiring. Nevertheless, Leo remained next in line and did assume the throne when Basil died, supposedly from a hunting accident.
Leo VI (886-912). Because the oldest son, Constantine, predeceased Basil, Leo VI was next in line to the throne, which he assumed on Basil's death. Nicknamed "The Wise," some of his writings are extant and they show he was highly educated.
Leo VI has three follis types.
Leo VI, 886-912
26 mm. 6.84 grams.
Leo VI in loros on throne with curved arms ("winged throne")
The design of this type is very similar to the last issue of Basil, which is an argument for it being Leo's first type.
Leo VI, The Wise, 886-912.
27 mm. 7.96 grams.
+LЄON BAS-ILЄVS ROM '
Four-line reverse legend:
"Leo, by the grace of God, King of the Romans."
Sear 1729. Constantinople mint.
Go to Leo VI on the page on Byzantine coin emperors.
Go to the first page of "Introduction to Byzantine Coins."
Go to the Table of Contents for this educational site.