Constantine VII. 913-959, replaces Romanus I.  A Byzantine story illustrated by Byzantine copper coins.


Byzantine history is, well, Byzantine. The complicated reign of Constantine VII illustrates it. There are more twists and turns than I can recount here, but some events are key to understanding this coin which is clearly overstruck.  (I posted the first version of this web page on CoinTalk, April 23, 2019.)

 

The type is of Constantine VII, 913-959. This type was issued from 945 to c. 950. [The dating is explained below.]
27 mm. 6.14 grams.
Facing bust of Constantine VII, holding globus cruciger in left hand
CONST bA - S ... around ["N" looks like "h" on all of these coins]
Four line reverse legend:
CONST/ENOЄbA/SILЄVSR/ROMЄON
  
Sear 1761.

 

 

Here is another example without a visible undertype:


Constantine VII, 913-959.
Obverse Legend: COҺST bASILЄ ROM

Note the long narrow face.

Reverse as above.

Sear 1761.

 

 

You can skip the next paragraph which identifies the undertype as Romanus I, Sear 1760 (the second next coin).

Clearly the obverse is overstruck on a previous reverse, the final two lines showing: 
SILEVSRW/OMEWN    [Note: The omega form is like W here but like O on the Constantine VII.] Remembering that late Byzantine coins usually have 6:00 die-axis, flipping the coin over using the axis of the undertype we can see the top of the undertype's obverse was at 1:30 on the reverse. Yes, ILEVS RWM can be made out there to the right. At 3:00 in this orientation the beginning of the undertype's obverse legend is RWM ... for Romanus. This, and the details of the reverse, show the undertype is Sear 1760 of Romanus I (the second next coin).

Romanus I. The books say Romanus I ruled 920-944, inside the reign of Constantine VII (913-959). How is that?

Here is where it gets Byzantine.

Leo VI, the wise, did not have a male heir until his fourth wife presented him with Constantine VII. (Having four wives got Leo in a lot of trouble with the church.) When Leo died there were historical complications I omit. Then Constantine VII became emperor while still a minor, with his mother Zoe as regent.

Constantine and Zoe. 914-919. Note Zoe is larger.

You can see the name "Zoe" as "ZOH" in the obverse legend and the middle line of the reverse ("H" is "eta" in Greek). 

Obverse Legend: + CONSTAN CE ZOH b
Reverse:  +CONS/TANTINO/CE ZOH bA/SILIS RO/MEON

Sear 1758.

 

 

Invasions by the Bulgarians required the help of an able military man and the admiral Romanus I pushed himself into the role of regent and co-emperor, forcing out Zoe. He issued coins in his own name.
 

 

Sear 1760, in the name of Romanus, under Constantine VII.
Obverse legend:  + RWMAN BASILEVS RWM 

Note the face is not as long as the face of Constantine VII and the legend is of Romanus.

Reverse:  +RWMA/N'ENBEW bA/SILEVS RW/MAIWN 

 

 

Romanus promoted his oldest son, Christopher, who was already an adult military man, to co-emperor and then his other two sons too. Constantine VII was moved down the list of heirs. However, Christopher died and Romanus became despondent, seeming not to care for his other two sons, and wrote a will that would have given the empire (back) to Constantine VII. The sons conspired and overthrew him, forcing him to take vows and join a monastery. Shortly thereafter, the populace backed Constantine VII and overthrew the sons and forced them to join their father (in 945).

So, you can understand that it was time to call in the coins of Romanus I and restrike them as coins of Constantine VII, which explains the overstrike on the first coin. That type was issued from 945 to c. 950, when Constantine VII began to issue coins with his own young child, Romanus II:

 

Constantine VII and Romanus II, c.950-959 [That is, this type was struck until Constantine VII died.]

CONST CE ROMAN b ROM
Their facing busts.

CONST'/CE ROMAN/EN XRIST/b ROMEO

 

Sear 1762 under Constantine VII.

 

 

Byzantine copper coins may not be beautiful. They may not be high grade. But they have great stories!  

(If you don't find the above story interesting, I don't think you will like Byzantine copper coins.)

 


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