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, Porphyrogenitus, illustrates it. "Porphyrogenitus" means "born in the purple" which means his father was emperor when he was born. Unfortunately, when his father died Constantine was too young to rule, so he had to have a regent. Regents tend to like power for themselves, so it gets complicated. There are more twists and turns than I recount here, but some events are illustrated by this coin which is clearly overstruck.  (I posted the first version of this web page on CoinTalk, April 23, 2019.)

What's new?  2021, July 25, a coin illustrating the elevation of Christopher to heir. 2021, May 1: Sequence of events listed. Another example of Constantine VII and Romanus II

The coin is of Constantine VII, 913-959, overstruck on a coin of Romanus I, 920-944, who ruled inside the reign of Constantine VII. This type was struck from 945 to c. 950 after Constantine VII reclaimed power from Romanus.
The dating is explained below and the undertype (with lettering slanting upward from 7:00 toward 1:30 on the obverse) is identified below.
This coin: 27 mm. 6.14 grams.
Facing bust of Constantine VII, holding globus cruciger in left hand
CONST bA - S ... around ["N" looks like "Һ" on all of these coins]
Four line reverse legend:
CONST/EҺ ΘЄO bA/SILЄVSR/ROMЄOҺ
"Constantine, in God (by the grace of God), ruler (emperor) of the Romans"
  
Sear 1761.

This type is almost always poorly overstruck, usually on coins of Romanus (below) which were removed from circulation.  
 

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.

The father of Constantine VII, Leo VI (886-912), "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 (about 8 years old), with his mother Zoe as regent.


Constantine VII and Zoe. 914-919. Note Zoe is larger.
26-23 mm. 4.90 grams.

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/MEOҺ
"Constantine and Zoe, rulers of the Romans"

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 from 920 to 944. Here is the undertype of the first coin:


In the name of Romanus, under Constantine VII, but with no mention of Constantine VII. 
27 mm. 6.95 grams.

Obverse legend:  + RWMAҺ BASILEVS Rω

Note the face is not as long as the face of Constantine VII and the legends--both obverse and reverse--are of Romanus.

Reverse:  +RWMA/Һ' EN ΘEω bA/SILEVS Rω/MAIωҺ 
"Romanus, in God (by the grace of God), ruler of the Romans"

Sear 1760.

 

Dating. Romanus promoted his oldest son, Christopher, who was already an adult military man, to co-emperor.  Constantine VII was moved down the list of heirs. The next coin, a silver miliarsion, has the names of Romanus I, Christopher, and Constantine VII, in that order, which explicitly shows Constantine VII was not even next in line after Romanus.  

Miliaresion. 25 mm. 2.81 grams. Struck 921-931. 



Obverse: Cross potent on four steps, globus beneath.
IhSЧS XRI-STЧS ҺICA  (Jesus Christ conquers)


Reverse:
+ROmAҺO         Romanus [and]
XPISTOFOR'      Christopher
CЄ COҺSTAҺ'   and Constan[tine VII]
ЄҺ Xω ЄVSЄ     in Christ, pius [pious]
b BASIL R'            emperor of the Romans

Sear 1754.


The name "Christopher" has two R's in it and this coin uses two different letter forms. The first is "P", the Greek Rho, and the second is "R", as in Latin and English. 



Then Romanus promoted his other two sons too. 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. Here is another example of the new type of Constantine VII.

Constantine VII, alone
24-22 mm. 4.78 grams.


Facing bust of Constantine VII, holding globus cruciger in left hand
CONST bA - S ... around ["N" looks like "h" on these coins]
Four line reverse legend:
CONST/EҺ ΘЄO bA/SILЄVSR/ROMЄOҺ
"Constantine, in God (by the grace of God), ruler of the Romans"
  
Sear 1761.


This 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 [This type was struck until Constantine VII died and Romanus II became emperor at age 21.]
27-25 mm. 7.68 grams.

CONST CE ROMAN b ROM
Their facing busts.
"Constantine [VII] and Romanus [II] rulers of the Romans"

CONST'/CE ROMAҺ/EҺ XRIST/b ROMEO
"Constantine and Romanus, in Christ, rulers of the Romans"

Sear 1762 under Constantine VII.
 



Another example.

Constantine VII and Romanus II, c. 950-959 
26 mm. 5.0 grams.

CONST CE ROMAN b ROM
Their facing busts.
"Constantine [VII] and Romanus [II] rulers of the Romans"

CONST'/CE ROMAҺ/EҺ XRIST/b ROMEO
"Constantine and Romanus, in Christ, rulers of the Romans"

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.)

The sequence of events

Date)  Event.  (Link to a coin)
913) Constantine VII, son of emperor Leo VI, came to the throne at age 8, with his mother Zoe as regent (Coin).
920) A military man, Romanus I, forced Zoe out and was proclaimed co-emperor (Coin). 
921) Romanus promoted his own adult son Christopher as heir over Constantine VII. Constantine VII, while still nominally emperor, was moved down the list of those in line to rule.
924) Then Romanus promoted his other two sons. 
931) Christopher died, which profoundly depressed Romanus who then wrote a will that would give the empire (back) to Constantine VII. 
944) The other two sons of Romanus, left out of the will, revoted and overthrew him, sending him to a monestary.
944) Constantine VII and the populace immediately overthrew them, sending them to a monestary too, which made Constantine VII sole ruler. New coins are overstruck (Coin) on coins of Romanus (Coin).
950) Constantine VII issued coins with his own son, Romanus II, as co-ruler (Coin). 
959) Constantine VII died of natural causes and Romanus II became emperor. 


Identifying the undertype: You can skip this, which identifies the undertype of the first coin as Romanus I, Sear 1760 (the third coin on this page).

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.

 


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