Collectors interested in Palaeologan coins will be familiar with the intriguing type Sear 2477, which is notable as the only scyphate copper coin conventionally attributed (until recently*) to Andronicus III at Constantinople.
But what is the basis for the attribution? Well, this is not clear – it is an odd fact that this scarce type has been known for a very long time, perhaps, as we shall see, from as far back as the 17th century, but even today there seems to be little hard evidence for the assignment of the type to Constantinople, or anywhere else for that matter. This coin has been assigned to Andronicus III for a long time (see, e.g, De Saulcy, 1836), most likely following an old tradition which we can’t accept today**, and up to the 1930’s it was simply assumed without question that all coins of Andronicus III (and Andronicus II for that matter) came from Constantinople.
If we actually wanted to justify Constantinople as the source of S.2477 today, we could perhaps note that this is a very heavy type – typically it weighs from 3 to 4 gm, and is much heavier than most of the other scyphate types of Constantinople (or Thessalonica) from the Palaeologan period. Now there are in fact a few relatively heavy types from this period, such as S.2411, and particularly the paired types S.2414 and 2417 of Andronicus II and Michael IX, which are often found with weights over 3 gm, so perhaps S.2477 belongs with these issues. However these joint reign types are also found with weights below 3 gm, and, except perhaps for S.2414, they seem on the whole to be on a generally lighter weight scale than S.2477. We also note that the assarion S.2481, which is normally assigned to Andronicus III, is no heavier than the assaria of Andronicus II and Michael IX – again, therefore, it seems unlikely that S.2477 and 2481 can both be issues of Andronicus III at Constantinople.
In any case, the general style of S.2477 is rather odd – it is generally bolder and somewhat “heavier” than that of most other trachies of the late 13th and earlier 14th century, with unusually well defined legends (with S rather than C for sigma), and also we see that, unlike any other trachy of the period, the emperor is on the obverse, or to be more exact, the convex side of the coin. (Also, it is clear that this type is normally struck on carefully prepared scyphate flans with consistent weights, again unlike just about any other Palaeologan trachy).
Overall, then, it would seem that S.2477 doesn’t belong with any of the other issues of Andronicus II or III, at Constantinople or anywhere else. None the less, as a last resort, and given that there are no other obvious candidates for Andronicus III at Constantinople, we might finally argue that the odd style of S.2477 actually justifies, or at least is consistent with, the attribution of this type to Andronicus III at the capital. In other words, we might still assign the type to Constantinople, although more by default than for any positive reason.
This is not, of course, a particularly convincing argument, but I rather suspect that it does reflect current thinking (to the extent that there is actually any thinking) on the subject.
To me, though, it is precisely the obvious differences between S.2477 and the other Palaeologan types that have long suggested that, barring any drastic changes in the practice of the mint of Constantinople, this coin most likely came from somewhere else, possibly a provincial mint somewhere or other. For a long time, however, I could not even begin to work out where this mint might be, until I eventually came across of a reprint of old paper which suggests an intriguing, if unlikely, possible answer to the problem.
In the end I think this particular theory is probably incorrect, but it opens up a line of thought that leads ultimately to another possible source of S.2477, so let us follow the rabbit down the hole.
* In DOC V Grierson assigns the anonymous types S.2591 and 2588 to Andronicus III at Constantinople, along with 2477. The former assignment is considered here; the latter (of 2588) is pure guesswork. We note however that S.2588 seems to have the typical weight of a later Palaeologan trachy, and hence is rather lighter than 2477 and 2591, so that we can surely say that these three types can’t all have come from the same mint in the same period. (We note that an example of S.2588 was found at Turnovo by Dochev, although the significance of this is unclear).
** In de Saulcy’s time, and even up to the 1950’s, it was generally thought that a standing St Demetrius in military gear did not appear (alone) on coins between John Vatatzes and Andronicus III. It is difficult to understand today just how sketchy the knowledge of post 1204 Byzantine coinage was only 50 years ago, before the publication of the well known tracts of Hendy, and Bendall and Donald, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as can be seen in the Ratto catalog of 1930, to take just one example.
The Anonymous Trachy Sear 2591
James R.B. Stewart was an Australian archaeologist and numismatist, and eventually, Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology at Sydney University in the early 1960’s. On his premature death in 1962 he left his coin collection to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, but his extensive numismatic library was acquired by Sydney University (where it has been of invaluable help to me). One day recently, I revisited an offprint of a paper by Stewart which I had seen before, but taken little notice of, with the odd title “A Latin-Byzantine Hybrid Coin”, which was taken from a collection of articles entitled “Studies presented to David Moore Robinson on his 70th Birthday”, published in 1951*.
The coin in question turned out to be the very rare anonymous trachy listed late in Sear as S.2591, which has a floriate cross on the obverse (the “Latin” part of the coin), and a reverse with St Demetrius standing, exactly the same as on S.2477.
Although I have an example of S.2477**, I had until now taken no particular notice of S.2591, perhaps because of the rarity of this type, which has not, as far as I know, appeared for sale anywhere in recent times (not even in the “Despot” sale). The actual coin discussed by Stewart had been part of the collection of Lord Grantley, who had acquired the bronze coins from the “Foreign Prince” collection supposedly put together by a Prince Cantacazenus in the 17th century. (This collection included quite a few Palaeologan types, including, interestingly, an example of S.2477).
Now there is another example of S.2591 (from the same reverse die?) in Bendall’s PCPC (#374) weighing a fairly heavy 2.75 gm, while the Grantley coin weighs 3.72 gm, in the middle of the range for S.2477.
Taking these various facts together, I think we can safely conclude (as in DOC V) that the two types are related, so that if we can locate the mint for S.2591, we have the mint for S.2477.
* Robinson was the excavator of Olynthus in Chalkidike. He is known to numismatics as the publisher of the coins found there, including the rare John V(?) type S.2592, yet another heavy type of uncertain origin.
** CNG eSale158-291. When I looked up S.2477 in de Saulcy I found, to my considerable surprise, that the coin shown was essentially identical to mine (allowing for some minor editing in the line drawings), right down to the unusual and distinctive obverse legend. Now it’s clear that my coin is not the same as de Saulcy’s (the flan is different), but it may well have come from the same dies.
Interestingly, de Saulcy’s coin is identical, with one minor difference, to the one shown in Sabatier (the final S in A/Γ/I/O/S appears more as an I in de Saulcy, and on my coin, but is shown as an S in Sabatier). But this is unlikely to be a different coin – Sabatier probably copied de Saulcy here, as he sometimes did, and very likely edited the latter’s drawing to suit his own preconceptions, a common enough practice in 19th century illustrations.
The Mint for S.2591
Now the mint for S.2591 is precisely the subject of Stewart’s article, and so, without reproducing all the detail, I will outline the key points of his argument.
The starting point is the observation that the complex floriate cross on the obverse of S.2591 appears to be copied from the silver gigliati that were introduced into the Mediterranean area in the early 14th century, starting with Robert d’Anjou’s type in Naples in 1303. (In the Neapolitan coins there are Lis in the angles of the cross, whereas on S.2591 there are A’s, but otherwise the designs are essentially identical).
The gigliato became very popular in the first half of the 14th century, particularly in the central and southern Aegean region, and similar coins were issued by the Greek rulers on Chios and Rhodes, and also (according to Schlumberger) by the Turkish emirs on the west coast of Anatolia. In the 2nd quarter of the century Byzantium recovered control, for a short period, of some territories of the Aegean, notably Chios during 1329-46 and Phokea (now Foglia, on the coast of Anatolia near Chios) from 1336 to 1358, and Stewart’s suggestion is that S.2591 was issued in this period by the Byzantine governors of one or other of these territories, or possibly Lesbos, with his preferred candidate being Leo Calothetos, governor of Chios during 1329-1340.
If so, then perhaps S.2477 dates from the same source (although note that Stewart himself did not make this connection). As well, we can possibly group another heavyweight type of uncertain attribution with these two types, namely the anonymous trachy S.2590, which also typically weighs 3-4 gms. (Although this last type has exactly the same obverse as S.2417, so it’s possible that it belongs with the earlier heavy Andronicus II and Michael IX types noted earlier, despite its consistently heavy weights).
(It might be asked, incidentally, why Stewart’s theory is not generally known in the numismatic world, but this is hardly surprising, given its publication in a massive two volume collection of papers most of which were not connected with numismatics. However, it has now been noted by Grierson in DOC V).
Stewart’s theory provides an interesting possible solution to the problem of who issued not only S.2591, but also the similar type S.2477 and, perhaps, S.2590. However, it is obvious that the evidence for it is (like the evidence for the conventional attribution to Constantinople) only circumstantial, and can only be confirmed or refuted by the hard evidence of finds, and as far as I know we have no recorded find spots for any of the types in question.
In the end, however, we have to say that, while we have here a not totally implausible source for S.2477 and 2591, problems remain. Even if the Byzantine governors of the Aegean reverted to Byzantine style types, would they have struck trachies when Constantinople seems to have discontinued them in favour of assaria?* (although as Grierson once pointed out, some of the Constantinople trachies assigned to Andronicus II could actually be issues of Andronicus III). And even if trachies were issued, why were they issued on such a heavy weight scale? (This problem remains, of course, no matter where these coins were issued).
In other words, the style and particularly the weight of these two types are still the critical problem, as they have been all along, and it’s clear that we won’t find a convincing solution to the problem of the origin of these types without also solving the weight problem. This leads us to seek an alternative solution at an earlier date, in the last two sections below.
At this point it is worth noticing another odd type, namely the anonymous “stamenon” S.2595. This is apparently another very heavy type – the coin in the “Despot” sale weighed 3.84 gm, in the range for S.2477. Now although unsigned, this type is presumably a Palaeologan issue, and hence could well be put forward as supporting a Palaeologan origin for S.2477 and 2591. However 2595 is evidently a flat type, and quite different in style to the trachies being considered here; in fact it gives the impression of being a makeshift local issue, so that it is not clear that it is actually connected with the other types. And even if it is then we have yet another anomalous type with the same problem as before, namely when and where was it issued? (We note that this type was reported by Bertele, who collected most of his rarer coins in the western Balkans. In DOC V it is assigned to John V and John VI, but on the basis of no real evidence, and in fact it no more resembles the known stamena of John V and VI than S.2477 resembles the normal Palaeologan issues of Constantinople).
* And note that the rulers of Rhodes in the later 13th century issued small Nicean/Palaeologan style tetartera (cf. Grierson 1393-7).
Andronicus II or Andronicus III?
We now need to ask ourselves another question – is S.2477 really an issue of Andronicus III? The weights suggest perhaps that this type is more likely to be early Andronicus II than Andronicus III, but if so then the style and fabric problems still mean that it is more likely the issue of a provincial mint than of the capitals – Adrianopolis in Thrace perhaps, or even a mint in Asia Minor, where at that time some territory was still in Byzantine hands. The weights are admittedly still generally heavier than those in the capitals, but the difference is perhaps not so glaring as with an assignment to Andronicus III.
Or Andronicus I Gidon of Trebizond?
There is still another possibility. The heavy weight of S.2477 suggests, once again, that this type could date from even earlier than Andronicus II. Could it therefore be an issue of Andronicus I Gidon of Trebizond (1322-35)? The name on S.2477 is Andronicus, but there is after all nothing to say this is Andronicus Palaeologus (the full legend, when it appears, is “Andronikos-De..oths)”, and note the use of “s” rather than the usual “c” on this type, as well as a ligatured “th”.
There is in fact a rare copper trachy, namely S.2599, evidently an issue of Andronicus I Gidon, which shows, on the convex “obverse” side, a nimbate figure standing in military gear exactly as St Demetrius appears on the reverse of S.2477, and on the reverse, the Virgin standing on a dais (holding a medallion of Christ?). (Cf. S. Bendall, “An Early Coinage of Trebizond?”, N. Circ. 2002, p.113-5*). The obverse legend of this type is “A/N/ΔP/O-NI/KO/C”, which presumably refers to the standing figure, despite the fact that he is nimbate, while the reverse legend is “MP-ΘV” over “KO/M\H/NC-O Γ/ΔO/N”. Gidon had married into the Comnenus family and referred to himself, on occasion, as Andronicus Comnenus, hence the double name on this particular coin. Thus we see that a ruler named Andronicus appears on the obverse of both S.2599 and S.2477. Of course on 2599 he appears in the military garb worn by St Demetrius on the reverse of 2477, but despite this difference the close similarity in style between the two types suggests that one might have been used as the model for the other (with S.2599 possibly following S.2477, given the nimbus on Andronicus), meaning of course that S.2477 could well also be an issue of Andronicus Gidon at Trebizond. One obvious objection to this idea is the presence of St Demetrius on S.2477, rather than the ubiquitous St Eugenius of Trebizond; however, the other (presumed) early coins of Andronicus at Trebizond are all rather different from the settled designs of the later issues, so the absence of Eugenius is perhaps not a real problem.
One further point of similarity is that, like S.2477, the Gidon trachy S.2599 shown by Bendall is struck on a neat scyphate flan, although he gives no weight for the coin (it is in fact 2.65g). But this also raises a separate problem, since all the examples of two other copper trachies attributed to Gidon (S.2597-8) are crudely struck coins on ragged flans of widely varying weights, more like the various “imitative” types of the period than anything else (in fact these types are quite similar to the Latin Imitative Type H, which copies the imperial trachy of Andronicus I Comnneus). As well, we note that on S.2477 and S.2599 the ruler usually has a short beard, while on S.2597-8 the beard is often forked (as on the Latin Imitative Type I, another possible issue of Gidon, although in yet another style). The answers to these particular conundra are yet to be found, although it’s not unreasonable to assume, as Bendall in fact does, that the cruder types at least might come from a secondary mint somewhere in Asia Minor, rather than from Trebizond itself.
(Note that in the article quoted above Bendall also reassigned the anonymous “Christ Chalkites” types S.2148-50 and 2153 to Gidon, where again we see “s” as often as “c”, and a ligatured “th”**. However, it should be said that on S.2599, the only coin that can be attributed with certainty to Gidon, we seem to find “c” on the clearer specimens).
One final question is where in the earlier 13th century can we find the inspiration for the designs on S.2477 and 2591? The standing military saint is no great problem – he is found, under various names, as early as Theodore I Lascaris, and also on issues of John III Vatatzes, and of course he appears on Gidon’s own S.2599 trachy anyway (although the figure there may be Gidon himself). The fancy floriate cross on the obverse of S.2591 is a more serious problem, since here we can’t borrow it from the later gigliati. Similar (but much simpler) examples of the cross fleury appear in various places (in Edessa, for example, in the early 13th century) and fancy crosses of various designs are found on the anonymous tetartera of the Empire of Nicea, but none of these match the complex cross on S.2591.
I have to admit that there is no clear answer to this last question; the floriate cross is, as Stewart says, basically a western design, but this was the era of the crusades, so perhaps Trebizond could have found a suitable prototype in the many and varied crosses which no doubt found their way to the east in this period. If not then most likely we must return to the 14th century to find the source of these types.
* Bendall describes this coin as unique, but another (worn) example was sold on Ebay in October 2003. Unfortunately no weight was given. A third example, weighing 1.89g, has now (2012) been found in the Crimea. It is now clear that this is not a real heavyweight type.
** It is perhaps worth pointing out here that while these features are rarely found on issues of Andronicus II or III, they do occur on several types of Michael VIII.
The heavy weight and odd style of S.2477 would seem to make it difficult to assign this type, and the related type S.2591, to either Andronicus II or Andronicus III Palaeologus, at least at Constantinople. On the other hand, we note that there is at least one heavy type which does seem to be Palaeologan, namely the anonymous flat type S.2595, although again the time and place of origin of this type is unknown.
Stewart’s suggestion, that 2591 was issued in the Aegean region during the rule of Andronicus III, together (we can presume) with S. 2477, provides an ingenious solution to the problem, although on reflection heavy trachies would seem totally inappropriate to this region at this time.
On the other hand, assigning S.2477 and S.2591 (and perhaps S.2590 as well) to Andronicus I Gidon at Trebizond would solve most of the weight and style problems for these types. However, this idea leaves us without a credible source for the floriate cross on S.2591, which would seem to lead us back to the 14th century, and in any case we still have S.2595 to account for.
Evidently we still have serious problems with the assignation of these heavy types – what is really needed now are find spots for these various issues to either confirm or refute the various alternative ideas.
24 June ’07: (Section on Andronicus II versus Andronicus III added).
11 Aug. ’07: (Section on Andronicus I Gidon added).
28 Dec. ’07: (“s” for “c” noted, as on S.2148).
6 Apr. ’08: (S.2588 and S.2595 noted, and summary revised).
6 Oct. ’08: (Summary revised again).