An new CoinWeek article by Mike Markowitz looks at the coinage of Byzantine emperor Constantine. Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online.
THE FOURTH BYZANTINE emperor of the
Macedonian dynasty, Constantine VII is remembered as Porphyrogenitus, meaning
Born in the Purple. The term applied to rulers born while their fathers held the throne. The palace in Constantinople even had a
Purple Chamber where the empress would give birth, its walls lined with slabs of porphyry, a prized reddish purple marble quarried in Egypt.
Constantine's father Leo VI (
Leo the Wise, ruled 886-912), like the future English king Henry VIII, had terrible luck fathering a male heir. Three successive wives died without delivering a son. Leo's mistress, Zoe Karbounopsina (
She of the Coal-Black Eyes) bore Constantine on May 17, 905. The Orthodox Church disapproved of third marriages, and absolutely forbade fourth marriages. Defying the Church, Leo married Zoe on January 9, 906, making her his empress. Young Constantine was formally crowned as co-emperor at the age of two.
Leo and Constantine
Leo VI the Wise, with Constantine VII. 886-912. AV Solidus. Image: CNG.
Constantine's first appearance on a coin, alongside his father, dates to that coronation. On the reverse, the infant boy is depicted – rather hopefully – as a beardless adolescent, only slightly smaller than Leo. They stand in imperial garb, holding a double-barred patriarchal cross between them.
The coin's obverse shows Christ enthroned with the Latin inscription
Jesus Christ, King of Those Who Reign (+IHS XPS REX REGNANTIUM*), which had been used on the gold coinage since the reign of Constantine's grandfather, Basil I (ruled 867-886). When Leo died, his dissolute brother Alexander took the throne, pushing Constantine aside and exiling Zoe to a convent. Alexander died after a year, from excessive eating and drinking. Coins of his brief reign are very rare.
Constantine and Zoe
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, with Zoe. 913-959. AV Solidus. Image: CNG.
In 914, Zoe escaped from the convent wherein she had been detained, and with the aid of loyal palace officials, took up the regency for her nine-year-old son. Zoe and Constantine appear side by side on a rare gold solidus. Zoe wears the loros, which is an elaborate jeweled wrap reserved for rulers, and a heavy crown with dangling strings of pearls. Constantine, beardless, wears the chlamys, which is a pleated garment fastened with a round gold brooch. Only about a dozen examples of this coin have appeared on the market in recent years.
Constantine VII and Romanus I, with Zoe, Æ Follis. Image: Roma Numismatics.
Mother and son also appear on a quite affordable copper follis, the reverse inscribed
Constantine and Zoe, Emperors of the Romans.
To read the complete article, see:
Born Into the Purple: The Coinage of Constantine VII
Wayne Homren, Editor
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