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Byzantine Coins & Seals

Histamenon

Histamenon was the name given to the gold Byzantine solidus when the slightly lighter tetarteron was introduced in the 960s. To distinguish the two, the histamenon was changed in form from the original solidus, becoming wider and thinner, as well as concave (scyphate) in form (link). Although the term scyphate is used to refer to the Byzantine coins of the 11th-14th (link) it was first discernible during the long reign of Basil II from 976 to 1025 A.D. (link).

The Curmsun Disc is slightly concave in form.

Other Byzantine Coins

John I Tzimiskes (circa 925 – January 10, 976) was the senior Byzantine Emperor from December 11, 969 to January 10, 976. An intuitive and successful general, he strengthened the Empire and expanded its borders during his short reign. (link)

Basil II (958 – 15 December 1025) was a Byzantine Emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025. He was known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his supposed ancestor, Basil I the Macedonian. (link)

In the figures below we can see examples of coins of John I Tzimiskes and Basil II with the same type of cross in the legend on the reverse as can be seen on the Curmsun Disc. There are also several lines in the legend both on the coins and on the Curmsun Disc. The legends with several lines cannot be found in later Byzantine era.

Silver Miliaresion

Fig. 1       

The Curmsun Disc

Fig. 2

Basil II - Obverse Basil II - Reverse

  Fig. 3

Basil II

Fig. 4

                                                                 

Fig. 1 – John I Tzimiskes´ Silver Milaresion (link)

Obverse: + IhSUS XRIStUS nICA

Translation: May Jesus Christ prevail.

Reverse: IwANN’ / En Xw AVtO / CRAT’ EVSEb / bASILEVS / RwmAIw’

Translation: John by the grace of Christ Autocrator and pious King of the Romans

Fig. 3 and 4 – Basil II (link)

Obverse: + EMMA NOVHΛ IC – XC.

Translation: ?

Bust of Christ facing, holding book of gospels, with nimbus. Cross on book of gospels; cross in each arm of gospel.

Reverse: + IhSYS/ XRISTYS/ bASILEY/ bASILE.

Translation: Jesus Christ king of those who rules

Another similarity between the Silver Milaresion and the Curmsun Disc is the text about king of the Romans and king of the Danes. The question is if there are any more engraved examples where the king is explicitly said to be king of a people from the 10th century and onwards besides the aforementioned ones and Sweyn Forkbeard´s coin:

  • The Curmsun Disc – King of the Danes (REX AD TANER)
  • The Silver Miliaresion – King of the Romans (bASILEVS RwmAIw’)
  • Sweyn Forkbeard´s coin – King of the Danes (REX AD DENER)

 

Byzantine Seals

Seals have existed since very ancient times. All major cultures had their particular sealing implements, which ranged from incised stone cylinders to engraved metal rings. Under the Roman Empire the seal became a symbol of power and social class. But its two-fold function remained basically unchanged; it served at once as a substitute for a signature and as a “lock” to ensure that a closed document or package could not be secretly opened.

In Byzantium metal seals were not made exclusively in lead. Gold and silver were also used, but only on a very limited scale and under special circumstances. The gold seal, with its red or purple silk cord, was reserved for the emperor, and then only for certain kinds of documents, called chrysobulls (“golden bulls”). Over the centuries the technique of striking gold seals changed. Cast blanks with a central channel, just like those in lead, prevailed until the second half of the eleventh century, when the chancery started using two separate roundels of gold fastened together with metallic solder.

The weights of golden bulls were regulated in terms of monetary units, and depended upon the importance of the importance of the recipient and the importance of the occasion. In the tenth century most foreign sovereigns and the Pope were listed in the Book of Ceremonies as deserving a golden bull weighing two gold pieces (ca. 9 grams), while others, such as the king of Armenia and the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, were entitled to a golden bull equal to three gold coins. Golden bulls equal to four gold coins were reserved for the Arab caliph of Baghdad and the Sultan of Egypt, and it is reported that even heavier specimens were used – up to eighteen gold coins or about eighty-two grams! But none have survived. Indeed, surviving golden bulls of any weight are quite rare, a fact that can easily be explained by their considerable value and by their close resemblance to gold coins. (link)

The Curmsun Disc weighs 25,23 gram but the loss could be around 2 grams. Six contemporary byzantine gold coins weigh 27 grams.

The gold content in the Curmsun Disc is approxlimately 91,6%, see Metallurgical Analysis above.

Dr. Kenneth W. Harl shows the gold content of the gold nomisma between 867-1092, see the table below:

Emperor Fineness
Basil I (867-886) 98.0%
Leo VI (886-912) 97.5%
Constantine VII, 920-921 94.0%
Romanus I, 921-931 90.5%
Constantine VII, 945-959 95.0%
Nicephorus II, 963-969 94.0%
John I, 969-976 92.5%
Basil II, 977-1005 91.5%
Basil II, 1005-1025 95.0%
Constantine VIII (1025-1028) 93.5%
Romanus III (1028-1034) 92.5%
Michael IV (1034-1041) 90.5%
Constantine IX (1042-1055) 90.5%
89.0%
87.0%
81.5%
Theodora (1055-56) 80.5%
Isaac I (1057-1059) 77.0%
Constantine X (1059-1068) 75.5%
Romanus IV (1068-1072) 71.0%
Michael VII (1071-1078) 64.0%
56.5%
Nicephorus III (1978-1081) 35.0%
Alexius I, 1081-1092 10.5%

(link)

There are some byzantine lead seals which shows many similiarities with the Curmsun Disc. Among others it is the Nikephoros imperial Protospatharios and Strategos of Cherson and the seal of Niketas, magistros, droungarios and katepanō of the basilikon ploïmon .

IMG_4761

IMG_0534

Byzantine lead seal

Type of Cross Type of seal Legend Dating
Byzantine Seal Patriarchal Cross Imperial Five lines 10th century
Curmsun Disc Latin Cross Imperial Six lines 10th century?
Byzantine Seal Patriarchal Cross Imperial Five lines 9th century