Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Byzantine Gold Coins - Making the World Go Around Since 395 AD

Gold Solidus of Emperor Arcadius (383 - 408 AD).

Money Equals Power
The Eastern Roman Empire died in 1453, but 
their money still has value today.

The raw power of money is underrated in history.  Money buys not only political influence, it buys the military power to defend yourself and enforce your will on others.  Roman gold coins represented that power for thousands of years.

Money used in the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West consisted of mainly two types of coins: the gold solidus and a variety of clearly valued bronze coins.  By the end of the empire the currency was issued only in silver stavrata and minor copper coins with no gold issue.

The start of what is viewed as Byzantine currency by numismatics began with the monetary reform of Anastasius in 498, who reformed the late Roman Empire coinage system which consisted of the gold solidus and the bronze nummi.

The only regularly issued silver coin was the Hexagram first issued by Heraclius in 615 which lasted until the end of the 7th century. It was succeeded by the initially ceremonial miliaresion established by Leo III the Isaurian in ca. 720, which became standard issue from ca. 830 on and until the late 11th century, when it was discontinued after being severely debased.

The gold solidus or nomisma remained a standard of international commerce until the 11th century, when it began to be debased under successive emperors beginning in the 1030s under the Emperor Romanos Argyros (1028–1034).

The Byzantine solidus was valued in Western Europe, where it became known as the bezant, a corruption of Byzantium

Theodosius II (408-450), Heavy Miliarense, Constantinopolis, AD 408-420; diademed, draped and cuirassed bust r., Rv. GLORIA – ROMANORVM, emperor standing facing, holding spear and resting on shield.

As part of his currency reforms, Constantine introduced a fine silver coin called the miliarense (from the Latin miliarensis (meaning “of a thousand”), because a thousand of these coins roughly equaled the value of a pound of gold, a unit used to express large sums such as the salaries of officials). There were two versions: a “light” miliarense struck at 72 to the pound, and a “heavy” 60 to the pound. One gold solidus was worth 14 heavies or 18 lights.
Miliarenses were handsome, well-made coins, and many surviving specimens are pierced for wear as ornaments or amulets. A typical obverse design was the emperor’s portrait, while the reverse often showed his standing figure in military garb, striking a noble pose and surrounded by the Latin motto GLORIA ROMANORUM (“Glory of the Romans.”)

In the late Roman period, coins were minted in a number of cities, mainly because of the danger and cost of moving large quantities of precious metal from place to place. This system was inherited by Byzantium, and in the 6th century there were six mints in the Eastern Empire (Constantinople, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, Antioch [Theoupolis], Alexandria and Thessalonica) and three in the Western provinces that Justinian had reconquered from the Vandals and the Ostrogoths (Carthage, Rome and Ravenna).

Gold coins were minted mainly in the capital and consequently have the mint mark CON (for Constantinople), with OB added on the solidi to show that they were minted of pure gold.

Aelia Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius No.: 617 Light miliarense, Constantinople 400-404, AR 4.46 g. AEL EUDO – XIA AVG Diademed and draped bust r., wearing earring and necklace; crowned above by the Hand of God. Rev. The Empress seated on throne facing, wearing diadem (?) and mantle, crowned above by the Hand of God; at sides, two crosses.
The rarest fifth century silver was struck for empresses. For Aelia Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius (Byzantine Emperor 395-408), a light miliarense shows the elaborate helmet-like hairdo favored by imperial ladies of this era. On the reverse she sits enthroned, flanked by plain crosses, while the “hand of God” reaches down to crown her. Aelia Eudocia (the similar names are an endless source of confusion), wife of Theodosius II, appears similarly coiffed on a rare silver siliqua of Constantinople, but the reverse is simply a cross in a wreath.

Gold Medallion of Constantine I
Multiple solidus struck at Sirmium in 324.  
More than 10 years after his victory under the sign of the 
cross, the
emperor is shown wearing the radiate crown, a 
reflection of his
continued devotion to the Sun God, Apollo.

The Economy of the Eastern Roman Empire

The Roman Empire effectively created one large free trade zone.  Under the protection of a central military goods could be produced and shipped from Africa to the Balkans and from Mesopotamia to Italy.  A universally accepted imperial currency of gold, silver and copper coins helped stimulate trade.

Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had the most powerful economy in the world.
Copper follis of Emperor
Anastastius I (491-518)

The state exercised formal control over interest rates, and set the parameters for the activity of the guilds and corporations in Constantinople, in which the state has a special interest (e.g. the sale of silk) or whose members exercised a profession that was of importance for trade. The emperor and his officials intervened at times of crisis to ensure the provisioning of the capital and to keep down the price of cereals.

Silk was used by the state both as a means of payment, and of diplomacy. Raw silk was bought from China and made up into fine brocades and cloth-of-gold that commanded high prices through the world. Later, silk worms were smuggled into the empire and the overland silk trade became less important. After Justinian I the manufacturing and sale of silk had become an imperial monopoly, only processed in imperial factories, and sold to authorized buyers.

Other commodities that were traded, in Constantinople and elsewhere, were numerous: oil, wine, salt, fish, meat, vegetables, other alimentary products, timber and wax. Ceramics, linen, and wooven cloth were also items of trade. Luxury items, such as silks, perfumes and spices were also important. 

Trade in slaves is attested, both on behalf of the state, and, possibly, by private individuals. International trade was practiced not only in Constantinople, which was until the late twelfth century an important center of the eastern luxury trade, but also in other cities that functioned as centers of inter-regional and international trade, such as Thessaloniki and Trebizond.

Follis of a new type, minted in large quantities in celebration of Emperor Theophilos' victories against the Arabs from ca. 835 on. On the obverse he is represented in triumphal attire, wearing the toupha, and on the reverse the traditional acclamation "Theophilos Augustus, you conquer".

Byzantine Coinage

"The use of coins welds together our whole life, and is the basis 
of all our transactions. Whenever anything is to be bought or 
sold, we do it all through coins."
John Chrysostom

The wealth of the Byzantine emperor was equalled only by the kings of Sasanian Persia and the caliphs of Baghdad.

A vivid description of the Byzantine court's sense of superiority toward the "barbarian" West has been preserved by Liutprand of Cremona, the ambassador of Emperor Otto II to Constantinople in 950, who quotes a high court official's arrogant comments:

"We surpass all other nations in wealth and wisdom and with our money which gives us power, we will rouse the whole world against [your emperor] and break him in pieces like a potter's vessels."
Emperor Heraclius (610 - 614)

The annual budget of the Byzantine Empire in periods of great prosperity, such as the 6th and 12th centuries, has been estimated at some 7 million gold coins, but even in the 9th century, when so much territory had been lost to the Arabs, it still amounted to some 3 million nomismata. Although precious metals were available from mines in Asia Minor and the Balkans, apparently the government raised most of its revenue through taxation. The land tax was the most important source of imperial revenue and taxes were also levied on households as well as on commercial transactions and imported goods.

The wealth of Constantinople can be seen by how Justin I (518 - 527) used 3,700 pounds of gold just for celebrating his own consulship. By the end of his reign, Anastasius I (491 - 518) had managed to collect for the treasury an amount of 23,000,000 solidi or 320,000 pounds of gold. At the start of Justinian I's reign (527 - 565), the Emperor had inherited a surplus 28,800,000 from Anastasius I and Justin I.

The Byzantine-Arab Wars reduced the territory of the Empire to a third in the 7th century and the economy slumped; in 780 the Byzantine Empire's revenues were reduced to only 1,800,000 nomismata

From the 8th century onward the Empire's economy improved dramatically. This was a blessing for Byzantium in more than one way; the economy, the administration of gold coinage and the farming of the Anatolian peninsula served to meet the military's constant demands. Since Byzantium was in a constant state of warfare with her neighbors the military required weapons to be manufactured by the bigger cities (such as Thessaloniki) whilst the smaller towns were subject to grain, wine and even biscuit requisitions by Imperial officers. 
Emperor Leontius (695 - 698)

Even though the soldiers' pay was minimal large armies were a considerable strain on Byzantium. As gold coins were spent on soldiers to serve in the army, these would in time spend their money acquiring their own goods and much revenue would return to the state in the form of taxation. As a result, the Byzantine economy was self-sufficient, allowing it to thrive in the Dark Ages. The success of the Byzantine army was in no small part due to the success of her economy.

When a massive Muslim army invaded the empire in 806, forcing Nikephoros I to pay a ransom of 50,000 gold coins and a yearly tribute of 30,000 gold coins. In order to impress the Caliph of BaghdadTheophilos distributed 36,000 gold coins to the citizens of Baghdad, and in 838, he was forced to pay 100,000 gold dinars to the Caliph. 

The Byzantine economic recovery in the early 800s can be seen by the fact that Emperor Theophilos was able to leave 7,000,000 nomismata in the imperial treasury for his successor in AD 842.

From the tenth century, however, until the end of the twelfth, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of wealth and luxury. Constantine V's reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. 

The travelers who visited its capital were impressed by the wealth accumulated in Constantinople; riches that also served the state's diplomatic purposes as a means of propaganda, and a way to impress foreigners as well its own citizens. When Liutprand of Cremona was sent as an ambassador to the Byzantine capital in the 940s, he was overwhelmed by the imperial residence, the luxurious meals, and acrobatic entertainment.

Gold solidus of Romanos I with his eldest son, Christopher Lekapenos.
Romanos I Lekapenos, was an Armenian who became a Byzantine
naval commander and reigned as 
Byzantine Emperor from 920 until
his deposition on December 16, 944.

In exchange for an alliance, Alexios I (1081 - 1118) sent 360,000 gold coins to Emperor Henry IV. The wealth of the empire under the Comnenians can be seen by how Emperor Manuel I (1143 - 1180) was able to ransom some Latin prisoners from the Muslims for 100,000 dinars, then 150,000 dinars for Bohemond III in AD 1165, 120,000 dinars for Raynald of Châtillon, and 150,000 dinars for Baldwin of Ibelin in 1180. 

When Manuel became emperor he ordered 2 gold coins to be given to every householder in Constantinople and 200 pounds of gold (including 200 silver coins annually) to be given to the Byzantine Church. When his niece Theodora married King Baldwin III of Jerusalem in 1157, Manuel gave her a dowry of 100,000 gold coins, 10,000 gold coins for marriage expenses, and presents (jewels and silk garments) which were worth 14,000 gold coins total.

The economy and the availability of gold declined with the dismemberment of the Empire after 1204, the successive territorial losses to the Turks, and the Italian expansion in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

By the time the Palaiologoi took power, Italian merchants had come to dominate the trade by sea whilst Turkic incursions prevented any success from trade across roads. Michael VIII Palaiologos strove to restore the capital's greatness, but the resources of the empire were inadequate.

By 1321, only with extreme effort was Andonikos II able to raise revenues to 1,000,000 hyperpyra.

The Byzantine economy had declined so much that by 1343, Empress Anne of Savoy had to pawn the Byzantine crown jewels for 30,000 Venetian ducats, which was the equivalent of 60,000 hyperpyra. In 1348, Constantinople had an annual revenue of 30,000 hyperpyra.

In February 1424, Manuel II Palaiologos signed an unfavorable peace treaty with the Ottoman Turks, whereby the Byzantine Empire was forced to pay 300,000 silver coins to the Sultan on annual basis. Emperor Constantine XI owed Venice 17,163 hyperpyra when he died in AD 1453.

The Decline
The rapid decline of the late empire forced the coinage of silver.  Above is a silver Stavraton of the Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391–1425).

(Coin Exhibition)      (Byzantine money)      (Coin Week)

(Byzantine coinage)      (Byzantine economy)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Armenian Legions in the Roman and Byzantine Army

Byzantium a Greco-Armenian Empire?
  • Armenians were everywhere in the Eastern Empire from Emperors, Generals, rank and file troops, Clergy and in business.

The Byzantine Empire was not a Greek Empire.  Although it is true that Greek was used as the language of the Empire, that can not be taken as proof that the empire was 'Greek.'  Latin was the original official language, imposed by the Romans who established and ruled the Roman Empire.

In 395 A.D. when the Roman Empire split into western and eastern (Byzantine), Latin continued to be used as the official language but in time it was replaced by Greek as that language was already widely spoken among the Eastern Mediterranean nations as the main trade language.

Yet the Emperors, the Church clergy, the army, and the artists, although they spoke Latin and Greek, where not exclusively of Greek ethnicity.  The Empire was made up of many nationalities - Thracians, Egyptians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, etc.  The Greeks composed only a small portion of this multi-ethnic Empire.

The earlier Byzantine Emperors were Romans but in time people of different ethnic backgrounds ruled this multi-ethnic empire.  It is known that the empire reached its zenith while it was ruled by the Macedonians while the Macedonian Dynasty was in power for almost two centuries.  Other dynasties that ruled were the Syrian, Armenian, Phrygian (Amorian), and other emperors were of various nationalities." - Even this "Macedonian Dynasty” founded by Basil I who was of Armenian descent.

The collective Armenian role in Constantinople escalated in the seventh and eighth centuries as hundreds of Armenian nobles were forced to seek haven in the Byzantine Empire during the Arab occupation of Armenia.  

In Byzantium the Armenian nobles became an important element within the dominant elites and figured in numerous military and political events.  A total of twenty rose to the rank of emperor, and there were those who attained prominence within the established Orthodox Church.  They were kings and princes, rebels and usurpers, intellectuals and diplomats—all operating within the Byzantine context.

Eastern Emperor Basil I on horseback.
Though from the Theme of Macedonia, Basil was of
Armenian heritage ruling from 867 to 886.

Provincia Armenia
Province of the Roman Empire

The Coming of Rome
While Armenia Minor had become a client state and incorporated into the Roman Empire proper during the 1st century AD, Greater Armenia remained an independent kingdom under the Arsacid dynasty.

Throughout this period, Armenia remained a bone of contention between Rome and the Parthian Empire, as well as the Sasanian Empire that succeeded the latter, and the casus belli for several of the Roman–Persian Wars. Only in 114–118 was Emperor Trajan able to conquer and incorporate it as a short-lived province.

In 114, Emperor Trajan incorporated Armenia into the Empire, making it a full Roman province.

From Antioch the emperor (Trajan) marched to the Euphrates and farther northward as far as the most northerly legion-camp Satala in Lesser Armenia, whence he advanced into Armenia and took the direction of Artaxata....Trajan was resolved to make this vassal-state a province, and a shift to eastern frontier of the (Roman) empire generally...Armenia yielded to its fate and became a Roman governorship..Trajan thereupon advanced and occupied Mesopotamia...and, like Armenia, Mesopotamia became a Roman province.

In 113, Trajan invaded the Parthian Empire because he wanted to reinstate a vassal king in Armenia (a few years before fallen under Parthian control). In 114 Trajan from Antiochia in Syria marched on Armenia and conquered the capital Artaxata. Trajan then deposed the Armenian king Parthamasiris and ordered the annexation of Armenia to the Roman Empire as a new province.

The new province reached the shores of the Caspian sea and bordered to the north with the Caucasian Iberia and Albania, two vassal states of Rome.

As a Roman province Armenia was administered along with Cappadocia by Catilius Severus of the gens Claudia.

The Roman Senate issued coins on this occasion bearing the following inscription: ARMENIA ET MESOPOTAMIA IN POTESTATEM P.R. REDACTAE', thus solidifying Armenia's position as the newest Roman province. A rebellion by the Parthian pretender Sanatruces was put down, though sporadic resistance continued and Vologases III of Parthia managed to secure an area of south-eastern Armenia just before Trajan's death in August 117.As a Roman province Armenia was administered along with Cappadocia by Catilius Severus of the gens Claudia.

After Trajan's death, his successor Hadrian decided not to maintain the province of Armenia. In 118, Hadrian gave Armenia up, and installed Parthamaspates as its king. Parthamaspates was soon defeated by the Persians.

Thereafter Armenia was in frequent dispute between the two empires and their candidates for the Armenian throne, a situation which lasted until the emergence of a new power, the Sassanids.

Indeed Rome's power and control increased even more, but Armenia retained its independence (even if as a vassal state), although from now on, it was Rome's loyal ally against the Sassanian Empire. For instance, when Septimius Severus attacked Ctesiphon, many Armenian soldiers were in his army: later -in the 4th century- they made up two Roman legions, the Legio I Armeniaca and the Legio II Armeniaca.

In the second half of the 3rd century, the Sassanid capital Ctesiphon and areas of southern Armenia were sacked by the Romans under Emperor Carus, and all Armenia, after half a century of Persian rule, was ceded to Diocletian in 299 as a vassal territory.

Photo - Duncanon military show

The Roman Legions

Grinding poverty in the rural provinces of the Empire was always a factor in a man's decision to join the army.  Armenians were happy to accept the Emperor's coin.  There was also the opportunity for upward social mobility for both peasant and noble alike.

For example, the Emperor Romanos Lekapenos was the son of an Armenian peasant with the remarkable name of Theophylact the Unbearable (Asbastaktos). Theophylact, as a soldier, had rescued the Emperor Basil I from the enemy in battle and had been rewarded by a place in the Imperial Guard.

Although he did not receive any refined education, Romanos advanced through the ranks of the army during the reign of Emperor Leo VI the Wise. In 911 he was general of the naval theme of Samos and later served as admiral of the fleet (droungarios tou ploimou) and became Emperor in 920.
In the Later Roman Empire, the number of legions was increased and the Roman Army expanded. There is no evidence to suggest that legions changed in form before the Tetrarchy, although there is evidence that they were smaller than the paper strengths usually quoted.
The final form of the legion originated with the elite legiones palatinae created by Diocletian and the Tetrarchs. These were infantry units of around 1,000 men rather than the 5,000, including cavalry, of the old Legions. The earliest legiones palatinae were the LanciariiJovianiHerculiani and Divitenses.
The 4th century saw a very large number of new, small legions created, a process which began under Constantine II
In addition to the elite palatini, other legions called comitatenses and pseudocomitatenses, along with the auxilia palatina, provided the infantry of late Roman armies. 
The Notitia Dignitatum lists 25 legiones palatinae, 70 legiones comitatenses, 47 legiones pseudocomitatenses and 111 auxilia palatina in the field armies, and a further 47 legiones in the frontier armies. Legion names such as Honoriani and Gratianenses found in the Notitia suggest that the process of creating new legions continued through the 4th century rather than being a single event. 
The names also suggest that many new legions were formed from vexillationes or from old legions. In addition, there were 24 vexillationes palatini, 73 vexillationes comitatenses; 305 other units in the Eastern limitanei and 181 in the Western limitanei.

Legio Prima (I) Armeniaca - Armenian First Legion

Symbol of Prima Armeniaca

Legio I Armeniaca was a pseudocomitatensis legion of the Late Roman Empire, probably created in the late 3rd century.
The name of the legion could refer to it being originally part of the garrison of the Armeniac provinces, but the unit, together with its twin legion II Armeniaca, appears to have been included in the imperial field army.
The legion took part in the invasion of the Sassanid Empire by Emperor Julian in 363. 
The Notitia dignitatum records the legion as being under the command of the magister militum Orientis around 400.

Legio Secunda (II) Armeniaca -  Armenian Second Legion

Symbol of Secunda Armeniaca

Legio II Armeniaca (from Armenia) was a legion of the late Roman Empire.
Its name could mean it was garrisoned in the Roman province of Armenia, but later, together with its twin, I Armeniaca, it was moved into the field army as apseudocomitatensis legion. 
The legion is reported to have built a camp in Satala (CIL II 13630, through Ritterling's Legio). According to Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae xx 7), in 360. 
II Armeniaca was stationed in Bezabde with II Flavia Virtutis and II Parthica, when the Persian King Shapur II besieged and conquered the city, killing many of the inhabitants. 
The II Armeniaca however, survived, since it is cited in the Notitia Dignitatum as being under the command of the Dux Mesopotamiae.

Despite a number of reforms, the Legion system survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and was continued in the Eastern Roman Empire until around 7th century.  

With the legions continuing on in one form or another it is certain that the Armenian units would have served in wars against the Persians or the Arabs.

By the 7th century reforms were begun by Emperor Heraclius to counter the increasing need for soldiers around the Empire.  What Legions were left were settled in local districts as citizen-soldier-farmers resulting in the Theme system.

Emperor John I Tzimiskes meeting with Svyatoslav I the Grand Prince of Kiev.  John was born into the Kourkouas clan, a family of Armenian origin.

Armenian Soldiers in the Byzantine Army

Armenia made great contributions to the Eastern Roman Empire through its troops of soldiers. The empire was in need of a good army as it was constantly being threatened. The army was relatively small, never exceeding 150,000 men. The military was sent to different parts of the empire, and which took part in the most fierce battles and never exceeded 20,000 or 30,000. men.

From the 5th century forwards the Armenians were regarded as the main constituent of the Byzantine army. Procopius recounts that the “Scholarii”, the palace guards of the emperor “were selected from amongst the bravest Armenians”.

Armenian soldiers in the Byzantine army are cited during the following centuries, especially during the 9th and the 10th centuries, which might have been the period of greatest participation of the Armenians in the Byzantine army. Byzantine and Arab historians are unanimous in recognizing significance of the Armenians soldiers. Charles Diehl, for instance, writes: “The Armenian units, particularly during this period, were numerous and well trained.” 

Another Byzantine historian praises the decisive role which the Armenian infantry played in the victories of the Byzantine emperors Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimiskes.

At that time the Armenians served side by side with the Scandinavians who were in the Byzantine army. One historian relates this first encounter between the Armenian mountain-dwellers and the northern people: “It was the Armenians who together with our Scandinavian forefathers made up the assault units of Byzantine.” 

There were similarities in the way of thinking and the spirit of the Armenian feudal lords and the northern warriors. In both groups, there was a strange absence and ignorance of government and public interest and at the same time an equally large interest in achieving personal distinctions and a loyalty towards their masters and leaders.

Many Armenians became successful in the Byzantine Empire. Numerous Byzantine emperors were either ethnically Armenian, half-Armenian, part-Armenian or possibly Armenian; although culturally Greek. The best example of this is Emperor Heraclius, whose father was Armenian and mother Cappadocian. Emperor Heraclius began the Heraclean Dynasty (610-717). 

Basil I is another example of an Armenian beginning a dynasty; the Macedonian dynasty. Other great Roman-Armenian emperors were Romanos IJohn I Tzimiskes, and Nikephoros II.

(Roman Legion)      (Armenian history)      (St-andrews.ac.uk)

(Looys.net)      (larsbrownworth.com)      (rbedrosian.com)

(Byzantine Armenia)      (Roman Armenia)