Me d ie val Byzan tin e Ch ris t Fo lle s

Coin ty pe and grade m ay v ary
som ew hat from im age


This un ique bronze coin is an exam ple of the 10 th-11th century anonym ous Byzantine folles that featured
Christ's portrait. While gold coins had earlier exhibited portraits of Christ, it took nearly three centuries
longer for the first bronze coins to show such im ages. The anonym ity is also notable. During the first 40 0
years of Byzantine history, every em peror was prom inently identified on his coins. What explains the
abrupt design chan ge?
Earliest Christ Portraits - In 692 the Trullum Coun cil, convened by Byzantin e em peror J ustin ian II,
decreed: "…w e ordain that the hum an figure of Christ our God, the lam b, w ho took on the sins of the
w orld, be set up in the im ages instead of the ancient [depiction of Christ as the] lam b.” It was at this
tim e that J ustinian introduced Christ on his coins.
The Iconoclasts - All religious im ages, including Christ portraits on coins, disappeared in AD 717 with the
introduction of the "Iconoclast" period by Leo III. During this tum ultuous era, adherents of Iconoclasm
advanced strict interpretation of the scriptural ban on graven im ages to include all religious iconography.
The Iconoclast controversy finally ended upon the death of em peror Theophilius in 842 AD, after m ore
than a century of culture wars, rebellion, assassination, and destruction. The next em peror, Michael III,
im m ediately reinstated the Christ bust on the gold coins. Religious them es on ce again flourished on
The Anonym ous bronze folles- First introduced by em peror J oannes I, Tzim isces (969-976 AD), J esus’
traditional bust shows on the obverse. The legend: "J esus Christ, King of Kin gs" shows on the reverse.
This radical design chan ge can be lin ked to two sets of influences. As a propaganda tool, the religious
m essage was intended to reinforce the position that, as the Christian Em pire, Byzantium was in the right
in the perpetual war against the Islam ic invaders. The decision to create anonym ous coins can be
interpreted as an act of contrition, hum ility, or perhaps sim ply good politics. It seem s J ohan nes' rise to
the throne in Decem ber of 969 resulted from assassin ating his uncle, the em peror Nicephorus II. While
Nicephorus was very unpopular with the Clergy, he was in fact sinfully m urdered. On the day of
J ohannes' coronation , he was stopped on the threshold of St. Sophia, by Polyeuctus, Patriarch of
Constantinople, "w ho charged [Johannes'] conscience w ith the deed of treason and blood" and convinced
him to do penance in order to receive the im perial crown. The co-conspirators were all punished.
J ohannes was pardoned for his sins, followed soon after by his reversal of earlier laws that were
prejudicial to the property of the Church.
J ohannes n ew coin design m ay have been partly m otivated by personal political concerns. The design,
however, caught on. The anonym ous bronze folles design with Christ's portrait continued with m inor

variations for another century without any depiction of the issuin g em peror. Even silver and gold issues
from this tim e, which saw far less circulation, either relegated the em peror to the reverse, or elim inated
him com pletely from the coinage.
After J ohannes I’s introduction of the anonym ous Christ folles design, his son an d successor Basil II and
also later em perors issued variations on the them e. A cross was eventually added to the reverse, while
retaining the abbreviations of the original inscription around the cross. Later changes replaced J esus'
bust with a full, standing figure. Other reverse varieties durin g this period show a cross with n o
inscription or a bust of the Madonna. Prom in ent religious them es on the Byzantine folles continued until
the great m onetary reform of Alexius I in AD 10 92.
These folles are usually found worn and very crudely struck. Quite often , they were over-struck on
existin g coins where the earlier design elem ents are still visible. Such over-strikes were instrum ental in
establishin g the order of production of each of the anonym ous types, allowin g scholars to approxim ately
attribute the different varieties to specific reigns.
D ata :
Co in w e igh t ran ge : 6 .5 -10 g; d ia m e te r ran ge : 2 4 -2 7m m
Albu m o p e n m e as u re s : 11” x 7.5 ”
Albu m fo ld e d m e as u re s : 5 .5 ” x 7.5 ”

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