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The Byzantine "Anonymous Follis"

On these bronze coins of the Byzantine Empire the emperor's name and portrait are not part of the design, hence they are anonymous. Instead of the earthly king, these coins depict Jesus Christ, King of Kings.

Constantine, whose earlier coinage played homage to various pagan gods, including the sun god Sol (favored by many Romans) placed the Chi-Rho on some of his coins in the years after his conversion. But the cautious Constantine did not display Christian symbols prominently on his coins. The portrait of Christ made its first appearance on a coin during the reign of Justinian II, 685 - 695 A.D., on a gold solidus. It was not until the tenth century - almost a thousand years after the birth of Christ - that Jesus appeared on bronze coins. Beginning with John I Tzimisces, who ruled from AD 969 - 976, for a period of about 123 years, the Roman emperors abandoned the usual practice of putting their own portraits on coins. The emperor's portrait on the bronze coinage gave way to a portrait of Christ. Approximately sixteen different types of these bronze coins were struck, all designed to honor Christ and all acknowledging the subservient role of the emperor. Virtually all of them feature a bearded bust of Christ that emerges from a cross-surrounded by a halo. The backs (reverses) of these coins display various designs and legends. The most common reverses are the four-line legend "Jesus Christ King of Kings" (IHSUS XRISTUS BASILEU BASILE) or the two-line legend "May Jesus Christ Conquer" (IC XC on the top left and top right sides of a cross, and NI- KA on the bottom left and right sides of a cross). These remarkable coins are known as "anonymous Byzantine folles" (folles is the plural of follis, the denomination of the coins).

Anonymous folles for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins shop


Classes of Byzantine Anonymous Folles of Christ

Class A

For more information on Class A folles see Anonymous Byzantine Class A Folles.

Class A1
John I, 11 December 969 - 10 January 976 A.D.


Bronze anonymous follis, class A1; SBCV 1793, gVF, weight 6.60 g, maximum diameter 23.5 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 969 - 976 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHL, facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger, two pellets in each cross limb, pallium and colobium, holding ornamented Gospels with both hands, to left IC, to right XC; reverse + IhSuS / XRISTuS / bASILEu / bASILE (Jesus Christ King of Kings)

Class A1 have small thin flans and are frequently over-struck on folles of Nicephorus II or Constantine VII. They lack the ornamentation above and below the reverse inscription, which is found on class A2 and class A3. The average weight of Class A1 folles is about 7 grams.

Class A2
Basil II and Constantine VIII, 976 - 1025 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class A2; SBCV 1813; Grierson ornaments 1, gVF, weight 18.331 g, maximum diameter 33.6 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 10 Jan 976 - 15 Dec 1025 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHL, facing bust of Christ, wears nimbus cruciger ornamented in each limb of cross, pallium and colobium, Gospels in both hands, to left IC, to right XC; reverse + IhSuS / XRISTuS / bASILEu / bASILE (Jesus Christ King of Kings), ornamentation above and below

Class A3 Anonymous folles are identified in Wayne Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting V as one of the masterpieces of Romaion (Byzantine) coinage. Class A2 folles are struck on large flans, up to 36 mm in diameter, with an average weight of about 15 grams, and some weigh over 20 grams. Ornaments on the limbs of the nimbus cross, on the Gospels and above and below the reverse inscription vary. For more information see Anonymous Byzantine Class A Folles.

Class A3
Basil II and Constantine VIII, c. 1023 - 11 November 1028 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class A3; SBCV 1818; Grierson ornaments 32, VF, weight 10.495 g, maximum diameter 29.3 mm, die axis 180o, c. 1023 - 11 Nov 1028 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHL, facing nimbate bust of Christ, pallium and colobium, holding gospels with both hands, to left IC, to right XC; nimbus and Gospels ornamented with crosses; reverse + IhSuS / XRISTuS / bASILEu / bASILE (Jesus Christ King of Kings), cross above and below legend

Class A3 are struck on smaller flans then class A2, with an average weight of  about 9 to 10 grams. Ornaments on the limbs of the nimbus cross, on the Gospels and above and below the reverse inscription vary. For more information see Anonymous Byzantine Class A Folles.

Class B

Romanus III or Michael IV, 12 November 1028 - 10 December 1041 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class B; SBCV 1823, VF, over-struck, weight 10.9 g, maximum diameter 32.9 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse EMMANOVHL, facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, holding gospels with both hands, to left IC, to right XC; reverse cross on three steps with pellet at each extremity, in fields IS - XS / BAS-ILE / BAS-ILE (Jesus Christ, King of Kings)

Class B are often over-struck on class A2.

Class C

Michael IV, 12 April 1034 - 10 December 1041 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class C; SBCV 1825, VF, weight 7.892 g, maximum diameter 30.4 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 1034 - 1041 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHL, three-quarter length figure of Christ standing facing, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, raising right in benediction, Gospels in left, IC-XC; reverse Jeweled cross with pellet at each extremity, in the angles IC - XC / NI-KA (May Jesus Christ Conquer)

"The obverse on this type represents an icon to which the Empress Zoe was particularly devoted, and a similar representation appears on a pattern histamenon of Zoe's brief sole reign in December, 1041." -- David Sear's Byzantine Coins and Their Values

Class D

Constantine IX, 12 June 1042 - 11 January 1055 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class D; SBCV 1836, Choice aVF, weight 10.452 g, maximum diameter 30.5 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse Christ seated facing on throne with back, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, and holding gospels with both hands, to left IC, to right XC; reverse IS XS / bASILE / bASIL (Jesus Christ King of Kings), lines and cross above, ornamental lines and crescent below

Class E

Constantine X Ducas, 25 December 1059 - 21 May 1067 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class E; SBCV 1855, VF, weight 6.857 g, maximum diameter 25.8 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, holding gospels with both hands, to left IC, to right XC; reverse IS XS / bASILE / bASIL (Jesus Christ King of Kings), cross and linear ornamentation above, crescent and linear ornamentation below legend

Class F

Constantine X, 25 December 1059 - 21 May 1067 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class F; SBCV 1856, VF, over-struck, weight 9.189 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 1059 - 1067 A.D.; obverse Christ seated facing on throne without back, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, raising right in benediction; gospels in left hand, IC - XC (Jesus Christ); reverse IS XS / bASILE / bASIL (Jesus Christ King of Kings) in three lines, cross above and beneath; scarce

Sometimes over-struck on class E.

Class G

Romanus IV, 1 January 1068 - 19 August 1071 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class G; SBCV 1867, Choice gVF, weight 5.312g, maximum diameter 26.6mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse bust of Christ facing, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, raising right in benediction, scroll in left hand, to left IC, to right XC, border of large pellets; reverse facing bust of the Virgin Orans, nimbate and wearing pallium and maphorium, to left MP, to right QV; border of large pellets; scarce

Sometimes over-struck on folles of Constantine X, SBCV 1991-1993, and Romanus IV, SBCV 1866.

Class H

Michael VII Ducas, 24 October 1071 - 24 March 1078 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, Anonymous follis of Christ, class H; SBCV 1880, F, well centered, weight 5.602g, maximum diameter 27.0mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse IC - XC, bust of Christ facing, with nimbus cruciger, wears pallium and colobium, raising right, Gospels in left; reverse patriarchal cross with globule and two pellets at each extremity, floral ornaments flanking lower half; very scarce

Class I

Nicephorus III, 7 January 1078 – 1 April 1081

Bronze anonymous follis, class I; SBCV 1889, Choice VF, weight 5.794 g, maximum diameter 28.0 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, obverse Christ bust facing, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, raising right in benediction, gospels in left; reverse Latin cross with X at center, globule and two pellets at each extremity, floral ornaments in lower fields, crescents in upper fields

Sometimes over-struck on folles of Michael VII, SBCV 1878.

Class J

Alexius I, 4 April 1081 - 15 August 1118 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class J; SBCV 1900, F, weight 4.72 g, maximum diameter 24.8 mm, Constantinople mint, obverse bust of Christ facing, cross behind, wears pallium and colbium, raising right in benediction, Gospels in left, crescents in upper fields, IC-XC in lower fields; reverse Cross with globule and two pellets at each extremity, large crescent below, four globules around each surrounded by pellets; over-struck on earlier follis

Sometimes overstruck on folles of Nicephorus III, SBCV 1888.

Class K

Alexius I, 4 April 1081 - 15 August 1118 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class K; SBCV 1901; Sommer 40.13, gF, weight 3.47g, maximum diameter 20.9mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 1085 - 1092 A.D.; obverse IC - XC (Jesus Christ), bust of Christ facing, with nimbus cruciger, wears pallium and colobium, raising right, Gospels in left, border of large pellets between lines; reverse MP - QV (Mother of God), the Virgin Orans, standing facing 3/4 length, nimbate, wears pallium, and maphorium, border of large pellets between lines; scarce

Sometimes over-struck on class J.

Class L

Alexius I, 4 April 1081 - 15 August 1118 A.D.

Bronze anonymous follis, class L; SBCV 1902; weight 3.9 g, diameter, 24mm, Constantinople mint; obverse IC-XC (Jesus Christ), nimbate bust of Christ facing, raising right hand, scroll in left, all within border of large dots; reverse cross pattée, IC / XC above and below, NI-KA flanking (May Jesus Christ Conquer); extremely rare

In DOC III, pg. 639, Philip Grierson states "I am inclined to suppose that all three [anonymous classes L, M and N Folles] were struck by the pretenders with whom Nicephorus III had to contend with at the beginning and end of his reign..."

Class M

Nicephorus III, 7 January 1078 – 1 April 1081

Bronze anonymous follis, class M; SBCV 1903, DOC III pg. 705, M.1; VF, weight 3.48 g, unofficial usurper mint(?), c. 1080; obverse IC - XC (Jesus Christ), Christ enthroned facing; reverse jeweled cross, large crescent below, extremely rare

In DOC III, pg. 639, Philip Grierson states "I am inclined to suppose that all three [anonymous classes L, M and N Folles] were struck by the pretenders with whom Nicephorus III had to contend with at the beginning and end of his reign..."

Class N

Nicephorus Basilacius, Usurper, 1078

Bronze anonymous follis, class N, SBCV 1903A, DOC, p. 706, N.1; P. Grierson, "Nicephorus Bryennius or Nicephorus Basilacius?" NumCirc LXXXIV.1 (January 1976), type a; R. Bland, "A Follis of Nicephorus Basilacius?" NC 1992, pl. 36, B; near VF, dark green patinaweight 8.72 g, die axis 180o, Thessalonica mint, 1078 A.D.; obverse + NIKHΦW-POC BAC, facing bust of Christ Pantokrator; IC - XC, each with – above, across field; reverse Patriarchal cross on base; IC-XC / NI-KA, each with – above, across field; over-struck on Anonymous Follis, Class D (SB 1836, very rare

Class N is no longer considered anonymous because it has been discovered that the obverse legend names Nicephorus Basilacius.

Imitatives

Normans in Southern Italy, Anonymous, Dukes of Apulia or Counts of Sicily & Calabria, c. 1060 - 1080 A.D.

Bronze follis, apparently unpublished, imitative of Byzantine follis SBCV 1823, Constantinople, 1028 - 1041); MEC Italy III -, Biaggi -, Wroth Western -, F, weight 1.712 g, maximum diameter 20.7 mm, die axis 180o, obverse IC - XC, facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, holding book of Gospels; reverse IS - XS / bAS-ILE / bAS-ILE (Jesus Christ King of Kings, mostly off flan), Cross on three steps, dividing legend; from an American collection. Light weight and thin small flan excludes the possibility that this is an official Byzantine issue. Attribution to the Normans in Italy is based on the reputed find location and some similarity to other Byzantine imitatives issued by the Normans in Southern Italy and Sicily.

Normans in Calabria, Anonymous, 1060 - 1080 A.D.

Bronze follaro, MIR 10 489 (R), MEC Italy III 61 - 62 var (obverse symbols), CNI -, Biaggi -; imitative of Byzantine Anonymous Class C folles, VF, holed, weight 5.503g, maximum diameter 28.6mm, die axis 180o, Calabria, uncertain mint, 1060 - 1080 A.D.; obverse three-quarter length figure of Christ standing facing, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, raising right in benediction, Gospels in left, IC - XC (Jesus Christ) flanking across fields; reverse jeweled cross with pellet at each extremity, in the angles IC - XC / NI-KA (May Jesus Christ Conquer); rare

Normans in Southern Italy, Anonymous, Dukes of Apulia or Counts of Sicily & Calabria, c. 1081 - 1087 A.D.
Click for a larger photo
Bronze follis, apparently unpublished, imitative of Byzantine class J follis (SBCV 1900, Constantinople, 1081 - 1118); MEC Italy III -, Biaggi -, Wroth Western -, aF, on a very small thin flan compared to Byzantine proto-types, weight 2.200 g, maximum diameter 21.0 mm, die axis 180o, uncertain S. Italy mint, c. 1081 - 1087 A.D.; obverse bust of Christ facing, cross behind, wears pallium and colbium, raising right in benediction, Gospels in left, crescents above, IC - XC flanking, facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, holding book of Gospels; reverse Cross with globule and two pellets at each extremity, large crescent below, four globules around each surrounded by pellets. Light weight and thin small flan excludes the possibility that this is an official Byzantine issue. Attribution to the Normans in Italy is based on the reputed find location and some similarity to other Byzantine imitatives issued by the Normans in Southern Italy and Sicily.

Islamic, Artuqids of Hisn Kayfa and Amid, Fakhr al-Din Qara Arslan, 539 - 570 AH, 1148 - 1174 A.D.

Bronze dirhem, Spengler and Sayles 2, Album 1820.2, Mitchiner WOI -, F, holed, weight 6.420 g, maximum diameter 27.6 mm, die axis 180o, obverse Arabic inscription: Helper of the Commander of the Faithful, nimbate Christ seated facing on high backed throne, Gospels in left, Arabic numerals upper left and right; reverse Arabic inscription: name and titles in three lines and around in margins; very rare.  The obverse type is derived from class D.

Also see: Anonymous Folles


References

Bellinger, A.R. & P. Grierson, eds. Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection. (Washington D.C., 1966 - 1999).
Hahn, W. Moneta Imperii Byzantini. (Vienna, 1973 - 1981).
Hendy, M. Coinage and Money in the Byzantine Empire 1081-1261. (Washington D.C., 1969).
Hennequin, G. Catalogue des monnaies musulmanes de la Bibliothèque Nationale. (Paris, 1985).
Metcalf, D.M. “Interpretation of the Byzantine Rex Regnantium Folles of Class A” in NC 1970.
Sear, D. R. Byzantine Coins and Their Values. (London, 1987).
Ratto, R. Monnaies Byzantines et d'autre Pays contemporaines à l'époque byzantine. (Lugano, 1930).
Tolstoi, I. Monnaies byzantines. (St. Petersburg, 1913 - 1914).
Wroth, W. Catalogue of the Imperial Byzantine Coins in the British Museum. (London, 1908).
Wroth, W. Catalogue of the Coins of the Vandals, Ostrogoths, Lombards and of the Empires of Thessalonica, Nicaea, and Trebizond in the British Museum. (London, 1911).

References for Imitatives

Album, Stephen. A Checklist of Islamic Coins. (Santa Rosa, CA, 2011).
Chimiernti, M. & F. Rapposelli. Monete Italiane Regionali: Italia meridionale continentale: zecche minori. (Pavia, 2010).
Spengler, W.F. & W.G. Sayles. Turkoman Figural Bronze Coins and Their Iconography, Volume I - Artuqids. (Lodi, 1992).