Numismatic and History Discussions > Medieval, Islamic and Crusader Coins

The Papal Corner

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--- Quote from: Follibus Fanaticus on August 17, 2005, 11:51:23 am ---I know why the popes stopped coining after 983, but I remain mum.  Buy the book, when it is published.

--- End quote ---

Presumably something to do with the acession of Otto III to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

Follibus Fanaticus:
A Letter to Robert:  How the Troops Played with Papal Coins

Dear Robert:

The popes ceased coining about the turn of the last millennium and did not begin again for a full 300 years.  Goodness had nothing to do with it.

Tolkien also says that things that ought to be remembered are forgotten.  I will tell a forgotten tale in the opening of the book.  Reference:  The Republic of St. Peter, The Birth of the Papal State, 680 – 825 by Thomas F.X. Noble, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1984, 2d printing {paper} 1991.

The story tells how a piece of the Byzantine Empire, about the size of New Jersey, succeeded from the empire and gradually formed its own government.  Venice did the same thing.  In Venice, an electorate elected Dodges; in Rome, a very similar electorate elected popes.  The Romans called their enterprise "The Republic of St. Peter" on all documents and official correspondence, such as letters surviving in the files from the Frankish kings.

I must backtrack to Gregory I [590-604], because of coins.  We know that Gregory ran all Byzantine mints in Italy.  Gregory was loyal to his emperors, but subsequent popes had ever dividing loyalties – and they controlled the money.  "Follow the money."  Gregory I also managed road repair, water supply, public health, and food welfare for his lords emperors, and they endowed him with the proper titles and authority to manage these civic functions.

Although election coins do not appear till 1268, elections were always held.   After Gregory, a group began to tamper and change election rules.  Who were they?  They were officers of the Byzantine army who had the great misfortune to be assigned to Italy.  They and their sons played extremely interesting games.

Coinage is just one of the games.


Follibus Fanaticus

Follibus Fanaticus:
Note:  this composition appeared on the PAPAL ELECTION site created by FF, who will delete the site, because the election is over.  The composition appears on this site because it has a numismatic interest that involves more than the election of 2005.



NEVER, never ask a catholic questions about Catholicism.  They delight in giving fabulous, meaning derived from a fable, answers.  This is almost a sport.  For example, take the usual answer to questions on the meaning of IHS that one finds panted, carved, engraved and set in mosaic all over churches, crosses, and every conceivable object in a church.  The fabulous answer is:  "Oh, that means I have suffered."  You coin experts, Roman coin experts, should be able to figure out that IHS is an abbreviation in Latin for "Jesus," much like the 3-letter abbreviations COS, IMP and TRP you find on many Roman coins.

Such fabulous answers surround the first dated SEDE VACANTE, or election, coins.  The date on my example of this coin is ISSV.  I've read it means "Let it be issued" many times.  One catalog informs me it's a secret word that will turn silver into gold, provided pronounced correctly.

Sorry, it's just a date.  Here's the story.

Marcellus II, 221st pope, was elected on April 9 and died on May 1, the shortest reign of the last millennium, but not in history.  That honor goes to Stephen II, 92nd pope, who lasted about 48 hours between March 23/25, 752.

The chamberlain, Giudo Ascanio Sforza, was probably frantic, because it was his job to set up the totally unexpected election.  At the last minute, he probably ordered the mint to date the second issue of coins for that year.  The mint did not have number punches, so the staff improvised.  The year was 1555.  ISSS would have sounded like the greeting given to a bad actor or politician, so they changed the final S to a Roman numeral 5, a V.

So we get the ISSV variety of 1555 election coins.  This coin is not in Berman’s "Papal Coins."  The huge 4 volume Muntoni book says it is unique, but it’s not.  I have one, a friend of mine has one has one, and I’ve seen several in auctions.

What happened in 1978?  Coins for the election of John Paul I [Berman 3499] read MCMLXXVIII.  Coins for the election of John Paul II read SEPTEMBER MCMLXXVIII.

Now I’ve shot myself in the foot again.  Every collector of "Dates on Coins" will just "gotta" have an ISSV sede vacante issue.

Follibus Fanaticus

Follibus Fanaticus:
IMPORT FROM ELECTION COINS -- Doomed to deletion


I say John Paul II was pope No. 263.  Some will disagree, but here’s my logic and my source.

When I began collecting papal coins, I wanted to know how many men have been pope, bishop of Rome if you will.  I needed a sane way to number the coins in my collection.  The succession presents a bewildering list of names: John Paul II succeded John Paul I, who succeded Paul VI, who succeded John XXIII [the second man to use the number], who succeded Pius XII, who succeded Pius XI.  I could give the first pope to issue a coin the number 1, but even which pope first issued a coin remains a numismatic controversy.

So, I set out to number my coins in regnal order of popes, giving Peter the number 1, even though the first  64 or so popes had nothing to do with coinage.  I knew I was in trouble when "The Economist"  tagged John Paul II with an impossible numeral, something like 150th pope.  "Time" had another number; other publications promulgated similar fantisy numbers.

I asked a priest, who informed that the number of popes might be a "Mystery of Faith."  After exploring antipopes and intracies in numerology, he might be right.

I found Walsh’s 6-page table, He lined up the popes in chronological order, tagged them with an ethnic, such as Italian, Roman, African, French, German, Spanish, English, Flemish, or Polish, gave year of birth [if known], and dates of election and of death, resignation or deposition.  Most critically, for me, the left-hand column gave numbers with Peter as No, 1 and John Paul II as 263.

Michael Walsh.  "The Popes from Peter to John Paul II."  St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1980, 256 pp.  His revelation fills pages called "Chronology of the Popes," pp. 248 – 253.

The book proves to be a hop, skip and a jump history.  Walsh hits the high points, bad for a coin collector.  Popes with interesting coins often prove to have dull or unimportant reigns, which Walsh skips.  Popes with highly historical reigns often have dull or, worse, no coins.  At least 109 popes out of the 236 strike coins.

Walsh lists 35 men who claimed the papacy but are called antipopes by the Catholic Church.  The earliest was St. Hippolytus (217-235) – yes he was canonized as a martyr; the most recent, Amadeus VIII, Count of Savoy, who called himself Pope Felix V (1439-49).  Amadeus issued coins as count but none as Felix V.

I do collect coins of the antipopes who issue coins, but I call the men by their birth names.  I list one coin as "Baldasare Cosa, the antipope John XXIII (1410-1515).  Cossa’s employment may be listed as pirate and lawyer, before he found religion more profitable than his previous occupations.

While some will take exception to Walsh’s expulsion of the antipopes from his numerical order, several popes he does number cause controversy.  Prime example: Pope 92, Stephen II [March 23-25, 752].  Poor Stephen dropped dead after a less than 40 hour reign, although one of my sources generously states that his reign may have lasted as long as 96 hours.  No coins!  He was considered a pope from the 1500’s till 1960, when he was dropped from the Vatican’s official list.

Leo VIII stands as the Grover Cleveland of the papacy; he got to be pope twice [963-967, 964-965].  He only gets one number, No. 132.  Pope 133, Benedict V ruled May 22 – June 23, 964.  Leo and Benedict both have coins.

I see a solution.  If I ever throw Stephen II out of the list, I’ll give Leo VIII two numbers, so John Paul II is still the 263d pope.  More importantly, it will preserve my numbers for the popes from 1300 till now.

 Follibus Fanaticus


--- Quote from: Follibus Fanaticus on August 20, 2005, 01:59:06 am --- I set out to number my coins in regnal order of popes, giving Peter the number 1, even though the first  64 or so popes had nothing to do with coinage.

--- End quote ---

Hmm, I'll defy anyone to prove either  that Peter was ever in Rome, or that anyone was called an episkopos during his lifetime! He was certainly one of the Gang of Three who ran the Jerusalem church for a while in the years after the Crucifixion; Paul calles them 'pillars' and is a little sarcastic, but had to do what they said anyway. Then he seems to fade out, with James becoming the dominant figure in Jerusalem. There are some indications that Peter may have been a little lax regarding the Law for his taste. He also crops up as an apostolos, or travelling evangelist and church-planter, in a similar role to Paul, but working among observant Jews, while Paul crossed the line and accepted Gentiles as equal members of the community. So this may well have been his main role after being ousted from the top three. He must have had a leading role in the Jesus movement before the Crucifixion, but the accounts we have are so partisan it's probably impossible to be clear about the details. Beyond that, we can't really bve sure about anything.

So how does Peter come to be regarded as the first Pope? There's no direct evidence, but in the second half of the 2nd Century, an organised network of churches (the 'Orthodox' or 'Catholic' churches) were attempting to establish themselves as the bearers of the 'proper' version of Christianity, as opposed to everyone else. This had been building up for a couple of generations; they had already gone a long way towards reinterpreting the Scriptures in ways acceptable to the Graeco-Roman world, they had produced a series of apologists sho made it their task to try to convince the Roman authorities that they were OK, and they were strting to produce some major thinkers. Clearly, they were gaining confidence.

They now set out to do two things; to convince everyone that, firstly, only their churches had the right message, and secondly, only Christian writings they approved were to be relied on. They used the same basic technique with both. Only books associated with apostles (in the later sense, including the Twelve) or people close to them were to be trusted, even if the association had to be invented. It's at this time that we find writers claiming that Mark was writing down what he heard from Peter, and successive writers make the association between the two ever closer. In fact, Mark's portrait of Peter is so damning that it's really impossible to believe that there was any link between the two at all. At the same time, churches were only 'proper' if they could trace the origins of their leadership back to the Apostles; this is the origin of the 'Apostolic Succession'. Rome was the first city of the empire, who better to claim as its founder than the supposed leader of the Apostles? The Petrine foundation is about early church politics, not history!


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