A NEW COIN OF THE BYZANTINE EMPEROR LEONTIUS (695-698)

by S. J. Mansfield

Originally published in the Numismatic Circular, November 1999. Used with permission from the author.



Obverse: No inscription.  Bearded bust, facing, wearing crown with cross and loros; in right hand, akakia, in left hand, globus cruciger.

Reverse: Large K, exergual line below, beneath which, SC[L], to left, small cross, to right, I.

Ae.  14 mm.  2.43 gms.  Die axis 180o. 

Apparently unrecorded.  Provenance: Trade, London, 1999. 

There can be almost no doubt that this coin belongs to a previously unknown half follis issue which should, prima facie, be attributed to the Sicilian mint of Syracuse and be dated to regnal year one of the reign of Leontius (695/6). 

Although slightly "short of flan", at 0o and 180o, the specimen is of neat appearance, struck on a well-prepared flan and in very fine, or better, condition.  Indeed, the portrait of the emperor Leontius, one of the most distinctive of the entire Byzantine series, requires little further comment.   

The detail of the coin's reverse is obscure, or partly obscure, at two points.  The folles issues known to have been struck at Syracuse for this reign (MIB1 36 and 37) each include a monogram of Leontius above the denominational mark - K.  Nothing can be read above the K denominational mark on this coin, but it belongs undeniably to Leontius.  The first two letters of the mint mark - SC - are sufficiently clear to demonstrate that the coin can be associated with Sicily (SiCiLia), of which the main mint was Syracuse.  While Leontian half folles are known for the mints of Constantinople, Sardinia and Ravenna (MIB 33, 35, 40), the design of the reverse of this coin is quite distinct from the types known to have been struck at these three mints and, on general style grounds, it is difficult to associate the coin, all that readily, with any of them. 

The abandonment of the denominational mark K by the Syracuse mint is thought to have occurred during the reign of Leontius' predecessor Justinian II (685-95; MIB 74), some 40 years before it ceased to used by the Constantinople mint.  It may be, therefore, that this coin represents the last ever half folles issue struck in the western part of the empire; it cannot be held to be certain that a small module coin of Constantine V (641-75; DOC2 20) is of the same denomination.

Other explanations are possible, however, since unresolved issues remain:

     - this half folles is dated while the Syracusan folles of Leontius are not;  

     - the date is probably regnal (an indictional date of year 10, i. e., 697/8 - the penultimate year of the brief reign, seems much less likely), while indictional dates are the norm for Syracuse in this period;  

     - neither the style of the coin nor the good quality of its workmanship are characteristic of Sicily.
   
An anomalous issue purporting to be the product of an established mint, but actually struck elsewhere, would not be unique in the Byzantine series.  On occasions, such practices have produced good quality coinage.  It is not inconceivable that this is the case here, although it is difficult to identify any circumstances associated with the fortunes of Leontius (which declined soon after his accession) that might have made necessary the import of coinage into Sicily. * 

* I am grateful to Mr P. J. Donald for suggesting the possibility of an "import coinage".  I must retain responsibility for the development of the argument and for other views expressed.    

1.  W. Hahn, Moneta Imperii Byzantini, volume 3, Vienna, 1981.
2.  P. Grierson, Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and the Whittemore Collection, volume 3, Washington DC, 1973.


In March 2015, Forum offered the second known example of the type:


2.806g, 16.1mm, 180o