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Michael I Rhangabe: Emperor-Turned-Monk

Michael I Rhangabe and Theophylactus (AD 811-813). AV solidus (4.45 gm). Constantinople. MIXA-HL bASILE', crowned bust of Michael I facing, wearing chlamys, holding cross potent in right hand and akakia in left / ΘEOFVLA-CTOS DESPIE, facing bust of Theophylactus, beardless, wearing loros and holding globus cruciger and long cross. Sear 1615. DO 1b. Extremely rare! Well centered, crisply struck and lustrous. Choice mint state.

A high court official with a marriage tie to Nicephorus I, Michael Rhangabe seized the moment when Nicephorus was killed in battle against the Bulgarian khan Krum and his son and successor, Stauracius, severely wounded. Stauracius was induced to abdicate in Michael's favor and died a short time later. Following a well-established precedent, Michael raised his eldest son Theophylactus as co-emperor and began a policy of retrenchment and reconciliation after the financial and military disasters of the previous two reigns. He liberally distributed money to the clergy, who praised him for his piety, and purged iconoclasts from high positions, though they remained a potent force. In 812 he gave full recognition to Charlemagne as emperor of the West in return for Venice returning to Byzantine control; the Venetians, however, ignored the edict and maintained their independence. Early in 813 Michael mounted a major campaign against the Bulgarians, but they routed his army and his prestige plummeted. Knowing he would soon be toppled, Michael preempted events by abdicating and naming the general Leo V the Armenian as his successor. Michael took monastic vows along with his sons (one of whom later became patriarch) and died peaceably 30 years later. His coinage in all metals is extraordinarily rare and only a handful of major collections include specimens from his reign.

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Auction Dates
September, 2011
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