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    Constantine XI: The Last Roman Emperor

    Constantine XI Palaeologus (AD 1448-1453). AR eighth-stavraton (12mm, 0.61 gm, 6h). NGC XF★ 5/5 - 5/5. Constantinople, AD 1453. [I]C-[XC], facing bust of Christ Pantocrator, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, right hand raised in benediction, book of Gospels in left; •-• (sigla) across fields / K/I-T/N, facing bust of Constantine XI, wearing crown with pendilia and maniakon. Sear -, cf. 2569 (half-stavraton). DOC 1789. S. Bendall, "The Coinage of Constantine XI," Revue Numismatique 1991, pl. XVI, 105 (same dies). Extremely rare and historically important.

    From the Poulos Family Collection; ex Andre Constantine Dimitriadis Collection (Heritage 3035, 3-10 September 2014), lot 29733; Spink & Sons (London, May 1990).

    The last Byzantine (and therefore the last Roman) Emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus was nominated for the throne by his brother John VIII, who died childless in 1448. He had previously served as Despot of Morea (the Medieval name for the Peloponnesus), where he won a reputation for vigorous, resourceful leadership. Constantine was crowned emperor in Mistra, capital of Morea, on January 6, 1449, and proceeded to Constantinople; because so much of the intervening territory was under hostile rule, he was forced to book passage on a Catalan ship. Only a few months after Constantine's arrival in the capitol, Sultan Murad died and was replaced by his ambitious and aggressive son, Mehmed, who immediately began planning for the conquest of Constantinople. Constantine engaged in frantic diplomatic and military in preparation for the attack. To obtain support from the Latin West, he affirmed the unpopular union of Eastern and Western Churches that his brother had put forth in the previous reign. Fewer than 1,000 Western mercenaries answered his call for assistance, and he was only able to muster about 7,000 Byzantine soldiers to defend Constantinople against an Ottoman army numbering 60,000, which arrived before the city in early April, 1453. Still, the defenders managed to hold out for more than a month before the Sultan's siege cannon forced a breach in the city walls on May 29, through which the Ottoman army surged. Constantine was last seen leading a band of defenders in a futile and presumably fatal charge. His body was never positively identified among the Byzantine dead, and legends soon arose that he had somehow escaped and would return to evict the Ottomans and restore the Empire to its full glory, a dream that remains unfulfilled.

    Notes from Bendall "We know from eyewitness or contemporary reports of the siege of Constantinople, including those of Leonard, Archbishop of Chios and Nicolo Barbaro, that Constantine ordered holy vessels to be taken from the churches, melted down and struck into silver coins to pay the soldiers, ditch diggers and builders engaged in the defence of the city. It is more than likely that these coins would have been eighth-stavrata than the larger denominations, since they would have been used for day to day petty transactions during the last days. The authorities would hardly have been striking the higher denominations which, as can be seen from Giacomo Badoer's account books (1436-1440), were primarily used in trade. The eighth-stavrata in unworn condition and with many die duplicates are prime contenders for being the very last coins struck in the Byzantine Empire."

    No coins of Constantine XI were known to exist until a single specimen was identified by Simon Bendall in the mid 1980s. In 1991, the discovery of a small hoard brought a handful of further pieces to light. These were examples of the silver stavraton, the standard coinage of the late Byzantine realm, and its fractions. Hastily struck and of crude design, the pieces are tangible evidence of how far the Empire had fallen since the heyday of Justinian nine centuries earlier.

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    September, 2019
    5th-9th Thursday-Monday
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