Shepherd Finds 8th Century AD Gold Coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus near Medieval Bulgarian Capital Pliska

Shepherd Finds 8th Century AD Gold Coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus near Medieval Bulgarian Capital Pliska

Numismatist Zhenya Zhekova from the Shumen Regional Museum of History in Northeast Bulgaria shows the 8th century AD gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus which was found by a shepherd near the early medieval Bulgarian capital Pliska. Photo: Tsvetelina Georgieva, Trud daily

Numismatist Zhenya Zhekova from the Shumen Regional Museum of History in Northeast Bulgaria shows the 8th century AD gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus which was found by a shepherd near the early medieval Bulgarian capital Pliska. Photo: Tsvetelina Georgieva, Trud daily

A gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Corponymus (r. 741-775 AD) has been discovered by a shepherd near the northeastern Bulgarian town of Pliska which was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) between 680 and 893 AD.

The Byzantine gold coin has been presented at a news conference in the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Shumen by its Director Georgi Maystorski and museum numismatist Zhenya Zhekova, reports the Bulgarian daily Trud.

The coin in question weighs 4.44 grams, and is made of almost 24-carrat gold. It was discovered by Rosen Popov, a shepherd from the town of Zhilino, who found it together with other coins and archaeological artifacts near the medieval Bulgarian capital Pliska; he turned all of his finds in the Shumen Regional Museum of History.

This is not the first time the shepherd brings to the museum archaeological items that he has found, which is why Museum Director Maystorski has praised Popov, promised him a reward, and described him as “the most erudite shepherd in the region”.

According to numismatist Assist. Prof. Dr. Zhenya Zhekova, the newly discovered gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus is very rare. Out of a total of two or three coins its kind in Bulgaria, this is the second one whose place of discovery is known.

“A coin of this kind was found during the 1960s by Prof. Zhivka Vazharova during the excavations of a necropolis near the town of Kyulevcha. It was found in one of the graves. This second coin is also from the area of Pliska. The coin is well preserved, and meets all standards of Byzantine coin minting," explains Zhekova, as cited by the local news city Kmeta.

She points out that the coin belongs to Emperor Constantine V Copronymus who organized several major military campaigns in an attempt to destroy the First Bulgarian Empire in the middle of the 8th century AD when it was weakened by dynastic strife, and that coins of the said type are rare even for the territories which were part of Byzantium at the time.

Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov, who also participated in the news conference in the Shumen Regional Museum of History, has hypothesized that the gold coin in question may have been used to pay, or rather, bribe Byzantine spies in the Bulgarian capital who sought to undermine from within the stability of the Bulgarian state.

As an argument in support of his hypothesis, Ovcharov has reminded of an interesting episode from the history of the Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars – the reign of the Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Telerig (r. 768-777 AD) who sought a way to get rid of the Byzantine spies in the Bulgarian royal court, after Emperor Constantine V Copronymus surprised and defeated a secret Bulgarian military campaign in what is today the geographic region of Macedonia.

Khan Telerig figured out that all of his moves were immediately known to the Byzantine Emperor because of the large number of spies in the Bulgarian court so he made a shrewd move by sending a letter to Constantine V Copronymus saying that he intended to defect to Byzantium but that he needed guarantees for life, and needed to know the names of Constantine’s confidantes in the Bulgarian capital Pliska in order to use their help.

Knowing the instability in the Bulgarian imperial court at the time caused by the dynastic strife, the Byzantine Emperor believed the Bulgarian ruler and sent him the names of his spies in Pliska. Khan Telerig then had all of them slaughtered, thus stabilizing the Bulgarian court (Ironically, several years later, after a coup d’etat Telerig was deposed from the Bulgarian throne and really had to flee to Constantinople where he was accepted warmly by Constantine V’s son, Emperor Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775-780 AD), who even granted him the title of a patrician.)

The archaeologists have pointed out that the gold coin of Emperor Constantine V Copronymus found near Pliska is from the so called Iconoclastic Period in Byzantine history when the coins featured only the images of the Emperor and his kin. That is why the coin in question shows Constantine V Copronymus as well as his father Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741 AD) and his son Emperor Leo IV the Khazar. What is more, during this period Byzantium was faced with an economic crisis that reduced the amount of coins in circulation.

“And these coins are found here in Bulgaria. What did they do with these coins? They paid the [Byzantine] agents in Bulgaria," argues archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov.

Numismatist Zhenya Zhekova points out that a number of other rare coins from the Early Middle Ages have been found in the same area around Pliska. These include a coin of Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I Genikos (r. 802-811 AD) (a total of 15 such coins have been found in Bulgaria so far, and they are believed to have been brought during Nicephorus I’s invasion of the First Bulgarian Empire in 811 AD during which he was defeated and killed by the forces of the Bulgarian Khan Krum (r. 803-814 AD)).

“Another rare coin from the same region already documented by Assoc. Prof. Pavel Georgiev is an Arab coin from the 8th-9th century AD, and the discovery of Arab coins in Pliska is yet to be the basis for new hypotheses and conclusions," Zhekova is quoted as saying.

The archaeologists from the Shumen Regional Museum of History plant to excavate the area near Pliska where the rare coins have been found.

The newly found gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus (r. 741-775 AD) found near Pliska is shown here together with the 14th century AD lead cross reliquary found in the medieval city of Missionis; the two items were presented during the same news conference. Photo: Novinar daily

The newly found gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Constantine V Copronymus (r. 741-775 AD) found near Pliska is shown here together with the 14th century AD lead cross reliquary found in the medieval city of Missionis; the two items were presented during the same news conference. Photo: Novinar daily

During the same news conference in the Shumen Regional Museum of History, Bulgarian archaeologists also presented a lead cross reliquary and a lead icon found in the city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress near today’s city of Targovishte, and the conclusions from the examination of Ancient Roman archaeological artifacts from Asia Minor and the Middle Easter seized in Bulgaria’s Shumen in March 2015.

Background Infonotes:

Pliska and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) are two of the capitals of the First Bulgarian Empire. Pliska was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD, and Veliki Preslav in 893-970 AD, at the height of the Bulgarian state. The state capital was moved from Pliska to Veliki Preslav, a new medieval city nearby, in 893 AD in order to seal Bulgaria’s adoption of Christianity and the Bulgarian (Slavic, Cyrillic) script (in 865 and 886 AD, respectively). The ruins of both Pliska and Veliki Preslav can be seen today in the Shumen District in Northeast Bulgaria.