Cup-Shaped Copper Coin of Tsar Ivan Asen II of Second Bulgarian Empire Released by National Bank, Archaeology Museum in Replica Collection
A replica of a copper scyphate, or a cup-shaped copper coin, minted by Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241) of the Second Bulgarian Empire is the second coin to be released by the Mint of the Bulgarian National Bank and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in a joint project for a modern-day replica collection of Bulgarian coins from the Middle Ages.
The Bulgarian National Bank and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia already announced the release of the gold perpera (a version of the Byzantine gold coin “hyperpyron”) of Tsar Ivan Asen II as the first coin in the replica collection entitled “Medieval Bulgarian Coins”.
The project includes the reproduction of a total of seven coins from the start of coin minting in medieval Bulgaria which began under Tsar Ivan Asen II.
Many of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422) minted coins, although Ivan Asen II, the first to do so, was the only one to issue gold coins. He is represented in the replica collection with two coins, a gold perpera and a copper scyphate. The other ruler with two coins in the collection is Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331 – 1371) who is represented with two silver coins.
“That [rule of Tsar Ivan Asen II] was the time when the Second Bulgarian Empire reached its greatest territorial expansion, a period of stability and economic surge,” says the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
“Tsar Ivan Asen II’s coin minting is known with a type of copper coins with a cup-like shape whose craftsmanship is distinguished by its fine and sophisticated style,” the Museum adds.
“Not unlike his gold coins, this Bulgarian ruler’s copper coins were also minted in the mind ot Thessaloniki, and were mainly for propaganda purposes,” the Museum explains further.
It is referring to the city of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of today’s Greece, the second most important city in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, and the capital of the Despotate of Epirus.
Tsar Ivan Asen II’s more significant coins, the gold perperas, were minted to honor the victory of the Bulgarian emperor over the powerful Theodore Komnenos Doukas (r. 1216-1230 AD), ruler of the Despotate of Epirus, in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 AD.
The city of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of today’s Greece, and the second most important city in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, was the capital of the Despotate of Epirus.
Before its defeat by Bulgaria’s Tsar Ivan Asen II, the Despotate of Epirus at the time was the most powerful successor state of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople was conquered by the Western European knights from the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and made capital of their so called “Latin Empire of Constantinople”, which survived until 1261.
In 2016, a Bulgarian numismatist and a collector alleged that a coin revealed that after the Battle of Klokotnitsa, Tsar Ivan Asen II conquered Thessaloniki, the only time Bulgaria came to be in control of the second most important city of Byzantium.
“Such finds [of Tsar Ivan Asen II’s scyphate / cup-shaped copper coins] have been found main in today’s geographic region of Macedonia. The copper scyphates minted by Tsar Ivan Asen II were specially minted and destined for distribution in the territories [re]gained after 1230 which were inhabited by Bulgarian population,” the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia emphasizes.
The territories in question spanned from the Adriatic coast of today’s Albania and Northwest Greece in the west, all the way to European Turkey’s Black Sea coast in the east (see maps below).
“That is why the inscriptions on these coins are in Bulgarian, and they are most frequently discovered in the most significant medieval settlements in [the region of] Macedonia,” the Museum states.
Besides the two coins of Tsar Ivan Asen II mentioned above, the five other coins to be reproduced in the “Medieval Bulgarian Coins” replica collection include:
Two silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331 – 1371) – one of which was declared the Museum’s first exhibit of the month back in August 2020;
A silver coin of Tsar Mihail III Shishman (r. 1322 – 1330);
A silver coin of Tsar Todor (Theodore) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300 – 1321);
A silver coin minted by Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371 – 1396) of the Vidin Tsardom, a rump state of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Tsar Ivan Asen II’s rule in the first half of the 13th century was largely a period of relative stability and prosperity, successful diplomacy, victorious wars, territorial expansion, and patronage of trade, Orthodox Christianity, and Bulgarian culture.
It was under him that the Second Bulgarian Empire came close in size and might to what the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) was in the first half of the 10th century, under Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927).
The Second Bulgarian Empire was formed in 1185 after the successful rebellion against Byzantium of two Bulgarian boyars, brothers Asen and Petar (later Tsar Asen I (r. 1187-1196) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1185-1197)), the so called Asen and Petar’s Uprising). Both Asen and Petar, as well as their third brother, Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) were murdered.
Ivan Asen, who was the son of Tsar Asen I, came back from exile in 1217, and successful reclaimed the throne for the House of Asen (Asen’s Dynasty, r. 1185-1257) from the usurper, Tsar Boril (r. 1207-1218).
Tsar Ivan Asen II made Bulgaria the most powerful state in Southeast Europe trough his successful foreign policy (including three dynastic marriages), and his major military victory – the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 – over the against the powerful Theodore Komnenos Doukas (r. 1216-1230 AD), ruler of the Despotate of Epirus, in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 AD.
In 2015, Bulgaria marked the 785th anniversary since the Battle of Klokotnitsa.
In 2016, Bulgaria marked the 775th year since the death of Tsar Ivan Asen II.
Tsar Ivan Asen II’s victory at Klokotnitsa was reflected in his famous inscription (read it in the Background Infonotes below) in the Holy Forty Martyrs Church in his capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo), which was under construction at the time of the Klokotnitsa Battle. He assumed the title of “Tsar of Bulgarians and Greeks”.
The coins from the Medieval Bulgarian Coins replica collection can be purchased from the Mint of the Bulgarian National Bank through its website mint.bg or by phone order at +359 2 807 18 67.
Learn more about the history of the Battle of Klokotnitsa in the Background Infonotes below.
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Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author of the book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.
The Battle of Klokotnitsa occurred on March 9, 1230 AD, near the town of Klokotnitsa (in today’s Haskovo District in Southern Bulgaria). In the Battle of Klokotnitsa, the inferior forces of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), soundly defeated the armies of Theodore Komnenos Doukas (r. 1216-1230 AD), ruler of the Despotate of Epirus
The Despotate of Epirus is one of the three Byzantine Greek successor states formed after Western European crusaders from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople in 1204 AD, and set up the so called Latin Empire (1204-1261 AD). The Battle of Klokotnitsa is considered one of the most important military victories in the 1400 years of Bulgarian history.
Around 1221–1222, the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II signed an alliance treaty with Despot Theodore Komnenos Doukas from the Epirus Despotate which allowed Theodore Komnenos to focus on expanding against the Latin Empire by conquering Thessaloniki but also by capturing some Bulgarian territories such as Ohrid in the region of Macedonia.
After the death of Latin Emperor Robert of Courtenay (r. 1221-1228 AD), his successor to the throne of the Latin Empire, Emperor Baldwin II was just 11 years old, and the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II appeared as the most likely choice of a regent for him.
As a result, he and the Bulgarian Empire were considered an obstacle by Theodore Komnenos who was aspiring to the throne of Constantinople in order to resurrect the Byzantine Empire. T
hus, in early March 1230 AD, Theodore Komnenos invaded Bulgaria with a large army in violation of his alliance with Tsar Ivan Asen II, and without a declaration of war. The Bulgarian Tsar, with a smaller army, marched to meet him surprisingly quickly. On March 9 (March 22), 1230, the their armies met near the town of Klokotnitsa.
Tsar Ivan Asen II had the broken alliance treaty to be pierced on his spear and used as a flag. In a battle that lasted till sunset, the Epirotians were completely defeated, and only a small force under the despot’s brother, Manuel Komnenos Doukas, managed to escape. The rest were killed in the battle or captured, including the entire royal court of Epirus and Theodore Komnenos himself.
After the Battle of Klokotnitsa, the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II released the captured soldiers without any conditions, while the nobles were taken to the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo). His fame for being a merciful and just ruler went ahead of his march to the lands of Theodore Komnenos, and they were regained to Bulgaria without resistance.
These included the territories between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Adriatic Sea. The captured Despot Theodore Komnenos was kept as a prisoner in Tarnovgrad for seven years; he was blinded after his involvement in a conspiracy there. He was released in 1237, after the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II married his daughter Irene, and returned to Epirus where he died in 1253.
Tsar Ivan Asen II’s Inscription in the Holy Forty Martyrs Church: In order to commemorate the Battle of Klokotnitsa, the Bulgarian Emperor had an inscription carved in one of the marble columns of the Church “Holy Forty Martyrs” in the capital of the Bulgarian Empire, Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo):
“In the year 6738 (1230), third indiction, I, John Asen, in God Christ true Tsar and sovereign of the Bulgarians, son of the old Tsar Asen, raised from the foundations and decorated with art this holy church in the name of the Holy Forty Martyrs, with the help of whom in the twelfth year of my reign when this temple was being decorated, I made war in Byzantium and defeated the Greek army and captured their Tsar, Kyr Teodore Komnenos, together with all his bolyars. And I occupied all of his land from Odrin (Adrianople) to Drach (Dyrrhachium), Greek and also Albanian and Serbian; and the towns around Constantinople and this very town were ruled by the Frizes (Latins), but they also subjugated to my empire; because they had no other Tsar but me and thanks to me they spent their days, because God ordered this, because without Him neither a deed, nor a word is done. Glory to Him forever, amen.”
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