Silver Coin of Co-Emperors of Second Bulgarian Empire Ivan Alexander, Mihail Asen Released by National Bank, Archaeology Museum in Replica Collection
A replica of a medieval silver coin minted by Tsar Ivan Alexander of the Second Bulgarian Empire (r. 1331 – 1371) together with his eldest son and Co-Emperor Mihail IV Asen has become the sixth 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 same coin was already declared “Exhibit of the Month” for August 2020, the first exhibit of the month pick ever, by the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, a body of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The Medieval Bulgarian Coins 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 (r. 1218 – 1241) and ended under Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371 – 1396), ruler of the Vidin Tsardom, a rump state of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).
As part of the replica collection entitled “Medieval Bulgarian Coins,” the Bulgarian National Bank and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia have already released replicas of the gold perpera (a version of the Byzantine gold coin “hyperpyron”) and a copper cup-shaped coin (scyphate) of Tsar Ivan Asen II; a replica of the silver coin of Tsar Todor (Teodor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1301 – 1322); a replica of the silver coin of Tsar Mihail III Shishman Asen (r. 1323 – 1330); and a replica of the earlier and rarer silver coin of Tsar Ivan Alexander.
In its announcement on the release of the replica silver coin of Tsar Ivan Alexander and his son and Co-Emperor Mihail IV Asen, the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology stresses that the the coin in question was produced in enormous quantities.
“The silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander with his son Mihail Asen are the longest and most mass-produced medieval Bulgarian coins, which were minted in enormous quantities for the time,” the Museum says.
Tsar Ivan Alexander’s eldest son, Tsar Mihail IV Asen (1322 – 1355, Co-Emperor in 1331 – 1355), died in a battle with the invading Ottoman Turks near Sofia (back then Sredets) in 1355, which was lost but nonetheless staved off further Ottoman Turkish attacks on Bulgaria for another 15 years, until 1370.
Back in August 2020, as it declared the coin in question is “exhibit of the month”, Bulgaria’s National Museum of Archaeology revealed that, according to some estimates, a total of 10 – 15 million specimen of the coin in question might have been minted between the 1330s and the 1370s.
“Coins of this type comprise a substantial part of the contents of a large number of treasures [i.e. coin hoards] hidden in the second half of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century [which have been] discovered in the Bulgarian lands as well as in neighboring regions,” the scientific and research institution explains.
“These are the most frequently discovered medieval Bulgarian coins whose minting continued ever after Tsar Ivan Alexander’s death in 1371, during the early years of Tsar Ivan Shishman’s rule. The main reason for that is these coins’ huge popularity among the population at the time, and the significant place they occupied in the currency circulation,” it elaborates.
“The silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander with his son and Co-Emperor Mihail IV Asen are the product of the most intensive Bulgarian coin minting, a height of sorts in the production of silver coins in the Balkans in the 14th century,” the Museum concludes.
In its “Exhibit of the Month” release in August 2020 about the medieval silver coin in question, the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia provided a detailed description and explanation of the coin’s features.
The front side (obverse) of the late medieval Bulgarian coin features a depiction of Jesus Christ with a halo, a tunic, and a mantle, with both his hands raised for a blessing.
Behind Jesus Christ’s figure, there is a backless throne. Both sides of the coin observe image of Christ feature monograms of the name “Alexander” and the “Tsar” title in reference to Tsar Ivan Alexander of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
“Tsar”, the title of the Bulgarian rulers in the middle ages is derived from Roman title of “Caesar” (itself based on the name of Julius Caesar), and is equivalent to “Emperor”.
The reverse side of the 14th century silver coin features images of the standing Tsar Ivan Alexander (on the left) and his first-born son and Co-Emperor Mihail IV Asen holding between them a flag with a long pole. On both sides of the pole there is one multi-pointed star.
On the silver coin from the mid-14th century, both Tsar Ivan Alexander and his Co-Emperor and son Tsar Mihail IV Asen are depicted in their ceremonial attire, wearing crowns, and each one of them holding one of the symbols of power, a short scepter with a cross.
On both sides of their figures, there are monograms of the names “Alexander”, “Mihail” as well as of the Bulgarian word “благоверен“ (“blagoveren”), meaning “pious”.
“The silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander and Mihail Asen are among the few surviving artistic monuments from the Late Middle Ages in Bulgaria,” the National Institute and Museum of History said about its first “exhibit of the month” back in August 2020.
“They are a valuable source of information about the political and economic history of the Second Bulgarian Empire, and offer a glimpse of the symbols of power and attire of the Bulgarian rulers,” the museum added.
It also pointed out that the silver coins were minted meticulously, with skillfully engraved seals, and their images on both sides are of the linear and schematic style that is characteristic of Bulgarian coin minting in the 14th century.
“Their iconography illustrates the medieval idea of the godly origin of the tsar’s authority. On the front side, the image of Jesus Christ is presented in a way that is untypical for medieval coins, with his arms raised high for a blessing. Usually, it is the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) “Oranta”, i.e. “praying”, who is depicted with such iconography,” explained the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology.
“The fact that so far no other coins are known to depict such a scene makes this image unique for medieval Bulgarian coin minting,” it added.
Many of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422) minted coins.
Besides the silver coin of Tsar Ivan Alexander with his son and Co-Emperor Tsar Mihail IV Asen mentioned above, the six other coins reproduced in the “Medieval Bulgarian Coins” replica collection include:
A silver coin of Tsar Todor (Teodor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1301 – 1322);
A silver coin of Tsar Mihail III Shishman Asen (r. 1323 – 1330);
The earlier of the two silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331 – 1371);
A silver coin minted by Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371 – 1396) of the Vidin Tsardom, a rump state of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
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.
Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire was the second longest ruling state leader in Bulgarian history (after Tsar Peter I (r. 927 – 969)). He was a great patron of the Old Bulgarian literary tradition, Orthodox Christianity, and the arts but not a very strong political and military leader.
He did, however, deliver the last big medieval Bulgarian military victory in the 1331 Battle of Rusocastro against the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, one of the concluding episodes of the 7-century-long Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars, with both powers getting conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the follwoing decades.
After he lost his two eldest sons – Ivan (Tsar Ivan Asen IV) in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 AD – in battles with the Ottoman Turks, he failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Bulgarian Tsardom between his two surviving sons.
His third son Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Bdin (Vidin) as its capital, and his fourth son Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo).
Just two decades later almost all Bulgarian lands, disunited and even warring among themselves, fell prey to the invading Ottoman Turks, ushering Bulgaria into five centuries of Ottoman Yoke (1396 – 1878/1912), signifying a practically irreversible loss of its former great power status of the medieval Bulgarian Empire.
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.
Also check out these stories about the Medieval Bulgarian Coins replica collection:
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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.
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