By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
IN THE ANCIENT world, gold and silver were the coinage of the elite, but humble copper was the coinage of the common folk.
For over 120 years, the single denomination of copper coinage issued by the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire was “Anonymous”. The Anonymous follis did not bear the name or portrait of the ruler but instead bore an image of Jesus and a religious motto. Fifteen different types are known, though only about six are common, with affordable and collectible examples. These coins are often carelessly overstruck, and generations of painstaking research by numismatists have made it possible to reconstruct the sequence of this fascinating series.
Class A1 Anonymous Follis
Born about 925 CE, John Tzimiskes was a handsome aristocrat who rose to command the Byzantine army in Armenia at the age of 25. Empress Theophano fell in love with John and helped him murder his uncle, the emperor Nikeforos Phokas, in bed on the night of December 10-11, 969.
Perhaps in remorse, John became intensely devout, and his coinage reflects this. The copper follis, weighing seven to nine grams, typically purchased a loaf of bread. John’s “Class A1” follis bears the image of Christ Pantokrator (“ruler of all things”), His head surrounded by a halo containing a cross. The Greek monogram for Jesus Christ, IC XC, appears in the field and + EMMANOVHΛ (a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase meaning “God with us”) is inscribed around the edge. The reverse inscription in bold letters on four lines is +IҺSЧS / XRISTЧS / bASILЄЧ / bΑSILЄ (“Jesus Christ, King of Kings”). On Harlan J. Berk’s list of the 100 greatest ancient coins, this type is #99 (Berk, 124).
John’s successor, Basil II (ruled 976-1025), continued the same design but increased the weight of the coins. Class A2 folles average about 15 grams, but exceptional specimens reach 20 grams or more. For comparison, the United States silver dollar weighed 26.73 grams.
A variety of different ornaments appear on the reverse of this common type. The high point on the obverse, subject to the most wear, is the nose of Jesus, so coins with a clearly visible nose command a premium.
Class B, from the reign of Romanos III (1028-34), abbreviates the reverse inscription to IS XS / bASILE / bASILE and places it around a cross on three steps. These are often overstruck on Class A coins.
On the Class C follis, from the reign of Michael IV (1034-41), the obverse is a 3/4-length standing figure based on a famous icon of Christ Antiphonetes (“He who responds”). The reverse is an elaborate jeweled cross with the inscription IC XC NI KA (“Jesus Christ Conquers”, the battle cry of Byzantine armies).
On the Class D Anonymous follis, mainly from the reign of Constantine IX (1042-55), the obverse shows Christ enthroned, an image that also appears on gold coinage of this era. The reverse is a bold three-line inscription: IS XS / ЬASILЄ / ЬASIL’/.
The elegant Class G coin, from the time of Romanos IV (1068-71), is scarce but highly prized by collectors. The obverse bears the image of Christ, while the reverse shows a half-length image of the Virgin Mary, her hands raised in prayer.
Many surviving coins are pierced for wear as religious medallions. A “good VF” example brought $390 in a 2010 US auction.
The Class I Anonymous follis, from the time of Nikeforos III (1078-81), bears the usual image of Christ on the obverse, and an elaborate cross on the reverse with no inscription. By this time, the empire was under increasing economic stress, and the follis was down to five grams or less.
In 1081 a great reforming emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, came to the throne in Constantinople. He completely revised the currency, and the copper follis finally disappeared.
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 Roma Numismatics E-sale 39, August 26, 2017, Lot 929. Realized UK£260 (about $335 USD; estimate £80).
 Roma Numismatics E-sale 18, June 27, 2015, Lot 1237. Realized £40 (about $63 USD; estimate £50).
 Agora Auction 35, June 23, 2015, Lot 323. Realized $95 USD (estimate $100).
 Nomos AG obolos 15, May 24, 2020, Lot 969. Realized CHF 140 (about $144 USD; estimate CHF 50).
 CNG Electronic Auction 238, August 11, 2010, Lot 645. Realized $390 USD (estimate $200).
 Nomos AG obolos 12, March 31, 2019, Lot 929. Realized CHF 300 (about $301 USD; estimate CHF 50).
Berk, Harlan J. 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, 2nd edition. Pelham, AL (2019)
Fitts, Prue. The Beginner’s Guide to Identifying Byzantine Coins. London (2015)
Grierson, Philip. Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Volume 3 Part 2. Washington (1973)
Sayles, Wayne G. Ancient Coin Collecting V: The Romaion/Byzantine Culture. Iola WI (1998)
Sear, David. Byzantine Coins and Their Values. London (1987)
Whitting, P.D. Byzantine Coins. New York (1973)