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Byzantine Hoard Found in Macedonia
By Richard Giedroyc

When you mention Macedonia to a coin collector, the collector likely thinks first of ancient Macedon, then perhaps the modern nation born from the fracturing of Yugoslavia as an afterthought.

The region now known as Macedonia has been occupied by man just about since civilization began. As a result, coins of virtually every age are found at certain archaeological dig sites in this geographic area.

It is the Tsarevi Kili or Carevi Kuli site near Strumica in eastern Macedonia which is of particular interest at the moment. According to several sources, a hoard of about 4,300 medieval coins of the Byzantine Empire dating from the 13th century has been found recently at this site.

This isn't the first time coins have been found at Tsarevi Kili. In the past, coins have been found dating from ancient to modern times, including issues attributed to Philip II of Macedon prior to his son Alexander III's ("the Great") accession to the throne of the Greek city-state. Coins have also been discovered at this site dating from the first century B.C., the second half of the third century through the sixth century, the 10th and 11th centuries, the 12th through the 15th century, and from both world wars fought during the 20th century.

The current find is unusually large and dates primarily from the reign of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (who ruled from April 8, 1143 to Sept. 24, 1180). The Byzantine Empire was the successor to the Roman Empire in the east and at the time was known as the Eastern Roman Empire.

The current find was discovered in two ceramic bowls in a place that overlooks Strumica. Site archaeologist Zoran Rujak referred to the find as the "most important medieval finding so far," according to an April 27 Macedonian International News Agency news release.

Rujak was quoted by the MINA as saying, "According to previous knowledge, it is about three types of coins forged under Manuel I Comnenus and subsequent emperors."

The reign of Manuel I Comnenus was a high point in Byzantine history. Unfortunately, the end of his reign marked the rapid demise of the empire as well. It was during this reign that Western culture heavily influenced what was otherwise an Eastern nation. This was also the time of the Second Crusade. The crusaders were interested in capturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land, but the crusaders also had their eye on Constantinople, the capitol of the Byzantine Empire.

Manuel was forced to devote much of his time to the threat coming from the crusaders. Due to this necessary diversion, Byzantine holdings in Greece, particularly the cities of Corinth and Thebes, were able to be successfully attacked by Roger II of Sicily. The failure of the Second Crusade allowed Manuel to attack Italy. At first Manuel was successful, but a counterattack drove his forces from what had been a key portion of the former Western Roman Empire.

Manuel did have success elsewhere. He overthrew Armenian Prince Thoros, forcing the crusader states of Antioch and Jerusalem to recognize him as their lord. At the time, he was also successfully interfering in Hungarian and Serbian politics.

Manuel's interference in Hungary and Serbia drew the wealthy Italian city-state of Venice into the conflict. In the mean time, the sultan of Iconium changed his allegiance from Manuel to Manuel's enemy German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. This change of allegiance set events in motion that led to Manuel's disastrous defeat at the hands of the Turks at the Battle of Myriocephalon in 1176. Manuel never recovered politically from this defeat. He died four years later.

Gold, electrum, billon, and copper coins were struck at Constantinople, Thessalonica, and at least at one uncertain Greek mint during this reign. The emperor typically appears on one side, with either the nimbate facing figure of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary on the other. Details of the recent find were not available in time for this article.

Manuel was succeeded by his 12-year old son Alexius Comnenus. Following political intrigues, Alexius II was executed by a cousin who usurped the throne only three years later. There are no coins known that can be attributed to the short reign of Alexius II.


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