Tag Archives: georgia

Odd Bronzes of the Georgian Golden Age

***This is a follow-up to Summer Seminar scholar Lara Fabian’s earlier post about the fascinating history of coinage from the Caucasus in the ANS collection.

During the late 11th and 12th centuries, the mountainous South Caucasus kingdom of Georgia flourished. It strategically exploited its position on the edge of the declining Byzantine and Seljuk empires, and succeeded in extending its sphere of influence from the northern coast of Anatolia all the way to the Caspian Sea.

A remarkable series of rulers from the Bagrationi dynasty oversaw this, including Georgi III (1156-1184) and his daughter, Tamar the Great (1184-1213)– a Queen who was addressed as “King” (მეფე mep’e). Stories about this Georgian Golden Age became central to the identity of medieval and modern Georgia as seen in the works of the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli and the Russian Mikhail Lermontov. Even today, a portrait of Tamar Mepe graces the Georgian 50 lari note.

Georgian 50 lari note with Queen Tamar
Georgian 50 lari note with Queen Tamar

Amid the expansion of the Georgian kingdom and its cultural flowering, this period also produced some of the strangest and most fantastical coinage ever minted in the region. All coinage from this period was bronze (because of the ‘silver famine’ in the Middle East). While some pieces were struck on regular round planchets, others clearly were not– like this coin of Queen Tamar herself (ANS 1917.216.683).

ANS 1917.216.683
ANS 1917.216.683
Tamar's Monogram
Tamar’s Monogram

It is a so-called ‘irregular bronze.’ On the obverse, the central image is Queen Tamar’s monogram within a wreath. Surrounding this is a marginal legend written in the Georgian Asomtavruli script. Although not preserved fully here, it is possible to reconstruct it as: ႵႱႾႪႨႧႠ ႶႧႠ ႨႵႬႠ ႽႣႠႨ ႥႺႾႪႱႨ ႠႫႱ ႵႰႩႬႱ [–], In the name of God, this silver piece was struck in k’oronikon [–] . (The date is missing on this piece). Particularly interesting here is the specific mention of silver when, of course, the piece was bronze. This is repeated across all the irregular Bagrationi bronzes.

On the reverse is an extended 5 line Arabic legend in the center, reading:

الملكة المعظمة
جلال الدنيا والدين
تامار بنت كيوركى
ظهير المسيح
اعز الله انصار
The great Queen
Glory of the World and Faith
Tamar daughter of Giorgi
Champion of the Messiah
May God increase [her] victories

With a marginal legend of:

ضاعف الله جلالها ومدّ ظلالها وايد اقبالها

May God increase her glory and lengthen her shadow and strengthen her beneficence! (Lang and Dundua)

This piece also features two countermarks, which were very common on these irregular bronzes. One is unique to Tamar’s bronzes, while the other is the cypher of Tamar’s daughter, Queen Rusudan (Pakhomov, p. 124).

ANS 1922.193.1
ANS 1922.193.1

Above is another of Tamar’s bronzes (ANS 1922.193.1), which has the same legend but a different of Queen Rusudan’s cyphers. This piece can be dated to k’oronikon 430 (=1210 CE), by the letters ჃႪ just before the cross on the obverse (Lang). Although the irregular coppers are often simply irregular blobs, some of them, like this suspiciously bird-shaped one, seem to play off of forms from nature.

ANS 1917.216.687
ANS 1917.216.687

This is clearer in the fish-shaped planchets best known from the reign of Giorgi IV Lasha (1213-23) (ANS 1917.216.687). This particular ANS example is, according to Lang, likely an overstrike of a bronze of Giorgi IV Lasha from the reign of Queen Rusudan (1223-45).

ANS 1959.165.106
ANS 1959.165.106

Finally, there are the pieces of even more irregular form, like this coin of Giorgi IV Lasha (ANS 1959.165.106), which is recognizable by the bit of its two line obverse legend that is not off-flan:

ႢႨႻႤ
ႧႫႰႱႨ
Giorgi, son
of Tamar

Within a few short decades of the minting of this coin, Georgia would become embroiled in conflicts with Mongol invaders, from which it suffered greatly. As strange and unassuming as these blobs of bronze are, they participated in a true high point of Georgia’s early history.

Source: Odd Bronzes of the Golden Age | Barbarus hic ego sum

Golden Coins and Golden Fleeces

This is the fifth in a series of guest posts by students attending the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics.

View of the Black Sea from the Batumi Botanical Gardens
View of the Black Sea from the Batumi Botanical Gardens

The Black Sea coast of Georgia is a wildly popular vacation destination, and its beaches are packed every summer with tourists. stalin-soviet-union-foreign-tourists-poster-4-1While perhaps not familiar to Americans, this stretch of coast has a special reputation in the Russophone world as a lush tropical paradise, and it became a popular vacation destination within the Soviet Union.

The history of ‘tourists’ to this region, though, started much earlier. It can be traced all the way back into the depths of Greek mythology in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason, as the legend goes, came to these shores in search of the Golden Fleece. The narrative of his journey hints at the long history of interaction between the eastern reaches of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean world, a history that has also been substantiated by archaeological evidence.

ANS, 1944.100.78502
ANS, 1944.100.78502

This gold coin is a material example of the cross-cultural interaction that characterized the area. On its obverse is a non-naturalistic depiction of a head facing right. The reverse is a schematic frontal depiction of a winged Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The coin has a high hammered rim, which is typical of coins minted in the region.

While its findspot is unknown, the coin is a local Georgian imitation of an Alexander stater.  It was most likely minted in the territory of what is today Georgia between 100 BCE and 100 CE. A related type of imitation Lysimachus stater is also known from this region. Although Alexander the Great and his successors never directly controlled this part of the world, Hellenistic coinage circulated there, and it was thus a logical choice as a model for local issues.

map

During this period of history, the Black Sea coast (roughly corresponding to western Georgia) was a polity known as Colchis. Central and eastern Georgia was the seat of the polity of Iberia, known also by its Georgian name ‘Kartli.’ Traditionally, the imitation Alexander staters have been considered to have been produced in Kartli, while the imitation Lysimachus staters have been attributed to Colchis (see Kapanadze 1969). More recently, however, opinion has shifted away from this geographic interpretation, most notably in the work Tedo Dundua and others who manage the online catalog of Georgian numismatics, which is an invaluable resource.

The nature of the minting authority of these coins is unclear–we really do not even know whether they were ‘official’ issues of local authorities, emissions by private individuals, or something else entirely. Given the large gaps in our knowledge of local conditions during this era, it is difficult to place this coin within a more concrete political context. Hopefully ongoing archaeological work in Georgia can help to clarify the situation. The coins do appear in hoards alongside Hellenistic, Roman and Arsacid coins, so they were being used monetarily and were part of a much broader system of exchange.

Travelers, traders and tourists have long found themselves on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, and this enigmatic ANS coin represents just one material facet of the local response to this complex web of interactions.

Lara Fabian