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The Modern Coins of Thxois, Trebizond
by Derwin Mak, Count of Thxois

originally published in NI Bulletin, the publiction of the organization Numsimatics International, May / June 2013 (volume 48, number 5 / 6), pp. 81-86

The Imperial Family of Lascaris-Comnenus and Its Nobility

The Empire of Trebizond was a successor state to the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. It lay on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea and was founded in April 1204 by Alexius I Comnenus, grandson of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus and great-great-grandson of an earlier Alexius I, also an Emperor. Trebizond outlasted the Byzantine Empire by eight years and finally fell to the Ottoman Turks on August 15, 1461.

The Trapezuntine Imperial Family of Lascaris-Comnenus went into exile and survives to this day. A branch of the family went to Spain in 1870. In 1923, during a time of political turmoil, a delegation of Greek officers and politicians offered the crown of King of the Hellenes to Prince Eugene II, the Spanish Lascaris who claimed the role of head of the Imperial Family. However, Eugene II did not replace the then-reigning King George II. Neither man was King of the Hellenes by 1924, when Greece abolished its monarchy and established a republic. Eugene II died in 1962 and was succeeded by his son, Prince Theodore IX. In 2006, Prince Theodore IX died and was succeeded by his son, Prince Eugene III. A brief history of the Imperial Family is on the website

The Lascaris-Comnenus princes granted titles of nobility to their friends and supporters. My American friend Russell R. Fritz, Exarch for North America of the Imperial Order of St. Eugene of Trebizond (see again, received the title of Marquis of Marykatos and was later promoted to Duke. In 1995, the Marquis of Marykatos granted the title of Count of Thxois to me ("Thxois" is pronounced to rhyme with "Lois," the girl's name). Thxois was a town on the Büyük Menderes River in present-day Aydin Province, Turkey. The town was part of the Byzantine Empire until circa 1070, when Islamic forces conquered it.

The title was quite an honour for me. Not only did it make me a Trapezuntine and Byzantine nobleman, but it fit well with my interest in Roman and Byzantine history. It was my best subject in high school (a 98% score, which my teacher said was a record in his career). Eventually, I would use my title to combine my interests in history and exonumia.

Revival of Trapezuntine Coinage

However, I did not do much with my Trapezuntine title until 2012, when I issued coins for my Countship of Thxois. Thus I revived the ancient coinage of Trebizond.

Interestingly, my Trebizond coins are not the first Trapezuntine coinage since the fall of Trebizond in 1461. There is an Italian branch of the Imperial Family, and one of the Italians, Mario Bernardo Angelo Comneno, as Prince Michael III, issued his own Trebizond coinage in 1955. These coins are listed in George Cuhaj and Thomas Michael's Unusual World Coins. I've heard that there was rivalry between Eugene II and Michael III over their claims to the long-defunct empire.

Any coinage, even those for nobility in exile, requires much planning. First, I had to decide on a language for the coins' legends. Greek was the natural language for Byzantine and Trapezuntine coins. Unfortunately, I knew little Greek and could not read and write in the Greek alphabet. However, like many numismatists, I knew enough Latin to translate coin legends and knew various Latin terms and phrases even if I couldn't form a sentence on my own. Hence, my coins would have Latin legends. This might seem incongruous for the coins of a Byzantine successor state, but they do symbolize that the Byzantine and Trapezuntine empires were continuations of the Roman Empire, where Latin originated. Indeed, the Byzantine Greeks usually referred to themselves as Romans. The term "Byzantine" was created by the German historian Hieronymus Wolf in 1557.

Michael III's coins are denominated in francs, a curious choice for an Italian claiming an ancient Roman-Greek empire. I could have used old Byzantine and Greek denominations such as asper and drachma, but they seemed incongruous with the Latin legends on the coins. The pan-European denomination of euro was out of the question due to the euro's association with the Greek monetary crisis. I also considered old Roman, Papal, and Italian denominations like denarius, scudo, and lira. Eventually, I chose the tallero, a denomination last used in Italian Eritrea. I divided the Thxois tallero into 100 centesemi, the subunit of the old Italian lira.

Each coin has a common reverse depicting the coat of arms of Trebizond. The Lascaris-Comnenus emperors used a shield of seven white and black alternating horizontal bars, starting with a white bar on top. I commissioned the coins' mint to design a modern rendition showing the shield born on the breast of the Byzantine double-headed eagle. Most historical depictions of the double-headed eagle show it holding a sword and an orb, but I changed the sword to a cross as a sign of the new nobility's piety. Above the eagle is the Justinian Crown, a heraldic symbol used by the modern-day Imperial Family of Lascaris-Comnenus. The reverse legend is THXOIS Ÿ IMPERIVM TRAPEZVS TALLERO (Thxois, Trebizond Empire Tallero).

From March 2012 to January 2013, I issued three tallero coins. They commemorate famous Byzantine and Roman persons. All tallero coins have the following technical specifications:

Mintage: 100 pieces
Diameter: 1-1/2 inches
Metal: nickel-plated brass

The coins were struck by Challenge Coins Plus, a Winter Springs, Florida, firm that usually strikes military challenge coins. All coins come with a certificate of authenticity. Those given by me to recipients in person come with a generic clear plastic case used by Challenge Coins Plus. Those sent by mail do not always have the case.

1,700th Anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

On March 1, 2012, I issued a tallero to commemorate the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which occurred on October 28, 312 (Figure 1).

Thxois, Trebizond 1,700th Anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge tallero coin

figure 1: 1,700th Anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge tallero

In October 312, Constantine the Great prepared to fight Emperor Maxentius in the civil wars of the Tetrarchy. According to legend, Constantine saw a Chi-Rho and the words "Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα" in the sky. The Chi-Rho is a Christian symbol formed by superimposing the first two capital letters of the word " ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ" or "Christ" in Greek. The words "Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα" translate to "In hoc signo vinces" in Latin or "In this sign, you will conquer" in English.

The vision inspired Constantine to fight for Christianity at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine defeated Maxentius and issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed tolerance of all religions throughout the empire. This edict allowed anyone to worship whichever deity they chose, thus ending the persecution of Christians while Constantine was in power (subsequent emperors would rescind such tolerance and freedom).
Although Constantine supported several religions, Christianity would not have flourished as it did without his efforts. In addition to ending the persecution of Christians, he summoned the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council, to obtain consensus on Christian ideas. Constantine eventually became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity.

The obverse depicts Constantine the Great seeing the vision of the Chi-Rho, based on Gian Lorenzo Bernini's statue of Constantine on horseback, displayed in the Vatican (Figure 2). The legend is: IMP. CONSTANTINVS MAGNVS Ÿ IN HOC SIGNO VINCES Ÿ CCCXII – MMXII (Emperor Constantine the Great Ÿ In this sign, you will conquer Ÿ 312 – 2012).

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's statue of Constantine on horseback at the Vatican.

figure 2: Gian Lorenzo Bernini's statue of Constantine on horseback, displayed in the Vatican

1,480th Anniversary of Empress Theodora's Speech to Justinian and His Ministers

Several Roman Emperors portrayed their wives, sisters, and mothers on coins. Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian the First, was the most influential woman in Roman history, but she has never appeared on a coin—until now. On July 20, 2012, I solved this glaring omission in Roman numismatics by issuing the first coin ever to depict Theodora (Figure 3).

1,480th Anniversary of Empress Theodora's Speech to Justinian and His Ministers tallero

figure 3: Empress Theodora tallero

Theodora's parents were circus performers: her father was a bear trainer and her mother was a dancer and actress. Theodora became an actress too. Unlike today, actors and entertainers were not hailed as great public figures or suitable members of the Order of the British Empire or l'Ordre des Arts and des Lettres. Instead, Roman society considered them to be the social equals of prostitutes. Despite such lowly origins, Theodora attracted and married Emperor Justinian and became a formidable partner in his reign.

In January 532, the Blue and Green political factions fought after a chariot race in the Hippodrome. The Nika Riots grew so violent that they threatened the government. Justinian and his ministers prepared to flee Constantinople, but Theodora insisted on staying in the city. She told them, "Those who have worn the crown will not survive its loss. I will never see the day when I am not saluted as an empress. Purple makes a fine shroud." In other words, it is better to die as an emperor than live as an exile. Her stirring speech inspired Justinian and his men to stay and fight. They subsequently attacked the Hippodrome and killed 30,000 rebels, thus restoring law and order.

I commissioned Canadian artist Tina Olah ( to draw a picture of Empress Theodora for the coin. I did not require the drawing to resemble the image of Theodora in the famous mosaic at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy (Figure 4). Instead, I told Tina to show Theodora like a beautiful queen from a Cecil B. DeMille movie. Her illustration of Theodora (Figure 5) is quite different from the mosaic at San Vitale.

The obverse legend is THEODORA AUGVSTA, as wives of emperors were addressed as "Augusta."

Theodora by Tina Olah
figure 4: Theodora mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy
figure 5: Theodora by Tina Olah

Emperor Saint John IV Doukas Lascaris

At the suggestion of my friend, the fantasy fiction author and ancient coins numismatist Darrell Schweitzer, I issued a tallero in honor of Emperor Saint John IV Doukas Laskaris on January 18, 2013 (Figure 6).

John IV was only seven years old when he became Emperor on the death of his father. Unfortunately, the nobleman Michael Paleologus overthrew John IV and blinded him on his eleventh birthday, Christmas Day, 1261. The Greek Orthodox Church excommunicated Michael Paleologus for this atrocity, but Michael nonetheless became emperor and founder of the Paleologus Dynasty. John IV spent the rest of his life as a monk. In 1290, Emperor Andronikos II Paleologus visited John and asked for forgiveness of his father's horrible actions. John forgave Michael and was later canonized as a saint of the Orthodox Church. He was the only Lascaris emperor to become a saint.

John IV Doukas Laskaris tallero

figure 6: John IV Doukas Laskaris tallero

The obverse is based on the only portrait of John IV, from a 15th century manuscript. The legend is SANCTVS IOANNES IV DOVKAS LASKARIS Ÿ BASILEVS Ÿ (Saint John IV Doukas Laskaris, Basileus). Basileus was the Greek title, the equivalent of a Western title of emperor that Byzantine rulers used in John IV's time.

Future Issues

There may be future issues of Trapezuntine coins, given my interest in Roman and Byzantine history.

Persons interested in obtaining my Thxois, Trebizond coins may contact me via email at

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