Solar eclipse of year 1270

One denier of Stephan V depicts an eclipse. Which eclipse could support the model for this coin's design? And can we be sure that this denier was issued by Stephen V?


The coinage of Stephan V from historical point of view

Stephan V ruled as king from May 3, 1270 to August 6, 1272. If we assume – the otherwise generally accepted – concept that the annual coin replacement took from March 15 to St George’s Day then it is hard to understand how so many coins were issued during this slightly more than two years period. But if we take into account - as Bálint Hóman states - that „the duke bearing full royal rights as the ruler of one third of the country … could also struck coins”, we get a better picture.

Upon attaining full age Stephan assumed the governance of eastern part of the country in 1257, and in 1258 he became the ruler of South-Styria, The coins displayed in plate XVIII of Réthy's CNH can be dated to this event. This also makes it likely that he issued coins in other territories that he ruled – namely the eastern part of Hungary. We can therefore hypothesize that he issued coins from 1257 until his death in 1272. If a new denier was struck in every year (counting 1258 as the first and 1272 as the last year) we get 15 different deniers, which is a good match to the number of coins listed in the catalogs.

Stephan was not satisfied with what he had gotten from his father. He was ready to fight for more. In 1262 he forced his father to enlarge his territory to the river Danube and Stephan adopted the Younger King title. Soon after this his father commenced a campaign against him which ended with smashing victory for Stephan V in 1265 at Isaszeg. He became the sovereign of his territory with separate foreign and military policy.

He issued seven coins in the seven years between 1266 and 1272 (one in each year). We may suppose – without any justification for the time being –, that he issued seven of the eight deniers bearing the title Rex.


Eclipses on coins

Marshall Faintich in his well written and interesting book mentions many ancient and medieval coins that were inspired by eclipses.

Eclipses have severe effects on people. Consider the war between Lydians and Medes that was stopped when the totality occurred as reported by Thales of Miletus. We have also medieval scripts that report the effect of eclipses on unknowledgeable people. The description of Thomas dean of Spalato (Split, Croatia) says: „At the same time, A. D. 1239 on the third day from beginning of the month of June a wonderful and terrible eclipse of the Sun occurred, for the entire Sun was obscured, and the whole of the clear sky was in darkness. Also stars appeared in the sky as if during the night, and a certain greater start shone beside the Sun on the western side. And such great fear overtook everyone, that just like madman they ran about to and fro shrieking, thinking that the end of the world come.

The escalation of the events to this level can only be expected in the path of totality, which is generally slightly more then 100 km wide (although its length might be more than thousand km). It is often estimated that a partial eclipse of less than 80 percent of totality would be unnoticed by people who were unaware of event. Let us now examine the eclipses that may be connected to the coin in question.


Annular eclipse of 23th March 1270

If we accept the – currently unproven – hypothesis that the deniers bearing Rex in the legend were struck between 1265 and 1272 then only one eclipse is fitting. Other eclipses were either not seen from Hungary or the coverage was less then 75 percent (on May 25, 1267).

If the sky were clear this eclipse should have been impressive. The event started right after sunrise – the Sun was above the horizon by three degrees. This altitude is small enough for people to look into the Sun, so the progress of eclipse must have been followed by them. (Similar to what early risers could have experienced during the eclipse of May 31, 2003.) This eclipse was annular with 99 percent of the solar disk covered at 14 degrees above the horizon. At that time the so called ring of fire could be seen, when the Moon covered the central portion of the Sun and the remaining 1 percent of the bright surface appeared in the sky as a glowing ring.



The path of annularity (99 percent) of March 23, 1270 eclipse

Because the eclipse occurred after the annual coin replacement has already started on March 15, this event could have been placed only on coins issued in 1271. We have no reason to think that 1272 or a later date for the of issue because the farther we get from the event the less impression it had. So we can state that this coin was struck either in late 1270 or in early 1271 and the eclipse represented on the coin dates it as much as a year dates a coin of today.


The annular eclipse of 8th Aug. 1263

It is usually rare that from a given territory more than one annular or total eclipse would be observable within a lifetime. The last eclipse prior to 1999 in Hungary was in 1842, and the next will not occur until 2081. On very rare occasions two eclipses can be seen from one place within a short time span. From our point of view this unfavorable situation occurred in this case.

The eastern part of Hungary was crossed by a path of another eclipse in 1263. If the assumption that deniers with Rex legend were struck before 1265 is correct, perhaps from 1262 – when Stephan got the Younger King title – then this 1263 eclipse could also be the event represented on this coin. If this eclipse – reaching its maximum phase at 3:40 pm at a 31 degree altitude above the horizon– were depicted on this coin then the coin was stuck in early 1264.



The path of annularity (97 percent) of March 5, 1263 eclipse


The CNH 288 denier

előlapWe have relatively few information on this interesting denier. Hóman gives metrological data of 4 coins, two from the Hungarian and two from the Zagrabian National Museum.

Ernő Saltzer summarized the occurrences of this coin in hoards. Only three examples of CNH 288 have known find place. One was found in Budapest and two were found in Vaskohsziklás. In both cases they were discovered together with deniers of IV. Béla and IV. László and therefore from my point of view these hoards cannot be used for dating.

The 1270 eclipse (or the 1263 eclipse) is well represented on the obverse of this denier. The picture shows that the spike-like rays makes the design very Sun-like. It is also clear that the Moon-face is what can be seen in front of the Sun. (If there were no rays we can consider lunar eclipse also.)

The very well represented Saint Mark’s lion on the reverse looks much less exciting at first. We cannot find any event or reason that Stephan V had any connection to Venice – neither in 1263 nor in 1270 – or had any motivation to use such a reverse. hátlapWhy should have Stephan included an alien and – because of the ownership of the Dalmatian cities – hostile state’s sign in his design? A lot of coins with interesting reverse were made at that time: animals, beasts, hunting scenes, etc. But this lion cannot be counted among them, and it is also unlikely to represent Saint Mark’s lion by chance as if they had not known that this sign was for Venice. There are other Arpadian deniers – the CNH 362 and 363 – with very similar reverse, but those were struck by Andreas III whose mother was Tomasina Morosini a Venetian notability.


Until we can not unambiguously explain why Stephan V struck the Venetian Lion on his denier we cannot rule out other – and maybe bizarre for the first time – ideas. King Andreas III's father was – also named as Stephan – a duke, who sometimes is called Posthumous Duke Stephan. He was not recognized as a legitimate son of Andreas II neither by Béla IV nor duke Kálmán, but he had never renounced his right to the Hungarian throne. He lived most of his life in Venice.

Posthumous Stephan had reason to strike coins with the Venetian Lion design after the death of Béla IV. While this statement may look implausible at the first sight, it is strengthened knowing that the path of the 1270 eclipse crossed Venice (see map) and that - as Nyáry states - “Ottokár proclaimed Posthumous Stephan to king of Hungary [by barons who stepped up against Stephan V]”.

Duke Posthumous Stephan was born in 1236 after his father Andreas II died, His mother was Beatrix d'Este who had to flee from Hungary because elder sons of Andreas II – Béla IV and duke Kálmán – cast doubt on fatherhood of Andreas II. The queen escaped and her son Stephan was grown up in Venice. He had two wives. His first wife was Elisabeth Traversari – married in 1263 – who died when their son Stephan was born (also died in early age). His second wife was Tomasina Morosini. Their son was the latter Andreas III, who was named after his grandfather. Duke Stephan had also two natural child whose names and further lives are unknown. He couldn't vindicate his rights to the throne in his life and he assigned it to his son Duke Andreas. He was died in Venice probably in 1272. He must have been living at 3rd July 1271, the time of peace treaty between Stephan V and Ottokar II in Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia), because in that he is named as “grandson of count of Este”.

According to Nyáry this proclaimed kingdom lasted only for a half year and after the peace treaty in Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia) at July 3, 1271 Posthumous Stephan – disappointed by his allies, – went back to Venice. It is possible therefore that after the death of Béla IV – as Posthumous Stephan asserted his rights to the throne in his whole lifetime – he or in his name those who stood against the accession to throne by Stephan V struck such coins for propaganda reasons or for financing the war between Ottokár and Stephan V. In this case they did not need to adjust the issue of the new coin to the date of annual coin replacement, but started striking coins immediately after the death of Béla IV (3rd May 1270) – as soon as the agreement between Posthumous Stephan and Ottokár was realized. Perhaps Venice also took part in this enterprise – at least implicitly – and did not raise objection against the use of Venice's Lion. This design emphasized that this coin is of “Stephan of Venice” and not Stephan V.

One possible scenario is that on March 23, 1270 a dramatic solar eclipse frightened people. Slightly more then a month later Béla IV died. Common talk would have quickly connected these two events. The ring of fire on the sky might have been a bad sign for Béla IV or even more so, a good sign for Posthumous Stephan for his political propaganda. The (presumably) secret talks between Ottokár and Posthumous Stephan were soon negotiated because of their common interests. During this meeting the decision was made about issuing this coin, with the eclipse – that had been seen by the many – being placed on the obverse and the sign of Venice being placed on the reverse to show Stephan’s sign of his family (as his ancestors were not alive). This might have been accomplished by the beginning of 1271, when he was proclaimed to king.

It should be emphasized that this is only a hypothesis at the moment. But it is highly unlikely that Stephan V would have struck a coin with the sign of Venice on one side, while there also lived another person who claimed the throne to himself and who was important enough to be mentioned by name in the peace treaty of Pozsony. (A possible solution is that this design was used as a warning. But in this case the lion of Venice should have been depicted in a beaten position.)

Another possible option is that the design doesn’t represent Venice, but only Saint Mark. Saint Mark as the most energetic and fighter of the evangelists and thus he is associated with the lion. Stephan V was a fighter king, and for this reason Saint Mark’s lion would be a fitting emblem for him. But even in this case the design highly resembling to the emblem of Venice would have been avoided. Perhaps it is not important but also it should be mentioned that this denier is the only one among the deniers that contain both Stephan and the word Rex, where the Rex is shortened by R. Also if we do not count this coin among the deniers of Stephan V, we get seven deniers for the seven issuing periods of his 1266–1272 reign.



This study established two possible dates for the striking of CNH 288 based on solar eclipses: either the beginning of 1264 or 1271. A decision between these dates cannot be made solely by astronomical consideration. Analysis of the political and military events support the beginning of 1271. The reverse of the coin with the Lion of Venice enforces the hypothesis of a “new”' Arpadian king – Stephan of Venice – and his only coin.



Hóman Bálint: Magyar Pénztörténet 1000-1325 Bp. 1916

Dr. Réthy László: Corpus Nummorum Hungaiae. Magyar Egyetemes Éremtár I. Árpád-házi királyok kora. Budapest 1899.

Marshall Faintich: Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins, McFarland & Company, Inc. 2008

B. Nyáry Albert: Posthumus István, az utolsó Árpád-király atyja, Századok 1869

(This article first appeared in Numizmatikai Közlöny (CVIII-CIX. 2009-2010. p. 96-101)