Eclipse over the Adriatic Sea 1241

In 1242 Kingdom of Sicily issued a new coin, whose design was different from all preceding and subsequent coins. In addition the issuer did not follow the usual reduction in fineness technique. What was the reason of the completely different sort of medal design? Probably a dramatic eclipse.

denar Frederico II obverseThe written records of the Sicilian Kingdom's coinage of this period fortunately survived. Richard of San Germano led tax collection records over several years, usually in January, and recorded the issuance of new money as well. According to these new coin types are reported in 1236, 1239, 1242, and  in 1243 (unfortunately the memo came to an end in 1243). The ruler, Frederick II (Frederich in German, Federico in Italian) preferred to live with the reduction of the money's not so high silver content, thus allowing to gain extra income. This – while was a bad action for the contemporaries – is lucky for researchers as a way of determining their issuing order by the analysis of the fineness of coins. Based on these analyzes the silver content of denarius was 125 per thousand in 1236, 83 per thousand in 1239, and in 1243 it was only 65 per thousand. The coin that was issued in 1242 were still equal to the 1239 standard quality 83 per thousand.

On the obverse of the coin in question a letter A between two points can be seen, where A is probably an abbreviation of the word Augustus, which is completing the edge's legend. The inscription "+. F.ROM.IP.SEP." reading together Frederick Romanorum Imperator Semper Augustus, i. e. the title of the Holly Roman Emperor. Below the crescent and star, which is so often used to refer to an eclipse on medieval coins.

denar Frederico II reverseThe coinage of era along with the summary of historical background can be found in the Medieval European Coinage 14 Volume (authors Philip Grieson és Lucia Travaini). In this book one of the authors, Travaini mentions that two mint operated in the kingdom, Brindisi and Messina, which struck different designed coins. It is not easy to assign the type of coins to their mints. The other medal struck also in 1242, contains a character Ω and AVG is displayed inside the obverse, while the edge's legend is identical to the previous one. Although Travaini assigns the eclipse denier to  Messina, and the Omega to Brindisi, it might well be the opposite way. If we look at the band of totality of solar eclipse of October 6, 1241, it can be seen that Brindisi fell into the band, but Messina did not.

On the reverse of medal a cross divides the field to quarters, where in the upper right quadrant a star, at the bottom left are 3 dots are visible. The legend: "+.IERL'ET SICIL'R".


The path of totality with Brindi at the eclipse of October 6, 1241

The path of totality with Brindi at the eclipse of October 6, 1241

In the Kingdom of Hungary Bela IV reigned at this time. During his long reign - 35 years - a lot of coins were issued. The reason is that the royal revenues were provided by the exchange of money, so the annual tax collection was performed by levying the old money and circulating a new design. Unfortunately, we do not have written material that would enable the identification, and also the reduction of fineness of coins was not so characteristic as in the reign of Frederick. Accordingly, we can only speculate when a certain coin went into circulation. Perhaps the coins' design and solar eclipses may add some, but still quite a weak clue.

Bela IV eh 248 reverseThe year 1241 brought extraordinary blow to Hungary. The Mongol invasion began in the spring of 1241, during which the Mongols invaded the country with three troops from different directions. On the morning of 11 April, the reunited army of Mongols attacked the Hungarians at Muhi, most of whom will still asleep. The Mongols were outnumbered. The Hungarians started to run away, but the was no way to get out of the camp supposed to be safe, the king and prince Kálmán himself could escape only with the help of their followings. Béla IV fled to the north with his followers, first to Bratislava then to Babenberg to Frederick. However, the Austrian prince captured the king, and extorted three shires lying near the Austrian border from him, under covering of a peace treaty few years before. The king and his family eventually found refuge on the Adriatic coast in castle Trau. By the summer of 1241 the region of the country north and east of the Danube came into the hands of the Mongols, only a few fortified castle and fortress withstood. A few days after the battle at Muhi Pest captured by the Mongols, and they ordered a huge massacre. In winter because of the cold weather, the Mongols could cross the frozen Danube, and made efforts to catch the king in person as usual among Tartars. Kadam, a Tatar leader began to siege Trau, but in the spring of 1242 the Mongol army suddenly withdrew, leaving a ruined country.

As it can be seen on the map above eclipse Trau - today Trogir(Croatia) - the small castle located near Split, fell to the band of totality. Béla IV certainly observed the 1241 eclipse from there, in an age when a solar eclipse meant an portentous omen. And in October 1241 the portentous omen seemed to prove by the havoc of the Mongols too.

bela IV eh 248On the obverse of one unlabeled denier of Bela IV an eclipse figure similar to Frederick's one can be seen. Above the crescent and the star a castle-gate and two heads viewing into opposite direction on the sides are located. We do not know that this medal design was inspired by this eclipse, or any other during his long reign. It is also likely that the annual coin replacement was cancelled on spring of 1242, as the country was in ruins. So as early as the spring of 1243, this concept could appear on denarius.

There is also a coin that Bela IV minted and probably depicts a solar eclipse. The reverse shows the usual split into four sections by a cross design, in each field with a star, in the middle of them a circle, a so called mullet. The representation is a fairly accurately reproduce of the moment of totality, when the Moon completely covers the Sun and the solar corona becomes visible. The legend is "MONETA.REGIS.P.HVNGARIA" P under crossed, means PRO, i.e. the royal money for Hungary. Interesting the obverse picture where the king sits on a rainbow throne. Legend: "BELA+ REX", that is King Bela. After the word REX is a similar representation of solar corona as on the reverse, although it is not shown on the picture here, due to the wear of the coin.

Bela IV eh 218 obverse

Bela IV eh218 reverse

Currently we do not know that the coins treated here, or any other coins of Bela IV, which bear similar representations can be associated with any solar eclipses. But the similarities between Frederick II and Bela IV coins are striking. And as Marshall Faintich showed in his excellent book such depictions are rarely due to merely chance.

Split was in a privileged position from astronomical point of view at that time, as another solar eclipse that occurred on June 3, 1239, also passed through the city. Quite rare that from a place eclipses can be observed so short intervals in a row. 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 path of totality at the eclipse of June 3, 1239, Split and Trau in the eclipse's path

The path of totality at the eclipse of June 3, 1239, Split and Trau in the eclipse's path

In 1239 Bela IV resided in Buda, from where the eclipse seemed just as partial. Therefore, that eclipse perhaps could leave a deep impression on him, although the sign of the Tartar attack has already been known, and the eclipse might have been considered as bad omen also.