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Isaac II Comnenus
Isaac II Comnenus

Isaac II Comnenus

1185-1195 Isaac, a cousin of Andronicus, survived an attempted execution by the emperor and went on to form a successful revolt against Andronicus. Byzantines had had enough of the witch hunts and the excessive cruelty of the emperor as well as the approaching foreign menace of the Normans. But Isaac, too, would disappoint them. For his credit Isaac was able to decisively beat the Normans and push them back to their strongholds in Sicily. But in domestic matters he turned out to be just another rotten tyrant who sold out all the key administrative positions to the wealthy. This created an alarming vacuum in the treasury as they proceeded to drain public monies for their own interests. To recover capital the emperor turned out to be hardly any less cruel than his predecessor. Oppressive taxation, extortion, arbitrary confiscations of property and so on would be his tools of choice to remedy the situation. The consequent loss of popularity bred the discontent which, finally, resulted in the expected conspiracy against him. This time it was another family member, his brother Alexius, who pulled off the coup and had him blinded (that quintessentially Byzantine form of punishment).

AU Hyperpyron

SB 2001, DOC IV 1 AU Hyperpyron Obv: The Virgin enthroned; MHPQV to left and right.
Rev: ICAAKIOCDE - Isaac and Archangel Michael standing, Isaac holding cruciform scepter and being crowned by hand of God, both holding sheathed sword between them; O between their heads, X M by Michael. $395 8/29/03.

AU Aspron Trachy

SB 2002, DOC IV 2 AU (Electrum) Aspron Trachy Obv: MHP QV, Mary enthroned facing, holding the nimbate head of the infant Christ .
Rev: ICAAKIOО”EC - Isaac standing facing, holding cruciform scepter and akakia, being crowned by Archangel Michael; X/M by Michael. (Constantine).

AE Trachy

SB 2003 AE Trachy Obv: MHP QV, Mary enthroned facing, holding the nimbate head of the infant Christ .
Rev: ICAAKIOО”EC - Isaac standing facing, holding cruciform scepter and akakia, being crowned by Archangel Michael; X/M by Michael. (Constantine).


Isaac had been languishing in his cell for about eight years when, all of a sudden, his jailers came with news that must have sounded like a prank. They were not only there to set him free but to give him the imperial robe and take command of the empire again.

But old Isaac was allowed little time for celebrations. In the preceding hours Alexius III had bailed out of town with all the gold and jewels he could carry, Venetians and Franks were terrorizing the city and were about to overrun it and his own son Alexius IV was in their camp fancying himself the true Byzantine emperor.

Isaac was either instructed to or realized he had no option but to attempt conciliation of this hopeless moment by recognizing Alexius as co-emperor and try to bargain with the leaders of the Crusade. For a while the two would cling on to power but unable to do much what with thousands of Crusaders having free reign all around and in the city. When these same leaders could find no more cows to milk and stones to bleed they turned on the emperors and made it known that if Alexius couldn't keep to his word and provide for all the terms of their agreements then they would seize control of the empire and nominate their own leaders. Given an ultimatum that was quite impossible to fulfill the two were deposed by an emergency council of influential Byzantine nobility and church leaders and Alexius V was put in their place. Alexius spared no time in executing Alexius IV and Isaac himself died just days after, probably poisoned.

Although Alexius V looked the part of a strong leader and did what he could to prepare for the worst it was too little, too late and Constantinople fell to the invaders after brief and weak resistance. The massacre of civilians, the unprecedented cruelty, the raping, the pillaging and the desecration of holy places followed on such a vast and infamous scale that to this day the whole episode remains one of the sorriest chapters in history.

No coin photos available.

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