Leontius – 484-488 AD

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Syrian Usurper crowned by Aelia Verina

In 479AD, the Emperor Zeno’s mother-in-law, the meddlesome dowager Empress Aelia Verina, who was the widow of the former Emperor Leo I, began a quest of political intrigue against Zeno for the second time. Verina set about to convince her other son-in-law Marcian, son of the late Western Emperor Anthemius, to raise a revolt. It collapsed due to the quick reaction of Zeno’s Isaurian general Illus. Verina’s involvement in both the revolt and in an attempted assassination of Illus was quite plain. She was then given to Illus to be imprisoned in Dalisandus in Isauris.

In 484 AD, the political situation had changed. Illus was reported to be intriguing against the Emperor Zeno himself, and not only refused the Empress Ariadne’s (Zeno’s wife) request that her mother be released, but had the audacity (in Ariadne’s opinion) to avoid being assassinated by her agents (who seem to have been as incompetent as her mother’s had been five years earlier). Illus withdrew to his native Isauria, and Zeno then sent the patrician Leontius with orders to obtain Verina’s release.

Upon the arrival of Leontius, the unexpected result happened. Leontius made peace with Verina and Illus, and after Illus brought Verina in full regalia to Tarsus, she crowned Leontius Emperor on the 19th of July, 484 AD. Verina attempted to convince the provincial forces to switch their loyalty to Leontius by stressing her legitimate right as Empress to crown an Emperor. But after a very short occupation of the city of Antioch in Syria, the rebels were defeated by Zeno.

In September, Leontius was heavily defeated in battle by Zeno’s legions under the command of John the Scythian. The survivors of the battle fled to the virtually impregnable fortress of Cherris in Isauria where Verina died later that year in 484 AD. Leontius and his remaining forces remained under siege by Zeno for four years when finally Cherris fell by treachery. Leontius and Illus were captured and subsequently beheaded in 488 AD.

Monetary System


Helmeted facing bust of Leontius with shield and spear

Obverse Legend:


Note: There are only 4 known Solidus – 1 in private hands – 3 known in Museums (Paris, Copenhagen & Sofia)


Copenhagen – discovered in 1882 on island Bornholm in group 28 solidi
Sofia – discovered in Abrittus Hoard burried in 490AD in group 835 solidi
Private Illustrated here – discovered in the Levantine hoard of several hundred solidi


AU Solidus (4.38 grams)

Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong