Leo I – 457-474 AD

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457-474 AD

Emperor of the East

Leo I was a Thracian and a man of considerable military experience. Despite his lack of formal education, it was his professional experience as a soldier that perhaps qualified him to be proclaimed Emperor soon after the death of Marcian, early in 457 AD. During his reign, Leo was consul five times, in 458, 462, 466, 471 and 473 AD and his reign is best known for both his successes as well as his failures.

At the time of Leo’s accession, the army of the East had been composed almost entirely of Germans (Goths) and other foreigners. One of his great achievements that perhaps enabled the Eastern provinces to continue beyond those of the West, was the destruction of the then immense power of the German military faction. It was this vast contingency of foreign troops that was threatening the security of the Eastern Empire. This Leo managed to accomplish by recruiting large numbers of Isaurians who, though native subjects of the Empire, were just as fierce and formidable as the German barbarians.

Unfortunately, Leo’s greatest failure was the final collapse of the West into the hands of the barbarians. It was during his reign that Roman authority in the West came to an end, despite his best efforts at installing Anthemius and Julius Nepos on the throne.

In 473, Leo suffered a serious illness and he thereupon raised his infant grandson, Leo II, to the rank of Augustus in order to settle the question of succession. Leo I died shortly thereafter on February 3rd, 474 AD at the age of 63.

Monetary System

Note: Except for a unique miliarense, the Thessalonica coinage of Leo is limited to solidi. Of the consular types there are two distinct varieties; the first with an unbroken obverse legend and one star on the reverse, and the second with the broken obverse legend and two stars on the reverse. It is not known exactly when the change took place, but it is believed that the two star variety was struck after the one star variety. Those with one star are relatively common, but the two star variety is very rare.

Mints: Milan; Rome; Ravenna; Thessalonica; Heraclea; Constantinople; Nicomedia; Cyzicus; Antioch; Alexandria.

Obverse Legends:

D N LEO bronze only


AU Solidus (4.50 grams)
AU Semissis (2.25 grams)
AU Tremissis (1.45 grams)
AR Miliarense (4.50 grams)
AR Siliqua (3.25 grams)
AR ½ Siliqua (1.12 grams)

Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong