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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Supernova of 1054

CNG 91, Lot: 1112. Estimate $2000.
Sold for $4250. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Constantine IX Monomachus. 1042-1055. AV Histamenon Nomisma (27mm, 4.39 g, 5h). Constantinople mint. Struck 1054-1055. Facing bust of Christ Pantokrator / Crowned facing bust of Constantine, holding globus cruciger and sword; two stars flanking crown. DOC 4a; SB 1831. Near EF. Rare.

The meaning of the stars that appear on these rare histamena flanking the imperial bust has been a matter of much scholarly speculation. Hendy (DOC III, p. 734) suggested that they represented the 1054 appearance of supernova SN 1054, a celestial event that was widely seen and recorded by Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers, as well as the Mimbres and Anasazi in North America, and possibly in contemporary Irish chronicles. Since it was visible even in daylight from when it first appeared in the constellation of Taurus on 4 July 1054 until it disappeared in April 1056, Grierson (DOC III, p. 736) concluded that it could not have escaped the notice of anyone interested in astronomy and "may conceivably have found its way onto the coins [since] the dates, at all events, seem to agree." A Thessalonica mint aspron trachy of Alexius I with a star on the reverse between the heads of the emperor and the Theotokos (SB 1927) supports such an interpretation, since it may refer to the Great Comet of 1106 (Alexiad 12.4.1-3). A post-reform aspron trachy of the same emperor, tentatively attributed to Constantinople between 1092 and 1118 (Triton V, 2310), and also with stars flanking the imperial bust, would argue against this, since no significant astronomical event is recorded for that period. The inclusion of the manus Dei in the reverse design differentiates this from the earlier type of Constantine IX, indicating that the stars here are not specific astronomic events. Thus, the only plausible explanation to date for the stars on this issue of Constantine IX would be the 1054 appearance of supernova SN 1054.