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Royal Merovingian Tremissis of Childeric II

Triton XXI, Lot: 916. Estimate $7500.
Sold for $27500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MEROVINGIANS, Royal. Childeric II. 673-675. AV Tremissis (16.5mm, 1.30 g, 1h). Masilie (Marseille) mint. CHILDER (triple pellets) IC(quadrate O)S REX, diademed and draped bust right / CIVITATIS • MASILIЄ, Latin cross pattée with extended base set on globe; M A across field; pair of pellets to either side of base. Cf. NM 65 (for type); cf. Belfort 2555 (same); Prou –; cf. MEC 1, 408 (same). Good VF, toned, slight double strike on reverse. Very rare.

Ex Rauch 102 (7 November 2016), lot 1339 (hammer €14,000); Palombo 12 (6 December 2013), lot 261 (hammer 18,000 CHF).

The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled in parts of present-day France and Germany from the fifth to the eighth century AD. Sometimes referred by their contemporaries as the "long-haired kings" (Latin reges criniti) because they symbolically left their hair uncut, the Merovingians claimed descent from the legendary fifth century AD leader of the Germanic Salii, Merovech. Initially foederati of the Romans, the Franks migrated into northern Gaul, where they settled and established petty kingdoms. There, they adapted themselves to the local economy by issuing imitations of circulating Roman and Byzantine coinage (mostly solidi and tremisses). These smaller kingdoms were soon united under Clovis [Clodowech] (481-511), the founder of the Merovingian dynasty. During his reign, the last vestiges of Roman rule were extinguished, other competing regional Germanic tribes were absorbed, and the Visigoths, who were likewise issuing imitations of Roman and Byzantine coins, were pushed southward into Spain. To strengthen his position, Clovis allied himself with the Church, and on Christmas Day, AD 496, he was baptized at Rheims.When Clovis died in 511, his kingdom was divided among his four sons, and, over a period of time, four main regional divisions were established: Neustria and Austrasia in the north; Aquitaine and Burgundy in the south. This tradition of dividing the kingdom proved an inherent weakness in the Merovingian state. This situation resulted in the proliferation of gold tremisses, issued not only from the royal palace mints, but also from many civic mints. Eventually, these local areas also struck silver coins. Known to modern numismatists as deniers, they suggest a vibrant local economy, in which coinage tended to be used frequently in transactions. The city of Marseilles is an especially important example of this robust economy. A hub of Mediterranen trade for this period, the city struck both gold an silver issues, the silver struck under a local patricius, Nemfidius.

Throughout much of the rest of the dynasty, struggles ensued as various heirs vied among themselves for a larger share of the royal inheritance. While some of Clovis’ descendants, most notably Clotaire I (558-561) and Dagobert I (629-639), were able to rule briefly as king over all of these areas, most of the kings were weak and relied on their palace chiefs of staff, colloquially known as the “mayor of the palace” (Lat. maior domus), who soon became de facto rulers. In 751, the mayor, Pépin le Bref (the Short), removed his Merovingian overlord, assumed the title of king, and became the first in the next dynasty of Frankish kings, the Carolingians.

One of the so-called rois fainéants, Childeric II was the second son of Clovis II and, like his father before him, was still a child when he was proclaimed king in Austrasia in 662 and King of the Franks in 673. When Childeric's younger brother, Theuderic III, inherited the kingdoms of Neustria and Burgundy that same year, a faction of prominent Burgundian nobles invited Childeric to become king of those kingdoms instead. Successfully invading his brother’s kingdoms and supplanting him, Childeric also removed the local maior domus, Eboin, with his own Austrasian one, thereby upsetting his nobles. Soon, a group of Neustrian nobles, Bodilo, Amalbert and Ingobert, formed a conspiracy to assassinate Childerc, his wife and sons, while the royal party was hunting in the forest of Livry (present-day Lognes). Their youngest son, Daniel, who had been sent off to a monestary for his protection, returned many years later to rule as Chilperic II.