Italia, Messina. Federico II (1198-1250). Augustale

Italia, Messina. Federico II (1198-1250). Augustale
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Messina, Frederick II (1197-1250), Augustalis, very rare.

Struck by the mints of Messina and Brindisi since 1231, the coin represented an anomaly compared to coeval issues due to the distinctive illustrative design and processing technique, which was inspired by Roman imperial gold coins. It was introduced by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to put an end to the monetary disorder caused by the simultaneous circulation in the Kingdom of Sicily of the numerous types of coins issued by previous rulers.

The obverse features the bust of the emperor with a laurel wreath and the inscription ·CESAR AVG· ·IMP ROM·. The reverse side features a Roman eagle with spread wings and the inscription FRIDERICVS. VERY RARE. Spahr 103; MEC 14, 517 (5, 20 g) Traces of mount setting, particularly on the reverse side at 6 o'clock.

The engraver was Balduino Pagano from Messina, who was stylistically inspired by the imperial gold coins.

On the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Dante's death (1265-1321), Catawiki is dedicating an auction to the Divine Poet, focusing on coins of his time and those related to the characters of his Divine Comedy.


Note on D. Frederick II's presence in the Inferno is Farinata degli Uberti, encountered in the sixth circle, a plain strewn with uncovered sepulchral arches awaiting the day of judgement, with flames burning around them. This is where, Virgin explains, the initiators of heretical movements reside with their followers (inf. IX, 124-131): probably the punishment of heretics is based by Dante on that of the burning at the stake decreed for by Frederick II in two of his edicts. The area of the sepulchre towards which Dante is heading is reserved for Epicurus and "all of his followers / that make the soul die with the body" (Inf. X, 13-15). Farinata appears at one of these arches immediately after Dante had expressed the desire to meet him (vv. 6-9 and 16-18; cf. VI, 79-87). When Dante begs Farinata to tell him "who was with him there", he replies "within here is the second Frederick / and the Cardinal (Ottavian of the Ubaldini); and of the rest, I speak not" (verses 116-120). Farinata's words trouble Dante, as they contain a dark prediction about the first phase (up to 1304) of his exile (verses) 79-81) and the news of the presence of Frederick II thus inevitably loses its importance.

Frederick, therefore, is in the inferno because he was an Epicurean heretic. Of the four buried in the same tomb - Farinata and the two named by him, as well as Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, who also dialogues with Dante (vv. 57-72) - the first three belong to the pars imperii and the last one to the pars ecclesie. If the particular heresy ascribed to the Swabian here were not enough to clear the ground of the thesis of an organic link between Ghibellinism and Patarinism (as heresy, in general, was then defined in Florence), the presence of a Guelph among the four heretics called by name is enough to contradict it. Farinata is also one of the five Florentines, "that once so worthy" and "who on good deeds set their thoughts", of whom Dante asked Ciacco about their whereabouts (Inf. VI, 79-87). "Worthy", insofar as they had distinguished themselves in terms of "ben far", i.e. active life, and such on this level - indeed more than worthy, given that he and his son Manfredi are called heroes illustres - and Frederick II is also in De vulgari eloquentia (I, xii, 4). The two, in fact, 'were able to express all the nobility and uprightness of their spirit, and as long as fortune permitted they behaved like real men, disdaining to live like beasts', with the result that the Sicilian palace had become the reference point and gathering place for Italian men of letters, corde nobiles atque gratiarum dotati. This praise of the Sicilian-Federician courtroom in no way detracts from the complaint, which Dante puts in the mouth of Pier della Vigna (Inf. XIII, 58-78), of the 'vice' of envy, widespread everywhere but particularly in the courts and, therefore, also in the Sicilian court, which induced him, who had been Frederick's closest collaborator, to commit suicide. However, he does not speak to denigrate the institution where he had worked with satisfaction, but to remove the suspicion that he had betrayed his emperor.

In an event, reminded to Dante Frederick II and his son Frederick of Antioch (v.) played a prominent part. To the Ghibelline leader, who first asks him "Who are thine ancestors'" (Inf. X, 42), not out of curiosity to meet his ancestors, but out of factious anxiety to be informed as to the side to which they had belonged, the questioned replies without hesitation that they had been on the Guelph side. Proud enemies, therefore, replied Farinata - of himself, of his ancestors and of his side, so much so that he forced them into exile twice: in 1248 and in 1260. In 1248, it was the emperor who decided the fate of a battle, fought in Florence between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines; he sent his son with six hundred German knights to support the Ghibellines (Giovanni Villani, Nuova cronica, curated by G. Porta, I, Parma 1990, pp. 317 s.). If Dante places Frederick II in the Inferno, it is also because of an innate reflection of his family memory, although it is not clear how many of the Alighieri family were in exile after 1248 and 1260.

Italia, Messina
Federico II (1198-1250)
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