Featured Byzantine Gold of the 12th Century, A collector’s playground.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by BenSi, Apr 17, 2021.

  1. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    In 1092 the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus reformed Byzantine coinage.

    The main coin used was the Hyperpyron, a trachy shaped coin that weighed in theory 4.45gm . The size was around 30mm

    The coin was minted in two locations, Constantinople, the empires capital and in Thessalonica. The difference between the mints was the style used. The coins minted in Constantinople were thinner and Thessalonica they were thicker, visually the same but in hand the difference becomes apparent.

    The coin was not used in everyday transactions, that is why the are normally found in nice condition. The way the system worked was simplistic, Taxes were paid in gold.

    The common citizen was not paid in gold but in the lesser denominations of Billion trachea, Billion tetartera and AE tetartera. So pay tax they had to take their lesser denominations and bring them to the money changer, he for a profit would change the coin into gold coinage. So if their was change due for the tax, the state would pay in tetartera or billion trachea ( It depends on location)

    As of a result, coin collectors have the ability to collect beautiful coins in gold with minor circulation. The other denominations that were used for everyday transactions remained in circulation, never to be recalled and rarely found in an attractive state.

    Here are 4 Hyperpyron, 2 from Alexius

    2 from his son John II.


    The other form of gold during the time was the trikephalon, known today in the collecting world as the EL aspron trachy. It took 3 of these to equal a hyperpyron. It was a mixed metal coin made of gold, sliver and copper.

    This coin and the other mixed metal coins were criticized during the time. The reason it was virtually impossible to determine what percentage of the metals were used. This coin circulated in Asia minor with billion trachea, whereas the Hyperpyron circulated in the city and in the western part of the empire. We have no idea why the denominations were kept separate, same is true for the billion trachea and tetartera, they only comingled in the capital, the rest of the empire they were kept separate. This is determined by hoard finds and recorded single loss coinage.

    Here are Trikephalon from John II


    Here are Trikephalon from his famous son, Manuel I Comnenus


    The coin reform stayed intact until the mid 14th century, the most notable change was the debasement of the gold coins. The need for coinage at the time was considerable, huge amounts of coins were minted making this an excellent time period for collectors to specialize in. It also leaves gold coinage in a much more affordable range for the average collector.

    Show off your Byzantine gold, from this time period or earlier.

    Archilochus, IanG, TheRed and 34 others like this.
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

    A recent pick-up:

    Constantine X Ducas, 1059-1067. He was the founder and first ruling member of the short-lived Doukid dynasty. During his reign, the Normans took over much of the remaining Byzantine territories in Italy while in the Balkans the Hungarians occupied Belgrade. He also suffered defeats by the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan. Somewhat unhealthy throughout his reign, he died in 1067 at the age of 61.

    AV Histamenon Nomisma. (AV, 28 mm, 4.41 g, 5 h), Constantinople. +IhS XIS RЄX RЄςNANTҺIm Christ, nimbate, seated facing on square-backed throne, wearing tunic and pallium, raising his right hand in benediction and holding book of Gospels in his left. Rev. +KωN RAC Λ O ΔOVKAC Constantine X standing facing, wearing crown and loros, holding labarum in his right hand and globus cruciger in his left. DOC 1a. SB 1847.

  4. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Excellent write up @BenSi . Just to add something to it, the reason that a reform was necessary in the first place was that the gold coinage had become almost worthless due to debasement. In the good old days all the way up to the 10th century the Byzantine solidi were used all over the known world and were famous for their purity. The gold content and weight had barely changed for 7 centuries I think.

    That was until Constantine IX came and started the gradual debasement. Emperor after emperor that followed debased the coins even more, and by the time Alexios came in power they hardly resembled gold coins any more.

    My example from that financially turbulent period is from Michael Ducas, who happens to be one of the most affordable emperors collecting wise for some reason. The purity at that point was around 75% if I recall correctly.

  5. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Very true, His grandson Manuel started the whole mess again, he began debasing them again. The highest standard was not by Alexius but by his son John Comnenus, he exceeded the levels on many of his billion coins. I think that is why the Latins and John III imitated his coinage in such a way it is impossible to tell the difference visually.
  6. DiomedesofArgos

    DiomedesofArgos Well-Known Member

    My Alexius, pre reform nomisma and post-reform hyperpyron:


    My hyperpyron has taken a bit of a beating, but that color just pops out at you:woot:, especially when you look at the two side by side.
  7. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    I'm confused now.

    EL aspron trachies and billion trachea were circulating in Asia Minor while Hyperpyrons and billion trachea circulated in the European continent? Is it what you are saying?

    Did this happen only in the time of Alexius I Comnenus or did it also happen in the time of Manuel Comnenus?

    What do you mean? Can u explain it in a different way?

    You are saying that billion treachea and tetartera only circulated in Constantinople?

    Did billion treachea and tetartera not also circulate in Thessaloniki?

    Sorry for asking those questions, I just want to have a clear picture in head.
    +VGO.DVCKS and DiomedesofArgos like this.
  8. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Yes it is confusing but true , as far as the evidence is showing.

    The only place all the denominations circulated was the capital, Constantinople.

    Outside the capital, the coinage had a different circulation.

    El Aspron Trachy ( Trikephalon) was circulating in Asia minor, not Greece.

    Billion Trachy also in Asia minor not Greece. However we know soldiers were paid in billion trachy. He had a silver content up to 8% ( John II had some recorded at 11%)

    Metropolitan Tetartera is rarely found outside the city, it had a silver content of 2-4% depending on the ruler. It is rare to find them anywhere outside Constantinople and we know from letters from a Princess to her tutor that it had a much higher buying power that the AE tetarteron. ( 12 Mackerel vs a small loaf of bread for AE Tetarteron.)

    AE Tetarteron are found in Greece and a minor overlap in to Bulgaria.

    Why the division it is unknown, however it is proven through hoard finds and loose coin finds.

    It also brings up the question did goods cost more in Asia Minor or was credit being used. We know it was a used practice in the Muslim communities.
  9. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    You are using new word I never have used before.

    "Metropolitan Tetartera" are the bigger coins while AE Tetarteron are the smaller coins? Right?

    Last edited: Apr 17, 2021
    +VGO.DVCKS and DiomedesofArgos like this.
  10. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    No , they are tetartera minted in the Capital, they contained silver 2 to 4%, I also believe they had a silver wash to differentiate them. I have several examples with traces of silvering and one almost still fully silvered. The in appearance are without silver coating are neater and more precisely struck.
  11. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter


    Another Hyperpyron, this one John II and from Thessalonica. Thick coin and I remember it was difficult to acquire.

    JOHN II HYPERPYRON NOMISMA IV DOC 1 Thessalonica First Coinage SBCV-1947

    JOHN II HYPERPYRON NOMISMA IV DOC 1 Thessalonica First Coinage SBCV-1947
    OBV Christ Bearded and Nimbate , wearing tunic and kolobion, seated upon a throne without back: r. hand raised in benediction , holds gospels in l.

    REV Half length figure of emperor on l. and of Virgin , holding between them Partriarcghal cross on long shaft. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar piece, and paneled loros of simplified type; holds anexikakia in r. hand. Virgin wears tunic and maphorion. Manus Dei in upper left field.

    Size 29mm

    Weight 4.5gm
  12. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    BenSi, That's a wonderful group of 12th century gold :jawdrop: & great photos :woot:! Below are some photos of Byzantine gold I've posted in the past but will enjoy posting again :D.
    2101304-004, AK Collection.jpg NGC 4280854-003.jpg Sear 852, uncertain irregular mint.jpg NGC 2410828-005 Al Kowsky Collection.jpg 4790075-008, AK Collection.jpg
  13. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

  14. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    This bronze coin under Alexius revealed the " Last Byzantine Cross ". SB 1911 . Thessalonica.
    Alex IThessa   SB 1911.JPG AlexT  last         Byz Cross.JPG
  15. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Wonderful coins @BenSi! And a nice write up. I wonder why the denominations were separated in the empire.

    My Byzantine gold:
    Andronicus II Palaeologus, 1282-1328. AV Hyperpyron Nomisma. Constantinople mint, 1282-1294.
    Bust of the Virgin orans within the city walls furnished with six groups of towers; in lower field, CZ-ZC sigla.
    Reverse: ANΔPO/NIKOC E/ XΩ T C/IΛIΠ/TICO IC/XC Andronicus on left, nimbate and kneeling right blessed by Christ standing facing on right, with decorated nimbus, holding Book of Gospels; between them fleur-de-lis; to right, C/N.
    Reference: DOC 225 var (sigla). PCPC 91B Sigla 77 var. SB 2326.
    25mm, 4.28g

    Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). Electrum Aspron Trachy. Constantinople mint, Type C, ca. 1160-1164.
    ΙC - ΧC Christ Pantocrator, standing facing, nimbate and enrobed, raising right hand in benediction and holding book of Gospels with his left; in field to left and right, star.
    Reverse: MA-NVHΛ - O/ ΘЄ/O/Δ/ω/PO/C Manuel and St. Theodore standing facing, both holding a sword in their outer hand, and holding a long patriarchal cross set on a globe between them.
    Reference: DOC 4c; Sear 1959.
    4.63g; 33mm
  16. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    Bensi, if you dont mind I want to ask you:

    How can I distinguish "Metropolitan Tetartera" from the normal tetartera?

    Only by looking whether it has silver or not?

    Because I can only see smaller and bigger tetartera.
    +VGO.DVCKS and DiomedesofArgos like this.
  17. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Hi Herberto,

    They are not necessarily bigger or heavier but the tend to be better made. We use to joke the further from the capital the sloppier the coin.

    The tetartera minted in Constantinople are always rarer, in fact Grierson thought they were created for ceremonial use only. Michael Hendy, the author of the catalogs that organized the time period disagreed. He was right.

    Michael Hendy was asked to write the volume IV of the Dumbarton Oakes Catalog of coins, when that was published almost 30 years after his ground breaking work he separated the Metropolitan ( Constantinople ) minted coins from the other tetartera because DM Metcalf had analyzed the coinage and found out that the Metropolitan tetartera had silver added. Michael Hendy repeated the experiments and he too found out they had silver content in them. 2-4% , doesn't not sound like much but a billion trachy had 8%.

    I believe these Metropolitan coins originally had a silver wash over them. I have seen a few that way and I do own one. I have also seen numerous with traces of silvering still visible.

    Here is an Alexius Metropolitan Tetarteron SBCV-1923 from my collection.

    To learn more read this post I wrote, it goes through the history of the coin and my observations of collecting them for the past twenty years.

    Disecting a Denomiation the 12th century Byzantine tetarteron | Coin Talk

    Strange enough, even though it was originally proven in the 1970's none of the collectors catalogs notate a difference in the coin other than it being minted in Constantinople.

    I hope that clarifies the subject . More questions feel free.
  18. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    @BenSi also made me aware of these very interesting Metropolitan issues, and because of him I now know I got a couple of these issues in my collection. I have never heard the term in auctions, but auction houses tend to generalize things, I guess there are not that many Byzantine cataloguers.

    Do we actually call these BI Tetarteron rather than AE tetarteron then @BenSi? I am not sure when to start calling something billon, but I guess this 2-4% did had increased value. I am sure some bronze coins carry <1% silver as well as trace element. Do we know how many Bronze tetartera make 1 metropolitan tetarteron?

    Some of my examples:
    Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). Æ ‘Metropolitan’ Tetarteron. Constantinople, circa 1152-1160.
    MHP - ΘV Theotokos, nimbate, standing to right, wearing pallim and maphorium, rising her hands toward manus Dei in the upper field to left.
    Reverse: MAN૪HΛ ΔЄCΠΟΤΗC Manuel I Comnenus standing facing, crowned and wearing loros, holding labarum in his right hand and akakia in his left.
    Reference: DOC 15. SB 1968.

    Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118). Æ ‘Metropolitan’ Tetarteron. Constantinople, AD 1092-1118.
    Bust of Christ, bearded and nimbate, wearing tunic and kolobion holding gospels (open) in left hand.
    Reverse: Alexius bust facing wearing stemma, divitision, collar piece and paneled loros of simplified type and holds in r. hand labarum-headed scepter and in l. hand Globus crucifer.
    Reference: S-1920; DOC 33; CLBC 2.4.1; Grierson 1042
  19. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I would not call them billion, I am sure their is a term but im uncertain what it is. Remember this is not the first coin called tetarteron, at first a gold coin was issued and by the time of Alexius reign BEFORE the reform a silver coin was issued, very similar in design and size but different iconography. Calling the Metropolitan issues Bill might confuse them with Ar tetarteron from pre reform.

    Here is a coin that it a bit of an oddity. I got it in a unloved group lot at CNG. It is a post reform tetarteron but with a very heavy silver content, sadly it is very porous. The coin is Alexius SBCV-1922 also a Constantinople minted coin, Not silvered but heavy silver content.

    As for the value of one coin to the other.

    It is believed the Metropolitan tetarteron was considered to be the value of a Follis, some believe this is the coin that is being referred to as a follis AFTER the coin reform.

    Hendy came up with this, it is on pg 51 of DOC IV.

    Bill Metropolitan Tetarteron ( He said it.)
    1 hyperpyron = 288

    Regional Tetarteron
    1 Hyperpyron = 864

    Half tetarteron
    1 Hyperpyron = 1728

    So 1 Metropolitan tetarteron was worth 3 AE tetarteron. or 6 half tetarteron.

    It is strange to think before Hendy's work in 1969 we had no idea how any of this worked. New finds are coming to light and new information from translated letters and texts are also bringing light to the subject. Truth being told we are dealing with the lowest denomination, a coin used every day but little written info remains, 700 years from now try to find the written evidence of what a penny was or its value? Its a guessing game until more info fills in the blanks.

    I still do not understand the old English currency, schillings and such. That was in my life. lol
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2021
  20. TonkawaBill

    TonkawaBill Active Member

    off subject but still gold. just came across it surfing

    1902-P Liberty Head Gold Double Eagle NGC PF65+ Star Unboxing with Jack McNamara
  21. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    Bensi, if you dont mind again I want to ask one more thing.

    So you are telling me that the way to distinguish a Metropolitan Tetartera from other normal tetartera is that the firstmentioned ones have 4-2% silver while the latter one have zero silver? - Right?

    Can you tell me how much silver a billion trachy had around Manuel I Komnenos' reign in 1143-1180? I am asking because I know that Manuel I debased the silver in his billion trachy, and that is the reason why many of his billion trachy are black and not grey as they were during the reign of his father og forefather (Alexius and John). BUT the problem is that some coins of Isaac II Angelos (1185-1195) have grey colered ("silver") billion trachy?

    I assume grey coin means there is silver content in it. Do you know why some billion trachy of Isaac II Angelos are grey and not black?
    DiomedesofArgos likes this.
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