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

    To answer your first question now days you normally cannot visually tell. The silver wash is gone and rarely does the small amount of silver show signs. The way this was figured out was to determine where the type was minted, pieces made in the city would be found in greater quantities in the city, the also seem better made. Later Metcalf did a metal study and found out the Constantinople minted coins had silver, the other minted coins did not .Michael Hendy did the same test and got similar results.

    For Constantinople minted tetartera the silver content was as follows roughly, pg 62 on DOCIV for precise results on each type.

    Alexius - avg 3%
    John II- 3-4%
    Manuel- 2.5%
    Isaac II- 1%

    Now for trachea average pg 45 DOC IV

    John II -6-7%
    Maunel 4-6%
    Isaac II 2-3%

    As for color it depends on the coin where it layed the last 800 years, I remember when the hoard in early 2000's came to light, silvered coins before that find were extremely rare but someone smuggled 30,000 plus coins on the market, then suddenly we all had silvered was trachea.

    Ok this coin has nothing to do with the conversation but I wanted to add it to the thread, A Hyperpyron of Isaac II, it is really attractive.
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  3. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    Bensi, thank you for your responds. I want to ask you for the last time to end the discussion:

    Metropolitan Tetartera had 4-2% silver alloy mixed with copper, and then it had silver wash.

    Billion Trachy had up to 8% silver alloy mixed with copper but it had NO silver wash.

    Am I correct?


    Metropolitan Tetartera circulated both in the capital and in the Balkan Peninsula, but they were minted in the capital.

    Normal Tetartera also circulated both in the capital and in Balkan Peninsula, but they were NOT minted in the capital.

    Am I correct?
    DiomedesofArgos likes this.
  4. Pavlos

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

    Billon trachea certainly had silver wash. Tetartera not minted in the capital, so from Thessalonica mint, had no silver wash.

    Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). Billon Aspron Trachy, Constantinopolis mint.
    IC - XC. Christ Pantokrator seated facing on throne.
    Reverse: Manuel standing facing, holding labarum and globus cruciger, and being crowned by the Virgin standing to right.
    Reference: Sear 1966.
    4.33g; 31mm

    Alexius I Comnenus, (1081-1118). Billon Aspron Trachy, Post-reform period, second coinage. Constantinopolis mint. Struck 1092/3-1118.
    Christ seated facing on square-backed throne, wearing nimbus, pallium and colobium, rasing his right hand in benediction and holding book of Gospel in his left; in fields, IC - XC.
    Reverse: + AΛЄZIω ΔЄC[ΠΟΤ Tω KM] Crowned bust of Alexius I facing, wearing loros, holding labarum with his right hand and globus cruciger in his left.
    Reference: SB 1918.
    4.40g; 28mm
  5. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    So you are telling me that Billon trachea also had silver wash? Wow.

    Some Billon trachea are "silver"-grey-colered and some are just black.

    This Alexius is completly black unlike yours:


    Also this Manuel have different color where the first is grey/silvered while the other is black:


    Last edited: Apr 22, 2021
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  6. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    As @Pavlos just demonstrated , yes the trachea had a silver wash. It use to be very rare to see it but a huge hoard hit the market and coins still with silver wash. The market crashed at that time for trachea, so much had come in $150.00 coins became $30.00 coins. Here is a coin I bought before the hoard came to market, I do not think I could get the price I paid for it even now. Back then it was such a rarity it had a high price, I believe @Black Friar has pieces form the same hoard.

    The story goes these coins had so much silver the dealer thought they were Electrum , David sear examined the hoard and concluded they were not but very highly silvered. In the books a coin that had been examined had over 11% I think this coin is higher, My photo does not do it justice.
    John II Comnenus Billion Trachy S-1944 DOC 10
    I rarely pick it up because it will lose silver, literally.

    As for your second question regarding tetartera, the way they decided were the probable mints for the coins were was site finds. A coin minted in Thessalonica would be found in greater amounts there. The coin would also have characteristics of style being minted there.

    Michael Hendy with the help of others research took hoard information and lost coin finds and surmised the mint location. Since his original book Coinage and Money in the Byzantine 1081-1261 printed in 1969 very little has changed in regards to mint locations.

    However this coin was listed as an unknown Greek location, recently while they were building the Metro in Thessalonica , excavations found these coins in such great numbers that it is now believed they too were minted in Thessalonica and not an unknown mint.

    So that is how we know where styles were minted, The regional AE tetartera did circulate in the capital but the site evidence shows they were minted elsewhere.

    What started this part of the discussion @Herberto was the circulation patterns, we really do not know why it occurs this way, I think in the time of Alexius it was originally not the plan but by the time of his son John II the hoard finds and loose coin finds show them clearly in the split pattern. Why? again it is uncertain. but that is what the evidence is showing.

    @Quant.Geek posted this link to DOC IV , it is the work of Michael Hendy and goes in to a lot of the details I have discussed. He took it further than the other volumes because he included known coins not in the Museums collection.


    You can find more from other academics on the Academia site , some of the most useful up to date information is from Pagona Papadopoulou

    (PDF) P. Papadopoulou, Coinage and Economy at the End of the Twelfth Century:
    an Assessment, A. Simpson (ed.), Byzantium 1180-1204: ‘The Sad Quarter of a Century?’, Athens 2015, 179-194. | Pagona Papadopoulou - Academia.edu


    (PDF) P.Papadopoulou, The Big Problem of Small Change in the Byzantine World (12th and 13th centuries) (2010) | Pagona Papadopoulou - Academia.edu

    My knowledge comes from many sources , from Hendys original book , DOC, Academia and several books on Byzantine economy at the same time, I have also specialized in collecting these coins the last 20+ years, in doing so I needed to know more.

    Hope this helps satisfy your curiosity on the subject, other questions please again feel free.
  7. Pavlos

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

    Thanks @BenSi for the nice additional write up, I learned something more as well. It is interesting with the metro of Thessaloniki, I really wonder how many more treasures are waiting in the ground in Greece and Asia minor. I guess these will never reach the market anymore though.

    It is because they lost their silver wash, you can see just the patina color of the billon (mostly copper). It has been in the ground for perhaps 700 years. The layer of silver is so insignificantly thin, due to erosion and weathering by environmental conditions (water, heat, UV, salts, oxygen etc) it goes away. Just like when you have gold plated jewelry and after several years of wearing the layer is partly gone and you see the core metal below.
  8. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    A few western "gold" coins:

    Constantine IV / Heraclius and Tiberius. Carthage, 674-5. Solidus. 4.29 gr. 12 mm. 6 hr. Sear 1187A; H. 18; DO 42.1-2; Tolstoi 50. Ex Sotheby's Important Private Collection of Byzantine Coins, 2 Nov. 1998, lot 300.

    Leo III / Constantine V. Rome, 721-41. Tremissis. 1.40 gr. 16 mm. 6 hr. Sear 1534; DO 87; Ricotti Prina 112. Ex NAC Autumn Sale 26-27 Oct. 1995, lot 894. Little gold in this one!

    Theophilus. Syracuse, 829-30. Solidus. 3.97 gr. 17 mm. 6 hr. Sear 1671; DO 18; Tolstoi 9.

    Theophilus / Michael. Naples, 831/42. Solidus. 3.97 gr. 20 mm. 5 hr. Sear 1683; DO 33; BM 56-57

    Basil I / Constantine. Syracuse, 868-79. Semissis. 1.04 gr. 13 mm. 6 hr. Sear 1714; DO 14a; R. 1859. Very debased gold, possibly guilded copper, as usual for the issue. An example of the last Byzantine coinage in Syracuse, lost to the Arabs in 878.
  9. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    This one looks fantastic, such an interesting design @Voulgaroktonou

    This is such a great oddity for any collection. All of your examples are really wonderful.
    +VGO.DVCKS and DiomedesofArgos like this.
  10. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    You have a lot of wonderful ones, too! I love the linear treatment of the Syracuse coins.
    +VGO.DVCKS, DiomedesofArgos and BenSi like this.
  11. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Here we go in to the 13th/14th century, some of the most affordable Byzantine gold beside tremissis.

    Andronicus II Palaeologus, with Michael IX, 1282-1328. Hyperpyron (Gold, 23 mm, 4.12 g, 6 h), Constantinopolis, 1294-1320. Bust of Virgin Mary, orans, within city walls furnished with six groups of towers; to her left and right, MP - Θ. Rev. Christ blessing Andronicus II and Michael IX, kneeling to left and right, respectively; in fields, IC - XC above C - K; to left and right, the names of the emperors. SB 2396. Flan crack, otherwise, very fine.

    I did have luck at the last CNG auction but I will wait till I get them.
  12. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

  13. Hrefn

    Hrefn Active Member

    LordMarcovan, that is a beautiful portrait of Justinian I for a tremissis.

    Here are two solidi of Justinian II, who I believe was the first emperor to portray Christ on his coins. These coins feature the second style of portrait, sometimes described as a more Semitic appearance. I have often wondered if there were some tradition of painting, perhaps icons now long lost, which stretched back through time to the very early Christian church, perhaps to persons who either knew Jesus or at least had his appearance reliably described to an artist. Who can guess what was lost during the time of iconoclasm? upload_2021-4-23_22-37-14.jpeg
  14. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    That's a beautiful example! The oldest surviving painting of the more traditional "Pantokrator" portrait, as found on the coinage of Justinian's first reign (an example of which you can see from one of my hexagrams from the first reign below) is from the sixth or seventh century, and is preserved in Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai.

    This beautiful portrait, painted on a wooden panel, survived the Iconoclastic period. It continues an earlier tradition of painted portraiture that we see in the wonderful paintings that are collectively known as the Faiyum mummy portraits from Roman Egypt. Below the St. Catherine's painting is a typical mummy portrait in the British Museum, often described as a priest of Serapis.
    icons Christ.jpg

    icons Christ Fayum Sarapis priest.jpg
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  15. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    Bensi, I want to ask you something.

    Trikephalon (EL aspron trachy) has most silver, then about 25% gold plus a little amount copper. Right?

    Do we know how much pure Hyperpyron was? Was it 90% gold? Or rather 98%?

    By the way:

    This coin is a pre-reformed electrum of Alexius I Comnenus: (sear 1893)


    Do we know whether it circulated in Little Asia or in the Balkan Peninsula?
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  16. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I love that coin, the Christ portrait is exceptionally beautiful. Cool Icon as well, I had not seen it.

    The Hyperpyron under Alexius rule was 20.5 carats fine , I looked up that 20 Carats was 83.33 pure. so not in the 90's . During the different reigns of the 12th century it fluctuated from 19 to 21 carats.

    The trikephala ( El. Aspron Trachy ) in the 12th century also fluctuated with gold content. Alexius I at 7 carats to Isaac II 2.5 carats.

    Under Alexius III it dropped as low as 1.9, Here is my EL trachy of Alexius III , this one looks almost all silver.

    I do not know about the pre reform coinage patterns of circulation. I suspect that it was empire wide. I do not think the circulation patterns were originally planned but some unknown circumstances made them that way.

    One other thing from previous questions in the thread, I believe the Metropolitan( Constantinople ) issues of tetartera were all silver washed. I do not know of any catalog or Academic that has written that, I just believe it from my collecting history and seeing traces of silvering on examples I have handled. So that is my opinion and not a commonly accepted fact.
  17. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Okay, Another one, It is a wonderful acquisition. I have been trying to successfully get one for several years but I always came up as a loser. I won this example from CNG, received it yesterday and I think it was worth the wait for a win.

    Manuel I Comnenus. 1143-1180. AV Hyperpyron (29mm, 4.34 g, 6h). Variety V. Constantinople mint. Struck circa 1167-1183. Facing bust of beardless Christ, beardless, holding scroll and raising hand in benediction; nimbus with five pellets between double-lined cross arms / Manuel standing facing, holding labarum and patriarchal cross on globe, being crowned by manus Dei; nine pellets on collar; on chlamys, square below right arm. DOC 1(for type); SB 1956. Lightly toned, minor scratches. Good VF.

    From the Peter J. Merani Collection, purchased from Glenn W. Woods
    Only a Poor Old Man and Pavlos like this.
  18. Pavlos

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

    Wonderful! Lovely example. Also a really nice sharp, centered and non-double struck obverse and reverse. I often see that either the obverse or reverse has a problem where the face is double struck.
    BenSi likes this.
  19. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Thank You, It is an excellent example, not perfect but not questionable either. I did some reading about Peter J. Merani I know this was not a highlight to his collection. I am sorry he passed but his coin is in good hands.
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