Featured The Assarion ,and a history in Late Byzantine Coin Studies.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by BenSi, Jun 30, 2023.

  1. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    The city of Constantinople existed from its inauguration until its final fall a total of 1,123 years and 18 days. This thread pertains to its final years of the coins of the empire, trying to understand the naming of the later denominations and clarifying the confusion of the multiple names for the same coinage.

    This is important to the collector because the study of late Byzantine coinage is so new (it Became a serious focus in the 1960s), a real hindrance in its study is keeping the names of the denomination’s straight. As studies progress so do the changes in terminology. A great example of this is the Assarion.


    Andronicus II and Michael IX Assarion ( 1294-1320 ) Obv-Half length figure St. Michael Rev- Christ blessing kneeling Andronicus II and Michael IX. 1.6gm 22.13mm SBCV-2345 Lianta 793

    Assarion is an interesting denomination, thinner, lighter and bigger than its predecessor the tetarteron (Post reform Alexius Comnenus 1092AD)) , the assarion was a return to Roman named coinage, representing the smallest, it first appears in Andronicus II reign, Introduced around 1294 and ceased to be minted in the 1350’s. Roughly 30 different types of coins for its 60-year mintage.

    Andronicus II Assarion SB-2448 1.81gm 20mm OBV- 4 B’s in a Cross pattee Rev-Emperors holding jointly a labarum.

    The first modern literary usage of the Byzantine term assarion in a book of numismatics, seems to be done by Phillip Grierson in 1982, in his catalog “Byzantine coins”. However, he does not cite the contemporary document that used that name, but he does give an interesting explanation on where the name comes from. The New Testament. Biblical reference Matt 10:29 “Are not two Sparrows sold for an Assarion?”

    So before his catalog in 1982, the same coin (Assarion) was called a tetarteron. In earlier catalogs, authors such as Simon Bendall and David Metcalf were using the title tetarteron.

    Andronicus III ( 1328-1341) Assarion 1.48gm SBCV-2481 LIA 831 OBV Cross Fleury REV Andronicus holding scepte. Provenance Berk/England Sale of Dec 1989


    Andronicus II and Michael IX 1282-1320) Assarion 21.92mm 1.55gm SBCV-2451 LIA OBV-Andronicus and Michael standing holding Patriarchal Cross between them REV-Patriarchal Cross B-E bin fields.

    In trying to understand the time period, we have to compile as much information as possible from the people who studied the coins before us. The flat copper coins of the late Byzantine Empire are a perfect example of how difficult this can be. In the earliest coin catalogs and articles, the coins are called just that, small flat copper coinage, that makes some sense especially since the rest of the copper coinage were concaved coins that had been introduced en masse in 1092.

    This changes with Michael Hendy’s work in 1969 DOC 12. In pre 1969 articles, the 12th century tetarteron was called a follis/flat copper coinage, literature written after that, tetarteron was found to be the contemporary name. This was from the writings of a crusader who was given some of these new coins. Since then, several other references have appeared in contemporary writings.

    To add to the confusion this flat coins coin’s name existed in all metals, pre-Alexius coin reform of 1092 it was a gold coin, then a silver coin. After the coin reform of 1092 it existed in three different metals, lead, billion and copper. This adds to the confusion when studying the denomination,

    However the problem continues when looking at the even later coinage, the tetartera that lead to the Assaria.

    The difference is obvious when looking at a 12th century tetarteron but not as much when looking at imagery of a late tetarteron, it not as obvious. Both had the similarities of being flat coinage but in hand feel different. The tetarteron is thick, mostly smaller in size, the assarion is thin and feels light.

    Andronicus III (1328-1341) Assarion SB-2478 LIA? OBV Bust of St George REV Half length figure of Andronicus III ( Joint rule in Sear notes?)

    One thing Grierson mentions in his Byzantine coins book is that the issues of the assarion were almost too numerous to count (Not by image but by legends), regional dates began to reappear on this denomination. The coin was continued to be minted into the mid 14th century, then it was replaced by two other copper flat coins, tornesi (Issued under same name as AE and Billion. But two different denominations) and follari, both of these coins are considerably different much smaller than the assarion, By the way, the names of these coins are Latin, we have no idea what they were known by their minters. The reason we know the Latin names is merchants had compiled surviving lists that contained the rate of exchange between denominations. Eastern Roman literature on the subject of the small denominations is sparce.

    There is also a questionable term again appearing in the discussion on different terms being used for coinage. The stamenon seems to be a term for concaved coinage. In DOC V Grierson seems to use the term interchangeable between trachy and stamenon. ( In Bendells rare book on Paleogan coins in 1985 he says the term was used to both flat and concaved copper coinage.)

    In Lianta she makes an interesting table but it does not seem to be universally accepted.

    Here is a newer listing in DOC website contradicting her. A 12th century trachy listed as a stamenon

    Manuel I Komnenos, Billon, Stamenon, Constantinople, circa 1160-1164? — Dumbarton Oaks (doaks.org)


    After sourcing through several coin books of the period I finally found out where the names Stamenon and Assarion came from. The information is in Michael Hendys The Byzantine Monetary economy 300-1450 not a coin book but a book on Byzantine financial history.

    The other books I checked ( DOC V, Bendall, Lianta and Grierson) used the names but not uniformly, and none of them mentioned the source of the names. Hendy included the information in the book.

    Stamenon ( Stamina) was a nickname for a trachy( Trachea) since the time of Manuel Comnenus ( 1143-1180). It was a vulgar term but it seemed to become a popular term with the Latins and not the Greeks. Discussed in Hendy pg 514

    Assarion ( Assaria) is mentioned in the works of Byzantine mathematician but it is not clear if that was the usage name, it does appear in several documents. Hendy was not convinced that was the common name for the coin BUT he felt it acceptable to use until we know more.

    “We know more” is the key idea here, It is a reason collectors focus on this field, the need for new knowledge never-ending. This phrase is also a hindrance to the new collector, trying to understand and participate in this interesting time period of coinage without the basic understanding of the denominations and the conflict of the various catalogs in terminology. The terminology of each of these catalogs is all based on the time period it was written and who it was written by.

    My conclusion regarding the terminology of the coinage of the restored empire, is that it exists from the Latin point of view, without evidence from the people who used the coinage and not just from the traders who delt with them, leaves us with an empire that lost its identity after the 1204 fall to the Latins. Even after the empire was restored it was unable to remove the mark the west had left.

    If you are interested more information about the time period the following books are available

    Dumbarton Oakes Catalog Volume V by Grierson ( Free online)


    Late Byzantine Coins 1204-1453 by Eleni Lianta

    David Sear Byzantine Coins and their values.

    I wrote an earlier post on the tetarteron. Its avaiable here.

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

    Post your Byzantine Assaria if you got them.
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  3. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    Thank you @BenSi for this excellent post. Very informative.
    Don't have any Byzantine Assaria to share, though I enjoyed very much reading this.
    Curtis and BenSi like this.
  4. Curtis

    Curtis Well-Known Member

    This is a great topic and a great post! Late Byzantine is far from being my main focus, but the history of numismatic knowledge is my favorite collecting focus (both for coins and coin books), and I actually have a coin directly relevant to this topic.

    Your info about developments the 1960s and all the various different but similar types is very helpful.

    One of my favorite coins (reasons given below) in my entire collection is a seemingly very humble 13th century AE Tetarteron of John Ducas Vatazes, Emperor of Nicaea:


    The reason it's one of my favorite coins is that it was probably the first of its type ever published in a Revue Numismatique article by de Saulcy in 1842:

    de Saulcy (1842) Pl XIX n 7 Curt von Bose Goodacre.png

    In the 19th century, AE Trachea were sometimes called cuivres concaves ("concave coppers"), but de Saulcy gave no terminology or even description for this coin type in 1842, besides to call it an "interessante monnaie" (page 416, the top coin described; Pl. XIX, 7 -- he guessed about the missing legends & got it wrong!).

    Twenty years later, Sabatier was using the phrase "Monnaie plane" or "flat coin(age)." (Inexplicably, though, he thought there were two different reverse varieties, based on the two known specimens by then, an error which persisted well into the 20th century.)

    Goodacre example in Sabatier et Cohen (1862) combined CROP.png

    Leopn Dardel's illustration preserves the reverse image from 1942, but adds a second reverse and combines the obverse with another -- which de Saulcy acquired after 1842 and was eventually sold with the Karl Egon II coins & now resides at Dumbarton Oaks.

    Interestingly, that second-known piece (along with the Ratto Collection specimen which emerged later and joined Dumbarton Oaks) sounds like it was among the first to be labeled Tetarteron in Hendy's catalogs!

    In 1911, Wroth's BMC Vandals (p. 219, see note 1) doesn't seem to suggest any module or type or denomination at all, besides copper coins of Type 1, Type 2...

    Finally, in the 1930's, Goodacre begins publishing this coin (at least 3 different times -- using three different plaster or sulfur casts of it!), and describing it with the highly technical term, "Flat Coinage"!

    See his 1938 article, “The Flat Bronze Coinage of Nicaea.” Numismatic Chronicle Vol 18: 159-164.

    Goodacre (1938) Flat, No 1a (this coin illustrated) CROP.png

    He used a somewhat better image in his popular Handbook of the Coinage of the Byzantine Empire. Still no better terminology than "copper" and "flat":

    Goodacre Page 312 Tetarteron E.png
  5. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    I know your coin very well Curtis, I have an excellent collection including most of the Nicea issues except this one. It's rare when an example as nice as yours shows up and I have been getting picky as time goes on. And as for provenance, it's almost impossible to find provenance for tetartera past the 1960's. So yes I am a bit jealous.

    One book I left out on the Later issues was "The Later Palaeologan Coinage by Simon Bendall. That was a huge mistake on my part, it he does call Assarian's tetarteron's but the line drawings make things much easier.
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  6. Curtis

    Curtis Well-Known Member

    Ah, yes, I recognize that collection now that I see your forum gallery! (Good idea to link to your profile here, I will have to remember to do the same.) I especially remember seeing your Magnesia mint Tetartera when I was trying to learn about these types -- the cross-in-horseshoe John III, the 2 B's, and the Theodore with Fleur-de-Lis... Such interesting designs! Some really lovely Manuel Half Tetartera, too.

    I've always really loved the AE Tetarteron / Half Tetarteron coinage on an aesthetic level. Something about how they look. I just love the little busts with their "pointillist" quality.

    Interesting comments about the silver content. I've always wondered about certain ones in my collection if they aren't a bit billon-y.

    Nothing special here, but I took a group photo recently of some of ordinary halves I picked from budget group lots over the years just because they "look neat":

    14X Tetartera Tetarteron Byzantine Manuel John II.jpg

    Simon Bendall was quite the impressive figure. Seems like he almost single-handedly made the Palaeologan coinage comprehensible (and collectible!).

    I see you have a couple ex-Bendall Collections in your gallery. I made a point of picking up one from his collection when CNG had the recent group starting in 2020.

    Unfortunately, it's in typical condition for late Paleaologan coinage, hard to make out much of the obverse; at 25mm, 2.05g, though, it's by far the largest I've found of this specific type (of 17 published or in sales, all were 0.8-1.7g):

    Andronicus II Michael IX Trachy Ex Bendall (CNG 473).jpg

    Andronicus II & Michael IX Æ Trachy (25mm, 2.05 g, 6h), Class XXIV, Thessalonica mint, c. 1294-1320.
    Obv: Two concentric circles bisected by three vertical lines.
    Rev: Andronicus and Michael standing facing, holding between them a staff surmounted by cross within ring.
    Ref: DOC 778-9; LPC p. 232, 6; PCPC 235 (type noted, but no specimen cataloged from his coll. in 1979); LBC 814; SB 2458; Ratto – ; Bendall, "Hoard of Thessalonican Trachea": 12 specimens recorded (this coin possibly from the "US portion" of the hoard, examined in the stock of HJB, 2000, but not tabulated in the 2001 NC article).
    Prov: Ex CNG ea 473, 458 [acq. in a group of unsold], from the Simon Bendall (1937-2019) Collection. ​
  7. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    The ones from Constantinople mints are. It was proven by Metcalf in the 1970's then retested by Michael Hendy in the 1990's and again proved the results. This was left out of future catalogs ( Sear did not note in the update. and CLBC said it was ceremonial only as well, So did Grierson in Byzantine coins.) I understand why Grierson thought so, at that time, all of the City Tetartera were rare and most of their knowledge was based on hoards. As for CLBC Val was just stubborn, evidence or not , he said no it was no. (Its funny when you read CLBC you can see the chapters written by Robert and the chapters written by Val.)

    That is really a point behind this article. Different sources, different answers.
    I just wanted to try to make things a clearer for the new collectors or potential collectors of the restored Empire Palalogan coinage.

    One thing I did not realize until writing the main posting, the Numismatists in the 60's I suspect did not seem to like each other. I read Metcalfs review of Michael Hendys work on DOC IV and it was scathing.
    Michael Hendy got famous for his work of the 12th century; the others perhaps were annoyed and are very good at attacking the details of the work. I agree not everything was correct but most of it was. (The main complaint is Bulgarian imitations now called faithful imitations.) This unfortunately has passed down to the new generation of numismatists.

    As for my collection I have been lacking on keeping it up to date on Forum albums, I have completed ALL of the know tetartera types of the Emperors for the 12th century. I then started to get the rest of the type of coinage created by them. I still have a dozen left to collect to finish the century.

    Trachea past the 12th century is a pain to collect 9 Congratulations on yours @Curtis, I did manage to get a copy from the Simon Bendall Library of Lianta's work, it was a pre copy so it is softback, color photos and well worn, I imagine Bendall used it frequently.

    The assarions seemed interesting to me, so that collection has just been started.

    I did start my photos in scale so I could do a coin tray. This one is is of John II Comnenus (12th century). It is complete, it also has two of one type in it to balance it.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2023
  8. Homer2

    Homer2 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for this fascinating tutorial on the late byzantine coinage. I have been eyeing some of them being sold by a dealer locally and this really has helped me contextualize the categories. I know there are several concave and some flats. Need to check them out further next time.

    This dealer is far more impressed by the historical knowledge and interest than those looking for the best value in whatever is being sold. I love finding great examples of something historical and interesting for very volatile periods.
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  9. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

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  10. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    Those are nice
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  11. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

    @BenSi , your post is a very useful discussion of these denominations. I've been collecting Byzantine coins a long time and I still find late Byzantine base-metal coins daunting. Thank you for your post and especially for the citations of reference works.

    The assarion denomination seem most common under Andronicus II (1282-1328).


    21-19 mm. 1.95 grams.
    Sear 2430
    Androncius II and Michael IX standing
    Square cross in circle with [illegible] legend around

    19 mm. 1.54 grams.
    Sear 2432
    Androncius II and Michael IX standing
    Indictional date: NA (could be either 1303 or 1318, they rolled over every 15 years)


    21-19 mm. 2.52 grams.
    Sear 2435
    Half length figures of Androncus and Michael either side of Christ who places his hands on their heads.
    3/4 length figure of an archangel holding a sword (or scepter) on right shoulder


    21-19 mm. 1.61 grams.
    Sear 2436
    3/4 length Androncius II and Michael IX
    legend around bust of Christ in a circle


    20-18 mm. 1.47 grams.
    Sear 2440
    3/4 length Androncius II and Michael IX

    20 mm. 1.37 grams.
    Androncius II and Michael IX
    An abbreviation of "Constantinople" with Πλ ΚWɣ

    20 mm. 2.08 grams
    Sear 2444
    Androncius II and Michael IX
    Indictional date NΓ


    20 mm. 1.75 grams.
    Sear 2451
    Androncius II and Michael IX
    Patriarchal cross flanked by two Bs, right one reversed.


    (photo sides reversed)
    21 mm. 2.76 grams
    Sear 2452
    Androncius II and Michael IX
    Palaeologan monogram

    Assaria rarely come in nice shape. I can understand why few collectors seek them.
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  12. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    I agree, the nice ones are rare regardless of type. Thats is part of the challenge. It is also much easier than some of the trachea of the time period, in comparison in style with earlier Roman coinage it's like comparing Rembrandt art to Picasso art.

    Here is the last official (In the catalog) tetarteron. SBCV-2358 Andronicus II


    Here is the first of the Assaria series, rough, chipped but attributable. SBCV-2428 Andronicus II and Michael IX


    But then you get something a bit nicer. SBCV-2439 Andronicus II and Michael IX


    That first figure is the Archangel, looks like an eagle. There is a trachy that is similar, but the reverse is different.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2023
  13. Gallienus

    Gallienus coinsandhistory.com

    I have a late AE trashy but haven't photographed it. I'll do so and post it here.

    Thanks for an excellent article, I'll follow this thread.
    BenSi likes this.
  14. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    All volumes are downloadable:

    DOC 1 https://www.doaks.org/research/publicat ... llection-1
    DOC 2 https://www.doaks.org/research/publicat ... llection-2
    DOC 3 https://www.doaks.org/research/publicat ... llection-3
    DOC 4 https://www.doaks.org/research/publicat ... llection-4
    DOC 5 https://www.doaks.org/research/publicat ... -dumbarton
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  15. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    Since the moderators were kind enough to make this as a featured article, I wanted to add some more information to the article. These two assaria depict the Saints. Both coins are considered rare. One saint rarely seen and the other depicted in a very different stance.

    This one is depicting an orthodox saint, Saint Andronicus, the texts mention two saints with both names. One from the 1st century and another from the 4th century. I cannot find a clear orthodox reference to define what one this is.

    This is one of the nicer known examples of this particular coin.


    Andronicus II Palaiologos (1282-1328) Assarion 22mm SB-2438 LBC-798

    OB St. Andronicus holding cross in front of him.

    REV 3/4 length figures of Andronicus II and Co-emperor Michael IXth.

    This next one is interesting because the Saint on the OBV is sitting, the saint is well known in Byzantine coinage, St Demetrius, a waring saint normally depicted as a sign the empire was in danger of war.

    I have never seen a Saint sitting with sword on lap. The reverse Emperor with lily and has 7stars? in the field.


    Andronicus III (1328-1341) Assarion SB-2497 21mm LBC-839

    Both of these coins have a crude beauty keeping with the Byzantine philosophy of spiritualism, "true beauty comes from within" a practice that will be perfected in the silver coinage of the later Byzantine rulers.

    It is strange to believe. only a couple of years before these coins were created, Dantes Divine Comedy had been written, marking the beginning of the Italian Rennaissance in literature.

    A century later the Italian Rennaissance in art would start, the "rebirth" and the return of the love of the ancient Greek and Roman ways.

    Attached Files:

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    Last edited: Aug 16, 2023
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  16. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    Having spent the last hour or so down a linguistic rabbit hole, it seems that the use of ἀσσάριον ("assarion") as the Greek word for the Roman as goes back at least to Polybius who wrote in Greek about the Roman west in the mid-2nd century BC. An alternate form of as in classical Latin was assarius. Polybius (or whoever first coined ἀσσάριον /"assarion") simply exchanged the Latin suffix -us for the Greek -ον. A very interesting thread. Thanks for sharing!
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2023
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  17. JohnnyC

    JohnnyC Active Member

    The coins listed in Sear as assaria of Andronicus II and Andronicus III are mostly flat issues of Constantinople (S.2439 being a noticeable exception with its curved flans).

    Sear 2497 of Andronicus III looks something like these assaria, but in fact it is a descendent of the scyphate issues of Andronicus II at Thessalonica, although by the time of Andronicus III these types were struck with flat dies on (somewhat) scyphate flans. Logically then they shouldn’t be grouped with the Constantinople assaria.

    What these Andronicus II and Andronicus III scyphates were actually called we can’t be sure, although personally I like to use trachy for the earlier curved types of Andronicus II and stamenon for the later and flatter types of Andronicus III.

    Ross G.
  18. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    Ross, I am not sure I would disagree with you here, but it would make it unlisted trachea with that reverse. Are you disputing this coin or the entire concept that SBCV-2439 was an assarion and in fact a trachy?

    What coin Andronicus II coin are you making the comparison to? Or are you saying Andronicus III assaria in general are not assaria at all? (I am not questioning, I just am not seeing the connection to a particular coin, so I am looking for more information here.)

    As for the titles of the coins, the purpose of the article was clarification, not reeducation. I believe most collectors will stick to the references they originally learned from, but this article will make it easier to unify the knowledge.

    Ross is one of the few living people I would say was an expert in post 1204 Byzantine coinage, his articles Glebe Coins Home Page have been extremely educational. I highly recommend them to any collector seeking more detailed knowledge on the subject.
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  19. JohnnyC

    JohnnyC Active Member

    S.2439 is grouped with the Constantinople assaria mainly on the basis of style, although for some reason it is generally a scyphate type. Call it what you want.

    S.2497 is simply one of the Andronicus III types found in Longuet’s Thessalonica hoard – it doesn’t connect to any specific Andronicus II type of Thessalonica. Given that this type (and all the associated Andronicus III types S.2483-S.2501) are evidently just somewhat flatter successors of the Thessalonican trachies of Andronicus II I wouldn’t call it an assarion.

    Ross G.
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