The coin reform of Alexius I in 1092

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Jan 28, 2022.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I diverted from my usual interest in Byzantine copper to buy this gold piece because of its fantastic reverse design:


    Look at the vertical exaggeration on the reverse. The jewels are huge!
    31 mm. 4.34 grams. Slightly cup-shaped and somewhat wrinkled.
    An early post-reform "hyperpyron" of c. 20 1/2 carats.

    Christ seated facing, holding gospels in his left and right hand raised in benediction.
    Alexius I standing (vertically exaggerated) with elaborate imperial robes with greatly exaggerated jewels. He holds labarum and globus cruciger.
    Legend either side:
    A xxxxx
    ΛЄ xxxx KO
    ZIω xxx MH
    ΔЄC xxx
    "Alexius, Despot, Komnenus"

    I got it for the design with good lettering and then, of course, wanted to know more about it. That lead me to study the coin reform which created this new denomination. I knew something about Byzantine copper but little about gold. Well, it is a month later and now (with the help of good books like DOC and Grierson's "Byzantine Coins") I have put together a web page on the reform. Take a look:

    Does anyone have an Alexius I pre-reform gold piece or post-reform electrum aspron trachy to show? We'd love to see anything from the decades before and after the reform of 1092.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2022
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    Do you know what this element is? I wonder if it's a stylized flying victory crowing the king.
  4. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    It is the Hand of God, crowning Alexius.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic example, @Valentinian. Yes, the reverse legend is exceptional ...well, at least relative to AE and trachea.
    @JayAg47, it looks from here as if you nailed it. Except, Please, from Constantine I, that's (however ostensibly) the Hand of God.
    (Edit: :) Woops, @Valentinian, one of us took typing class!)
    ominus1, DonnaML and JayAg47 like this.
  6. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

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  7. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I love the time period it is only in the past 50 years that it has been seriously studied, that leaves much to be found out.
    Your write up is a nice introduction but I must point you skipped the DOC division tetartera of the Constantinople issues and the Thessalonica and other issues.

    It is rarely noted in the coin world because our catalogs were written before DOC IV

    In DOC they tested the Constantinople issues and they contained silver from 2-4%, does not sound like much but the billion trachea were only 8%. Michael Hendy author of DOC IV retested the coins; however, this was originally proved by D.M. Metcalf in a metallurgy study.
    In Grierson he did not think they were a denomination but ceremonial coinage because they were so rare in site finds.

    The Thessalonica issues do not contain any silver.


    If Sear had been written after DOC it would have been included but it was written before. As for Grierson he noted the silver content but did not agree they were an active denomination just a ceremonial coin, that includes your SBCV-1920

    Here is the silver average in DOC IV page 49 By DOC Type I will include the key for Sear numbers beneath it.

    Alexius 33 is SBCV-1920
    Alexius 35 is SBCV- 1922
    John II 12 is SBCV- 1945
    Manuel 15 is SBCV- 1968
    Manuel 16 is SBCV -1969
    Manuel 17 is SBCV- 1970
    Isaac II 4 is SBCV- 2004

    The two catalogs written after did not note this , CLBC and Sommer , Sommer did note certain ones because the silvering was intact. In other words, most examples we see today show no visual signs of silver or silvering but during their time of circulation that had a thin silver coat on them to differentiate the issues from the copper ones.

    I have one example in my collection with silvering mostly intact.

    SBCV-1923 Alexius

    I started me Eastern Roman collection by collecting 12th century tetartera, I completed that part of the collection, and I am now try to complete all the official coinage of the century. I am getting close, after all, the hard part was the lower denominations.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2022

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @BenSi, it makes me stop and breathe to see an example with that much silvering. As you said already, these are of a whole different order of scarcity than antoniniani or folles from Gallienus on.
    And the level of erudition that people like you and @Valentinian bring to the series is ...well, you're doing the rest of us a profound public service.
  9. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks @+VGO.DVCKS , I chimed in because I think the work that @Valentinian is important and it is the future. I think the next catalog written on Eastern Roman Coinage will be done online, not in print.

    I am hoping that work will be based on current knowledge, David Sear wrote a wonderful catalog 50 years ago, it was reprinted 30 years ago but not updated.

    Sommer does not include everything, it seems it is a catalog on his personal collection, it's in German and I am uncertain if this is the case, but many 12th century coins are missing.

    CLBC is an excellent visual guide but the notes and the rarities are very off, I knew the author and his final work was rushed. He added coins but missed coins as well.

    Julian Bakers newest work is based on the 13th century and his notes on the 12th are radical to say the least.

    The coin reform of Alexius was radical and brilliant, it was the first coin reform in many centuries and the new coinage was a return to beauty for the Romans.

    Here is coin I have been admiring this evening, from the grandson of Alexius , Manuel I Comnenus. An El Aspron trachy. Very little gold, more silver in hand. SBCV-1958

  10. David@PCC


    I dig the wavy flan, need to get one some day.
    Alexius I/ Transitional
    AR Histamenon Nomisma
    1081 to 1082 AD
    Obvs: ::KЄRO ΛΛЄϞIω IC XC, Christ bearded and nimbate wearing tunic and kolobion. Holds gospels in left hand
    Revs: ·ΔIMITI ΔϵCΠTH, St. Demetrius standing 3/4 facing presenting labarum to Alexius which holds sword and grasps shaft of labarum.
    27x29mm, 4.17g.
    Thessalonica mint
    Ref: Sear 1904, DOC 4.1
  11. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    That is a beautiful gold hyperpyron! The jewels on the reverse are indeed enormous, actually looking more like orbs.

    Here's an Alexius I Comnenus BI trachy that was part of a group lot of Byzantine coins. The centers are decent, but the edge has some chipped spots.

    Sear 1918

    3.0 grams

    D-Camera  Byzantine trachy Alexius I Comnenus Sear 1918  3.0 grams 3-22-21.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2022
    Edessa, Johndakerftw, sand and 2 others like this.
  12. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @BenSi, many thanks for providing the numismataic equivalent of historiographic analysis --replete with prognostication! The latter, especially, makes immediate, intuitive sense. ...I wish more academic presses would do the same, instead of making us shell out the kind of money that would be better spent on coins.
    ...Right, you point out another of the many points of continuation between Byzantine and classical Greek and Carthaginian coinage, the revival of electrum. I'm sure that in hand, the element of gold is more evident. Except, after precedent going back to the origins in the mid-1st millennium BCE, it's really best, esthetically as well as otherwise, just to say, it is what it is.
    BenSi likes this.
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Wow, @David@PCC, with both of those portraits (Alexius conspicuous by his absence), I totally get it how you could have spent some real money for that.
    BenSi likes this.
  14. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Rats, @robinjojo, I can't find a pic of the trachy of Alexius I that I wound up with. Here's a histamon nomisma I got on the cheap, recently enough to have snatched the dealer's own pics. (Right, in the absence of anything but a vintage digital camera that I, anyway, have trouble consistently persuading to work.)
  15. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    ALEXIUS I COMNENUS (1081-1118). GOLD Hyperpyron. Thessalonica. SBCV-1924

    Obv: + KЄ ROHΘЄI / IC - XC.

    Christ Pantokrator seated facing on throne.

    Rev: Alexius standing facing, holding labarum and globus cruciger; crowning manus Dei above, five small pellets in loros end.

    Sear 1924.

    Weight: 4.33 g.
    Diameter: 27 mm.

    Interesting Double strike on Globus adornment.

    A Thessalonica Issue
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2022
  16. coin0709

    coin0709 CT Supporter

    Wow, I love this site! I just picked up these today and already am off to a good start figuring out what I have. Is #5 also an Alexius I? I have not seen the obverse before paired with this reverse.

    Attached Files:

  17. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter


    Your layout is a bit confusing. If this is the number 5 you are referring to it is a Manual Comnenus coin, the grandson of Alexius. The reverse is not included in your photos.
  18. coin0709

    coin0709 CT Supporter

    It is included as the second to last picture. I will reattach the reverse here. Thanks.

    Attached Files:

  19. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    No, that obverses is clearly issued by Manuel Comnenus ( Christ unbearded SBCV-1953 or SBCV-1971 depending on reverse.) ruled 1143-1180. The coin you posted as a reverse is a post reform coin of Alexius I Comnenus issued between 1092-1118. ( Maybe SBCV-1912)
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