Featured The trouble with t̶r̶i̶b̶b̶l̶e̶s̶ trachys

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Quant.Geek, Dec 27, 2017.

  1. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Collecting Byzantine trachys is quite challenging (Byzantine coins, in general, is an acquired taste). The condition of most of these coins are poor with missing legends, ragged and split edges, multiple strikes, and due to the concave nature of the flan, missing features in the strike. Sometimes you end up with a very skinny Virgin Mary or a two-headed Christ. To add insult to injury, they are damn hard to photograph due to its awkward shape.

    According to Simon Bendall, these coins were struck twice, once on the left and then on the right. His theory was that if the lower die had greater curvature than the upper die, then the middle of the coin would be fully struck with weak or blank sides. The opposite occurs if the upper die had greater curvature than the lower die. The edges would be fully struck and the center would be weak or blank.


    This can be observed in the following trachy that has a very skinny Virgin. The rocking motion of the strike resulted in the obverse to be a bit constricted:

    Byzantine Empire: Andronicus I Commenos (1183-1185) Trachy, Constantinople (Sear-1985)

    Obv: MP - ΘV. The Theotokos (Virgin Mary) standing facing on dais, holding bust of the infant Christ.
    Rev: ANΔPONIKOC ΔECΠOTHC / IC - XC. Andronicus standing facing, holding labarum and globus cruciger, being crowned by Christ to right, holding Gospels


    This particular coin resulted in a double-headed St. Michael due to an over-shifting in the middle:

    Byzantine Empire: Michael VIII Palaeologos (1261-1282) Æ Trachy, Constantinople Mint (Sear-2268; PCPC-29; LBC 527-28; Bendall-Donald C.11)

    Obv: X/M to right; Half-length figure of St. Michael, beardless and nimbate, wearing divitision, collar-piece and loros; right hand holds trilobate scepter resting over shoulder; left hand holds globus
    Rev: X/M to left; Full-length figure of emperor on left, and of St. Demetrius (?), beardless and nimbate; between them labarum on long shaft, that ends to three steps. Emperor wears stemma, divitision, collar-piece and jeweled loros of simplified type; right hand holds cruciform scepter. Saint wears tunic, breastplate and sagion


    Either way, the iconography that is present on some of these coins rival those of other Byzantine coins. I have been slowly building up a collection of trachys lately and thought it would be nice to run a thread and see other collectors trachys. It might be fun to check out those ragged pieces of art. So, here is one from my collection that I just purchased. It is an upgrade to an earlier one I posted before. With trachys, it always a constant upgrade game, if you can find one better...

    Byzantine Empire: Michael VIII Palaeologos (1261-1282) Æ Trachy, Constantinople (Sear 2283; Bendall-Donald C.23; PCPC 2)

    Obv: X/M to left or X/A/P/Γ to left and X/M to right or variation; Full-length figure of St. Michael, beardless and nimbate, wearing runic, breastplate and sagion; right hand holds spear; left hand rests on shield
    Rev: Χ/ΜΙ/ΔЄ/CΠ/Ο/Τ/S to left, Ο/ΠΑ/Λ/Є/O/Λ/O/Γ/S to right, or variation; Full-length figure of emperor wearing stemma, divitision, jeweled loros of simplified type and sagion; right hand holds labarum-headed scepter; left hand holds anexikakia



    So, go ahead, and post your bad boys!!
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
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  3. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    Great writeup, QG! :) Love the first coin with the skinny St. Mary, and also nice upgrade.

    I never would have thought that they used concave and convex dies to strike them. I always thought it was just regular dies on concave blanks.
    LaCointessa and Quant.Geek like this.
  4. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    I don't any of these, so I am wondering how you store them, because of their irregular shape. I don't know how concave they are, but I guess they won't fit, as well as flat coins do, inside 2x2 flips. How do you store Trachys?
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Interesting and informative write-up! Thanks!
    Quant.Geek likes this.
  6. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    Wonderful coins and a fascinating write-up!!

    I've always wondered how they were struck and whether the concave 'stackability' was worth the effort.....
    Caesar_Augustus and Quant.Geek like this.
  7. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    In a standard 2x2 flip, but it tears them up after a while. I removed them from my album and hence have them in stored in a 2x2 storage box. It is far better and safer in the box...
    Caesar_Augustus likes this.
  8. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    Oh, no way. Maybe they're not as concave as I imagine them to be. Can't wait to get one, but I have no idea about them yet. Still getting into coins of the early byzantine period :).
  9. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Some coins are REALLY concave and causes a lot of problems in a 2x2 flip. For instance, this particular coin gives me the most trouble. There is no chance of it getting into an album, its too concave:

    Byzantine Empire: Alexius III Angelus-Comnenus (1195-1203) BI Aspron Trachy Nomisma, Constantinople (Sear-2011; DOC 3a)

    Obv: Beardless, nimbate bust of Christ, wearing tunic and kolobion; holds scroll in left hand. Pellet, or pellets, normally in each limb of nimbus cross. IC XC in field
    Rev: Full-length figure of Alexius on left and of St. Constantine nimbate, holding between them globus cruciger. Emperor and saint wear stemma, divitision, collar-piece, and jeweled loros of simplified type; both hold labarum-headed scepter.

  10. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Many striking teams worked for many years and had to develop a technique for making this work. Some did better than others. Some dies were more cupped than others. It surprises me that thy never figured out that making the dies more consistent or even selecting dies that matched would make striking easier. Perhaps they did and used the better blank dies for old and oddball ones for AE.

    Quant. Geek's Alexius III is a lovely coin showing what can happen if the deep curve matched well enough not to require the double strike trick. My coin below shows doubling on St. Constantine (reverse right). Note the twin globi cruciferes and nimbi. More noteworthy is the way the curve presents us with St. Constantine as a 3/4 left facing figure in this photo. This coin has a lot of extra material outside the design and has been flattened a bit (at mint or post mint?) on the right side.
    My experience storing these things has been good using normal envelopes BUT you simply must not try to cram extra coins in a box or shove them in one of those 20 slot plastic pages made for thin coins and 35mm color slide photos (if you are old enough to know what slides are). Doing so will break coins. I have even seen coins flattened completely in a vise which makes them fit stapled 2x2's and adds a lot of flan cracks. If you have delicate coins, there are little tubs made for storing rock collections and extra deep trays made by many of the standard coin tray makers which also work for some of our archaic silver and aes grave lumps.
  11. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing

    This was so informative for me! Thanks, @Quant.Geek !
    Quant.Geek likes this.
  12. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I agree that collecting any Byzantines coins is an acquired taste. I find them hard to attribute even though I can read Latin and Greek. It is fascinating to watch the linguistic change from Latin to Greek and the fabric of their coinage can be as baffling as their inscriptions. Still, the history of the Empire from Justinian's attempted reconquest of the West to fall of the capital to the Turks is a thousand year history of intrigue, violence, heroism, folly and faith worthy of any numismatist's attention. Since the OP seems well versed in the coinage of Byzantium, I ask him if he has an opinion on the reason for the cup shaped coinage in the first place. I admit trying to stack mine and they don't stack very well at all.
  13. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

    I don't care how they did it. Striking trachy tribbles is just plain wrong!
    Nathan B., chrsmat71, TIF and 5 others like this.
  14. Black Friar

    Black Friar Well-Known Member

    A few of my favorites that I have fotoed...These can be challenging, but if one puts the time in can be quite a lucrative area to collect, and bargains can be found. Many collectors including some Byz folks like to pass on them as they are a bit complicated. Happy New Year to all.

    Attached Files:

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  15. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    Quant.Geek likes this.
  16. Black Friar

    Black Friar Well-Known Member

    Yup, this is a fun thread indeed.
    Quant.Geek likes this.
  17. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    There have been several theories proposed to why the coinage changed to a cup-shaped flan. Among the earliest was that it was easier to stack coins, but as you have found, that doesn't seem to be the case. Stacking these coins are quite difficult due to the differences in the concave/convex of the flans. Some coins stack OK and others don't within the same series.

    The other theory is that with the degradation of the quality of the metal, similar to an egg shell, the coin is strengthened by the concave shape. This would prevent the thin coins from cracking and splitting from daily use. But that theory can also be debunked as we can see numerous examples of cracked and split trachys:

    Empire of Nicaea: John III Ducas-Vatazes (1222-1254) BI Trachy, Magnesia (Sear-2093; DOC 39.2)


    Another, somewhat absurd theory, was that it made to play tiddly-winks easier to play. Doubt that is the case :rolleyes:. The last theory I heard of was that it was a mechanism to deter counterfeiting as the process of striking these coins was so complicated that it would be difficult to reproduce....
  18. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    As Doug recommends, it is far better to store these in 2x2 boxes or one of the small coin capsules instead of an album. The weight from the other coins will definitely cause problems!
    Varangian likes this.
  19. David@PCC

    David@PCC allcoinage.com

    Challenging but fun!
    Andronicus I
    Billon Aspron trachy
    1183 to 1185 AD
    Constantinople Mint
    Obvs: MP OV, The Virgin facing on dias, nimbate and wearing pallium and maphorium. She holds infant Christ.
    Revs: ANΔPONIKOC ΔЄCΠOTHC, Christ on right crowning Andronicus, who holds labarum and globus.
    30mm, 3.8g.
    Alexius III
    Billon Aspron Trachy
    1195 to 1203 AD
    Obvs: IC XC + KЄ ROHΘЄI, Christ wearing nimbus.
    Revs: AΛЄЭIω, Alexius and St. Constantine holding globus.
    25mm, 3.1g.
    Constantinople mint
    Theodore I
    Mint: Nicaea
    Billon trachy
    1208 to 1212 AD
    Obvs: MP ΘV, The Virgin enthroned holding nimbate head of Christ.
    Revs: Theodore and Saint Theodore holding patriarchal cross between them.
    25x30mm, 2.7g.
    Isaac II
    1185 to 1195 AD
    Billon aspron trachy
    Obvs: MP OV, The Virgin enthroned facing, nimbate and wearing pallium and maphorium; she holds infant Christ.
    Revs: I CAA KI OC/ ΔЄC ΠO TH C, Isaac standing and facing, wearing crown, holding cruciform scepter, and being crowned by Manus Dei
    28mm, 2.9g
    Constantinople mint
  20. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    That is an outstanding visual effect, especially for these coins! Wow, I got to try that myself. Great coins! The trachys aren't isolated to the Byzantines, BTW. That bug bit the Bulgarians and Serbians as well:

    Bulgaria: Todor Svetoslav (1300–1322) Æ Trachy (Youroukova & Penchev-55)

    Obv: Large cross; annulets at each point
    Rev: Todor Svetoslav facing on horseback right, holding cross-tipped scepter; left legend - ΘЄO; right legend – цр

  21. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    Excellently informative thread! Thank you @Quant.Geek. I wish I had one to show but unfortunately I'm trachy-less... maybe in 2018 :)
    Bing, Mikey Zee and Quant.Geek like this.
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