History/Medieval Studies 303
In 1092 ALEXIUS I recoined the debased Macedonian currency in a comprehensive reform that offered a range of demoninations in the four metals of gold, electrum (an alloy of gold and silver), billon (a silver and copper alloy less than 25% fine), and copper. Alexius based his new currency on a HYPERPYRON (plural hyperpyra; "pure coin"), weighing a 24 carats (4.45 grs.) but struck of 20.5 carats of gold (85% fine). The third of the hyperpyron was an electrum ASPRON TRACHY (plural, aspra trachea). It weighed 24 carats, but it was struck of six carats of gold (25% fine) and 18 carats of silver. Fractions were a billon ASPRON TRACHY (4.4 grs.), and a copper TETARTERON (4.0 grs.) and its half or noummion. The ASPRON TRACHY, minted at 72 to a pound, had a silver wash of 7% and was tariffed at 48 to the hyperpyron. The tetarteron (named after the Macedonian light weight gold piece that had been debased to a copper coin) was exchanged at 18 to the billon aspron trachy.
IMPERIAL CURRENCY, 1092-1118
DEBASEMENT AND INFLATION. Issac II Angelus (1185-1195) and Alexius III (1195-1203) lowered the purity of the hyperpyron to 20 carats (83% fine). Nicene emperors in Asia Minor and the Palaeologan emperors steadily alloyed their hyperpyra until John V suspended minting them after the civil war of 1347-1354.
DEBASEMENT OF THE GOLD HYPERPYRON, 1204-1354
Emperors after 1143 lowered the silver content of the billon aspron trachy so that its purchasing power sank and prices rose:
DEBASEMENT OF THE BILLON ASPRON TRACHY, 1143-1204
PALAEOLOGAN REFORMS. In 1303-1304 Andronicus II resumed minting silver coins to pay mercenaries of the Catalan Company. The silver BASILIKON (2.1 grs.), a revived miliaresion, was minted on the standard of the Venetian GROSSO and tariffed at twelve to the gold hyperpyron (54% fine). Its eighth, a billon POLITIKON (1.3 grs.), was an overvalued fiduciary coin so that the official exchange was 1 electrum HYPERPYRON = 12 silver BASILIKA = 96 billon POLITIKA. Payment in basilika and politika rather than hyperpyra sparked the revolt of the Catalans.
In 1354 JOHN V ended minting the hyperpyron and basilikon, for the latter had fallen to less than half its original weight (1.0 grs.). In their place, he introduced three denominations of fine silver (95%): the HYPERPYRON (8.5 grs.), its half (4.2 grs.), and its eighth (1.1 grs.). The late Palaeologan silver hyperpyra were readily exchanged against Venetian or Ottoman counterparts. Bronze fractions whose tariffing is uncertain were also minted.
|Dr. Kenneth W. Harl
Office: History 211 (504)862-8621
Fax: (504) 862-8739