Aezanis, Temple of Zeus, 117-138 AD 
  
History/Medieval Studies 303
Early Medieval and Byzantine Civilization: Constantine to Crusades

Index 

Syllabus 

Readings: 
 Book List  
 Iconoclasm 
 Discussion Topics 

Chronologies: 
 Imperial Crisis 
 Later Roman Emperors, 306-395 
 Fall of Western Empire 
 Age of Justinian 
 Islamic Caliphs 
 Byzantine Dark Age 
 Triumph of Christianity 
 Macedonian Resurgence 
 Crusades 
 Restoration and Ottoman Advance 

Handouts: 
 Population 
 Finances under Justinian 
 Byzantium c.850A.D. 
  
Currency charts: 
   Diocletian and Constantine 
   Justinian and Heraclius 
   Isaurian, Amorian, and Macedonian Ages 
   Comnenian and Palaeogian Ages 
  
Links 

CURRENCY IN THE COMNENIAN AND PALAEOGIAN AGES:

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 

Denomination Equivalent in Noummion Equivalent in Tetarteron Equivalent, Billon Aspron Trachy Equivalent, Electrum Aspron Trachy
Gold Hyperpyron
1,728
864
48
3
Electrum Aspron Trachy
576
288
16
1
Billon Aspron Trachy
36
18
1
 
Copper Tetarteron
2
1
 
 
Copper Noummion
1
 
 
 
Higher denominations of hyperpyron, electrum aspron, and billon aspron were struck on concave flans termed SCYPHATE or "cupped shaped" common since the mid-eleventh century and adopted for ease of stacking coins. In Greek slang the ASPRON (denoting a pale white color) was dubbed trachy or "uneven" as opposed to copper coins struck on thick flat flans. Crusaders nicknamed the billon aspron trachy STAMINUM, a corrupt Latin form of the Greek histamenon ("established coin"). 
 
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 
 
Emperor  Carats  Fineness
Theodore I (1208-1222) 18 75.00%
John III (1222-1254) 16 66.70%
Michael VIII (1258-1282) 15 65.00%
Andronicus II, 1282-1295 14 57.00%
Andronicus II, 1295-1320 13 54.00%
Andronicus II, 1320-1328 11 48.00%
John VI (1347-1354) 11 45.00%
 
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 
 Silver 
  Weight   Content   Exchange Value
Date (grams) Fineness  (grams)   to Hyperpyron
1092-1143 4.4 7% 0.308   48 = 1 hyper.
1143-1180 4.4 6% 0.264   56 = 1 hyper.
1185-1195 4.4 3% 0.132   120 = 1 hyper.
1195-1203 4.4 2% 0.088   184 = 1 hyper.
 
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 
Home: (504)866-5392 
 
 Tulane University
Last updated 03/19/98
by Annette Lindblom