History/Medieval Studies 303
Imperial currency was based on the gold NOMISMA (plural nomismata; Latin SOLIDUS), struck at 72 to the Roman pound (4.48 grs.) and 98% fine. From the eighth century, Western Europeans called the imperial nomisma a BESANT (bisantus). In 726, LEO III introduced a silver MILIARESION (plural miliaresia), struck at 144 to the Roman pound (2.25 grs.). The tariffing of 12 to 14 miliaresia to the nomisma suggests a dearth of silver in the Byzantine world and preference for gold nomisata in imperial expenditures. The miliaresion was struck from broad flans cut out of sheets of hammered metal in the fashion of contemporary Islamic and Western European silver coins. In weight and size, the miliaresion stood between the Muslim DIRHEM (2.97 grs.) and the Frankish DENIER or Anglo-Saxon PENNY (1.7 grs.).
After a century of falling prices and a contracting money supply, THEOPHILUS in 830-31 recoined the wretched bronze folles in circulation and augmented the production of fractional currency. Folles and their fractions henceforth carry Christian iconography and Greek inscriptions. The follis (8.0 grs.), struck at forty to the Roman pound, was tariffed at 288 to the nomisma for the following classic exchange:
288 bronze FOLLES = 12 silver MILIARESIA = 1 gold NOMISMA.
DEBASEMENT. Macedonian emperors alloyed the nomisma with silver to meet costs of the Bulgarian Wars against Tsar Symeon (894-897; 912-924) and the of reconquest Western Bulgaria in 977-1005. During his Syrian campaigns, Nicephorus II revived minting a light weight nomisma of 22 carats (3.95 grs.) called the NOMISMA TETARTERON. Although one-twelfth lighter than the full nomisma (nomisma histamenon or "established coin"), the tetarteron was issued in official payments as the equivalent of a full weight nomisma. In 1005 Basil II restored the nomisma's purity and suspended minting the tetarteron, and at his death he had amassed a reserve of 14,400,000 nomismata. His profligate heirs revived the tetarteron and debased the nomisma until it was an ELECTRUM alloy of gold and silver by 1056. After the defeat at Manzikert in 1071, prices soared and successive debasements reduced the nomisma to a miserable bronze coin alloyed with gold and silver. In 1092 ALEXIUS I recoined these miserable descendants of Constantine's solidus in a great currency reform.
DEBASEMENT OF THE GOLD NOMISMA, 867-1092
The bronze follis retained its standard and purchasing power for two centuries (c. 830-1030). Finds from excavated sites suggest that during this period production of folles was greatly expanded and use of coins in daily transactions rose to levels of the sixth century. JOHN I (969-976) altered the design of the follis by replacing the imperial image with the portrait of Christ Pantocrator and the reverse inscription of "Jesus Christos King of Kings." The so-called ANONYMOUS FOLLES suffered steady debasement after 1028 as successive emperors overstruck many older coins of their predecessors. Romanus III (1028-34) thus overstruck worn folles of Class A2 (minted by Basil II) as folles of Class B, and then Michael IV (1034-41) overstruck those of Class A3 as folles of Class C. Such hasty recycling of old coins led to rapid deterioration of weight standards and engraving.
DEBASEMENT OF THE BRONZE FOLLIS, 963-1025
PRICES AND WAGES IN THE MIDDLE BYZANTINE STATE
INCOME LEVELS. Nicephorus I (802-811) ruled that poorer peasants with collective incomes of 18-1/2 nomismata were to furnish a cavalryman (stratiotes). Constantine VII in his law of March 947 recommended that cavalry and marines in the Cibyraeot, Aegean, and Samos themes have property assessed at 288 and 144 nomismata respectively (although rates of 360 and 216 nomismata were soon after recommended; cf. De Caerim. 695). In 967-69, Nicephorus II tripled the net worth of the property of a heavy cavalryman from 288 to 864 nomismata. At a return of 10% on the property, the rates suggest that annual military service of a cavalrymen in 800 cost 18-20 nomismata, but in 950 the cost rose to 30-36 nomismata, and in 970, to 85 nomismata.
Peasants owned property assessed far below that of theme soldiers. In the Novel of 947, Constantine VII exempted poorer peasants from repaying the purchase price of their land if their means was below 50 nomismata, i.e. less than 17.5% of the minimum property qualification of a theme cavalryman.
GRAIN PRICES. In Constantinople of the early Macedonian age (867-963), the official price of wheat was fixed at 12 modii per gold nomisma (or 16 modii of barley per nomisma). One modius of wheat cost 24 bronze folles; one modius of barley cost 18 bronze folles. The annual need of wheat of an adult male cost five nomismata or 1,440 bronze folles. The city prefect (or eparch) regulated the supply, quality and price of foodstuffs in the captial. Bakers were allowed to charge on each nomisma of sales, 48 folles for costs (1/6 of price) and 12 folles of profit (1/24 of cost).
Prices in Constantinople, however, were at least three times greater than those in the rest of the empire so that prices of 30 to 40 modii per nomisma were probably common in 850-1025. The cost per modius was thus between 7 and 10 folles. Outfitting offensive expeditions or poor harvest produced soaring prices. In the fall of 960, poor harvests sent prices in Constantinople as high as 4 modii per nomisma--three times higher than official prices. In the winter of 968-969, Nicephorus II, as he outfitted his Syrian expedition, was accused of buying wheat at 4 modii per nomisma and selling it at 2 modii per nomisma.
WAGES. Emperors paid to each theme cavalrymen a supplement of 1 nomisma per year for each year of service, with a maximum payment of 12 nomismata. This supplement gives rates of 1 to 10 folles per diem, but a soldier sustained himself from the income of his military tenure (ktema straiotikion). In 800, his income represented the equivalent of a daily salary of 14 to 16 folles in 800, 24 to 28 folles in 950, and 72 to 84 folles in 970. The daily wage of an infantryman or marine was half this rate.
The daily wage of an agricultural laborer in 700-800 was perhaps 6 folles, because fines of 12 folles, which apparently represented double the daily wage, were exacted for each day of theft of farm tools or poughing equipment (Farmer's Law cc. 22 and 62). The daily wage in 800-950 rose to 12-16 folles--the equivalent of the cost of daily subsistence in Constantinople. Romanus I (920-944) offered a weekly allowance of 96 folles (14 folles per diem) to reformed city prostitutes taking holy orders.
INFLATION. Rising military costs and debasement drove up prices in 1025-1100.
Emperors enforced the TETARTERON NOMISMA, a gold coin that weighed one-twelfth
less than full standard, as the equal of a nomisma in daily transactions.
In 1073 Michael VII ordered that wheat be sold in the capital at 4.5 modii
of wheat (or 3/4 medimnos) at one base nomisma (56.5% fine).
|Dr. Kenneth W. Harl
Office: History 211 (504)862-8621
Fax: (504) 862-8739