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The City Tetarteron. 1092-1203 An Obscure Denomination.


Simon
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Posted (edited)

 

 

 

With the name Tetarteron, the confusion starts.  We have one Eastern Roman (Byzantine) coin name that over a period of centuries represented several denominations all in different levels of the monetary system.

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An EF Alexius I Comnenus City Tetarteron SBCV-1920

 

Originally a Tetarteron was a gold coin (Mid 10th and 11th century), then it became a pure silver coin (Early reign of Alexius I) and after the coin reform of Alexius I Comnenus  in 1092 it became at least three different lower end denominations.

 

The 12th century coin reform was a focus of numismatist Michael Hendy, he saw enough documents that the small copper coins verbally proved they went by the name tetarteron, the same name used as the two previous higher value coins.  In previous numismatic books written before his 1969 book these coins were listed a follis or small flat coin.

 Why the reptation in name for multiple denominations is uncertain, all of the denomination are roughly the same size and shape, In the early 1970s D. M Metcalf did a metallurgy study of Alexius post reform tetartera, he found the ones minted in the city of Constantinople had a silver content of roughly 4%. The Thessalonica minted coins had no silver. That 4% does not sound like much, but a trachy of the same time period had only 8% silver.

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Alexius I Comnenus Billion Aspron Trachy SBCV-1918

The Alexius I Comnenus reform was the first coinage to use mixed metals, so the fact he made a mixed metal tetarteron is quite logical. The abundance of the coinage from this century marks a turning point in the history of commerce.

Michael Hendy included his findings in Dumbarton Oakes Catalog IV published in 1999, the difference in the addition of silver and decided it was a separate denomination from the Thessalonica issues that proved to contain no silver.  In his findings he called them the Metropolitain tetartera. A simpler name would have been City Tetartera and for the sake of this article I will refer to them as such.

These City tetartera minted in Constantinople were considered extremely rare to find, so hard to find that Phillip Grierson decided they were issued for ceremonial use only. At the writing of his catalog the silver content was unknown.

 Today they do hit the market with some regularity but still far rarer than their Thessalonica counterparts.

The Existence of City Tetarteron  makes this field even more confusing for the common collector, it no longer looks visible different than those issued in Thessalonica. For the collector the easiest way to know is by looking at the catalog and knowing where it was minted. 

None of the catalogs that are mainly used today were updated after David Sears Byzantine coins and their values, that is why this is not commonly known among collectors.

 

Now Alexius Issued 4 City Tetartera minted in Constantinople and all with silver content.

Here are the four issues, in the most condition found. Dark and no silver wash left. SBCV-1920-1921-1922-1923

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As for the most common question, how did the citizens know the difference?

After studying this denomination, the last two decades, I noticed sever examples had traces of silver coating, as much as the same way the trachea was silvered so was the City tetartera.  The more I handled these coins the less apparent the silvering remained; I was in fact by touching them helping remove the small amount of silvering that was left.

The main reason this is no longer noticeable to the collector is that these coins remained in circulation for many years, whatever silver coating was on them long wore off. The tetarteron was too low a denomination to recall for the new ruler. Hoard evidence has proven that coins of Alexius and Manuel were imitated in the 13th century, rulers who had not been around in over 50 years had local population recreating the coins they were familiar with, that in turn tells us they were not recalled.

What was the buying power of the coins? in an interesting correspondence between a Princess and her Tutor they buying power was mentioned, In the letter from Thessalonica a tetarteron could purchase a small loaf of bread, the letter from Constantinople mentioned a tetarteron could purchase 12 mackerel fish, A considerable difference between the two denominations so they were defiantly talking about two different coins with the same name.

Why are they rarer than the Thessalonica issues?

Several reason, they were worth more so, lost less, the circulation of the City tetartera was primarily limited to the city, in the Greek area of the empire, they are rarely found. This is true for all of the rulers who issued City tetartera, they are normally rarer to come to market.

Alexius  Comnenus I had 4 issues City Tetartera

John Comnenus  II 2 issues City Tetartera

Manuel Comnenus 4 issues City Tetartera

Andronicus Comnenus 1 issue of a City Tetarteron.

Isaac Angelus II one issue of City tetarteron but with very low silver content around 1%

(Isaac Comnenus Usurper of Cyprus tetartera followed the city tetartera with 1.5% silver in all his tetartera, he had 8 issues)

Alexius III, one issue and a half tetarteron as well (The only half tetartera known to be minted in the city.), These coins were never tested for silver content and more than likely did not have any.  His other mixed metal coin coinage was heavily debased, some of his Electrum Aspron Trachea did not contain any gold.)

The tetarteron continued after the fall of Constantinople to the Latins, they change the name in later years to Assarion due to one document found. None of the tetartera after 1203 contained silver even if created in the mint of Constantinople. It once again became a simple copper coin.

 

In the last few years, I have managed to acquire three examples of Alexius City tetartera with silvering intact and one John II City tetartera with some silvering still intact, none are my most attractive examples, two of them seem to be silvered but had a higher silver content allowing them to survive even with heavy circulation.

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Alexius SBCV-1920 SBCV-1922 Bottom SBCV-1923 and John II Comnenus  SBCV-1946

The city tetarteron was a different denomination, The evidence is in DOC IV, Julian Bakers book mentions it but his book was based on 13th century coinage did not go into great detail. He does go into great detail over the imitation tetartera of that century. Other references would include D.M Metcalf and Pagona Papadopoulou. 

Regardless, collectors and dealers of coins focus on David Sears work and that has not been updated in 50 years and is doubtful that it will be. So hopefully the next major reference work will include All of the new findings of the past 50 years and City Tetartera

 Comments appreciated, feel free to dispute, the silver content is well documented, but the silvering is not.  Simon (BenSi on the other board.)

Edited by Simon
double photo by accident
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Posted (edited)

Wonderful article @Simon. I have a tetarteron of Manuel I that I have cataloged as from Constantinople (<- Edit: Wrong mint 😞). If I’ve not misunderstood that means that according to your article this coin has a 4% silver content and can be considered a City Tetarteron? Cool!

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Byzantine Empire
Manuel I Komnenos (AD 1118 – 1180)
AE Tetarteron, Constantinople Thessalonica mint, struck ca. 1143-1180
Dia.: 20 mm
Wt.: 4.4 g
Obv.: St. George draped and cuirassed, bust facing, holding spear and shield.
Rev.: Manuel I crowned, bust facing, holding labarum and globus cruciger.
Ref.: SB 1970 SB 1975
Ex Sallent Collection

Edited by Curtisimo
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Good Morning @Curtisimo, no because the coin is not correctly attributed.  The Sear number should be SBCV-1975 and it was minted in Thessalonica, not Constantinople. 

The description is correct, the number and the mint should be changed.  It is a nice example, but you will find this as one of the more common issues of tetartera, Manunel ruled for 37 years, the dragon slayer was used on this tetartera and its half. It was a coin that its symbolism showed strength in the Empire and its willing to fight. 

Best Wishes,

Simon

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