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Gold nomisma (hyperpyron)

  • Object:

    Coin

  • Place of origin:

    Istanbul (City) (made)

  • Date:

    1081-1118 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold, struck

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Bessie Casson

  • Museum number:

    A.10-1960

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 8

Alexius Comnenos ruled over Byzantium during one of its most troubled periods. He came to power by seizing the throne and spent much of his time as Emperor repelling invaders, notably the Normans, under their charismatic leader Robert Guiscard. Alexius' time as Emperor also coincided with the first Crusade, and the story of the Byzantines' distrustful relationship with the Crusaders is told in Alexius' biography, the Alexiad, written by his daughter, Anna Comnena. Alexius' coinage reflects his vigorous rule. In the early 1090s, he reformed the coinage, replacing the old solidus with a slightly smaller, but finer gold coin, known as the Hyperpyron, of which this is an example.

The portrait on this coin emphasises that the emperor was a semi-divine figure invested with imperial authority directly through God's will. The items worn and held by Alexius were the traditional symbols of his authority: the crown, the sceptre, and the 'globus cruciger', a globe surmounted by a cross, indicating that the emperor receives his authority from God.

Physical description

The obverse shows Christ, with a cross nimbus, bearded, seated facing outwards on a backless throne. He stretches out his right hand in a blessing gesture. In his left hand, he holds a book. He wears a tunic and mantle. There is a double border of dots.

The reverse shows the Emperor Alexius I Comnenos, bearded, standing facing outwards, holding in his right hand the labarum and in his left a globe surmounted by a cross, long robes, and a broad mantle, jewelled on three of its edges. Above, on the right, the hand of God crowning the Emperor.

Place of Origin

Istanbul (City) (made)

Date

1081-1118 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold, struck

Marks and inscriptions

'IC XC'
Jesus Christ

+KERO HOEI
Christ help,

Alexio Despote Komnenu
The Lord Alexius Comnenus
The first two inscriptions are on the obverse, the final one continues it on the reverse.

Dimensions

Height: 2.8 cm, Width: 3.2 cm, Depth: 0.3 cm

Object history note

Nothing is known of the history of this object before it was bequeathed to the Museum by a private collector.

Historical significance: This coin reflects the ways in which Byzantine culture developed directly out of Roman civilisation, but also the ways in which it was strikingly innovative. The shape of Byzantine coinage was set by the Emperor Constantine, but the development of new types of imperial portrait and the replacement of pagan subjects by Christian subject matter reveal how it was transformed into something quite distinct in appearance from the denominations of the Roman empire. A similar transformation can also be seen in the inscriptions that appear on Byzantine coins, in the change from the use of Latin in the earliest coins to Greek in later examples, such as this.

Historical context note

Alexius Comnenos ruled over Byzantium during one of its most troubled periods. He came to power by seizing the throne and spent much of his time as Emperor repelling invaders, notably the Normans, under their charismatic leader Robert Guiscard. Alexius' time as Emperor also coincided with the first Crusade, and the story of the Byzantines' distrustful relationship with the Crusaders is told in Alexius' biography, the Alexiad, written by his daughter, Anna Comnena. Alexius is also notable as the emperor who granted the Venetians a permanent living quarter in Constantinople, a move that signalled the Venetians' prominence as a mercantile conduit between Byzantium and the West, and the degree to which Byzantine naval power was now reliant on Venetian-supplied vessels.

Although Byzantine solidi continue the Roman imperial practice of devoting one side of the coin to a portrait of the emperor under whom the coin was issued, they reveal that the imperial portrait itself underwent a number of fundamental changes: firstly, the profile format for ruler portraits, used almost without exception on Roman coins, was replaced by a facing bust; secondly, the imperial portrait, which during the Roman period had been distinguished by the attempt to suggest a true likeness of the ruler, largely ceased to possess any element of characterized portraiture at all; and finally, new forms of imperial dress and insignia were adopted for the ruler portraits. The portrait on this coin emphasises that the emperor was a semi-divine figure invested with imperial authority directly through God's will. The items worn and held by Alexius were the traditional symbols of his authority: the crown, the sceptre, and the 'globus cruciger', a globe surmounted by a cross, indicating that the emperor receives his authority from God.

Alexius' coinage reflects his vigorous rule. In the early 1090s, he reformed the coinage, replacing the old solidus with a slightly smaller, but finer gold coin, known as the Hyperpyron, of which this is an example.

Descriptive line

Coin, gold, of The Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, Byzantine (Constantinople), ca. 1081-1118

Materials

Gold

Techniques

Struck

Categories

Sculpture; Coins & Medals

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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