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The tremissis (lit. 'one-third') was a gold coin of the latter Ancient Roman Empire that was originally issued as a fraction of a gold solidus. It was in use since the replacement of the Roman aureus with the gold solidus, although its production was somewhat more numerous than that of the solidus owing to its lesser denomination and weight. Being a standard coin, the tremissis was minted using 24 carat gold, although it was one-third lighter than the full solidus, hence its name.
Unlike the solidus which only saw much use in the Roman Empire, and later, the Byzantine Empire, the tremissis was in use throughout many of the Roman states in every aspect of commerce and trade. Many colonies of Rome such as Anglo-Saxon Britain saw much use of the tremissis in its regular coinage making it one of the most common gold coins used outside of the Roman Empire proper. Early versions of the tremissis bore the images of Roman rulers, as well as legends typical to that of full solidi. Later on, when Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion under the edict of Constantine I, the tremissis began to display distinctly Christian iconography, especially the equilateral cross along with distinctly iconographic imagery typical of Byzantine artwork. This revamp in the original 'pagan' design of the tremissis was soon spread out further by the minting of tremissi in smaller states of the Roman Empire such as Gaul Britannia, where they were used alongside 'officially' minted tremissi from Byzantium and Rome itself.
Much of the production of both authentic and state-minted tremissi resulted in an uneven weight of the coin, until during a much latter period of mass production, it no longer lived up to the original 'one-third' by weight count of original tremissi. With the increased influx of trade and commerce, tremissi along with its smaller fraction the semissis were also found even farther borders – with evidence of Byzantine tremissis in the tax and trade records of Thebes and some areas of the Levant. The Byzantine Empire continued the production of the tremissis as a fractional coin even long after the discontinuation of the solidi as the standard currency of Byzantium. The tremissi of this time did not take on the distinctly scyphate form of the re-designated solidus (then referred to as the nomisma histamenon) and retained its flat form. Many tremissi were issued bearing different images of each of Byzantium's rulers, and because it was a more commonplace currency than some histamena, many examples of Byzantine tremissis can still be collected to this day.
Long after the defection of the solidus are the official currency of the Roman Empire as well as Byzantium (where it was replaced with the hyperpyron), tremissi still remained in production in the outer realms – with Britannia and Gaul continuing to mint both gold and bronze tremissis well after the discontinuation of the solidus, although their own mintage took on a distinctly different 'flavor' in the design. The penchant for featuring an equilateral or sometimes even a Latin or papal cross on the reverse side of tremissi was later adopted by the standard English coin designs used by many English monarchs. The use of the tremissis in Anglo-Saxon Britain is well noted, with the tremissis circulating alongside the gold currency of the Celtic tribes (staters) as well as currency that entered Europe through trade. Later examples of 'British' tremissi did away with gold altogether, preferring the use of electrum in rare cases, and copper or bronze in general. Today, tremissis remain highly collectible coins as well as excellent investment coins due to their rarity and gold content.
Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012
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