Gold Hyperpyron

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What Is A Gold Hyperpyron?

The hyperpyron (lit. 'super-refined') was a gold coin made in Byzantine during the Middle Ages. It was created as a replacement to the then more popular solidus, a gold coin that was minted in Rome and many other parts of the Roman Empire and which came to be used throughout much of Europe at the time. The Byzantine Empire, originally being an annex of the Roman Empire, originally used solidi as their general currency. At the height of their use, solidi had gold content that amounted to exactly 24 carats, which made the coin very valuable and useful for large purchases and payments. However, just like its ancestor the aureus, another Roman coin which predated the solidus, it too experienced a number of debasements in its gold content, until in 1080 or thereabouts, the solidus no longer contained any gold in it at all, thus losing its intrinsic value.

This debasement was said to have occurred due to several military disasters that besieged both Rome and Byzantium at the time, so much so that crippling economic crises ensued, threatening to ruin the fragile fabric that held the Empire on the brink. [1] In order to return some type of order into the now highly devaluated coinage of Byzantium, the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos undertook an overhaul of Byzantine's currency in 1092 – twelve years well into the depths of Byzantium's economic dilemma. Komnenos commissioned and introduced the hyperpyron as an intended replacement for the now worthless solidus, but unlike solidi that contained 24 carats of pure gold, a hyperpyron only contained about 20.5 carats of gold. [2] The hyperpyron was, in every respect, the twin of the solidus, as it shared its standard weight (4.45 grams), with the only difference being its gold content which was slightly lower due to the fact that hyperyra were created using recycled solidi and other gold coinage which had faced debasement.

From 1092 until the middle of the 14th century, the hyperpyron became the coin of the realm of the Byzantine Empire, and, Byzantium then being one of the centers of learning and trade, it too subsequently spread throughout the whole of Europe. The hyperpyron was originally characterized by highly detailed, if somewhat rustic faces bearing very wide margins (unlike solidi which had inscriptions well into the very edge of the coin's rim). As typical of Byzantine art, the hyperpyron shows examples of iconographic art featuring either Byzantian rulers, or saints, and even the occasional image of Christ himself.

The hyperpyron's run as the standard gold coinage (if not the most valuable type of coin) of the Byzantine Empire slowly declined, and much like its predecessors the solidus and the aureus before it, the hyperpyron too fell into a slow but steady debasement after each subsequent ruler. The first signs of the gradual debasement of hyperpyra came about at around 1204 – 1261 under the Nicaean Empire when its gold content fell to 18 carats. One of the most popular hyperpyra collected today – the one issued under Michael VIII Palaiologos, is in fact a strongly debased version of the hyperpyron – with a gold content of only 15 carats. Further debasement ensured, until the gold content of hyperpyra were soon reduced to no more than ten to twelve carats at thee most by around the middle of the 1300s. The once ornate and highly beautiful gold coins soon lost its quality, and by the latter decades of its production, its designs, weight, and even its uniformity began to decline. [3] By the time of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, the production of hyperpyra had been ceased spelling an end to all Byzantian gold coins.

Today, hyperpyra are now collected for their exemplary beauty and rarity, as well as for their value in relation to the gold content they possess. Their artistically tooled designs have even made them perfect pieces for use in jewelry, with many a hyperpyron set as a pendant or a medallion, especially those that feature Christian scenes or icons. Many bullion investors and well-to-do numismatists and antiquarians collect various examples of hyperpyra for both investment and scholarly interests.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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