Gold Michaelaton

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What Is A Gold Michaelaton?

The michaelaton was a type of Byzantine gold coin which was issued by emperors with the appellation of Michael – hence the name michaelaton, meaning 'coin of Michael. Loosely put, a michaelaton is any type of gold or silver coin which bears the image of, or that was issued by any of the long line of Byzantine emperors which bore the name of Michael. The michaelaton was a coin of the realm, a standard coin made of either gold or silver and used for both local and foreign trade. Usually in the form of scyphates – unique concaved coins that bore the legend at the dead center surrounded by a generous rim that slightly tapered to make of the coin a slightly hollow impression in the middle – they were typically made of 20 carat gold (histamenon), and, in later cases, of a lesser amount of gold (by the time of the michaelaton variants).

Historically, the michaelaton refers to the line (or variant) of gold histamena first issued by the Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian and shows the earliest examples of the slow but steady debasement of gold histamenon. [1] Simply put, every gold coin issued under Michael IV and his consecutive successors was called a michaelaton. Unlike a typical histamenon which contained as much as 24 carats of gold prior to its name change (it was originally Constantine I's solidus, until the production of another coin of the same size, the tetarteron elicited its name change for the sake of distinction), a michaelaton contained varying amounts of gold and could not be considered pure according to the original standards of the histamena / solidi.

The michaeleta 'evolved' from the histamena in that it was simply nothing more than the debased variants of histamenon. One of the most notable michelata was the one issued under Michael VII Doukas, which was eight carats short of the original standard for histamena. This grave debasement of the originally pure currency of Byzantium was due in part to the disastrous events that plagued the reign of Michael VII during the middle of the 1070s. [2] As a result of military upheaval, losses in dominion, and subsequent economic crashes, the once pure histamenon slowly underwent debasement, beginning with the reduction of the gold amount to 20 carats, then 18 carats, until it finally fell to its lowest count of 16 carats of gold. [3] The michaelata were the last coinages issued which still possessed some amount of gold – the lowest in their times after centuries maintaining a relatively unchanged gold purity of the solidi / histamena since prior to its sudden name change after the introduction of the tetarteron in 965 AD.

All subsequent coinages after the production of the michaelata of Michael VII began to debase further until no amount of gold remained in the following minting done by his successors. Prior to this great debasement however, the michaelaton was a popular type of histamenon, experiencing widespread use in Southern Italy and some parts of Sicily, where it equaled the local coinage called the tari. [4] The production of 16 carat gold michaelaton was discontinued by the time of Alexios I Komnenos as by then it had debased so much as to contain practically no gold at all – with its weight and heft only augmented by adding silver, creating electrum michaelaton and histamenon. By 1092, Alexios I ordered a reform of Byzantine currency, and the production of histamena and its variant the michaelaton was ceased, to be replaced by a new standard called the hyperpyron.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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