Society for Creative Anachronism ARCHIVE
Ian Cnulle's Byzantine Tremissis
 
 
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Ian Cnulle's Silberbyrg Mint Tremissis
Society for Creative Anachronism $20 Trade Token
14.5mm "Byzantine" Style 1.5g .999 Gold Strike#55

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   Unlike most other coins minted in the SCA, Ian Cnulle's tremissis is one of several denominations of "trade coins", minted for use in the merchants' square that the populace may experience the monetary values of the original Middle Ages.

   Like other coins produced by Ian Cnulle's Silberbyrg Mint, the tremissis is "hand hammered" in the period manner using hand cut steel coining dies. The tremissi are struck in "fine gold" (i.e. 999/1000's pure gold); the original Byzantine tremissis that Ian Cnulle's coin is based on was nominally pure gold, with actual specimens assaying in the range of 96 - 99% (i.e. as pure as the refining methods of the time allowed). Each coin weighs approximately one pennyweight (i.e. 1/20th troy ounce) - which is close to the weight of the original Byzantine tremissi (i.e. ideally 1.50 gram versus a pennyweight equalling 1.55 gram).

   The tremissis, also called "triens", was a one third solidus coin; the solidus, first struck around the year 309, was the standard Roman gold unit from the reign of Constantine the Great onward, being minted in the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, until 963. The tremissis was introduced in the 380's in the reign of Theodosius and struck in large quantities in the fifth and sixth centuries, becoming the dominant coin in Western Europe at the time when the Germanic kingdoms emerged from the Western Roman Empire.

   The first national coinages in Western Europe were barbarous imitations of the Imperial tremissi that gradually degenerated into distinct local types. The progressive debasement of the barbarous tremissi with silver in the seventh century is the origin of the silver "new denarius" or penny, which was the basic coin of the Middle Ages in Europe.

   The specific model for the design of Ian Cnulle's tremissis is a tremissis of the Byzantine Emperor Justin II (565-578). However, the "Victory" is more closely based on photos of earlier (late 4th and fifth century) specimens of the same type rendered in finer style.

   By the sixth century, the image on the "head" side of the original Byzantine tremissi was a generic emperor-head rather than an attempt at an individualised portrait. In place of the Emperor's name and abbreviated titles, Ian Cnulle's tremissis substitutes "Secula Media Presens" - abbreviated "SECVLA MED PRES" - an attempt to Latinize "Current Middle Ages".

   On the Victory side, the original inscription was "VICTORIA AUGG" meaning Victory of the the Emperors, and in the "exurge" (i.e. "out of the work", meaning below the ground line of the image) "CONOB". "CON" is an abbreviation of Constantinople, the mint name, and "OB" is thought to be an abbreviation for "obryziacum", meaning "pure gold".

   On Ian Cnulle's tremissis, the mint name is indicated by "VA" for "Villa Argens", a Latin rendition of "silver town" (G.P. Franck-Weiby lives in Silverton, Oregon; Ian Cnulle, a much travelled Englishman living in the reign of Edward I, calls it "Silberbyrg"). The original "OB" for obryziacum has been retained. "AURUM PURUM XXIV K" (= "pure gold, 24Karat) was substituted for the original "Victoria Augg".

   The intention is that these changed inscriptions identify the trade tremissis as a "fantasy coin" or a "semi-replica", rather than a copy or a "forgery" of an original Byzantine tremissis.

   The winged female figure on this coin is a "victrix" or Roman personification of Victory; this is the Roman version of the Greeks' Nike - probably more accurately described as a spirit, rather than a goddess, of Victory. (Yes, that's the origin of the running shoe brand name, but the ancients pronounced it like "knee - kay" rather than "nigh - key".) She is usually shown holding forth a laurel wreath to crown a victor.

   The victrix was used on Roman coins at least since the second century Before the Common Era. Victory "advancing" (i.e. shown in profile walking) with a palm branch over her shoulder, in addition to holding forth the wreath, dates from the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in the first century of the Common Era. Victory advancing was used on the early solidi of Constantine, but on gold coins of later reigns was more usually used on the semissis (i.e. half solidus) and the 1 scripulum (i.e. 3/8 solidus).

   While some of the tremissi of Theodosius used the Victory advancing design, others, as well as the tremissi of his contemporary Emperor in the West, Valentinian II, used a new version with Victory holding forth a "globus cruciger" (i.e. an orb surmounted by a cross, symbolizing world domination by Christianity) while turning to look back at the laurel wreath in her other hand. The barbarian kingdoms copied both the Victory with palm and the Victory with orb designs for their own gold tremissi.

   In 420 the Emperor Theodosius II made the Victory on the solidus more explicitly Christian by substituting a long jeweled cross staff for the laurel wreath (also the palm branch was dropped, and the figure appears to be standing rather than advancing). This may well be the origin of the popular christian image of an angel as a winged female figure.

   For the trade tremissis, Ian Cnulle "secularized" the design by substituting for the globus cruciger a goblet or chalice (but not a grail?) symbolizing hospitality, as well as the feasting and revelling dimension of SCA activities in general.

   I last struck the earlier type gold tremissis in August of '96. Total mintage at that point was 54 pieces. I was out of stock of them (except for one piece I keep in my wallet and two pieces in my collection for use in exhibits.) Consequently, I had to strike a new one to send you. I happened to have one prepared blank laying around that was too light for the later type, so the piece you're getting weighs about 1.65 grams, versus the 1.55 grams described in the info sheet.

   Since I figure only my gold trade coins would be worth anybody's trouble to counterfeit, as a security measure (mainly for building confidence for the SCA merchants) each of the gold coins is individually numbered with a code of punch marks on the edge (usually at 12:00 respecting the obverse - sometimes additionally at 3:00 if the first marks aren't sufficiently clear), and I log them out and back in by number. Therefore, I generally have both circulated and uncirculated pieces available.

   I issue the gold coins in plastic flips [mainly so people have something to hang onto, since the coins are so tiny - especially relative to their value], so the circulated pieces rarely show any wear. However, sometimes people like to take them out of the flips to use them. I bought back one where somebody decided to try the traditional test to see if it was really gold - they bit the coin and totally mangled it! I haven't re-minted it yet because I get a kick out of showing it to people. In any case, your piece is number 55, struck on November 20, 2001, and is, of course, Unc.

The Moneyer of Silberbyrg ... EMail:Ian Cnulle (Greg Franck-Weiby)