A Silvered Trachy 
of Theodore Mangaphas

Theodore Mangaphas was a local magnate in the territory of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, who twice usurped control of that region, firstly in 1188-89, and again in 1204-05. Some time ago I acquired an example of the billon trachy issued by Mangaphas (Grierson 1126-7), and after cleaning it became clear that this coin was still partially clad in a silver coating of some sort. The coating does not seem to be a product of the (chemical and electrolytic) cleaning as it is relatively thick, and does not appear in the corrosion pits, where the underlying copper surfaces can be seen. Nor is it recently applied (as with some offerings of Byzantine coins from this period) as it only became apparent after some cleaning, before which the coin had the bright reddish-brown appearance typical of a number examples of this type, with no sign of the silvering.

Since I am unaware of any reports of silvering on the coins of Mangaphas, I reproduce pictures of this coin below. (Note that the pinkish tinge in some areas of the image is an artefact of the image processing - the actual colour is a matt silver grey on copper brown).

A Silvered Trachy of Theodore Mangaphas (4.19g).

The coating is partially worn off, but is still surprisingly thick in some places, even showing some cracking. I say surprising, since while the silvering on the earlier official billon trachies of Alexius I and John II at Constantinople was often quite thick, by the time Mangaphas issued his coins (during his first reign), the coating on the official types of Manuel I and Isaac II was generally very thin. I have little doubt that the coating of the earlier types at least was composed of some low melting point alloy of silver, copper and tin (or zinc), and I presume that the same coating could have been used on Mangaphas's coins, or at least some of them. In the case of the early 12th century official types it is obvious that the coating was added after striking, since it quite often obscures the design, and this seems also to be the case with the Mangaphas coin here.

This coin is important because according to the chronicler Nicetas Choniates, Mangaphas had issued "silver" coins, and it used to be thought that he was referring to the unique "electrum" trachy, of the same design as Mangaphas's billon type, in the Barber institute in Birmingham. However, now it seems that the Barber coin is not actually electrum (Bendall, N. Circ. 2002, p.187)*, and Choniates' report has been doubted, but the new coin suggests that he may have been referring to silvered "billon" coins.

This raises a very interesting question, namely, were all of Mangaphas's coins silvered?**. It would seem not, since, as far as I know, most of the examples of Mangaphas's coins that we see today show no signs of any silver coating at all. Also, according to Metcalf  and others, the actual silver content of the alloy in  the Mangaphas types is negligible, which at first sight is rather surprising, since we might have thought that melted down official coins, which at this time had a minimum of c.3.0% silver, would have been the first choice for the metal for these types (assuming they are in fact 12th cent. issues, as the hoard evidence attests).

Perhaps the general lack of silver both in and on the Mangaphas types explains why this coinage found little use outside Philadelphia, in spite of the fact that die statistics suggest that it was actually quite extensive. It seems therefore that the Mangaphas coins were issued primarily for local use, although perhaps some were silver coated for external trade purposes.

Or maybe the present coin was simply a contemporary fraud of some sort.

*  The Barber coin (Gr. 1126) is said by its curator to be "yellowish" and may simply be a brassy copper - in any case, whatever it is actually made of, it seems not to be silver or silver coated. In fact, the Barber coin has the same design and small dies as the commoner "billon" type of Mangaphas, while Gr. 1127 is a rarer version struck from larger dies. (Note that Bendall confuses the two Grierson coins in his 2002 article, and shows Gr. 1127 as the "electrum" coin).

** As far as I know this obvious question does not seem to have raised before.

P.S. I am aware that this type is attributed, not without some justification, to Peter IV of Bulgaria (1185-97) by Bulgarian numismatists, but for the moment I will stay with  the conventional attribution to Mangaphas.


Ross Glanfield

April 2008

Latest revisions:

  4 Dec. '08:  Question of general silvering of Mangaphas coins raised. 
 13 June '09:  Barber coin now noted as not silvered. 


[Home] [Articles] [Notes] [Data]