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Byzantine silver miliaresia: At left: Leo III with Constantine V. Overstruck on an Umayyad dirhem. In the middle: Basil I with Constantine. At right: Romanus I with Constantine VII, Stephen and Constantine. Foto: (www.cngcoins.com/Coin.aspx?CoinID=95331)

Silver coins in the Middle Byzantine period. The case of the miliaresion

This doctoral project is the first systematic and comprehensive study of the silver issue of miliaresion. Although miliaresion was one of the most important fractions of the Byzantine monetary system, and much research related to its production and circulation have been done, there is not any methodical study of this fraction, and many questions remain unanswered. Miliaresion was introduced by Leo III the Isaurian (717-741) in 720 when his son Constantine V (741-775) became co-emperor. It was a new silver coin, much lighter than the previous silver hexagram issued by Heraclius (610 –641), around 2 grams, thinner and larger in diameter, which corresponded to 1/12 of the solidus. Innovative in its form, it is an aniconic coin that does not follow the typical coin iconography of the emperor’s depiction. On the obverse, it brings a horizontal inscription, where the emperor and the co-emperors, if any, are mentioned, and on the reverse a circular inscription with religious content |ΙhSUS XRISTUS NICA| surrounding a cross on a scale. Furthermore, it has a triple-dotted border on both sides.

By investigating the Arabo-Byzantine relations due to the remarkable similarity of miliaresion to the Arab silver epigraphic dirhem, issued by the Umayyad dynasty, I primarily aim at understanding the interactions between the two civilizations, the influx of dirhems and the way of handling them by the empire. Therefore, the core of the research project will be the relations of the Byzantine empire with the other civilizations, revealed by the numismatic circulation of the miliaresion. This will be based on the numismatic finds, which, contrary to what someone might expect, are located mainly outside the borders of the empire. For instance, the presence of over 1200 specimens in the Nordic countries and Baltic region is impressive. In contrast, within the imperial borders, the hoards and single finds of the miliaresion are rare and few. In my study I will attempt to answer a series of questions concerning the expansion of coins and their likely different use within and outside the imperial borders.

Equally interesting, the topic of the evolution of the miliaresion over the years regarding its metrological and iconographical characteristics will be addressed in my research. It is notable that from the 10th century onwards a figurative decoration with busts of emperors and representations of Christ and the Virgin is adopted.

Lastly, the collection of references to miliaresion in the written sources, will provide important information about the management and circulation of the currency of miliaresion. Indeed, even though references to gifts and payments made by emperors are frequent, an overall consideration of the presence of miliaresion in the written sources is missing.

Resorting to both archaeological (i.e., numismatic) and literary (i.e., written texts) data and implementing a combined methodological approach, my PhD research project will eventually allow to draw a better picture of the use of this silver coin in Middle Byzantium.