Byzantine coins originate from the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantine empire was established in 476 A.D. and ran until approximately 1453 A.D. Ancient Byzantine coins depict imagery associated with Christianity and often feature a portrait of Jesus. Their designs are sharp, yet often simple and were struck using precious metals.
Byzantine coins are scarce and are highly collectible. They are popular with coin collectors, dealers, and historians alike. These coins have been struck using either bronze follis, gold solidus, or gold histamenon. Ancient civilizations produced Byzantine coins in a similar manner to how the Romans made their coins. An image was engraved onto a plug, which was then hammered against a metal disc to create the coins.
Byzantine empire coin history
The Byzantine Empire began when Constantine I decided to move Rome’s Capital to Constantinople. This town was initially called Byzantium, and from there, the empire began to grow. At the time, thousands of coins were being produced, and widespread usage of the gold Solidus began.
Without the use of this coin for payment and trade, historians believe that the Byzantine Empire would have collapsed as the Western Roman Empire did. In fact, the Byzantine Empire went from strength to strength and lasted for more than 1,000 years after Rome’s collapse.
Byzantine coins are 1500 years old and were struck by hand, which makes then all unique. These coins were used throughout ten centuries and dominated European trade until the 13th century. The coinage reflected the religious nature of the Byzantine Empire at the time. These ancient coins used the Latin and Greek alphabet in their designs.
The Byzantine Empire produced many denominations of coinage, the main coin being the gold solidus. This coin was relatively small and made from about 4.5 grams of almost pure gold. This coin formed the Byzantine economy's backbone as it was used to pay soldiers and for debt fulfillment and backing in the Empire.
In later years the solidus was replaced by the Hyperpyron. This coin had a similar weight and value but contained less gold. The empire also used bronze and silver coins. The silver coins were called Denarius and Antoninianus, and later the Miliarense and Silique were issued. Bronze coins were widely used by common people and were known as Nummi. Throughout the course of the Byzantine Empire, there were many different denominations of coins.
Byzantine gold coin
Byzantine coins were often minted using gold. Some of the earliest examples of gold coins featured monarchs wearing helmets or diadems, a type of crown or headband worn by the royal family. Emperors were often depicted wearing military clothing and holding a cross.
Most gold coins had a cross located on the obverse, which represented the highly religious society at the time. Coins that lacked a cross on the obverse had one on the reverse.
When Heraclius ruled from 610–641, coins with full figures, rather than just the heads of emperors, became more widely produced. After this time, it became common to show the emperor with his sons. Some coins even showed the emperor and empress together. On one gold coin produced under the rule of John I Tzimisces, the obverse depicted the emperor being crowned by the Virgin Mary. The hand of God was also featured at the top of the coin.
Early Byzantine Gold coins often have an angel on the reverse to represent victory. Later examples feature a cross on steps or the bust of Christ.
In 717, divine representations were banished from coins, and cross on steps was again commonly engraved. Some coins had imperial figures on the reverses. In 842, a new ruler was appointed called Michael III, who allowed images of Christ to return to the coins.
Ancient Byzantine Coins for sale
Considering their scarcity, you may be surprised to find that Byzantine coins are relatively cheap compared to other ancient coins. This has made the coins popular amongst novice and more experienced collectors alike.
Some rarer coins have a higher value, but in general, these coins are affordable, even those that have been struck from gold. Byzantine coins are beautiful, and many good quality examples have survived to this day.
Bullion Shark has an extensive collection of Byzantine coins available at reasonable prices. They are a great starting point for new collectors who would like to own a piece of history.