NGC Ancients: A Guide to Denominated Byzantine Bronzes
Posted on 12/12/2017
The Byzantine Empire (A.D. 491 to 1453) produced a tremendous number of coins during its near-millennium of existence. A large percentage of these coins were struck in copper, often with denomination marks rendered in Greek or Latin.
Byzantine coinage is generally considered to have begun with the reign of the Anastasius (A.D. 491-518) due to his monumental reform of the bronze coinage in A.D. 498. Prior to that, the only bronzes in circulation were small, crude ‘nummi’ from the early years of Anastasius’s reign (and from the lingering issues of his recent predecessors).
|Nummus of AnastasiusClick image to enlarge.|
An example of a pre-reform nummus of Anastasius is shown above. It was struck at the principal mint, in Constantinople, sometime between A.D. 491 and 498. Unlike the rest of the coins illustrated below, it is not denominated, but instead it has on its reverse the emperor’s monogram.
|40-nummi (follis)Click image to enlarge.|
The lowly ‘nummus’ became the base denomination for the system which Anastasius established for his copper coinage. The largest of his copper coins was the 40-nummi, more commonly called a ‘follis.’ The example shown above was struck by Anastasius at Constantinople. The M on the reverse was the Greek alphabetic equivalent of the number 40.
|30-nummi (3/4-follis)Click image to enlarge.|
One of the unusual denominations of the Byzantine system was the 30-nummi piece (3/4-follis) shown above. In this case, its denomination is indicated with the Greek Λ, which equated 30. This example was struck at Constantinople under Heraclius and Heraclius Constantine (A.D. 613-641).
|20-nummi (half-follis)Click image to enlarge.|
The 20-nummi coin, shown above, was commonly called a half-follis. This example was struck by Anastasius at Constantinople, with the K on the reverse being the Greek equivalent of 20.
|10-nummi (decanummium)Click image to enlarge.|
The Byzantine 10-nummi coin was commonly called a decanummium. Shown above is one struck by Anastasius at Constantinople, with the I being the Greek equivalent of 10.
|5-nummi (pentanummium)Click image to enlarge.|
Smaller yet was the 5-nummi, called a pentanummium. The example illustrated above was struck by Anastasius at Constantinople, with the E being the Greek equivalent of 5.
|Nummus of Justin I (A.D. 518-527) Click image to enlarge.|
Smallest of all was the nummus. In most cases, the reverse of this denomination bears a royal monogram or some other design; however, some are denominated with an A, the Greek alphabetic equivalent of 1. Shown above is an example of Justin I (A.D. 518-527) from the mint at Thessalonica.
So much for the standard issues of Byzantine bronzes with ‘Greek’ denomination marks. There still remains, however, a great deal of variety in denominated Byzantine bronzes, including some standard denominations that bear Latin denomination markers in place of Greek.
Latin formulas for denominations were used at Rome and Carthage, and sometimes at Ravenna, Constantinople and Thessalonica. Below are several examples.
|40-nummi of Phocas (A.D. 602-610)Click image to enlarge.|
Shown above is a 40-nummi (follis) of Phocas (A.D. 602-610), who at the mint of Cyzicus issued this follis with the Latin XXXX indicating its valuation as 40 nummi.
|30-nummi issued for Tiberius II Constantine (A.D. 578-582)Click image to enlarge.|
An example of the unusual 30-nummi piece (3/4-follis), issued for Tiberius II Constantine (A.D. 578-582) at the Cyzicus mint, is shown above. Its denomination is indicated with the Latin XXX.
|20-nummi by Tiberius II constantineClick image to enlarge.|
The 20-nummi piece (half-follis) shown above has the Latin XX to mark its denomination. It was struck by Tiberius II Constantine at what, presumably, was the Rome mint.
|10-nummi by PhocasClick image to enlarge.|
The 10-nummi (decanummium) shown above has an X, the Latin equivalent of 10. It was struck by Phocas at the Rome mint.
|5-nummi by Justin IIClick image to enlarge.|
Another Latin-denominated bronze is the 5-nummi (pentanummium), above, on which the Latin V equates the number 5. It was struck by Justin II at Rome.
Some truly unusual denominations were issued at the Byzantine mint in Alexandria, Egypt. These are avidly collected because of their peculiarity within an otherwise fairly-well-regulated system of denominations.
|33-nummi under Justinian I (A.D. 527-565) Click image to enlarge.|
The largest of the Alexandrian odd-denominations was the 33-nummi. The one shown above was struck for Justinian I (A.D. 527-565). Its denomination is rendered in the Greek fashion with the formula Λ (30) and Γ (3).
|12-nummi by Heraclius (A.D. 610-641).Click image to enlarge.|
Above is a 12-nummi struck at Alexandria by Heraclius (A.D. 610-641). Its denomination is indicated by the Greek letters I (10) and B (2).
|6-nummi of Heraclius Click image to enlarge.|
The Alexandrian 6-nummi of Heraclius shown above is marked by the Greek letter S (6). A 3-nummi denomination also was struck at this mint.
Equally unorthodox was the Byzantine mint at Thessalonica, Greece, where the selection of denominations sometimes was unusual. Five examples are shown below.
|16-nummi bronze for JustinianClick image to enlarge.|
The denomination of this 16-nummi bronze of Thessalonica, issued for Justinian I, is indicated by the Greek letters I (10) and S (6). They are flanked by the mysterious letters AP, the meaning of which still evades scholars.
|8-nummi Justinian I bronze of ThessalonicaClick image to enlarge.|
Another Justinian I bronze of Thessalonica is the 8-nummi piece illustrated above. Its denomination is indicated by the Greek letter H.
|4-nummi of Justinian I from ThessalonicaClick image to enlarge.|
Shown above is a 4-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica. Its denomination is rendered as a large Δ on the reverse.
|3-nummi for Justin I at ThessalonicaClick image to enlarge.|
An unusual 3-nummi piece struck for Justin I at Thessalonica is shown above. Its denomination is marked by the Greek letter Γ.
|2-nummi of Justinian I from ThessalonicaClick image to enlarge.|
The Greek letter B marks this 2-nummi piece (above) of Justinian I from Thessalonica.
The last Byzantine mint we’ll examine for its odd-denominated bronzes is Cherson, in the Crimea. It had a strange formula in which its bronzes generally were marked in multiples of five nummi, such that a piece marked ‘8’ was actually a 40-nummi coin (follis), and one marked ‘4’ actually was a 20-nummi coin (half-follis). An example of each is shown below.
|40-nummi issued by Maurice TiberiusClick image to enlarge.|
This follis (40-nummi) of the Cherson mint was issued by Maurice Tiberius (A.D. 582-602). Its reverse bears a large H, the Greek equivalent to the number 8, marking it as a ‘8-pentanummia’.
|20-nummi of Maurice TiberiusClick image to enlarge.|
Valued as a half-follis (20-nummi), this Cherson-mint issue of Maurice Tiberius has on its reverse a large Δ, the Greek equivalent of the number 4, marking it as a ‘4-pentanummia’.
Interested in reading more articles on Ancient coins? Click here
Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.
Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!
Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >