Byzantine denominations

Collectors enjoy the challenge of building sets of Byzantine Coin denominations

The Byzantine Empire (491 to 1453 CE/AD) produced a tremendous number of coins during its near-millennium of existence. A large percentage of these coins were struck in copper, often Byzantine Coin denominations marks are rendered in Greek or Latin.

Byzantine coinage is generally considered to have begun with the reign of Anastasius (491-518 CE) due to his monumental reform of the bronze coinage in 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).

Ancient Byzantine coin, Nummus of Anastasius. Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, NGC

Nummus of Anastasius. Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group (CNG)

An example of a pre-reform nummus of Anastasius is shown above. It was struck at the principal mint in Constantinople, sometime between 491 and 498 CE. 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). Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, NGC

40-nummi (follis)

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.

Byzantine ancient bronze coin, 30-nummi (3/4-follis). Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, NGC

30-nummi (3/4-follis)

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 (613-641 CE).

Ancient Byzantine bronze coin, 20-nummi (half-follis). Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, NGC

20-nummi (half-follis)

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coin, 10-nummi (decanummium). Images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, NGC

10-nummi (decanummium)

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coin, 5-nummi (pentanummium). Images courtesy CNG, NGC

5-nummi (pentanummium)

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, Nummus of Justin I (518-527 CE). Images courtesy CNG, NGC

Nummus of Justin I (518-527 CE)

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 (518-527 CE) 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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 40-nummi of Phocas (602-610 CE). Images courtesy CNG, NGC

40-nummi of Phocas (602-610 CE)

Shown above is a 40-nummi (follis) of Phocas (602-610 CE), who at the mint of Cyzicus issued this follis with the Latin XXXX indicating its valuation as 40 nummi.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 30-nummi issued for Tiberius II Constantine (578-582 CE). Images courtesy CNG, NGC

30-nummi issued for Tiberius II Constantine (578-582 CE)

An example of the unusual 30-nummi piece (3/4-follis), issued for Tiberius II Constantine (578-582 CE) at the Cyzicus mint, is shown above. Its denomination is indicated with the Latin XXX.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 20-nummi by Tiberius II Constantine. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

20-nummi by Tiberius II Constantine

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 10-nummi by Phocas. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

10-nummi by Phocas

The 10-nummi (decanummium) shown above has an X, the Latin equivalent of 10. It was struck by Phocas at the Rome mint.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 5-nummi by Justin II. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

5-nummi by Justin II

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 33-nummi under Justinian I (527-565 CE). Images courtesy CNG, NGC

33-nummi under Justinian I (527-565 CE)

The largest of the Alexandrian odd-denominations was the 33-nummi. The one shown above was struck for Justinian I (527-565 CE). Its denomination is rendered in the Greek fashion with the formula Λ (30) and Γ (3).

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 12-nummi by Heraclius. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

12-nummi by Heraclius

Above is a 12-nummi struck at Alexandria by Heraclius. Its denomination is indicated by the Greek letters I (10) and B (2).

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 6-nummi of Heraclius. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

6-nummi of Heraclius

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 16-nummi bronze for Justinian. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

16-nummi bronze for Justinian

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 8-nummi Justinian I bronze of Thessalonica. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

8-nummi Justinian I bronze of Thessalonica

Another Justinian I bronze of Thessalonica is the 8-nummi piece illustrated above. Its denomination is indicated by the Greek letter H.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 4-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

4-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica

Shown above is a 4-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica. Its denomination is rendered as a large Δ on the reverse.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 3-nummi for Justin I at Thessalonica. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

3-nummi for Justin I at Thessalonica

An unusual 3-nummi piece struck for Justin I at Thessalonica is shown above. Its denomination is marked by the Greek letter Γ.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 2-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

2-nummi of Justinian I from Thessalonica

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.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 40-nummi issued by Maurice Tiberius. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

40-nummi issued by Maurice Tiberius

This follis (40-nummi) of the Cherson mint was issued by Maurice Tiberius (582-602 CE). Its reverse bears a large H, the Greek equivalent to the number 8, marking it as a ‘8-pentanummia’.

Ancient Byzantine bronze coins, 20-nummi of Maurice Tiberius. Images courtesy CNG, NGC

20-nummi of Maurice Tiberius

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’.

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