Byzantine-Coin Letters, Numerals, Denominations, and Dates
This is page 2 of "Introduction to Byzantine Coins".
Other pages: The first page outlines the coinage and discuss dates and mints. (A few obscure mints are on page 2A.)
The third page covers emperors from 491- c. 1118.
The fourth page is "Late Byzantine AE, 1059-1204" (Constantine X to the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders).
The fifth page "Byzantine Coins, 1204-1453."
There is a page on "Legends on Byzantine coins. How to read Byzantine coins."
There is a page on reference works.
Contents of this page: Roman numerals, Greek letters, dates, Greek numerals,
unusual denominations (and their mints: Thessalonica, Alexandria, Cherson), examples, quality control.
Roman and Greek Numerals. Byzantine coins use both Greek and Latin letters. The Latin letters are just like our letters, and used also for Roman numerals just like you learned.
I = 1
II = 2
V = 5 [This is sometimes shaped like a u. Also, there is a closely-related symbol sometimes used for 6. Examples follow.]
VII = 7 [5+2 = 7. Roman numerals are additive, not positional. Our numbers are positional where the "1" is different in "21" than in "12".]
X = 10
XX = 20
XXXX = 40
Justin II and Sophia, 565-578
30-29 mm. 12.34 grams.
This coin uses both Greek and Roman numerals.
The large "M" is "40" in Greek numerals. This is a 40-nummus piece, called a follis, which is the most common denomination.
"ANNO" to the left is "year".
To the right is "4" in Roman numerals as
I I , for the fourth year of his reign. (565/6 is year 1, so year 4 is 568/9).
Below the M is a Greek-shaped "A" for "1", for the first officina (workshop).
NIKO for the Nicomedia mint.
XX for 20-nummus, a half-follis
24-22 mm. 7.05 grams.
Often this denomination is marked by a large "K" (= 20 in Greek).
III for year three of the reign ("ANNO" to the left for "year")
Year 1 would be 582/3 so year 3 is 584/5.
Sear 534. Minted at Antioch.
20-nummus pieces are common.
Most folles indicate the denomination with a large "M". There are some exceptions. Some use Roman numerals instead.
XXXX for 40. 40-nummus. A follis.
33-31 mm. A very ragged flan!
in exergue: NIKOA for Nicomedia, officina A.
On his coins Phocas spells his name with an F:
DM FOCA-PЄR AVS ("S" is a shape for "G")
Legends are often blundered and incomplete. Don't expect to be able to read all the legends.
V for 5-nummus. A "pentanummium". ("penta" for "five")
Justin II, 565-578.
12 mm. 1.17 grams.
Struck at Rome.
Rome was reconquered under Justinian (527-565), but the hold on it was tenuous. Coins from the Rome mint are scarce or rare.
This shape is uncommon--so uncommon that some dealers don't recognize it and accidentally depict it upside down.
5-nummus (a "pentanummium") 15 mm. 1.87 grams
Tiberius II, 578-582.
When the left side of the U curls over (almost like a "G") it is a 6.
Year 6 of Justin II (565-578).
The left part of the U [= V] curls over, making it a "6".
Year 1 is 565/6 so year 6 is 570/571.
30-29 mm. 12.34 grams.
Note the Greek-shaped "A" below the large "M".
Sear 369, Nicomedia mint, year 6, officina A.
Greek Letters. Mostly, Greek letters are letters you know with a few other letters that are easy to learn. The Greek letters used are almost all capital letters so you don't need to learn lower-case letters as well. The shapes and sounds of most look like English letters. You recognize these:
A, B, E (usually shaped like this: Є), Z, I, K, M, N, O, and T.
Letter shapes: Some of the shapes sometimes differ somewhat from ours.
The letter A usually has, instead of a level crossbar, a V- crossbar: There is a second "A" in the next image.
N is sometimes Һ (shaped a bit like our lower-case n, but with a longer vertical on the left). Here is TAN (part of the name ConsTANtinus)
T sometimes has a curl across the bottom. See the image of "TAN" just above.
B is sometimes written b (which is no problem).
M is usually square, but sometimes rounded (also, no problem):
Tiberius II, 578-582
A follis. 31 mm. 12.39 grams.
Year 7 (6+1) which is 580/1.
This uncial m is most common under Tiberius II.
Greek Letters as Numerals. Dated coins usually have officina letters (numbers) A, B, Γ, Δ, Є, Greek for 1 through 5. Most of the other Greek letters Page 1 noted that "M" for 40, "K" for 20, and "I" for ten are common. "Λ" for 30 is uncommon.
Γ is gamma, our G, and it is 3 as a numeral.
Officina Γ (= 3) below the middle of the M
on a year XIII = 13 coin of Justinian (527-565)
minted at Antioch after it was renamed Theoupolis
ΘYΠO abbreviating "Theoupolis" in Greek.
Large. 39 mm. 20.77 grams. (This image is smaller than proportional.)
The obverse legend is
DN [Dominus Noster, our lord]
PP [PerPetuus] AVG
The fascinating story of Antioch being renamed Theopolis and its many different mintmarks is told here.
Δ is delta, our D, and it is 4 as a numeral.
Justin I, 518-527.
Follis. 32-30 mm. 16.42 grams.
Officina Δ (= 4) [below the middle of the M]
CON for Constantinople.
There is a rare "H" piece for 8 nummi.
17-16 mm. 2.50 grams.
H, with A P on either side.
This example is in poor condtion.
Sear 192A. Thessalonica.
The 4-nummus piece has a large Δ for 4 nummi.
4-nummus piece. 14 mm. 1.63 grams.
Δ A P either side
Sear 194. Thessalonica.
Justin II and Sophia, 565-578
22-19 mm. 5.73 grams.
20-nummus. Year X = 10
at TES = Thessalonica
ΘC above, a second mintmark of Thessalonica, this time in Greek.
Sear 366. Mint of Thessalonica.
It was a regular mint until 630 under Heraclius and became a mint again centuries later under Alexius I (1081-1118). Although each early emperor minted at Thessalonica, its coins are scarce and, unlike other mints, the 20-nummus denomination is much more common than the follis denomination which is rare.
Alexandria, Egypt. The mint of Alexandria was open (c. 525-646) from Justin I until early in the reign of Constans II (641-668) when it was lost to the Arabs. It did not use the follis and its fractions, rather its own denominations: 33-nummus (rare), 12-nummus (common), 6-nummus (scarce), and very rare 3-nummus and 1-nummus pieces.
32-30 mm. 12.41 grams
Λ Γ (= 33), with a cross between,
AΛЄΞ in exergue, for Alexandria.
Sear 246. Rare.
Next is a 6-nummus piece:
13 mm. 1.76 grams.
Cross and legend/large S for 6.
Sear 862. No mintmark. Alexandria.
B for 2-nummi.
Too small to have a useful obverse legend.
Sear 277 from Carthage.
An anonymous follis of Cherson, with legend
XEP - CONOC ("of Cherson")
33 mm. 14.69 grams. Follis.
Two standing figures
One standing figure and a large H (= 8) to the right.
All coins from Cherson used to be rare in the west, but are more common now that Ukraine and Russia have opened up. This type used to be attributed to Maurice because there is a nearly-identical type with his name, but many dealers have adopted the attribution of Anokhin, a Russian scholar who attributed this type to Justin II (565-578). I have read Anokin's arguments (in translation) and find them far from convincing. I prefer to retain its attribution to the time of Maurice.
A a half-follis is 20 nummi, so, reckoning in pentanummi, it is 4 pentanummi (4x5 = 20). The half-follis is labeled with "4", that is, with "Δ".
An anonymous half-follis of Cherson, with legend
XEP - CONOC ("of Cherson")
24 mm. 7.01 grams.
The identities of the three figures are uncertain.
Sear 610, attributed there to Maurice (582-602). I agree with Sear, but not everyone does and some give it to Justin II.
For much more on the mint of Cherson, including small cast coins unlike any other Byzantine coins, see my page.
Less-Useful Greek Letters. The remaining Greek letters appear occasionally, but you need not learn them as a beginner. Here they are anyway.
H eta, our E (not our H)
Θ theta, our TH
Ξ Xi, our X
Π pi, our P
P rho, our R [tricky!]
Σ sigma, our S
X chi, our CH
Ψ psi, our PS
Ω omega, our O
There is a page "Byzantine-coin legends. How to read Byzantine coins" with more about the numbers, letters, and words found on Byzantine coins.
More examples. From Justinian through the mid-seventh century most Byzantine coins you will see have an M, a date (in Roman numerals), and an officina number (in Greek). See if you can decipher these examples.
Follis. 32 mm. 16.89 grams.
The obverse legend begins at 8:00 with DN IVSTIN ...
ANNO = year
IGI [the "G" is a 6]
for 29. Officina Γ (= 3).
Mint of Constantinople. Sear 163.
(The obverse legend begins DN MAVR ...)
34-32 mm. 13.30 grams.
DN MAVRICI TIbЄRI PP AV
His name was Maurice Tiberius but we call him Maurice to minimize confusion with Tiberius II who also had "Tiberius" in his name: Tiberius Constantine. "TIB" could be on either of their coins, which are often in poor condition with the obverse legend very hard to read.
Large M, cross above, A [the Greek numeral "1"] below
ANNO GII. Year 8.
40-nummum. Year 19 (This time the U = V is not bent over to make a 6--it is a 5)
at KYZ = Cyzicus.
Large. 35 mm. 19.33 grams.
Sear 207. Struck 545/6.
Leo V, and Constantine, 813-820.
Facing bust of Leo (on the left) and Constantine
23 mm. 5.62 grams. A follis, smaller than 6th-century folles.
LEOҺ S COҺST [The middle S denotes "and"]
The "M" still means it is a follis, but the other letters are "immobilized" and have become fixed and meaningless, although they remind us of the "ANNO, date, officina" formula from earlier centuries. In this century, in contrast to the many varieties of 6th century folles, this emperor has only three distinct copper types.
28-27 mm (above) and 23-22 mm below).
For hundreds of years the follis was the only low-denomination coin.
However, Theophilus issued a half-follis with exactly the same design as his follis.
Theophilus Augustus May You Conquer
Sear 1667 (above) and Sear 1668 (below).
Note for collectors: Sizes can be difficult to tell from internet pictures. Be careful when you buy coins to determine the size of the coin. This is especially important with Greek silver coins because Greek cities often used the same design on all their denominations from the large to the tiny. A seller might use a very large photo of a tiny coin.
These two images are to scale. The second coin, with the same design, is much smaller than that first.
Flans and Quality Control. After about 640 the empire was in very difficult straits. The coins show the strain. There is almost no quality control. Some flans were simply quarters of larger earlier coins.
Justinian II. He had two distinct reigns, 685-695 and 705-711.
(The story of his downfall and dramatic return to the throne is remarkable.)
This flan is one quarter of a large earlier flan.
24 mm maximum, 16 mm minimum. 3.23 grams.
Remains of "ANNO" and "II", but it is not clear that dates were being properly recorded on coins. It is not certain this is really from Justinian II's year 2.
Sear 1262, first reign.
(Almost none of the copper coins of Justinian II are anywhere near nice by standards other than comparison with the rest of his own wretched coins.)
26 mm. 7.25 grams
This is a beautiful example, far above average, but of which emperor? On the right side the ending of the obverse legend is clear: NЄPЄVV (although blundered), but the name should be on the left side which is unfortuntely weakly struck.
Two standing figures facing are commonly on coins of Justin II and Sophia, but not exactly like this.
Comparison with examples in reference works identifies this as a coin of Phocas. The legend is something like ON FOCA NЄPЄVV (and should end AVG).
Sear 671. At Antioch renamed as Theopolis.
Note for Collectors. This coin is desirable for its size, centering, surfaces, lack of wear, and clarity of design, even though it is not fully struck up. If you decide to collect Byzantine coins, you will get used to this.
Some rare early mints and denominations have been omitted above and are discussed on page 2A.
The next page, page 3, illustrates Byzantine copper coins by emperor from 491-c.1118.
Page 4 is "Late Byzantine AE, 1059-1204 (Constantine X to the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders)."
Page 5 is "Byzantine Coins, 1204-1453."
To learn more you can surf the web or get a book on Byzantine coins. I offer some recommendations here.
Return to page 1 and its Table of Contents.