Reference Works about Byzantine Coins

There are very many reference books, articles, and websites about Byzantine coins, most of which are not listed here. This page is for beginners. It only sites and discusses works useful to beginners or specifically mentioned on my pages. (For a far more extensive list of Byzantine-coin references, see here.)

I recommend you buy the second edition of Sear, Byzantine Coins and Their Values, and Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium. I also recommend the inexpensive Byzantium, a Time/Life picture book, which you might even find in a thrift store. More details are below.

Note for collectors. By the standards of Greek or Roman coins, most Byzantine copper coins are poorly made and very worn. One of the pleasures of collecting them is being able to buy good examples (i.e. good "for type") very inexpensively and sometimes finding examples better than those in books and major museums. If you maintain your interest, I recommend buying reference works so you can see what a good collection looks like. Then you might buy a few sale catalogs from sales emphasizing a good collection. The catalogs will be inexpensive compared to the information about quality that they contain. (Hardly anyone collects catalogs any more, so if you can find them at all they should be cheap.) The only site I know of where sale catalogs with Byzantine coins are separated out is my own:

Web Sites: 

High-quality examples of each type by Sear number, selected from the best images he could find (but no text or explanation of any kind):
Unfortunately, as I write this the "search" on Sear number fails to find some coins he actually has illustrated. If a search fails, try searching on the name of the emperor.

Byzantine coins in the Wildwinds data bank, a reference work:

A high-quality collection:

A beautiful site on Byzantium (Chrome translates it into English).

Doug Smith's page on "Lettered Byzantine Bronzes":

The NGC web site has several good articles for beginners:

An article for beginners: "Collecting Byzantine Coins on a Budget"

An article for beginners: "Byzantine Rulers you can Collect, Part I:"

An article for beginners: "Byzantine Rulers you can Collect, Part II:"

An article for beginners: "Byzantine Coin Portraits,"

An article for beginners: "A Guide to Denominted Byzantine Bronzes"

An article for beginners: "Christ portraits on Byzantine Coinage,"

An article for beginners: "Post-Reform Bronze Issues of the Byzantine Empire"

There are many narrowly-focused pages which I am not listing here because I do not think beginners would want to visit them.
See my page for more extensive list.


Beginners Books:

Sayles, Wayne. Ancient Coin Collecting V: The Romaion/Byzantine Culture (volume 5).  HC. 197 pages. A very attractive small book. Photographs on almost every page, many enlarged. Unfortunately, only one side of many of the coins is shown.  Lots of nice maps and each emperor has a short history. 

Fitts, Prue Morgan. The Beginner's Guide to Identifying Byzantine Coins. 2015. Cardcover. Spiral bound. 133 pages. This book has a lot of useful information, but I dislike it for its layout. All the coins on a page are photographed the same size, making it impossible to tell which are large and which are tiny. Many photographs are far smaller than life size. Mints are listed on page 23 as if they were all equally important, which is very far from the case because it lists a dozen obscure mints beginners don't need to hear about and probably won't see any coins of for years. Monograms are tabled on page 22 long before there is any discussion about (unusual) coins with monograms. There are long useless tables of denominations issued by various rulers. There is a substantial discussion of the clothing depicted on coins before we know anything about the general outline of the coinage. Where was an editor? I don't recommend it.

For a far more extensive list of Byzantine-coin references, see here

Important books, listed in the order I would obtain them:

Sear, David. Byzantine Coins and Their Values, second edition. 1987. 
  Abbreviated "Sear" on the main page. The primary collectors' handbook, with short histories of the emperors, a nearly complete listing of Byzantine coin types, and many photographs, especially of the main types. This is the book usually cited for identifying Byzantine coins. It is essential for collectors. Do not get the first edition. The second is far more complete, especially for late Byzantine coins.     

Using Sear. For each type Sear cites other major reference works which have examples and photographs. If a given work does not have it, a dash is used, e.g. D.O.-- means the type is not in the Dumbarton Oaks catalogs. This would be very unusual because D.O. is nearly complete and has good illustrations of almost every type. The citation "B.M.C. 167" means coin 167 in the British Museum Catalogue is that type. (See my other, more detailed, page on Byzantine references.) Major catalogs and their abbreviations are on page 523. Pages 33-34 have many inscriptions translated. Page 31 has how to read explicit dates. Page 32 illustrates monograms. If you have the Sear number it will show you the monogram, but not the other way around. You can go from the monogram to the Sear ID number on a Forum page here. Sear was written before the final volume of Dumbarton Oaks was published, so late Byzantine types do not cite D.O. as a reference. Some cite Hendy ("H.") although I'm sure those citations would be replaced by D.O. citations if a new edition were to appear. (Most collectors do not emphasize coins that late anyway.) 

Byzantine Coins, by P. D. Whitting. Hardcover. 311 pages with 457 enlarged photographs of sides of coins within (usually both sides in two photos, but sometimes only one side, and many in color). Much scholarly information, but directed toward people with a deep interest but not a lot of previous knowledge. Very entertaining and informative. You will learn what makes Byzantine coins interesting. A fun read. Highly recommended.

Grierson, Philip. Byzantine Coins. 1982 (The hardcover book, not his pamphlet of a similar name.) 411 pages and 95 page plates with 1527 coins well-photographed life-size in black and white.  A prominent scholar gives the entire history of Byzantine coinage in one volume which has over 1500 life-size black-and-white photographs. It is very well organized, but is perhaps too much for beginners. I consulted it many times in order to write my page for beginners. Highly recommended if you are serious about Byzantine coins.

Dumbarton Oaks. "Dumbarton Oaks" or "D.O." are accepted abbreviations for the five-volume, nine-massive-book, series on Byzantine coins. His has picture of one or more coins of virtually every known type. The cloth copies are very expensive, but the institution Dumbarton Oaks (in Washington, D.C.) has released the volumes in pdf. 
    Late Roman before Byzantine (Arcadius and Honorius to Anastasius):
    Volume I: Anastasius to Maurice (491-602)   
   Volume 2:  Phocas to Theodosius III (602-717)
    Volume 3:  Leo III - Nicephorus III (717-1081)
    Volume 4:  Alexius I - Michale VIII (1081-1261)
    Volume 5:  Michael VIII - Constantine XI (1258 - 1453)

Late Byzantine Coins.

Late Byzantine coins are hard to attribute unless you have a reference works with images of all the types. Dumbarton Oaks volumes (especially IV and V, in pdf above) suffice. Recently, several other well-illustrated volumes have been published. They are listed here.


History Books (not about coins):

Sherrard, Philip, and the editors of Time-Life books.  Byzantium, in the "Great Ages of Man" series. 1966. HC. 192 pages. A very colorful book with more pictures than text. It was issued in a very popular series so there are far more copies out there than people who want it. Very enjoyable, but not a chronological history of the emperors. There are over 100 for sale on Amazon starting at $2. You might find one in a local thrift shop. 

Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. HC. 1997. 431 pages. Few photos. A highly entertaining chronological history of the deeds of the emperors, condensing his excellent three-volume work. Many scholarly works on Byzantium are good, but spend a much greater fraction of the book on religion and goverment administration than Norwich does. This book is just plain fun to read, especially if you have, or desire, a coin of the emperor. If you continue your interest, the fill three-volume series is excellent. I have both the short and long versions!


Article cited on my page for beginners:

Jonathan Jarrett, "Why did the Byzantine coinage turn concave?"  Here is a link to it on his page at

Markowitz, Mike.  Powerpoint at  "Why did Byzantine Coins Become Cup-Shaped in the 11th century?"   [This one is very well-illustraed and easy to read.]

Markowitz, Mike.  The same ideas in a CoinWeek article:


Return to the main page on Byzantine coins

If you get interested in Byzantine coins, here is
a more extensive list of references: