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The History of Byzantine Coinage
Uses of Coins
Christianization of the Coin
Representation of Christ
Representation of the Virgin
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The Findspots of Coins

Most coins have survived because they were buried, either deliberately for safekeeping from invaders or other perils, or through accidental lossespecially the less valuable copper coins which were not worth the trouble of retrieving. Coins are discovered in different waysas individual stray finds, through archeological excavations and, less frequently, as a coin hoard.

Stray Finds

Many coins are found by chance during construction projects, farming or gardening, or simply after heavy rains which wash out coins from the soil. In the 1930's, a well-known collector in the Balkans would rush to the local goldsmiths after the spring or fall rains to examine the coins recently brought in by villagers from the countryside. In recent years, the use of metal detectors, though illegal in many countries because of the damage done by clandestine digging, has greatly increased the number of coins discovered.


Excavations of Byzantine sites have unearthed thousands of coins. During the investigation of the Agora, the market place of ancient Athens, more than 21,000 Byzantine coins were discovered. Because this was a thriving, bustling market place, a great deal of money changed hands and some coins were inevitably dropped. Similar discoveries have been made at Carthage-Dermech, a 4th–7th century ecclesiastical complex in Tunisia where 7,600 coins have been found (photo above right). And in Constantinople, in the excavations of the church of St. Polyeuctus (photo right), over 1,000 copper coins were found, ranging in date from the 4th to the 13th century. Some of these may have been offerings that were dropped or the contents of a loosely-fastened purse.

Chart of the Coin Finds from St. Polyeuctus Illustration Chart of the Coin Finds from St. Polyeuctus Caption

This chart shows the annual rate of loss (ARL) of coins (the number of coins from a period of years divided by the number of years) between the late 5th and 13th centuries. From a high in the 6th century, the number of coins falls dramatically from the 7th to the mid-9th century, but rises again after the middle of the 9th century until the middle of the 10th, reflecting fluctuations in coin production and probably the prosperity of the city.

Coin Hoards

When large numbers of coins were buried for safekeeping but not retrieved, they are known as a hoard. These too are found by chance. Such finds can range from several hundreds to thousands of coins, like the valuable hoard discovered on Samos of 300 gold solidi (photo right), and that of more than a thousand tiny nummi found at A'n Kelba (Algeria), whose total value hardly equals 1/6 of a gold coin. Hoards are often discovered in their original containers, mostly jars or pots, but remnants of leather or textile bags have also been found; a small group of coins was even found hidden in a marrow bone! While most hoards have been discovered on land, the advent of underwater archeology has resulted in finds at sea: the underwater "excavation" of a Byzantine shipwreck (626 A.D.) at Yassi Ada off the coast of Turkey produced 16 gold and 54 copper coins, apparently from the captain's chest.

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Sieving for Coins and Small Finds Photo
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Church of St. Polyeuctus Photo
Hoard of Gold Coins from Samos Photo
Hoard of Gold Coins from Samos Caption