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The History of Byzantine Coinage
Mints
Uses of Coins
Christianization of the Coin
Representation of Christ
Representation of the Virgin
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Our knowledge of Byzantine coins has greatly increased in the past forty years due to the publication of numerous handbooks and catalogues of the major collections of Byzantine coins, including those at Dumbarton Oaks. Thus the identification and classification of Byzantine coins is now on a firm foundation although there remain some areas of debate.

The diagrams below illustrate the main technical terms used by a numismatist to describe a coin. The 6th–century copper coin of Justinian I is a large, well-struck coin on which the image and inscription are very legible. By contrast, the two late Byzantine copper coins of Andronicus II (1282–1328) (photos below) are badly struck and poorly preserved. The poor quality of these coins is due primarily to their concave fabric which made the blanks crack, but also because their concave shape required that they be struck from two different angles (see drawing).

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auxiliary spacing image Follis of Justinian I. Obverse
Struck in Constantinople, 538–39

Typical Catalogue Description:
Bust facing, in helmet with plume and diadem and cuirass. In r. hand, gl(obus) cr(uciger). On l. shoulder, shield with horseman device. In field r., cross. Legend (in Latin): DNIVSTINI ANVSPP AVC D(ominus) N(oster) Iustinianus P(er) P(etuus) AVG(ustus) ("Our Lord Justinian, Eternal Emperor").

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auxiliary spacing image Follis of Justinian I. Reverse
Struck in Constantinople, 538–39

Typical Catalogue Description:
M. Above, cross. To l., ANNO. In ex(ergue), CON To r., XII. Note that a combination of Latin and Greek is used here. The legend (obverse) is in Latin as are the regnal year and the mint mark on the reverse. Greek letters are used for the value and officinae marks, also on the reverse.



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Fourteenth Century Coins

To reconstruct the design of such poorly-preserved issues as these coins of Andronicus II, it is necessary to compare several coins (photos right). Creating a composite line drawing based on several coins helps to identify the image (drawing below right)

Typical Catalogue Description:
Obverse: Wing to right, large patriarchal cross in center and large reversed B at lower left.
Reverse: Emperor standing facing, holding haloed cross and labarum-scepter, star to bottom right.
Legend: On the top right coin, only five letters can be read:
ANKOC = AN()KOC. On the second
coin, only the A is legible.
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