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Glossary of Numismatic Terms

akakia (or anexikakia)
Cylinder of purple silk with dust inside which the emperor hold during ceremonies as a reminder of their mortal condition. See also mappa.
Greek aspron, “rough, fresh,  white.” Term applied to the Byzantine trachy in electrum or billon. It was also applied in the eastern Mediterranean from the 12th through the 15th century to small silver coins, including the flat silver coin issued by the Trebizond emperors on the model of the Seljuq dirhem*.
nomisma aspron trachy
Greek, “rough and white nomisma.” Name applied to the cup-shaped 12th-century electrum coins, valued at 1/3 of the gold hyperpyron, and later to the similar 13th-century silver coin, valued at 1/10 or 1/12 hyperpyron, both called trikephala in documents.
Term applied in Rhabdas’s 14th-century mathematical treatise to a copper coin. Used by modern numismatist for the flat coins of that period.
Greek, “sole ruler.” Imperial title rarely used in the middle Byzantine period but more frequently after.
basileus (pl. basileis, fem. basilissa)
Classical Greek term for “king” (and “queen”). Applied in Byzantine literary sources to the emperor and his spouse. Appears on coins from the 8th century onward.
basilikon(pl. basilika)
Greek, “imperial.” Byzantine silver coin, created by Andronikos II, imitating a Venetian silver ducat.
Term used by numismatists for copper alloys with a less than 50% silver.
Type of Virgin orans based on the icon venerated at the church of the Blachernai in Constantinople.
blank or flan
Metal roundel onto which the die applies the monetary imprint.
Latin ceratonia siliqua, hence the synonymous denomination “siliqua.”   Originally a measure of weight (± 0.189 g), then of fineness, of 1/24 (4.16%) since the solidus of almost pure gold weighed 24 carats.
Imperial purple mantle fastened by a fibula at the right shoulder, leaving the arm free to move. Frequently ornamented by a tablion.
Christ Emmanuel
Usual designation of the type of Christ depicted as young, beardless, and with short and curled hair.
Christ Pantokrator
Usual designation of the type of Christ depicted as older, with beard and asymmetrical long black hair.
Initials of Christ formed by a Χ and Ρ combined, very frequent on coins of the 5th through 7th century.
Small letter or design punched on the face of a coin, usually in order to give it a different value.
cross potent
Cross with equal arms, each of which has cross bars at the end.
Greek dekanoummion. Copper coin worth ten nummi created by Anastasios I.
denarius or denier
Latin denarius ; Italian denaro; English penny ; German Pfennig, Denar. Applied in the Middle Ages to: (a) a silver coin of ca. 1–2 g and variable fineness which was the quasi-unique denomination of the Western monetary system in the 9th–11th centuries; (b) the account unit of the Western monetary system, which the United Kingdom preserved through the 1974 decimalization and France through the Revolution (1 pound (livre) = 20 shillings (sous) = 240 pennies (deniers); (c) a fraction of 1/12 measuring the fineness of silver coins (12d = 100%; 8d = 66%; 4d = 33%).
Literally, the name of a coin; by extension its legal valuation.
despotes (fem. despoina)
Greek equivalent of Latin dominus or domina, “master” or “mistress.” An important part of imperial titulature in the early Byzantine period. Officially used as imperial title from the 8th century onward. Under the late Komnenoi, the title was given to a high-ranking person, coming third after the emperor and his coemperor. On coins it applies only to the crowned emperor.
Stamp used in coining, formerly often called iron (French fer) because it was made of this metal in the Middle Ages.
From Latin denarius aureus. Islamic gold coin struck from 672 onward. Originally an imitation of Byzantine solidus but slightly lighter (4.2 g instead of 4.5 g).
From Greek drachma. Islamic silver coin of an original value of 1/10 of a dinar.
Distributions of gold and silver coins or objects to the army at regular intervals (accessions, imperial anniversaries, etc.).
Blurring of the design occasioned by the die or the coin having slipped between successive hammer blows. Must have occurred frequently since all coins required several blows.
Latin ducatus, “of the duke” or “of the doge.” Term used principally for two Venetian denominations: (a) the gold coin first issued in 1284 (3.56 g at 99.7% fineness); (b) the silver grosso created by Enrico Dandolo in the late 12th century (2.18 g at 96.5% fineness).
Originally a natural alloy of gold and silver. Applied by numismatists to gold alloys where the proportion of silver or copper affects the color of the coin.
Greek exagion; Italian saggio. Literally a weight, usually one used for verifying the correct weight of a solidus.
Lower segment of a coin design, usually but not always on the reverse. Marked off by an horizontal line (exergual line), it often contained a mint mark.
Brooch with three pendants fastening a cloak at the wearer’s right shoulder. It was an important element of imperial costume.
Central space of the coin, especially the area left blank on either side of the main design.
Purity of a coin as measured by the amount of precious metal within, measured in percent, thousandths, or carats.
follis (pl. folles)
Greek phollis (pl. pholleis). Latin word that originally described sealed purses containing a fixed number of denarii or nummi. From Anastasios I onward, applied to the coin worth 40 nummi.
Sphere representing the world (therefore sometimes called orb) that the Roman emperors are shown holding as a symbol of sovereignty. From the 5th century onward surmounted by a cross (globus cruciger).
Greek term for a scruple, 1/24 of the Roman ounce (1.13 g).
Italian grosso, from Latin grossus denarius. Multiple of the denier struck in the West; the most famous is the Venetian silver ducat.
Tpe of Virgin standing half-turned to the right with hands held out before her in prayer.
histamenon (pl. histamena)
Meaning “standard,” name given in the 11th century to the nomisma of good weight, as compared to the nomisma tetarteron.
See mule.
hyperpyron (pl. hyperpyra)
Greek; medieval Latin perperus; Italian perpero Meaning “highly refined” (lit., “above fire”), this term was applied to the gold coin restored by Alexios I Komnenos in 1092 at ca. 4.3 g and 20 1/2 carats fineness (85%). In Venetian Romania it was a money of account of various value.
Retention of a type (e.g., name or portrait of a ruler) which has lost its original meaning but is revived or copied.
Fifteen-year cycle used for fiscal and then dating purposes from the early 4th century onward.
Group of coins presumed to have been issued in accordance with the terms of a specific mint instruction.
Long tunic with or withour sleeves.
riginally a military standard bearing the Christogram introduced by Constantine I. Term extended later to various types of standards or scepters.
lightweight solidus
Solidus differing from the 24 carats standard and issued at 20 to 23 carats from the mid-6th to the late 7th century.
See pound.
Elaborate item of the imperial costume, derived from the Roman consular robe. Long embroidered and jeweled scarf (of 6– 8 m long) that was wound round the body.
Five-year cycle that played a role in the rhythm of monetary issues.
Veil of the Virgin that covered her head and shoulders.
Roll of cloth thrown by the consul to start the games in the Hippodrome. The most frequent insignium in consular representations of the emperor, it was replaced by the akakia in the late 7th century.
miliarensis or miliarense
Silver coin of the early Byzantine empire whose name may have alluded to 1,000 of them having been reckoned to a pound of gold in the 3rd or 4th century.
Greek term derived from miliarense and generally applied to the thin flat coin introduced by Leo III in 721 and characteristic of the coinage in the 8th–11th centuries.
Hybrid coin minted with an obverse and a reverse die that were not designed for the same type. This can be due to a mistake of the moneyer’s or deliberately ordered by the mint master.
nomisma (pl. nomismata)
Greek term derived from nomos (law) designating a coin in general but more especially the gold coin as the coin par excellence (equivalent to solidus)
nummus (pl. nummi)
Greek noummion (pl. noummia). Term originally meaning “coin,” then applied to the silvered copper coin of the Tetrarchic period, then to the copper coins of the 4th–5th centuries. In the 6th century it was applied to the smallest unit in the monetary system reformed by Anastasios I.
From Greek obolos. Ancient term used in Byzantium for the smallest available denomination at any given time, and in the West for the half denier.
obryziacus or obryzon
From Greek obryziakos. Gold of extreme purity (from obryza, “crucible,” in which the coin could be assayed).
Side of the coin with the more important design (e.g., representation of the emperor, Christ, or the Virgin. Does not always correspond with the side struck by the lower (anvil) die.
Subdivision of the mint. Applied to a group of moneyers.
Latin, “praying.” Epithet applied to the Virgin or other religious figure with hands raised in prayer.
Latin uncia; Greek ougkia. 1/12 of the Roman pound (27 g); divided into 24 scruples and 144 carats.
A coin for which an older coin was used as a blank and on which traces of the earlier imprint (undertype) are still visible.
Originally a long military cloak, sometimes part of the imperial costume.
Essay of the proposed design for a coin.
Pendants hanging down at each side of the imperial crown.
pentanummium (pl. pentanummia)
Bronze or copper coin worth five nummi, introduced by Anastasios I.
Greek porphyrogennetos, “born in the purple,” that is, in a chamber of the Great Palace with marble walls of this color. Epithet applied to the children born to the reigning emperor.
Latin libra; Greek litra. The Roman pound, estimated at ca. 325 g, was divided into 12 ounces each of 24 scruples and 144 carats.
privy mark
Letter or symbol placed on coins as an element in mint control for distinguishing between moneyers or issues, without its meaning being immediately obvious to the public. Also called siglon (pl. sigla).
Greek, literally “prostration.” The veneration of the emperor had codified forms ranging from a mere bowing of the bust, to genuflection or complete prostration.
Secondary side of the coin, usually (but not always) corresponding to that struck by the upper (mobile) die.
Military cloak, not as large as the paludamentum.
Long silk tunic often worn by the emperor under the loros.
Latin scripulum. 1/24 of an ounce. See gramma.
Term improperly applied to coins of concave (cup-shaped) fabric struck in Byzantium from the 11th century onward. It does not derive from the Greek skyphos, “cup,” but from the Arabic shiffi, describing the triple border of dots of Byzantine histamena in the early 11th century.
semissis (pl. semisses)
Greek semision (pl. semisia); from Latin semis, “half.” Half solidus (ca. 2.23 g).
siglon (pl. sigla)
See privy mark
siliqua (pl. siliquae)
See carat.
solidus (pl. solidi)
Standard Byzantine gold coin, introduced by Constantine I in 312 and struck 72 to the pound (24 carats, 4.55 g) of pure gold. It was issued in Byzantium until 1354 at variable fineness but approximately the same weight. In the West solidus (French sou; Engl. shilling) was a money of account worth 12 deniers and 1/20 of the Carolingian pound. See also nomisma
stamenon (pl. stamena)
Latin staminum, from Greek histamenon. Applied originally to the full-weight 11th-century gold coin, came to designate in the 12th–14th centuries the billon, then copper, coin, which had kept this original fabric and weight
Christian symbol sued as an alternative to the Christogram, formed by a Ρ and Τ combined.
The long dress of noble ladies. Applied to the Virgin’s dress.
Rectangle of cloth that bordered the chlamys.
tetarteron (pl. tetartera)
“Small quarter,” from Greek tetartos, “quarter.” Byzantine gold coin originally lighter than the nomisma histamenon by two quarters of a tremissis (i.e., two carats) introduced by Nikephoros II Phokas (963–969) and struck until 1092. After 1092, it designated a small copper coin of similar module and fabric, which Crusader sources called tartarones.
tournesion (pl. tournesia)
Italien tornese. Palaiologan billon or copper denomination struck on the weight and model of the denier tournois that circulated in Frankish Greece at the time. Its design was usually that of a cross potent within a circular legend between two border of dots.
See nomisma aspron trachy.
tremissis (pl. tremisses)
Greek tremision (pl. tremisia), from Latin tremis (tres and as). One-third solidus.
trikephalon (pl. trikephala)
Greek, “three-header.” A term applied to the nomisma aspron trachy 1/3-hyperpyron coin in the 12th century because the first issue of this denomination showed three figures: the emperor, the Virgin, and Christ in medallion. It was also a pun on its value of 1/3 of a hyperpyron.
Tyche (pl. Tychai)
Personification of a city’s Fortuna. On coins the most frequent representations were those of the Tychai of the two capital cities (Roma and Constantinopolis).
Main design on each face of the coin. By extension a class of coins united by a common design.
Female winged figure; one of the few classical personifications retained after the adoption of Christianity.
Vows offered to the emperor on the anniversary of his accession at five- or ten-year intervals (quinquennalia, decennalia).