Junk box gems: three Byzantine-influenced coins


02 December 2018
In a special junk-box gems guide we detail three different coins all of which have been influenced by the designs of Byzantine coins

Our first coin in this trio is billon (base silver) and shows 'Virgin and Child' and seven stars; the shield on the reverse has a simple cross dividing S and 2; and we see the remains of the legend ‘DVX ET GVB REIP GENV’. This means ‘Doge and governors of the Republic of Genoa’. It is a two soldi of 1745, before the unification of Italy, when Genoa was still an independent republic.

Coin two is a crowned double eagle, reverse  ‘ΔΕΗΓΑ’, copper. This is Russian in the days of the Romanovs. The inscription is in Russian, which uses some Greek letters, not always as the Greeks would have used them - the ‘H’ is not the Greek eta, it is an ‘N’, so the piece is a Russian denga, or half-kopek, of the Tsarina Anna, 1730-40.

Our final coin is copper, and features an uncrowned double eagle; reverse Arabic writing. This belongs to a rather strange series of coins, large copper pieces, nearly all with figurative designs, which appear in the early Middle Ages around the Upper Tigris and Euphrates. They are made by Urtukid and Atabeg rulers; the only one to use the double eagle is Nasir ed din Mahmud, of Keyfa, AD1200-22. It is dated 610 Hijra. This is the Islamic system of dating, running from the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in AD622, but as it is a lunar calendar the year is 3% shorter than the solar year and the date represents AD1213. The mint is al-Hisn, which means ‘the fortress’.

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These coins are clearly influenced by the Byzantine types; they are usually called ‘fulus’ (Byzantine ‘follis’) but some are marked as dirhams, which ought to be silver coins. Dr. Karabacek argues that they all circulated as dirhems, whether silver-coated or not. It has also been suggested that ‘dirham’ may have come to mean merely ‘coin’.

Were they intended to facilitate trade with Byzantine merchants? It is one of the great numismatic mysteries.