The Romans built a vast empire that stretched across modern-day Europe, Africa, and parts of the Mediterranean. With such a large geographic presence, it's no surprise that Roman coins were the dominant currency throughout the region.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, new monetary systems began to appear. One of these monetary systems came from the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantine coins strayed from the design norms of their Roman counterparts in some significant ways. Understanding these differences will help you amass a more valuable coin collection in the future.
1. Abstract and Religious Imagery
One of the primary design characteristics of Roman coins is the depiction of the Roman emperor under which the coins were minted. These small portraits were incredibly detailed, which extended the time it took to create Roman coins in large quantities.
One of the major deviations exhibited by Byzantine coins is the lack of detailed portraits. Any emperors that did appear on Byzantine coins were depicted in an abstract manner.
Religious symbols also began to appear on the face of Byzantine coins. Many Byzantine coins featured only religious figures, with no emperor being depicted on the face of the coin at all.
This unique approach to coin design marked a significant break from the traditional Roman monetary system and established the Byzantine monetary system as a reputable force.
2. New Denominations
Another difference that becomes apparent when comparing Roman coins and Byzantine Coins is the denominations of each set of coins.
The Roman empire was responsible for expanding trade routes and stimulating the regional economy. The ensuing prosperity is evident in the additional denominations made available in the Byzantine coin system.
Coins representing smaller denominations and larger denominations than their Roman counterparts were produced by the Byzantine empire.
In addition to the wider range of denominations, the Byzantine coins included the denomination in their design. This made it easy for merchants to quickly and efficiently sort coins and make change in busy marketplaces.
3. Cup-Shaped Design
The Byzantines were the first to introduce cup-shaped coins that are now known as scyphates. Roman coins had a flat design.
There is no real consensus within the numismatic community as to why the Byzantines opted to strike their coins with a concave design instead of the more traditional flat design. Speculation suggests that the cupped shape made the coins easier to stack or harder to counterfeit.
Merchants would be able to quickly and accurately count their profit without worrying about coin stacks toppling when using cup-shaped Byzantine coins.
Regardless of the reason why Byzantine coins were struck with a cup-shaped design, this profile is unique and appeals to coin enthusiasts around the world.
4. Use of Gold
Perhaps the most distinct difference between Roman and Byzantine coins is the metal that was used to strike each coin.
The Romans were fond of using silver as the base for their coins. Gold was considered a decorative metal and was reserved for jewelry and other adornments.
The Byzantines opted to utilize gold for the majority of their coins. It is very common to find gold Byzantine coins available in modern markets, but silver coins are very rare.
Most of the silver coins produced by the Byzantine empire were minted very soon after the fall of the Roman empire. Many were repurposed, but the few silver Byzantine coins that remain are extremely valuable to modern collectors.
Ancient coins help tell the story of an empire's values, history, and traditions. Become familiar with the differences between Roman and Byzantine coins so that you will be better equipped to invest in collectible ancient coins in the future.