History of coins from UniCredit Bank calendar 2019
[↓] January — hexagram
Byzantine Empire. Constans II (641–668). 654–659.
Hexagram. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 232178
Obverse — Facing busts of Constans II (to left) and Constantine IV.
Hexagram (Gr. εξαγραμμον) — a Byzantine silver coin introduced by Emperor Heraclius in 615. Prior to that, silver had not played an important role in the Byzantine economy which had been based on the circulation of gold and bronze coins. The lengthy war between Byzantium and the Persians, which Heraclius had been waging, had, however, placed a great strain on all state resources and required the introduction of a new silver denomination.
These coins were minted from confiscated Church plate and the name used for them can be translated as ‘coin weighing six grams’: it was directly linked to their weight, which was approximately 6.8 grams — the equivalent of six Roman scruples or Greek grams.
Depictions of Byzantine emperors were on the obverse of the hexagram and on the reverse there was a depiction of the Cross of Golgotha accompanied by the Latin legend «May God help the Romans», clearly reflecting the desperate situation in which Byzantium found itself because of the war against the Persians.
Changes in the correlation between the value of gold and that of silver gradually brought about a situation in which the minting of hexagrams was no longer in the interests of the treasury and, by the end of the 7th century, hexagrams had ceased to be in circulation within the market of the Byzantine Empire.
[↓] February — Chinese yuan
China. Empire. Guangdong Province.
Yuan (dollar). 1898–1899.
Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 38675.
Reverse — Dragon.
The Chinese state was one of the first in the ancient world which began to use token money. References to these means of exchange can be traced back to the II and I millennia BC: in Chinese written sources from that time hieroglyphs already existed for such concepts as ‘commodity’, ‘to buy’, ‘to sell’ and also for ‘exchange’, using the hieroglyph denoting money. Issues of bronze coins made using the technique of casting began in the 5th century BC.
Silver was not used as currency in China until the 15th century: originally this had been in the form of ingots known as lyans. The minting of silver coins in China began much later, after the monetary reform introduced by the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The first silver coins to be issued were those of Tibet in 1720. The import of Spanish pesos began in 1727: these coins were brought into China on a mass scale from the countries of North and South America — Peru, Mexico, etc. For these coins to circulate legally in China a counter-mark or counter-stamp was required.
The regular mechanised minting of silver coins in China began in 1889. The silver coins equivalent to the peso or dollar were known in Chinese as the yuan. Until 1935 the standard which virtually held sway was the silver standard. The exchange rate for Chinese currency fluctuated depending upon the world price for silver. In 1935 a monetary reform was introduced and the silver yuan was removed from circulation. An official announcement was made regarding the rejection of the silver standard and the transition to a currency based on gold, but it was only after the new reform of 1948 that the gold content of the yuan was established. The yuan was issued in the form of paper money — the «gold yuan».
The Chinese silver yuan had often been decorated with a depiction of a dragon — the main symbol of the «Whole World under Heaven». According to the various canons, the dragon has the head of a camel, the antlers of a deer, the eyes of a hare, the ears of a cow, the neck of a snake, the belly of a sea monster, the scales of a fish, the paws of a tiger and the claws of a hawk. As the «King of the Beasts», the dragon is made up of parts from all living creatures — fish and birds, reptiles and animals. It embodies the cosmogony of the world and this finds expression in numbers as well. On each of a dragon’s four feet, for example, there are five claws and it was depicted as covered with 81 scales: meanwhile the number five reflects the four corners of the Earth and its centre, while 81 is nine multiplied by nine or the yang principle squared. The number three is associated with the three worlds or Heaven, Earth and Man and also with the yang principle, while four signifies the four corners of the Earth and so on. In its claws the dragon holds a pearl — symbol of wealth and eternity, power and strength and these properties are often attributed to token currencies as well.
[↓] March — ducat
Venice. Doge Francesco Foscari (1423–1457).
Ducat. Gold. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 17423.
Obverse — Facing Christ in mandorla (almond-shaped nimbus).
In the 13th century the Republic of Venice traded on a wide scale with the East, importing wares for which it paid in Byzantine coins. In 1282 Byzantium gave financial support to the uprising in Sicily against French rule (Sicilian Vespers) and it reduced the gold content in its gold coin known as the hyperpyron. In response to that move, the Great Council of Venice began, in 1284, to mint its own high-standard gold coins weighing approximately 3.5 grams.
The coin type which appeared at that time could be traced back to Byzantine models and it was retained in the Most Holy Republic of Venice for several centuries. Christ was depicted on the obverse in an almond-shaped, flaming halo (mandorle) and on the reverse there was the scene of the Holy Apostle Mark, patron of Venice, handing a banner to the kneeling Doge, whose name was indicated in an inscription. On the obverse the following words were inscribed: «Sit tibi, Christe, datus, quem tu regis iste ducatus» («O Christ, let this duchy, which you rule, be dedicated to you»).
The word ‘ducatus’ found at the end of the inscription (initially meaning ‘leadership’ or ‘command’ but later ‘relating to duke or dukedom’) was the source of the name for this gold coin — the ducat.
[↓] April — chervonets
Russian Empire. Empress Elisabeth (1741–1761). 1751.
Chervonets. Gold. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 28040.
Reverse — St. Andrew the First-Called.
Chervonets — a gold coin of the Russian Empire minted in the 18th and early-19th centuries. During the time when gold coins were in circulation within the territory of Russia, the chervonets was used for payments abroad. Prior to the Petrine reform, the chervonets had also often been used as a military decoration.
Initially this coin had been worth the equivalent of two roubles and even at the beginning of the 20th century it was only worth ten. In the Russian Empire, this coin was issued with the name chervonets and it was designated with the value of two roubles. In the 1920s, new Soviet banknotes appeared in the wake of monetary reform, which were officially given the name chervonets. These banknotes were backed by the country’s gold reserves. In 1923-1925 gold chervonets coins were issued which were used for foreign-trade dealings. The last coins designated as chervonets were issued in 1982.
Most of the country’s population had no access to chervonets coins, but the word became part of everyday speech: it figured in proverbs and sayings and is to be found in works of literature.
[↓] May — obol
Greece. Aegina. Second half of the 5th cent. BC.
Obol. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 2469
Reverse — Tortoise.
Obol (Gr. οβολóς) — a small silver coin weighing between .6 and .7 of a gram and worth the sixth part of a drachma. When translated, this coin name signifies ‘spit’ or ‘rod’. Before the appearance of this coin, the word was used to denote iron rods which were used in some parts of Ancient Greece as money. Given that it was possible to hold exactly six such rods (a ‘handful’ or ‘drachma’ in Greek), when silver coins with a value of one drachma began to be minted, their fraction, constituting the sixth part of a drachma, was given this ancient name — obol.
Certain bronze coins were also known as obols. A bronze coin with a value of one obol was what each of the deceased was required to pay before his or her soul could be taken across the River Styx into the underground kingdom. «Charon’s obols» have been found in Classical burials and as a rule in the mouth of the deceased, less frequently among the grave goods accompanying the deceased.
The idea of an obol as a small Classical bronze coin is also to be found in recent literature — poems by Russian writers of the last century, Marina Tsvetaeva and Alexander Kushner, dating from 1921 and 1975 respectively.
[↓] June — drachma
Greece. Attica. Athens. First half of the 5th cent. BC.
Drachm. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 2298.
Reverse — Owl.
Drachma (Gr. δραχμη) — the most widespread silver coin of Ancient Greece weighing between 3.5 and 6 grams. This coin name translates as ‘handful’. The name can be traced back to the period before the appearance of coinage, when bronze and iron were used as money in Ancient Greece, both in the form of ingots and that of artefacts. In some regions the iron was in the form of rods or spits known as obols (oβολοí). A bunch of six such οβολoí could fit into the human hand and this was referred to as a drachma. Later this name was transferred to a silver coin, which was also made up of six fractions that in their turn were known as oβολoí.
Drachmas, known all over the Classical world, were minted in Athens from the end of the 6th century BC. Over several centuries the types of their obverse and reverse did not change because, thanks to the high-quality metal used and their stable weight, these coins served as the ‘international currency’ of those times. On the obverse there was a depiction of the head of the city’s main goddess, Athena, and on the reverse her sacred bird — the owl. The reverse type of the drachma gave rise to the ancient nickname for these coins, which in common parlance were known as ‘owls’. It was just such a ‘owl’ that was paid to the architects, who built the Parthenon in the second half of the 5th century BC, for each working day.
[↓] July — Persian daric
Persia. Achaemenids. End of the 6th — 4th cent. BC.
Daric. Gold. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 1279.
Obverse — King right in «Knielauf» posture, holding spear and bow.
The exact date when coinage appeared in the kingdom of the Achaemenid dynasty is not known. The earliest Persian coins — gold staters — were called darics by the Greeks. The actual name daric originated from an Ancient Persian word designating gold, but Greek writers also associated it with the name of the Persian king, Darius I (522-486 BC). According to Xenophon, darics had already been in circulation during the reign of Cyrus I, in other words the beginning of coin-minting in Persia can be traced back to the second half of the 6th century BC, when Darius the Mede came to the throne. According to the account given by Herodotus, «the father of history», King Darius was given the nickname «trader»(καπηλος), which to some extent had been the result of his having introduced coinage. This not particularly flattering epithet nevertheless reflected Darius’ special qualities, since his name not only signified ‘effective’ but also ‘builder’ of the state.
Darics were also known as «little archers», because on the obverse the Persian king was depicted with a bow and spear, or bow and dagger, and also in the guise of an archer. In rock-relief inscriptions (the Behistun inscription, the tomb of Naqsh-i Rustam) the outstanding abilities of the king are praised: «When it comes to firing arrows from a bow, I am an excellent bowman both in infantry and cavalry formation...» In his famous play The Persians, Aeschylus refers to Darius as «leader of the archers». An archer firing on bended knee was also depicted on Persian silver coins known as sigloi.
In the 5th century BC the weight of a daric was 8.4 grams, which corresponded to that of the shekel of Ancient Mesopotamia. Typical for the coins of Persian rulers was their very high gold content (over 95%), to which Herodotus, among others, bore witness: «...Darius, after purifying the gold to the highest possible degree, struck the coin...» Nevertheless, the correlation of gold to silver in Persia fluctuated from one period to another: for example, under Darius I the daric was equal to 20 sigloi (a ratio of 13.3:1) while later it was equal to 16 sigloi and so on. Gold and silver coins were designated mainly for trade in the cities along the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor. Within Persia, ingots or artefacts representing money were still being used for trading: coins were stored in the treasure-houses of Persepolis, Susa and Ecbatana and were only used when absolutely necessary, for example for paying Greek mercenaries (one daric a month for each warrior).
[↓] August — Sassanid drachma
Sasanids. Shapur I (240–273).
Drachm. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 190659.
Reverse — Fire altar flanked by two attendants.
The Sassanid dynasty was one of the most powerful in the Early Medieval period and was compared to the Eastern Roman Empire. In Iran during the Sassanid period (3rd-7th centuries) and the first fifty years of Muslim rule in the 7th century, the main coin used was the silver drachma although gold and copper coins were also minted at that time. In pre-Islamic Iran the term drachm had two meanings of equal importance: (a) a unit of money, the drachma — a silver coin of a defined weight and purity; (b) money in general, mainly in legal writings and documents. The drachma, depending upon when it was issued, weighed between three and four grams and sometimes as much as 4.36 grams, i.e. the same weight as an Attic drachma or even 4.55 grams — the standard weight for a Roman silver denarius.
In the written sources the drachma was mentioned as a unit of money far more frequently than gold or copper coins. As a rule, the prices of slaves and livestock and, in general, all kinds of property are indicated in drachmas. This also applied to land and poll taxes which were listed in drachmas, as were the total amounts of tribute collected from the provinces and regions of the state and the levels of royal awards for grandees who had distinguished themselves in the service of the state. The cost of financial guarantees, the size of fines, legacies, legal costs and contractual payment obligations were indicated in drachmas as well. There are numerous references in the sources to the circulation of the Sassanid drachma not only within Iran itself, but also in adjacent territories — the Arabian peninsula, Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor, Transcaucasia etc.
In the economic life of Early Medieval Iran, the Sassanid drachma performed the same functions intrinsic to all Near-Eastern coins made of precious metals. They provided the measure for the cost of commodities and services, they were a means for the exchange of goods and accumulation of wealth. They could be used to pay for services rendered, were the main means of payment within the state as a whole and also served as international currency. Dozens of mints were issuing millions of silver coins. The transition to a bi-metallic system led to the introduction of gold dinars into circulation, coins which in the 3rd and 4th centuries had had a weight equivalent to that of a Roman aureus (8.4 grams). For a long time coins of copper series were in the minority in museum collections of Sassanid coins, but archaeological research in the cities of Pars, Khuzestan and Merv led to the discovery of many types of copper coins, issues of which had been intended only for local use.
The minting of Sassanid coins was in keeping with the goals of religious and political propaganda, as can be seen from the official iconography used and the inscriptions and Zoroastrian symbols on them.
Sassanid coins were distinguished by their typological stability: on the obverse there would be a bust portrait of the Shahanshah (facing right) —sometimes with his heir or with his whole family — the Queen of Queens and his heir. On the reverse there would be a fire altar (ātašdān) with the figure of the Shahanshah and one of the gods in front of it. The whole scene constituted a «divine investiture» — the handing of power to the King of Kings by the supreme gods in the coronation temple. Important details of the official portrait on the coins were the carefully executed objects of the ruler’s regalia: the crown (an individual one for each king), the diadem and also items of jewellery — earrings and a necklace, all of which were rich in symbols associated with Zoroastrianism. Fire-worship was the official religion of Iran and the king was not only the supreme ruler of the state but also its chief priest. The headdresses or kulakhs worn by rulers of the royal house were in the shape of a cap, the top of which was decorated with the heads of animals and birds conveying the zoomorphic images of Zoroastrian divinities. Examples are the head of a griffin on the kulakh of the Queen of Queens or a horse on the crown of the heir to the throne — associated with the various incarnations of the royal dynasty’s divine patron. The inscriptions on the coins (written in Middle Persian) conveyed the official title of the Shahanshah on the obverse and the name of the king’s coronation palace on the reverse. It was the custom after the death of the Shahanshah for all the coins in the treasury to be recast and then issued with the portrait of the new ruler.
The circulation of Sassanid coins was one of the most stable and important in the ancient world: their production involved dozens of mints, which produced enormous issues of high-quality silver coins. Sassanid coins set a standard not only for Iran, but also for all parts of the Empire. They were accepted by weight in medieval Russia and in Eastern Europe, where they came to rest in large quantities in hoards.
[↓] September — stater
Bosporan Kingdom. Panticapaeum. Middle — third quarter of the 4th cent. BC.
Stater. Gold. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 17997.
Reverse — Griffin with ear.
Stater (Gr. στατήρ) is a name used to denote coins of various values and made of various metals, which could be translated as ‘established weight’. The appearance of this term relates to the pre-coinage period, when base metal was used, the preliminary weighing of which was an essential part of the buying and selling process. The load in each of the two pans of the scales when equilibrium was reached was called the ‘stater’. In its more abstract meaning, this word began to denote something consisting of two parts of equal size and — developing from that meaning — the word eventually turned into a numismatic term.
The ancients themselves used the word ‘stater’ for silver coins with the value of two drachmas, such as the staters of Elis, for example — the city in the territory of which the famous Olympic Games were held —or the staters from Athens’ ancient commercial rival, the island of Aegina. In addition, the term gradually began to be used to denote the coins of the highest value minted in a particular Greek centre, such as Athenian tetradrachms, which were also sometimes called ‘staters’. Classical gold coins were known as ‘staters’ as well: these, as a rule, weighed the same as two drachmas (approximately 8.6 grams). The name stater was likewise used for coins made from a natural alloy of gold and silver, so-called electrum.
[↓] October — tetradrachm
Macedonia. Philip III (323–316 BC). Babylon.
Tetradrachm. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 18053.
Reverse — Seated Zeus.
Tetradrachm (Gr. τετράδραχμον) — the most popular large silver coin in the Classical period, which weighed 14-17 grams. Its name translates as ‘four drachmas’. Alexander the Great’s tetradrachms were the most widespread variety of this particular coin. According to calculations made by scholars, the issues of these coins could have run into hundreds of millions: during the Hellenistic period, which began after the death of the great king in 323 BC, these coins were copied by other rulers and they remained the most common ones circulating in Ancient Greece.
The obverse of the Alexander tetradrachm — or so-called ‘Alexander’as it came to be known — bore a depiction of the popular Greek hero Heracles wearing a lion skin: in the opinion of some, the features of the hero’s portrait often reflected traits of Alexander himself. On the reverse was the figure of Zeus — the chief god in the Olympic pantheon —seated on a throne.
These coins provide a striking example of deliberately targeted state propaganda, demonstrating to the Greek subjects of the king, who was not of Greek origin, his devoted adherence to traditional Greek values and religious ideas.
It is believed that it was precisely coins with the value of a tetradrachm which were the ‘pieces of silver’ paid to Judas for betraying Christ.
[↓] November — Arab dinar
Damascus. Umayyads. Circa 691–692.
Arabian-Byzantine dinar. Gold. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 23767.
Obverse — Facing figures of Emperor Heraclius with his sons.
In the 7th century under the green banner of their religion, Islam, the Arabs established an enormous state — the Arab Caliphate, which stretched from Spain to India and incorporated Byzantium, Sassanid Iran and Central Asia.
The coins used in this new empire had originated from the main denominations used in Sassanid Iran — the drachma and the dinar and the names given them were almost the same as those already familiar: dirham for silver coins and dinar for gold ones. The prototype for the name given to copper fulus was the Byzantine follis.
When minting their own early gold and silver coins, the Arabs issued what were imitations of Byzantine solidi bearing depictions of the Emperor and Sassanid drachmas with portraits of the Shahanshah, but already with their own inscriptions. These issues of a figurative kind came to be known as Arab-Byzantine or Arab-Sassanid coins. The reform introduced by Calilph Abd al-Malik in 695 established the new appearance of the coins, which replaced depictions with inscriptions — the Koranic symbol of faith and excerpts from the Surahs. Inscriptions on these coins were executed in a special Kufic script, which derived its name from the city of Kufa in Mesopotamia, where there was a celebrated school of Islam. This is why a whole era in the development of Arab coinage is referred to as Kufic numismatics.
A rare gold dinar bearing a depiction of the Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius, and his sons was issued on the eve of the reform dating from approximately 691/692 and this coin type survived without change, although on the reverse round the Christian symbol of Golgotha there was already an inscription in Arabic: «There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God». This early coin type, marking the transition to the coins of the First Caliph (‘governor’) from the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), belongs to the series of Arab-Byzantine coins.
[↓] December — thaler
Taler. Silver. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 190998.
Reverse — Pine cone as symbol of Augsburg against town view.
At the beginning of the 16th century, in the Erzgebirge (or Ore Mountains) in the North-East of Bohemia, rich silver deposits were found in the feudal domain of the noble family of the Schlicks. At that time the famous architect, Donato Bramante (1444-1514), taking the mechanisms used for pressing grapes as his starting-point, invented a press for striking coins, with the help of which it was possible to mint coins and medals of large diameter. These two discoveries brought about a complete change in the appearance of European coins.
In 1516 Stefan Schlick founded a settlement for miners, which was originally known as Thal (valley) and was later named Joachimsthal in honour of St. Joachim, after it had been given the status of a town. In 1518 Schlick was given the right to mint coins and it was then that large silver coins (weighing 28-30 grams) were issued which were initially named after the town — ‘Joachimsthaler’ and later known simply as ‘thaler’.
The Swedish historian and lawyer, Johannes Loccenius (1598-1677), wrote with regard to the origin of that name the following: «[The coins] which were first minted in the time of our ancestors in 1519 (or 1518) in the Joachimsthal (Valle) in Germany and later in other places as well, incorporated the word for valley (Thal or Daal in German) and later came to be known as thalers or dalers».
These high-standard coins quickly spread through Europe and determined how European minting developed for several centuries to follow. In various countries slight adjustments were made to their name: in Sweden, Denmark and Norway the name used was daler, in the Netherlands it was daalder, in Poland it was talar. It is precisely from the word thaler that the word dollar derives.
Thalers are incredibly beautiful. On these coins we can see portraits of European monarchs, coats of arms, depictions of saints, emblems and views of cities.
[↓] Cover — obverse
Greece. Mysia. Cyzicus. 550–520 BC.
Stater. Electrum. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 584.
Obverse — Boar’s head left, to right, tuna fish.
[↓] Cover — reverse
Greece. Mysia. Cyzicus. 550–520 BC.
Stater. Electrum. Pushkin Museum. Inv. no. 584.
Reverse — Quadripartite incuse.
Coins from the collection of The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
The authors of the photos: M. Yu. Alekseev, A. A. Bronnikov (2017).
Text writers: U. M. Volkova, S. A. Kovalenko, Yu. E. Krasnobaeva, N. M. Smirnova.