Odoacer Solidus (Coin)

Odoacer Solidus (Coin)


Flavius Odoacer (433–493) was a soldier, probably of Scirian descent, who in 476 became the first King of Italy (476–493). His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of Julius Nepos and, after Nepos’s death in 480, of the Emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer generally used the Roman honorific patrician, granted by the Emperor Zeno, but is referred to as a king (Latin rex) in many documents. He used the term “rex” himself at least once, and on another occasion it was used by the consul Basilius. Odoacer introduced few important changes into the administrative system of Italy. He had the support of the Roman Senate and was able to distribute land to his followers without much opposition. Unrest among his warriors led to violence in 477–478, but no such disturbances occurred during the later period of his reign. Although Odoacer was an Arian Christian, he rarely intervened in the affairs of the orthodox and trinitarian state church of the Roman Empire.

Coin of Odoacer
Coin of Odoacer, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a “barbarian” moustache.

Post-Roman coinage in the West

In Italy Odoacer (476–493) had coined in silver and bronze at Ravenna after setting up a Teutonic kingdom. The Ostrogothic coinage that followed, from Theodoric (493–526) onward, consisted of gold, mainly imitating current Byzantine issues and with the imperial portrait (Theodoric’s fine portrait on a unique triple solidus is wholly exceptional). Silver and bronze were supplementary. The Lombards of Italy (568–774) had no distinctive coinage of their own until the gold struck in the name of Grimoald, duke of Beneventum (662–671), which was followed by gold and silver from a number of mints elsewhere. In Africa the Vandal kings Gunthamund (484–496) and Hilderic (523–?530) issued silver and bronze coinage, respectively, inscribed with their names the types and denominations looked to imperial models and, in the case of the bronze, to those of Carthage especially. Vandal gold was perhaps struck by Gaiseric (428–477) or Huneric (477–484) in the Byzantine emperor’s name, but in the absence of any royal monogram it cannot easily be attributed. The chief Spanish coinage was that of the Visigoths, who controlled southern Gaul also and—after Leovigild (568–586)—Suevia (modern Galicia), with its rich gold mines hence the fact that of 79 Visigothic mints a high proportion was concentrated in northwestern Spain. Visigothic gold coinage was produced up to the Arab invasion in the 8th century and consisted almost entirely of thirds, at first imitating Byzantine models, and bearing kings’ names and titles. The most prolific mints were Mérida, Toledo, Sevilla, Tarragona, and Córdoba.

In Gaul the Burgundians struck their own imitative gold thirds, first, under Gundobad (473–516), inscribed with a royal monogram, though not yet displacing the imperial name and portrait. The largest of the Gaulish coinages, however, was that of the Merovingian Franks, beginning with Clovis I (481–511). The gold consisted mainly of thirds, at first with some subsidiary silver and copper, inscribed by Theodoric I (511–533/534) and Childebert I of Paris (511–558) with their own names. As elsewhere, the types of the gold borrowed steadily from the imperial series, either the former Roman or the current Byzantine. Reverses showed a Victory, though the theme of the “cross on steps” of Tiberius II (578–582) gradually displaced it, beginning in the south. Obverses generally showed a profile, and later sometimes a frontal, bust. A profound break with tradition came when Theodebert I (533/534–547/548) substituted his own name on his gold for that of the Byzantine emperor—a change that in turn was to influence Visigothic gold. The right of striking gold had meanwhile been widely extended, to mints presumably operated by royal permission and numbering nearly 500 in all. These were distributed over an area including not only what is now France but also the Low Countries, the Rhineland, and Switzerland. The types of Merovingian gold coins diverged increasingly from imperial models: nearly all of them were inscribed on the obverse with the name of the issuing authority, most often municipal, and on the reverse with that of the moneyer. As the Merovingian dynasty drew to a close in the 8th century, gold coinage became poorer in quality, and it gave way to the small silver denarius, of about 1.2 grams, struck in quantity. This change heralded the Carolingian revival of the denarius.

Coinage supply to Britain was interrupted when the mints of Roman Gaul were closed about 395, and scarcely any gold or silver coin entered Britain during about 450–550. Subsequent penetration of Merovingian gold encouraged a brief Anglo-Saxon coinage of gold thirds (see below Early Anglo-Saxon coins).

Fall of Rome vs Transformation of Rome

The traditional date for the &#8216&#8217fall&#8217&#8217 of the Roman Empire, as given by Edward Gibbon, is 476 CE when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus, an insignificant event that marks the beginning of the Middle Ages. Historians can argue, however, that the Middle Ages began when Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 CE and that the &#8216&#8217crisis of the third century&#8217&#8217 set the stage for early feudal society. There was no dramatic &#8216&#8217fall&#8217&#8217 of Rome but rather a transformation of the classical Roman society and culture to an essentially Germanic medieval society and culture created through the following factors-

The constant internecine wars which determined who would be the next barracks- emperor supplanted the orderly imperial succession after the death of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the efficiency of public administration with trained civil servants that Trajan had established with his pedagogium. Together with Germanic peoples allowed to settle within the empire, this chaos facilitated the later military invasions of Rome by the Visigoths, Vandals, and Ostrogoths. The fragmentation of Europe, ruled by military feudal lords, was characteristic of the Middle Ages.

Inflation and the dwindling of a money economy created serfdom. The double denarius [&#8216&#8217antoninianus&#8217&#8217] introduced in 214 CE was only 60-percent silver and had become a bronze coin by 275 CE. The coinage reform of Diocletian [10 silver argenti = 1 gold solidus] was short-lived and insufficient, as most coins of the fourth century are unidentifiable bronze coins, even though the silver siliqua [a thin silver coin resembling the medieval English penny] and gold solidus [equal to 24 siliquae] were minted. Unable to pay taxes with the debased and dwindling supply of coins, small farmers turned their land over to larger land owners, who had pre-paid the taxes [hence known as &#8216&#8217tax farmers&#8217&#8217], and became serfs tied to the land. Serfdom, of course, was another characteristic of the Middle Ages.

Christianity, which dominated the Middle Ages, gained a firm grip with Constantine&#8217s conversion, and the authority of church leaders gradually eroded the power and prestige of the emperor and secular authorities. The Council of Nicea [325 CE] and the Council of Constantinople [381 CE] laid the foundations of a unified Christian doctrine and temporal powers of bishops. By threats of excommunication and withholding sacraments, for example, Bishop Ambrose of Milan influenced or intimidated Theodosius into allowing Christians to burn synagogues with impunity and persecuting pagans. Civic duty, the cornerstone of classical Rome, and Christian dogma became inextricably enmeshed in the society of late antiquity.

Thus, by the fourth century, emerged the three orders of medieval society- [1] those who fought, the knights [2] those who labored, the peasants and [3] those who prayed, the clergy. The non-secular literature and highly stylized art, which I have not addressed, were cultural changes more identified with the Middle Ages than with classical antiquity.

From Silver Denarii to Gold Solidus

The LAST emperor of Rome's Golden Age, Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) struggled to maintain the low tax and stable money principles of Augustus, writes Nathan Lewis of New World Economics in this excerpt from his upcoming book, The Magic Formula.

Nero had reduced the silver content of the Denarius from 100% to 90% in 64 AD this may have been in response to expenses following the Great Fire of Rome that year. Trajan (98-117) reduced the Denarius to 85% silver, possibly an adjustment to match official bimetallic conversion rates to the market prices of gold and silver.

During the peaceful reign of Marcus Aurelius' adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, the state treasury had built up a reserve of 675 million Denarii (equivalent to 197,000 kilograms of gold). A series of invasions by German barbarians incited a long war during Marcus' reign that exhausted this sum. In Rome itself, several plagues (possibly smallpox or measles) broke out, causing up to 2,000 deaths a day in the capital. Total deaths have been estimated as high as five million, and the military was devastated.

In a time when government debt finance did not exist, this left raising taxes, selling assets and debasing the coinage as ready alternatives. In an effort to avoid raising taxes, Marcus sold even his own personal assets to fund the state. As this avenue was eventually exhausted, he debased the coinage to 75% silver. After eight years encamped on the battlefield, Marcus finally returned to Rome victorious.

By itself, this was not particularly troublesome. But the demands of the time strained the abilities of one of the finest leaders that Rome, or any other country, had ever seen.

With every narrator, the story of the Fall of Rome begins with his son and successor, Commodus, who was rotten. "Entirely absorbed in himself, he spent his life in continuous debauchery, and in gratifying his morbid passion for the gladiator's art," described historian Michael Rostovtzeff.

"Administration and military affairs were neglected he relied entirely upon the praetorian guards, and was hardly at all in touch with the provincial armies."

Commodus did not raise official tax rates, but the fiscal difficulties of the state, colored with personal avarice, prompted him to use every pretense to confiscate property.

"Though every measure of injustice and extortion had been adopted, which could collect the property of the subject into the coffers of the prince the rapaciousness of Commodus had been so very inadequate to his extravagance, that, upon his death, no more than eight thousand Pounds were found in the exhausted treasury," described historian Edward Gibbon.

This produced a strong opposition among Rome's wealthy aristocracy, to which Commodus responded by executing his opponents and confiscating their estates. The assassination of Commodus in 192 began a civil war, the "year of the five emperors", resolved when Septimus Severus, a general in command of an army on the German frontier, marched his army into Rome and seized the throne.

For nearly a century afterwards, the empire convulsed as a series of generals or military-appointed emperors came to power via civil war. Between 192 and the reign of Diocletian beginning in 284, Rome had 32 emperors. Many did not last a year, or escape the cursed throne with their lives.

Septimus Severus (193-211) debased the Denarius to 50% silver. By 250, it was down to 40%. Then, the Denarius collapsed. In 270, the silver content of the Denarius had been reduced to 4%, and the price of wheat had risen by twenty times since 200. Further devaluation of the coinage came about by issuing copper coins with larger and larger denominations. By 314, the nominal price of wheat was another 50 times higher than in 270.

The military itself, now dominant in all affairs, naturally attracted new aspirants. It at least doubled in size. In their struggle to obtain and hold power, the emperors installed by the military needed money, and to get this, taxes rose. Eventually, the government refused to accept its own coinage, as did the soldiers themselves, and taxation was paid in kind.

As the military became both the foundation of all state power, and also the defense against foreign invaders, sustenance of the military became the primary concern. To accomplish this, the military simply took by force what it wanted and needed from whoever was at hand. Economic activity collapsed, which made the military's demands, in comparison to meager production, all the more burdensome. The borders of the Empire shrank under the pressure of foreign invasion, and whole regions, particularly along the German border in Dacia, were pillaged and lost.

Diocletian (284-305) halted the chaos of Rome's collapse, ruling for twenty-one years and retiring peacefully afterwards to an estate on the Adriatic. The administration of the whole empire was reorganized. Diocletian attempted to reform the coinage and stabilize prices, necessary for a return to a monetary marked-based economy, but this was sadly unsuccessful. In response, he rationalized the system that was effectively already in place, in which taxation was paid in kind to meet the material requirements of the military.

The result resembled the centrally-planned communism of the Soviet Union. The military's needs in terms of grain, cloth, oil, weapons and so forth were calculated, and this requirement was divided among the empire's regions. The overall result was positive: farmers and other producers knew their fixed obligations, and were less subject to arbitrary pillage by armed forces. But this required a huge bureaucracy, which also needed to be supported. (The military and bureaucracy were tax-free.)

Michael Rostovtzeff described:

"Compared with the delicate and complicated system of the early Empire, in which stress was laid on the self-government of the cities. the system of the late Empire, despite its apparent complexity, was much simpler, much more primitive, and infinitely more brutal. . [T]he bureaucracy gradually became utterly corrupt and dishonest and at the same time comparatively inefficient. Every addition to the army of officials, every addition to the host of supervisors, served to increase the number of those who lived on bribery and corruption."

As private enterprise became difficult or impossible, a popular path to wealth was to become a tax collector, a position that could be abused for private gain.

Tax payments were encouraged by public torture wives and children were made to give evidence against their husbands and fathers obligations were increased by adding old men and children to the tax rolls. Even before such extortion, the tax collectors' authorized fees amounted to possibly a quarter of all revenue. Emperors declared that abusive tax collectors would be burned alive, but this did not deter them much.

In time, to maintain the system and prevent people from fleeing their obligations, people were tied to their land, homes, professions and places of employment, with sons eventually taking the place of their fathers. The coinage continued to be devalued, for anyone who would still take it in trade. In 344, the price of wheat had risen another two hundred times since 314, but this had become largely irrelevant.

"The resources of the farmers were exhausted by the outrageous burdens of all the taxes, the fields were abandoned, and cultivated land reverted to waste," lamented the historian Lactantius (250-325). In the next fifty years, taxation on farmers doubled again. In some regions, a third to a half of all arable land was left uncultivated. Mothers sold their children into slavery, and fathers prostituted their daughters, to pay the taxman. A significant decline in population has been attributed to malnutrition.

If they did not abandon the fields altogether, small farmers would transfer ownership of their fields to large landowners, and continue as tenants or slaves (slaves paid no taxes). Large landowners, by legal or illegal means, had enough influence to avoid taxes – the tax collector, if he did not accept his bribe, could appear at the fortified villa and make his requests politely to the landowner's armed paramilitary.

The self-sufficient manorial estate, manned by hundreds or thousands of serfs, capable of its own self-defense, requiring no money and little outside trade, became the primary economic unit, and remained so throughout the Middle Ages. Effectively free of taxes, they often became quite prosperous, even opulent, while the State was destitute. As the landowning aristocracy avoided taxes, demands fell ever more heavily on those that remained within the state's grip. The cities decayed, and many nearly disappeared. Masses of peasants fled to the lands of the barbarians.

Rome was invaded by the Visigoths in 410, and by the Vandals in 455 – a passel of ruffians that could never have challenged the military in its prime. In 472, Rome was sacked by an unpaid Roman army, itself largely composed of barbarians. When Rome finally fell to the barbarian Odoacer in 476, it was not missed much. As long-term rulers, rather than short-term invaders, the barbarians were far less oppressive than the Roman state. In the vacuum of Roman collapse, new kingdoms emerged. In Gaul, the Merovingian dynasty (481-751) was followed by the Carolingian Empire (751-843), which unified much of Europe in the Holy Roman Empire.

While the Roman empire collapsed in the west, a new empire formed in the east. The emperor Constantine (306-337) established his capital at the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, in 330. He also introduced a new coin, the Solidus, of 4.5 grams of pure gold.

The Solidus formed the basis of a new monetary system, which allowed the monetary market economy to revive. When it was introduced, it had a market value of 275,000 Denarii. Perhaps the Romans had learned their lesson regarding monetary stability, for this coin continued to be issued from Constantinople, unchanged, for over seven hundred years afterwards.

Roman paganism was abandoned, and Christianity became the official state religion. In arts and design, Greek classicism gave way to Persian opulence. High taxes persisted, but governments began to feel their way out of the morass. Julian (361-363) reduced taxes substantially, declaring at one point that he would "rather lose his life" than raise taxes. Anastasius I (491-518) undertook a comprehensive reform of the tax system, and introduced a new, high-quality copper coin, the Follis, to be used alongside the Solidus and replace the small-denomination junk coinage then in use. (The name Follis originally referred to a sack of coins worth 25,000 Denarii.)

Only a few years after the West had disintegrated into barbarism, the Eastern Roman Empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, was so prosperous that Anastasius ended his reign with an enormous 150,000 kilograms of gold in his treasury. By 565, the Byzantine Empire had reconquered Rome and all of Italy. The Byzantine Empire continued another thousand years after the fall of Rome in the West, and ended with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Formerly a chief economist providing advice to institutional investors, Nathan Lewis now runs a private investing partnership in New York state. Published in the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Daily Yomiuri, The Daily Reckoning, Pravda, Forbes magazine, and by Dow Jones Newswires, he is also the author – with Addison Wiggin – of Gold: The Once and Future Money (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), as well as the essays and thoughts at New World Economics.

See the full archive of Nathan Lewis articles.

Please Note: All articles published here are to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it. Please review our Terms & Conditions for accessing Gold News.

Roman Coins (3rd Century BC &ndash 5th Century AD)

For more than 500 years the Roman Empire ruled a great portion of the known ancient world, and it left its mark on the economics, arts and culture of Europe for centuries thereafter. In minting and monetary policy as well, the Romans laid the foundation for many subsequent developments.

Römische Republik. Brutus. Denar, 42 v. Chr.
Zuschlag: 90.000 Euro.

The oldest Roman coins were cast in bronze (“heavy money” / Aes grave) and bore value symbols based on the as (= 1 pfund) and the unze (= 1/12 as) (e.g., the quadrans: 3 kugel = 3 unze = 1/4 as). These coins, however, proved extremely unwieldy and impractical. The denarius, as the principal Roman silver coin, was minted beginning in 211 BC with a value of 10 (later 16) asses. These Roman coins originally displayed the helmeted head of Roma on the front and the mounted “dioscuri” pair Castor and Pollux with the lettering ROMA on the reverse.

In the course of the 2nd century BC moneyers (Tresviri monetales) were granted the right to place their names on the imprints of the Roman coins and to select the coin images themselves. It was not unusual for motifs to be chosen relating to glorious deeds of the moneyers’ own ancestors. These “family coins”, with a great number of mythological and historical depictions, represent an extremely fascinating and multifaceted collection area – above all, when such famous names as SVLLA or BRVTVS are to be found upon them. In 44 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar became the first Roman to receive from the Senate the right to have his portrait placed upon Roman coins during his lifetime, a right of which he made frequent use. His allies and competitors Pompey, Brutus und Antony appeared as well – after his murder – in the images on Roman coins.

Römische Kaiserzeit. Tiberius, 14-37. Denar, Lugdunum. So genannter „Tribute penny“.
Zuschlag: 1.400 Euro.

With the end of the Republic and the beginning of rule by Emperors one finds, normally, the respective emperors and their families (consorts, heirs to the throne and co-regents) represented on the coins. The monetary system continues to be “tri-metallic”, based on gold-, silver- and bronze coins. The inscriptions feature the honorifics and offices of the respective emperors, with the year, and to that extent are easily dated (e.g., COS V = Minted in the Year of the 5th Awarding of the Title Consul / + “iteration figure”).

Due to the great number of different types, denominations and mints, and the relatively user-friendly literature, the collection area Roman Coins actually opens, even to the beginner, an array of exciting collection options. Another significant aspect for the collector is that the coins of the Roman Imperial Period were used not only a means of payment, but also as a mass medium. They may be said to have been, in a way, the “metallic newspapers” of the empire, upon which the deeds and military successes of the emperors were committed to eternity.

Antoninus II. Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 für Commodus. Aureus, 175/176, Rom. Vorzügliches Prachtexemplar. Zuschlag: 50.000.- €

In the late Imperial Period the value and the precious metal content of Roman coins went into a steady decline. Emperors including Diocletian (284-304) and Constantine the Great (308-337) attempted to counter this trend with currency reform and the introduction of new denominations, such as the bronze follis and the gold solidus. Ultimately neither the demise of the currency, nor that of the empire, could be stopped and, with Romulus Augustulus (475-476), the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire appeared upon Roman coins -- before he was deposed by the Germanic officer Odoacer.

Immerse yourself in the Punic Wars, Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, or the burning of Rome under the Emperor Nero, and experience ancient Rome in coin images! In Roman coins one does not collect simply coins, but also historical events.

Introductory literature:

  • Albert, R.: Die Münzen der römischen Republik von den Anfängen bis zur Schlacht von Actium, 2. Auflage, Regenstauf 2011.
  • Kampmann, U.: Die Münzen der römischen Kaiserzeit, 2. Auflage, Regenstauf 2011.
  • Kampmann, U. / Ganschow, T.: Die Münzen der römischen Münzstätte Alexandria, 1. Auflage, Regenstauf 2008.

Do you have any questions?

If you have any questions or encounter any problems, please do not hesitate to give us a call. We would be glad to assist you.

+49 541 96202 0

Current auctions


Further information

The Künker newsletter

With this newsletter you will receive regular, current information on dates and background, on the Künker Company and the world of numismatics, and on the contents, collection areas and items to be featured in coming auctions.

When the Anglo-Saxon peoples took over much of Great Britain the use of coinage was limited to a primitive barter system. The elites of Anglo-Saxon society would have used gold coinage from Continental Europe . The ‘solidus’ coin was a relatively heavy coin that was used in a similar way to how we use high content bullion coins today.

The &apossolidus&apos was not seen as everyday currency and their most common usage was that as a gift to either ensure loyalty or show favour. Many of the early Anglo-Saxons used the coin as a trinket or as jewellery. In the meantime, the remaining Ancient Britons traded with the coins left over from the Roman Empire or reverted to bartering among themselves.

Local Historical Context [ edit | edit source ]

The coins minted in 690s were a result of Caliph Abd al-Malik's attempt to reform the coinage of the Umayyad. The Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty, included the lands of Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and part of North Africa during the reign of Abd al-Malik. Abd al-Malik , who ruled the Umayyad from 685 to 705 CE, was born in Medina , Arabia and moved the political center of the Umayyad to Damascus, Syria. He is known for strengthening the governmental administration and adopting Arabic as the official language of his administration. Abd al-Malik is also known for having the Dome of the Rock built, considered by Jeremy Johns to be a "watershed" after which religious declarations became common [see Johns 2003, 416].

The coinage reform under Abd al-Malik replaced the gold solidus of Emperor Heraclius with purely Islamic gold dinars [See ʻAdnān Bakhīt 2000, 273]. This act freed the economy from dependence on the Byzantine and Persian dinar and indicated a new era of Islamic financial supremacy. The coinage was circulated throughout the caliphate.

The verses on the coins, according to Venetia Porter of the British Museum , include the phrase 'there is no god but God, he has no associate, Muhammad is the prophet of God' (Qur'an 9:33 and 112). These phrases, according to Ms. Porter, proclaim the very essence of the Islamic faith. These phrases emphasize the fact that the Islamic Empire was ruled by God and not man, an important distinction.

The first Islamic gold coin in history

On November 30th, 2010, a remarkable coin will be auctioned off at the auction house Numismatica Genevensis in Geneva. The coin shows in minute detail &ndash it is after all the best preserved example in private ownership &ndash Herakleios with his three sons, but was minted by a confessor to the Islamic faith. Abd al-Malik, ninth Caliph, had this coin produced in 691/2 (72-73 AH).

Herakleios as universal ruler
Surah 18 of the Qur&rsquoan tells the story of Dhu-l-Qarnayn. Dhu-l-Qarnayn, that is He of the Two Horns (a reference to the ram&rsquos horns of Ammon), defeated the Gog and Magog peoples. According to Volker Popp in &ldquoDer frühe Islam&ldquo (2007) that legendary figure goes back to Alexander the Great, albeit not the historical one from Macedonia but the Byzantine Alexander, hence to Herakleios.
Emperor Herakleios (610-641) was by no means unfamiliar to the Arabs. After all, there was a common enemy to defeat, the Sassanids. Herakleios approached the Arab clans. By selective propaganda, he tried to persuade the local Christians of the universal fight between good and evil in which they assumed their role as Herakleios&rsquo allies. He made good use of the image of Alexander raising shields against the peoples from the deep. In 622, Herakleios achieved a decisive victory over the Sassanids. As a result, the Arab clans gained their autonomy as well.
That the connection between Dhu-l-Qarnayn and Herakleios was not plucked out of the air is testified by a hadith, a legend. The hadith makes clear that it was still common knowledge in the Arab region of the 9th century A. D. that Dhu-l-Qarnayn did not refer to the Macedonian Alexander but to the Byzantine Alexander-Herakleios.
Although all personal connections between Herakleios and the Arab clans got lost when the Byzantine ruler died, many continued to regard that victor over the Sassanids &ldquothe&rdquo faithful universal ruler who had crushed the worshipper of the fire.

Abd al-Malik bin Marwan, AH 65-86 (685-705), Solidus AH 72-73 (691-692), without specification of the mint (Damascus). Miles, “The earliest Arab gold Coinage” in “Museum Notes” 13 (1967), 10, pl. XLV. From auction sale Numismatica Genevensis 6 (2010), 285.

Heraklius, 610-641, with his sons Heraklius Constantin and Heraklonas, 632-641. Solidus, Constantinople, 636/7. Sear 761. From auction sale Numismatica Genevensis 2 (2002), 181.

Abd al-Malik and Justinian II
Two men assumed rulership of an empire in A. D. 685 (65 AH). The one resided in Constantinople, the other in Damascus. The first was 17 years old, the other 39. One was called Justinian II, the other Abd al-Malik.
Abd al-Malik had come into power after a time of civil war. He was quite aware of the fact that he had to bind his empire together with symbols and a splendid administration. An effective governing of vast areas demanded structures. It was only logical that he utilized Byzantine models. Justininan on his part grappled with worries of a different kind. In 691/2, it was laid down in the Council in Trullo &ndash it got its name after a domed hall in the imperial palace &ndash, that it was hitherto forbidden to depict Christ as Lamb of God. It was required to show him in human guise instead. That led to a change of the Byzantine coin image: the bearded Christ became the motif of the obverse.
Is the production of solidi by Abd al-Malik connected with the change of the images on the Byzantine coins? In any case, the adoption of the full length depiction of Herakleios as the victor over the Sassanids and his sons, in combination with the legend Bism Allah la ilah illa Allah wahdahu Muhammad rasul Allah (In the name of God. There is no god except the One God and Mohammed is the Prophet of God) reflects an entirely different and completely new conception of the world.
Bearing this legend, which is probably the oldest written testimony of the Shahada, the Islamic Creed, this coin from 691/2 (72/3 AH) is an example of the first, as such, Islamic emission of gold coins at all. The depiction of a Byzantine emperor is not a mere imitation at this point. Rather, Abd al-Malik deliberately chose Herakleios as motif. He regarded Herakleios a universal ruler which had freed the Arabs from the suppression of the Persian pharaoh and in whose line he set himself.

Justinian II, 685-695. Solidus, Constantinople, 692-695. Sear 1448. From auction sale Numismatica Genevensis 4 (2006), 291.

Buy gold coins, get the history for free

A gold solidus issued by Emperor Justinian I

If you like an investment you can touch, hold or even wear, then look no further than gold. "Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace," US investor Warren Buffet, one of the world's richest men, has famously complained. "Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head."

He has a point. But he also misses the fact that gold's very utility is its lack of utility. It's not there to be used. It's there to be admired, hoarded and treasured. It's there for its beauty.

Of course, it is safer to store your gold in a vault somewhere, but that way you don't get any actual pleasure from the gold (unless its price is going up). You're not admiring it. There's a weirdly compelling, hypnotic quality to physical gold perhaps that's the reason it has so captivated so many millions of people throughout history and been so sought after. If you are going to invest in something, why not derive pleasure from it as well?

Supping from silver

Back in the silver bull market of the 2000s, I remember stumbling across one eccentric investor who would only buy silver in the form of antique tea and dinner sets, usually of the Georgian variety. There was no VAT to pay and, often, the bullion value of the silver was higher than the price he was paying for the tea set. He could in theory melt down the tea sets and make an immediate profit, but instead he chose to enjoy them. No doubt he would sip his morning cup of tea while contemplating the fact that silver was in a rampant bull market.

It's possible to do something similar with coins. Gold lasts forever it doesn't tarnish, it's immutable so you can pick up old coins that are hundreds of years old, which look almost as good as new, for little more than their bullion content.

A few years ago I remember strolling through Shepherd Market, just off Piccadilly, after a boozy lunch and ending up in the coin shop there. There was a rather attractive little coin sitting in the window a Justinian solidus (pictured). The Byzantine emperor Justinian I ruled in Constantinople in the mid-500s, so here I was, looking at a four-and-a-half-gramme coin that was roughly 1,500 years old. Yet the coin was trading at its bullion value (solidi have a purity of 96%-98%) so I got all of that antiquity for free.

This solidus was the standard for eastern Mediterranean international commerce, so, rather like the British sovereign, there are plenty of them floating about. Unless some celebrity starts urging people to buy solidi, it's unlikely they will ever attain much numismatic value. Even so, it easily beats owning four and a half grams of a boring old gold bar.

I bought the coin for £330 and I see the same coins now trading for £650 on eBay so I'm about 100% up on my investment. Gold has almost doubled over the same period, so I've beaten the market, if only by a fraction. But this has been a much more enjoyable investment. Showing it to people makes for a great talking point. So if you can pick up antique coins at the bullion value, even if they are common coins, that has to be a better investment than simply buying the metal itself in bullion form.

The best-value British gold coins

The most common antique coins in the UK are the Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian sovereigns. In most cases, they trade at a small premium to modern sovereigns. I've picked up loads of them over the years, but I have to admit that the sovereign is not the most attractive gold coin out there. They are only 22-carat they are mixed with a tiny amount of copper to harden them and make them more durable for everyday use. There are better-looking bullion coins to be found, the solidus being one of them.

But again, when you buy a sovereign you get the antiquity almost for free. And importantly from an investment point of view, you don't pay any capital gains tax (CGT) either if you sell at a profit. It's one of those historical anomalies, but the sovereign is, technically, legal tender, so it is CGT exempt. In fact, holding a sovereign makes you all too aware how much the pound has declined. It now takes £300 to buy a sovereign even though the sovereign is the old pound coin.

Also CGT-exempt are1oz Britannias. Britannias are beautiful coins, much more so than sovereigns. The reason is that they're 24-carat, so don't have that reddish tone sovereigns have. So they're easily my pick ofthe 1oz coins.

Krugerrands are probably the most famous 1oz bullion coins, but you can also get Canadian Maple Leaves, Chinese Pandas, Austrian Philharmonics, US Eagles and Australian Nuggets, also known as Kangaroos. You're not going to go wrong with any of them each is an ounce of gold (they also variously come in other weights) but I must confess a fondness for Philharmonics, Pandas and Nuggets.

When going for older coins, you should do a bit of research as well as taking the advice of a coin dealer (don't just rely on the latter). And always use a reputable dealer, whether online or at a shop. My strategy is always to try and get as close a price as possible to the "spot" gold price for the bullion, and get the antiquity for free.

On the other hand, Anglo-Saxon coins, which I love, trade at a huge premium to their metal content (they tend mostly to be silver as well), because a lot of people feel the same way as me about that period in British Dark Age history. So, as a bullion investment, they might not be worth it. Of course, there are old and extremely rare gold coins as well but be prepared to pay handsomely for them.

Watch the video: Byzantine Empire Gold Solidus Ancient Coin - Justinian II AD 685-695 - NGC Ancients