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Byzantine. The name of Heraclius (610-641)


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Collectors wonder how to pronounce ancient names. If you collect Byzantine coins and seek a coin of Heraclius you might like an AE example with much of his name clearly legible (many of his AE coins have little of his name legible in the legend). Also, you’d like to know how to pronounce his name.

Is it
Hair ah CLY us
Hair ACK lee us
or is the H not aspirate, like this
air ACK lee us,
air ah CLEE us,
or what?  [By the way, the best guess is "none of these"]

This coin is relevant because the legend is unusually clear:

25-23 mm. 5.22 grams.
Sear 842

We spell it “Heraclius”. So, in “hRAC” is the “h” an “H” and the “e” missing, or what?

I connected with my good friend and Byzantine expert @Voulgaroktonou. He wrote me,

“The name [Heraclius] begins with an aspirated Eta: Ἡράκλειος. In Classical Greek, the aspirate would have been voiced, and with the stress on the alpha, would have sounded something like
Hair ACK lee us.
In modern Greek, it is unvoiced, so Ἡελλας (Greece) is pronounced Ellas. There is evidence that the sounds of Greek were shifting to the modern pronunciation as early as the Roman period, so it is a safe bet that the name would have had an unvoiced aspirated eta. Also, the modern pronunciation  of eta is “eeta”, not “aita”, so most likely the name sounded like EerAKLios  to contemporaries.”

Back to the coin. Where we might write his name beginning with “HER” (and aspirating the “H”) instead of “ER,” it seems the Byzantines did not need the aspirate letter.

You can see the change in pronunciation as early as the third century, with, for example, this coin of Probus (276-282):

24-22 mm. 3.59 grams.

ERCVLI PACIFERO, Hercules standing left with olive branch and club. Notice the spelling of "Hercules" does not include an initial "H". 
RIC 383v Ticinum. Sear III 11984. 

Does anyone have an AE coin of Heraclius with much of the name legible? How is it spelled?


Conclusion. Coin evidence suggests pronouncing the name
ear ACK lee os        or ear ACK lee us
(although actual pronunciation heard at talks and coin shows may vary all over the map [as you can see from the dictionary citation in the next post])


Edited by Valentinian
Added a conclusion.
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What an interesting post, @Valentinian, with a fascinating conclusion!  I don’t have access to my coin images right now, so pulled the image below from another post. The Nicomedia coin in the middle has a pretty complete legend. I’m not sure about the first letter, though I think it’s h.  Then: eraclius. Just as we normally spell it!


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Here is a clear example of Heraclius and his son on the solidus from Carthage:


Byzantine Empire: Heraclius with Heraclius Constantine (610-641 CE) AV Solidus, Carthage, IY 6 (Sear 867; DOC 208; MIB 84a)

Obv: D N ЄRACLIO ЄT ЄRA CONST P P S; To left, bust of Heraclius with short beard; to right, smaller bust of Heraclius Constantine, beardless; each wears cuirass, paludamentum, and crown with cross; Between heads, cross
Rev: VICTOR-IA AVCC S; Cross potent on base and two steps; in exergue, CONOB




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In contrast to the solidus from Carthage, here are three from Constantinople.  Two include his son, Heraclius Constantine.   All names are spelled with an initial “H”.image.png.b1b6a97af7878611fee139a623a8e502.png

On the left, below, is a solidus from Ravenna.  On the right is a tremissis from who knows where.  Both have the “H”.   At least, I think the Ravenna solidus does.  The inscription appears to be DDNNHERACLIUSETHERACONSPP much like the Constantinople issues above.   The other two 3 kings type solidi have a Heraclian monogram on the reverse.  An “h” appears to be a prominent component.  image.png.74fd68e2451bebe2f1f513c6eda10358.pngimage.png.3cb3dfe82ba415c4a55e8488c8bf9c41.png

In contemporary Italian, the “H” is absent in Hercules.  I have read that by the time of Constantine the Great, spoken Latin was much more akin to Ecclesiastical Latin than to the tongue of Cicero.  And Ecclesiastical Latin uses an Italianate pronunciation.   So I will vote for the Eraclius VS. Heraclius pronunciation   image.jpeg.00358db6a5a443b4d88ec8f19ce44420.jpeg

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Flavius Heraclius
Semissis of the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire Period 610/641 AD
Material: Gold, Diameter: 17.00mm, Weight: 2.24g
Mint: Constantinopolis, Reference: MIB 72, DOC 52, SB 785
Provenance: Ex collection of Dr. Max Blaschegg (1930-2021, with collector’s ticket), ex Rauch 92, 22-24 April 2013, 1528
Obverse: Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Heraclius to right. The Inscription reads: d N hЄRACLIЧS C P P AV
Reverse: Cross potent on globe. The Inscription reads: VICTORIA AVζЧ S


This is my only Heraclius 🙂 

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