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From Latin to Greek


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I am interested in, and have been taking notes on, the transition from using Latin legends to using Greek on Byzantine coins. Of course, the "M" denomination which we use to define the start of Byzantine coins is "40" as a Greek numeral. But, at that time (early 500s) the legends are in Latin and the denominations are in Greek. When Justinian introduced dates, they are in Roman numerals and the denominations are still in Greek numerals. Later, especially under Tiberius II (578-582), we see denominations in Roman numerals. Maurice (582-602) followed Tiberius II and produced this pair from Antioch where XX is 20 in Roman numerals and K is 20 in Greek numerals.

Sear 534. 22.7 mm. 5.85 grams.
Year 5. at Antioch.


Sear 535. 22.5 mm. 6.07 grams.
Year 10. At Antioch.

It is possible for different mints in different part of the empire to emphasize different languages, say, Latin in the West and Greek in the East. This is an interesting case of one mint (Antioch, with its new city name Theopolis) which used both Roman and Greek numerals for one denomination. Antioch is pretty far east to be using Roman instead of the traditional Greek. 

Eventually I may understand more about the transition from Latin to Greek in Byzantine-coin legends. Also, I hope to understand more about about the use of Roman numerals for denominations that had been in Greek. 


Show us a Byzantine coin with something related to the use of Latin and Greek!


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Justinian I was the last emperor, I seem to recall, for whom Latin was his first language. In the generations that followed his death, as ties with the Latin speaking west become  tenuous, so also does the use of Latin increasingly disappear. Coinage clings to tradition, so Latin continues for several centuries on the coinage, but with a subtle mixture of Greek, and often both languages are represented with inappropriate letter forms. A quick glance at Constantine Porphyrogennetos' 10th c. Book of Ceremonies shows Latin phrases that have become fossilized in imperial acclamations, etc. I'll dig some examples out in the next day or so and share them. They are a lot of fun!

But two coins that illustrate the 2 languages:

Heraclius, Sear 801. The reverse better illustrates the use of Latin (the obverse being simply the names of Heraclius and Heraclius Constantine). The legend, Deus adiuta Romanis (God aid the Romans) is pure Latin albeit in a mixture of Greek and Latin letter forms.



Compare to this miliaresion of Theophilos, Sear 1661, which is in Greek, save with again, a mixture of Greek and Latin letters:

Obverse: (this is difficult to try to reproduce on my keyboard

+ΘεοFI / LOS δυLOS / ΧRISτυ S PIS / τOS εh AVτO bASILευ' RO / mAIOh  - proper Greek below:

(note the "S" before PIS, is not the letter "S". It is a manuscript abbreviation stroke for the connecting word και)

Θεοφιλος δουλος Χριστου και πίστος εν Αυτω βασιλευς Ρομαιων (Theophilos, servant of Christ, and in Him, emperor of the Romans)


Reverse: IhSυS XRIS τυS hICA

Ιησους Χριστος νικα (Jesus Christ conquers)


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  • 4 weeks later...

I recently posted an histamenon of the empress Eudocia (S 1857) in the Epic Byzantine portraits thread, that has the last Latin inscription to appear on Byzantine coins. Sadly the inscription is hard to make out and the die cutter bungles many of the letters. 

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Interesting topic

They were using Latin into the 700's on the gold coinage in the form "D" or "DN" (Our Lord), the name of the emperor in Latin, and then "PP AVG" or "P AVG" (perpetual Augustus). At the time the Byzantines controlled specific parts of Italy which eventually fell to the Lombards and Normans, where the people still spoke Latin or some sort of proto-Italian by the 800's I suppose.

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