Coins and Currency

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Jewish and Non-Jewish Coins in Ancient Palestine

the pre-monetary period

Means of payment are mentioned in the Bible on various occasions; the relevant passages in their chronological order reflect the development of these means from stage to stage. When compared with the material extant from contemporary cultures of the region, these passages show that the underlying concepts were region-wide in the Near East. The earliest form of trade was barter. Certain commodities became generally accepted means of payment such as cattle and hides. This is reflected in Genesis 21:28–30: "Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves" (in connection with the settlement with Abimelech in Beersheba) and Genesis 13:2, "Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold." This last quotation, however, reflects the fact that Abraham lived in the period of transition from the use of cattle to the use of weighed quantities of metal, which is the next stage in the development of the means of payment – a fact which is well illustrated when he weighs four hundred shekels of silver as payment for the cave of Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 23:15–16). Onkelos renders 100 kesitah, paid by Jacob for a field in Shechem (Gen. 33:19), by 100 lambs (hufrin). Cattle as a means of payment is reflected in many usages, such as the Latin pecunia (derived from pecus sheep), the Greek polyboutes ("rich in oxen," a rich man), and the cattle-shaped weights depicted on Egyptian tomb wall-paintings found in excavations. The shekel was a unit of weight of 8.4 grams in the time of Abraham, based on the Babylonian šiqlu, which was divided into 24 gerah (Babyl. giru); 60 Babylonian shekels were one minah and 60 minah one kikkar (Babyl. biltu).

The shape of the metal ingots varied. Egyptian tomb wall-paintings depict them as shaped like bracelets or oxhides. In Genesis 24:22 Eleazar "took a golden ring of half a shekel [beka] weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold." When Joshua conquered Jericho, Achan took booty against orders, among other things 200 shekels of silver and a "golden wedge" of 50 shekels weight (Josh. 7:21). Such a "golden wedge" was discovered during the excavations of Gezer. In the pre-monarchy period the word kesef ("silver") was frequently used instead of shekel (Judg. 9:4; and ii Sam. 18:11; et al.). During the period of the kingdoms of Israel and especially of Judah, payments are mentioned in the Bible in the shekel weight, the unit used to weigh the metal bars which were in those days the main means of payment. Jeremiah bought a plot of land and weighed his payment (silver) on scales (Jer. 32:9). Subdivisions of the shekel were the beka or half-shekel (Gen. 24:22; Ex. 38:26) and the gerah, then a 20th of the shekel (Ex. 30:13). The shekel, in turn, was a 50th part of the maneh, and the maneh was a 60th part of the kikkar, which thus was equal to 3,000 shekels. The maneh and the kikkar, however, were only units of account and remained so during the Second Temple period when the shekel became a coin denomination. Gold, silver, and bronze ingots were discovered during excavations conducted in Ereẓ Israel and so were scales and weights of the shekel unit and its multiples and fractions.

introduction of coins in ancient palestine

The earliest known coins originate in Lydia in northwest Anatolia in the late seventh century b.c.e. (i.e., before the destruction of the First Temple). No coins of that period have yet been discovered in Ereẓ Israel. The earliest coins found on Palestinian soil are from the second half of the sixth century and the first half of the fifth century b.c.e. They are Greek coins from Athens, Thasos, and Macedon, brought apparently to the country by Greek merchants. In the late fifth and first half of the fourth centuries Palestine was under Persian rule and Phoenician coins, especially those from Sidon and Tyre, circulated in the northern part of the country and the coastal strip down to south of Jaffa. At the same time there was an abundance of small coins of the obol and hemi-obol denomination, struck in the Gaza area in a great variety of types, which are also artistically interesting. During that period the Athenian coinage, bearing the head of Pallas Athene and the owl, her holy bird, were the hard currency of the eastern Mediterranean. The owl type coin was so widely imitated on a local level that the local money had the same value as the Athenian coins.

the coins of judea in the late fifth and first part of the fourth century b.c.e.

Alongside the above-mentioned issues, imitations of the Athenian coinage were also issued in Judea. These silver coins are rather rare, but at least six coin types are known with the inscription Yehud (Aramaic: Judea). Some follow the "head/owl" type, while others show a falcon, a fleur-de-lis, a Janus head, a god seated on a winged chariot, and a bird of an unidentified kind. It cannot be determined whether the Jewish high priest or the local Persian governor was the issuing authority. On one coin, however, the Hebrew name Hezekiah (Yeḥezkiyyah) can be deciphered and could be related to the high priest mentioned by Josephus (Apion, 1:187–9). The largest denomination of this type which has been discovered is the drachm, but the bulk is composed of oboloi and hemi-oboloi.

the hellenistic period

During the third century b.c.e. Palestine was ruled by the Ptolemies and their currency not only circulated there but was struck in local mints at such coastal towns as Acre (then already called Ptolemais), Jaffa, Ashkelon, and Gaza. This changed after the battle of Panias in 198 b.c.e., when the Ptolemies were replaced by the victorious Seleucids. The latter used the local mints of Acre, Ashkelon, and Gaza for the production of their own currency, besides the many mints they had in other parts of their kingdom. Their coins circulated in Palestine at least until the first coins were issued by the Hasmonean rulers. The Ptolemies issued gold, silver, and bronze coins, some of the latter of heavy weight in place of the small silver. Their silver standard was lighter than that of the Seleucids, which still leaned on the Attic standard.

The Jewish Coinage

the hasmonean coinage (135–37 b.c.e.)

The consecutive history of ancient Jewish coinage begins after the establishment of the independent Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd century b.c.e. The bulk of Hasmonean coins were of the small bronze denomination, namely the perutah or dilepton. In accordance with the Second Commandment no likeness of living beings, men or animals, are found on them. Most of the emblems, for example the cornucopia – single or double – the wreath surrounding the legend, the anchor, the flower, the star, and the helmet, were copied from emblems found on the late issues of the Seleucid coinage. All Hasmonean coins bear Hebrew legends, but those of Alexander *Yannai and Mattathias *Antigonus also have legends in Greek. The Hebrew legend, written in the old Hebrew script, almost always appears in the formula, "X the high priest and the *ḥever of the Jews" (ḥever probably means the assembly of the elders of the state). The Hasmonean rulers are thus styled on most coins as high priests. The only exception is Alexander Yannai who eventually also styled himself king on some of his Hebrew legends. On the Greek legends the Hasmonean rulers styled themselves throughout as "king." With one exception all Hasmonean coins are undated, which presents scholars with difficulties in arranging them chronologically, especially as different rulers went by the same names. In spite of earlier opinions, *Simeon, the first independent Hasmonean ruler (142–135), never issued any coins. According to i Maccabees 15:2–9, Antiochus vii granted Simeon the right to issue coinage, but it has been proved that this grant was withdrawn before Simeon could make use of it. The series of Shenat Arba (the "Year Four") formerly assigned to him were actually issued during the Jewish War (66–70 c.e.). It has been suggested that Simeon's son John *Hyrcanus i (135–104 b.c.e.) did not start issuing coins immediately on succeeding his father, but only considerably later, probably in 110 b.c.e. This suggestion is based on the fact that cities in Phoenicia and in Palestine received the right to coin their own money from the declining Seleucid kingdom: Tyre in 126 b.c.e., Sidon in 110 b.c.e., and Ashkelon in 104 b.c.e. John Hyrcanus' coins are the main pattern for the whole series of Hasmonean coins. The obverse depicts a wreath surrounding the legend, "Johanan [Yehoḥanan] the high priest and the ḥever of the Jews," while the reverse depicts a double cornucopia with a pomegranate. All his coins are of the perutah denomination. The coins of his successor, *Aristobulus i (104–103 b.c.e.), are in brass with the same denomination and type, but the name was replaced by Judah (Yehudah). At the beginning of his reign Alexander Yannai (103–76 b.c.e.) issued coins of the same type as his predecessors, changing the name to Jonathan (Yehonatan). Later, he issued another series of coins (in Hebrew and Greek) on which he styled himself king. Their emblems are star, anchor, both sometimes surrounded by a circle, and flower. A lepton or half-perutah with a palm branch, and a flower also belong to this "king" series. One type of this series, the star/anchor surrounded by a circle, is very frequent. This is the only coin type in the whole series of Jewish coins which bears an Aramaic legend written in square Hebrew letters and which has been dated. The Hebrew as well as the Greek date 25, which is the 25th year of reign of Alexander Yannai (78 b.c.e.), were recently discerned. As in the Greek legends and this Aramaic one as well, his name is given as "Alexandros." Alexander Yannai also apparently issued lead coins which belong to his "king" series. It is believed that in his final issues he reverted to the early Hasmonean coin type, styling himself again as high priest but altering his Hebrew name from Yehonatan to Yonatan probably in order to avoid the formula of the tetragrammaton. The bulk of the coins of John Hyrcanus ii (67, 63–40 b.c.e.) are in the same shape as those of John Hyrcanus i. There are, however, varieties which are peculiar to his issues. Greek letters, single or as monograms, eventually appear on his coins. An a is to be found on the obverse and sometimes on the reverse; other letters are Δ, Λ or Π. These letters probably refer to the magistrates who were responsible for the mint. A change in the traditional legend, namely "Johanan [Yehoḥanan] the high priest head of the ḥever of the Jews," may indicate the privileges bestowed upon Hyrcanus ii by Julius Caesar who confirmed him as high priest (Jos. Wars 1:194). Besides the regular coin type, Hyrcanus ii also issued lepta or half perutot of the same type as did his father Alexander Yannai, bearing the palm-branch/flower. One larger trilepton shows a helmet and a double cornucopia. On all his coins he styled himself high priest.

During the short reign of the last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus Mattathias (40–37 b.c.e.), a fundamental change occurred in the coin issue of the Hasmoneans. His Hebrew name Mattityahu (Mattathias) is only given on his perutah denomination. The pomegranate between the double cornucopia is replaced by an ear of barley. He issued two larger denominations which can be compared with the Seleucid chalcous and dichalcous. Antigonus was the only Jewish ruler who depicted the holy vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem on his coins, i.e., the table of shewbread and the seven-branched candelabrum. In his Hebrew legends he styles himself high priest and in his Greek legends "king." His Hebrew name is known to us only from his coins.

the coinage of the herodian dynasty

(37 b.c.e.–c. 95 c.e.). The coins of Herod the Great (37–4 b.c.e.), all of bronze as those of his successors, can be divided into two groups: those which are dated and those which are not. The dated coins all bear the same date, the year three. As Herod no doubt reckoned his reign from his appointment as king of Judea by the Romans in 40 b.c.e. and not from his actual accession three years later, the "year three" is equal to 37 b.c.e. All legends on his coins are in Greek and no Hebrew legends appear on the coins of the Herodian dynasty. The legends render his name and title, Βασιλέως ʿΗρώδου. The emblems on his coins are the tripod, thymiaterion, caduceus, pomegranate, shield, helmet, aphlaston, palm branch, anchor, double and single cornucopia, eagle, and galley. It may be concluded from this selection of symbols that Herod the Great did not wish to offend the religious feelings of his subjects. The denominations of his coins were the chalcous and hemi-chalcous (rare), the trilepton, and frequently the dilepton or perutah.

The coins of Herod Archelaus (4 b.c.–6 c.e.) are undated and bear mainly maritime emblems, such as the galley, prow, and anchor. Other types are the double cornucopia, the helmet, bunch of grapes, and wreath surrounding the legend. His main denomination was the perutah, but he also issued a trilepton. Herod Antipas (tetrarch of Galilee 4 b.c.e.–c. 39 c.e.) began to issue coins only after he founded and settled his new capital Tiberias. All his coins are dated. The earliest date is from the 24th year of his reign (19/20 c.e.). On his coins he is called Herod, but they can easily be distinguished as they bear his title "tetrarch." The emblems on his coins are all of flora such as the reed, the palm branch, a bunch of dates, and a palm tree. Though the emblems are the same on all denominations, three denominations can be distinguished. The obverses show a wreath that surrounds the legend "Tiberias"; only the series of the last year refers to Gaius Caligula. As the territory of the tetrarch Herod Philip i (4 b.c.e.–34 c.e.) was predominantly non-Jewish, he allowed himself to strike coins with a representation of the ruling Roman emperor and the pagan temple erected by his father in his capital Panias. His coins are dated from the year 5 to the year 37 of his reign, though not all dates occur. Three denominations can be observed, though their units cannot be distinguished.

The most common coin struck by King Herod Agrippa i (37–44 c.e.), grandson of Herod the Great, was a perutah of the year 6 of his reign (42/3 c.e.), depicting an umbrella-shaped royal canopy and three ears of barley. This coin was obviously struck for Judea. For the other districts of his kingdom he issued coins that would have offended Jewish religious feelings as they carried his own portrait or that of the Roman emperor and even gods or human beings in the Greco-Roman style of the period. On one very rare coin two clasped hands are shown; the legend seems to refer to an alliance between the Jewish people and the Roman senate. All Agrippa's coins are dated, and in his non-Jewish series two different groups of two denominations each can be discerned belonging to the reigns of Caligula and Claudius respectively. Herod of Chalcis (41–48 c.e.), brother of Agrippa i, regularly put his portrait on his coins, calling himself "friend of the emperor." Some of his extremely rare coins bear the date "year 3," others are un-dated; a system of three denominations can be observed in this coinage too.

From the time of the son of Herod of Chalcis, Aristobulus of Chalcis (57–92 c.e.), only a few rare specimens have been preserved. They bear his portrait and sometimes also that of his wife *Salome. His coins can be identified by their legends which mention him and his wife Salome as king and queen.

Because of his long reign, the series of coins assigned to Herod Agrippa ii (c. 50–93 c.e.) is the largest and most varied among the coin series of the Herodians. Two types bear his likeness, and others issued in the year 5 of Agrippa with the name of Nero have a legend surrounded by a wreath. There are two coins which have a double date (the years 6 and 11) and which belong to the two different eras used on his coins. These double dated coins bear "inoffensive" symbols such as double cornucopias and a hand grasping various fruits. All his coins, like those of his father Agrippa i, are of bronze and dated, making it easy to arrange them in chronological order. There are however some difficulties. The first is the parallel issue of coins in the name of Vespasian and in the name of his sons Titus and Domitian. It has been accepted that all his Greek coins belong to an era starting in the year 56 c.e. The Latin series issued in the name of Domitian belongs to an era starting in 61 c.e. The bulk of his coins were struck during the reign of the Flavian emperors, with Tyche, the goddess of destiny, and the goddess of victory as emblems. A unique specimen, with the victory inscription on a shield hanging on a palm-tree, refers to the Roman victory in the Jewish War (66–70 c.e.). Agrippa thus put himself into the Roman camp against his own people. His coinage, as described above, shows the most far-reaching deviation from Jewish tradition among the ancient coinage issued by Jewish rulers.

the coinage of the jewish war (66–70 c.e.)

By the time the Jewish War broke out, the Tyrian mint had ceased to issue silver shekels but shekels were needed by every Jewish adult male for the payment of the annual Temple tax of a half-shekel (Ex. 30:11ff.; ii Kings 12:5ff.). This reason and the resolve of the Jewish authorities to demonstrate their sovereignty over their own country led to the decision to strike the well-known "thick" shekels and half- and quarter-shekels dated from the first to the fifth year of the era of the war. These are the first silver coins Jews struck in antiquity. They are of an extraordinarily good quality, artistically as well as technically. The emblems are as simple as they are beautiful: a chalice with pearl rim and three pomegranates. The legends which are, of course, only in Hebrew and written in the old Hebrew script, read, Yerushalayim ha-Kedoshah ("Jeru-salem the Holy") and Shekel Yisrael ("Shekel of Israel") with the abbreviated dates: ש׳ה׳ ,ש׳ד׳ ,ש׳ג׳ ,ש׳ב׳ ,ש׳א׳ (shin alef, shin bet for sh[enat], a[lef], "year one," sh[enat] b[et], "year two," etc.). Small bronze coins of the perutah denomination were struck during the second and third year of the war, and three larger denominations were issued during the fourth year, two of which indicate the denomination as revi'a ("quarter") and ḥaẓi ("half"). The emblems of the bronze coins are the vine leaf, the amphora, the lulav, the etrog, the palm tree, the fruit baskets, and the chalice.

the coinage of the bar kokhba war (132–135 c.e.)

During this war the last Jewish coin series in antiquity was issued. Bar Kokhba became the head of the Jewish community, and the bulk of the coins issued bear the name Simeon and eventually his title "prince of Israel." However, other coins exist from that period which bear the name of one "Eleazar the Priest" or simply that of "Jerusalem" as the minting authority. The coins were issued over a period of a little more than three years (i.e., during the entire war). The coins of the first two years are dated, but the formula of the era changed from "Year one of the redemption of Israel" to "Year two of the freedom of Israel." During the third year and until the end of the war, the coins issued were undated and bear the war slogan "For the freedom of Jerusalem." These coin types, too, are as numerous as they are beautiful, and artistically rank first in the series of Jewish coins. During this war as well coins were issued in silver and in bronze. What makes this series exceptional from all other coin series in antiquity is the extraordinary fact that the whole issue was overstruck on coins then current in Palestine, such as on the Roman provincial tetradrachms (mainly from Antiochia) and on the Roman denarii or provincial drachms, as well as on local bronze city coins mainly from Ashkelon and Gaza. Bar Kokhba possibly obtained the gentile coins needed for overstriking by means of a public loan for the national war effort.

There are two silver denominations, the tetradrachm or sela and the denarius or zuz. The Temple front and a lulav and etrog appear on the tetradrachms, while a rather large number of emblems occur on the denarii, such as a wreath surrounding the legend, a bunch of grapes, a juglet, a lyre, a kithara, a pair of trumpets, and a palm branch. These emblems are used in many die combinations, thereby creating a large number of coin types. The bronze coinage can be divided into four denominations, a system taken over from the city coinage then current in Palestine and which was reused for the Bar Kokhba issues. On the large denomination, which was issued during the first and second year only, a wreath surrounding the legend and an amphora are depicted. On medium bronze א׳, which is the commonest denomination, a palm tree and a vine leaf are shown. On medium bronze a wreath surrounding a palm branch and a lyre or a kithara appears. The small bronze denomination shows a palm tree and a bunch of grapes. In general, the Bar Kokhba coinage is based on the tradition of the coinage of the Jewish War, 66–70. The amphora, vine leaf, and palm tree occur on the coins of that period, and the similarity of the legends is all the more striking, with the name of Zion replaced by the name Israel during the Bar Kokhba War.

Non-Jewish Coins During the Roman Rule

the roman procurators (6–37 and 44–66 c.e.)

After the banishment of Herod Archelaus in 6 c.e., his territory (Judea and Samaria) came under direct Roman rule administered by a procurator of equestrian rank. Some of these procurators issued coins of the perutah denomination as follows: coin types with a palm tree and an ear of barley; coin types with a wreath surrounding legend, a double cornucopia, olive spray, three lilies, a vine leaf or leaves, kantharos, amphora, and a palm branch; coin types with three ears of barley, simpulum, lituus, and a wreath surrounding the date of issue; and coin types with a wreath surrounding legend, two crossed spears, a palm tree, and a palm branch. It is believed that these coins were issued at *Caesarea Maritima, the administrative center of the Romans in Palestine. All coins bear the regal years of the respective Roman emperors and can therefore be arranged in chronological order without difficulty.

judea capta coins and later issues of the roman administration

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e., Palestine became a separate administrative unit called provincia Judaea. The Flavian emperors appointed a legatus pro praetore as head of the local administration and he was also the commander of the military forces stationed in the province. During the reigns of Vespasian (69–79 c.e.) and Titus (79–81 c.e.) the coins issued refer in their types and legends to the Roman victory; the legends are the Greek equivalent to the well-known legend Judaea Capta. Under Domitian (81–96 c.e.) four series of coins were issued, which do not refer to the victory over the Jews, but to Domitian's victories in Germany and Britain. All but the last two coin types of Domitian are undated and their chronological order was conjectural until recently.

the palestinian city coins

The following cities in Palestine proper struck coins in antiquity: *Aelia Capitolina (Roman Jerusalem), Anthedon, Antipatris, Ashkelon, Caesarea Maritima, Diospolis, Eleutheropolis, Gaza, Joppa (Jaffa), Neapolis (Shechem), Nicopolis-Emmaus, Nysa-Scythopolis, Raphia, Sepphoris-Diocaesarea, and Tiberias. Other cities beyond the border of ancient Palestine struck coins as well, such as Dora and Ptolemais (then part of Phoenicia), and the following cities in Transjordan: Abila, Dium, Gadara, Gerasa, Hippos, Kanatha, Kapitolias, Panias, Pella, Petra, Philadelphia, and Rabbath-Moab. Older cities which struck coins were Ashkelon, whose era began in 104/3 b.c.e., and Gaza, whose era began in 61/60 b.c.e. The era beginning between 64 and 60 b.c.e., which was adopted by many of the above cities, refers to Gabinius' invasion of the Hasmonean kingdom under Pompey, when many cities became independent, especially the so-called *Decapolis in the northeast. The coin types are numerous. City coins issued under Roman rule customarily had the head of the emperor on the obverse while the reverse bore images referring to the city, such as temples built there, the gods worshiped by their inhabitants, and military garrisons stationed in them. The legends frequently indicated the status of the city within the Roman empire, such as colonia, autonomous, etc. The archaeological finds suggest that the circulation of these coins was not restricted to the city by which they were issued, but was countrywide. In some cases (Ashkelon, Gaza, Neapolis, Sepphoris, and Tiberias) the money systems consisted of three or more denominations. Their equivalency with the Roman coin system cannot be ascertained. All these coins are of bronze. The only city in Palestine that issued an autonomous silver coinage was Ashkelon (between 51 and 30 b.c.e.) – coins bearing portraits of Ptolemy xiv, Ptolemy xv, and Cleopatra vii. The city coinage came to an end in about 260 c.e. when it became known that the value of the metal was greater than their nominal value. It was then replaced by debased Roman imperial coins.

[Arie Kindler]

Coins in Talmudic Literature

The currency system most commonly found in tannaitic literature is a syncretic one, based on the Greek drachm-obol – 6 obols = 1 drachm – but otherwise following the Roman monetary system both in terminology and metrological structure. Its standard was linked to that of the Tyrian tetradrachm (sela). In tabular form it appears as follows (above the talmudic terms are the Roman ones from which they derive.

PerutahKardionts or Kuntrun(K)MusmisIssarPundionMa'ahDinar

There were also two (silver) tarapiks (quinarii) to the dinar, 24 or 25 dinars to the gold dinar (aureus), and 100 dinars to a maneh (theoretical unit of Babylonian origin).

The Talmud (Kid. 12a) also records what is apparently an earlier system, of uncertain origin.

PerutahShaminNiz or HanezDarosa or HadrisMa'ahDinar

However, by the second century c.e. these systems were already of the nature of archaic literary heritages (from Hasmonean times, most probably), so that, for example, no ma'ot were actually in circulation. Coins in daily use were denarii and sela'im from imperial mints (Antioch, etc.), while "small change" copper coinage was minted locally in a number of cities (see above). These city coinages had their own metrological systems, still insufficiently understood, and a number of strange talmudic monetary terms, quoted much later than the coins were actually used, may be related in some way to these local systems; e.g., the trisit (tressis) of Tiberias and Sepphoris (Tosef., Ma'as. Sh. 4:13, 94), termissis (Roman as, denarius?), asper, riv'a (Roman sestertius, ¼ denarius?), tib'a (didrachm), and ragia (tridrachm, or cistophoric tetradrachm). The only silver coins minted in Palestine during this period were "re-volt coins" of the Jewish War (66–70) and the Bar Kokhba War (132–135). In the Talmud those of the first war are called "Jerusalem coins," after their legend "Jerusalem the Holy," and those of the second "Kosiba coins" (Tosef., Ma'as Sh. 1:6).

The third century was one of inflation throughout the Roman Empire, so much so that by the 270s the denarius, instead of being 1/25 aureus was 1/1000 (See tj, Ket. 11:2, 34b). The effects of this inflation were to force the closure of all local (copper-producing) mints, and by the time of Diocletian (284–309) to usher in a completely new monetary system, based on a gold standard, unlike the earlier silver-based one. A number of new terms appear in talmudic literature from the late third century onward, corresponding to units of the new system; e.g., lumma (nummus, Av. Zar. 35b), leken (leukon, meaning white, whitish silver-washed follis?; tj, Ma'as. Sh. 4:1, 54d, etc.), follsa, follarin (follis), argaron (argurion, siliqua?; tj, Pe'ah 8:7, 21a). Throughout the fourth century, which was one of continued economic instability, these units were subject to constant depreciation and revaluation. Even gold solidi, which had superseded the aurei, were at times viewed with mistrust because of their adulteration and pure bullion was preferred to gold coin (cf. Cod. Theod. 12:6, 13).

In Babylonia during the Sassanid period (from the early third century onward), the standard silver unit was the Sassanid drachm, called in the Talmud zuz (from Akkadian zuzu – "to cut," but according to Jastrow "glittering"), while smaller copper coins of varying sizes were called peshitte.


According to talmudic law, "coin" cannot effect a transfer of property; only "produce" (pere) can. All "coin" can do is cause an obligation to complete a contract. Hence there is much discussion on what [coins] constitute "coin" and what "produce," or in modern terminology the relative "fiduciariness" of the elements of a trimetallic monetary system (bm 44a–b, etc.). There is also some discussion as to when coins cease to be legal tender (bm 4:5; bk 97a–b, etc.).

In Post-Talmudic Literature

There are two main contexts in which monetary terms appear in post-talmudic literature, halakhic and lexicographic-metrological (partly related to halakhic), and there are also incidental references.


There were constant attempts to translate monetary shi'urim ("halakhic measures"), such as the five sela'im of "the redemption of the *firstborn," the perutah of the *marriage act, and the 200 zuz of the ketubbah in terms of contemporary coinage. Already in the Talmud (Bek. 50a) there is a geonic gloss which gives the Islamic equivalent of the five sela'im as "20 mitkalei [gold dinars], which are 28½ dirham [silver coins] and ½ danka." Though this reckoning is repeated in various early sources, subsequent commentators give a number of different calculations in terms of their own respective time and country (e.g., Persia, Halakhot Gedolot; Egypt, Maimonides; Aragon, Naḥmanides; etc.).


In several lexicographic works biblical and talmudic monetary terms are explained, for example, Jonah ibn Janaḥ's Sefer ha-Shorashim, Nathan b. Jehiel's Arukh, David Kimḥi's Mikhlol, etc. There are also a number of halakhic-metrological studies in which biblical and talmudic coins are discussed in current terms, as in the work of Joseph b. Judah ibn Aknin (12th–13th century) and Estori ha-Parḥi (Kaftor va-Feraḥ (c. 1322), ch. 16), which confusingly cites Arabic, Provençal, and French coins, right up to H.J. Sheftel's Erekh Millim (1906), a very rich dictionary of halakhic metrology.

incidental references

There are innumerable incidental references to coins in the responsa literature, for example to Islamic coins in Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (ed. by A. Harkavy (1887), nos. 386, 424, 489, et al.); Spanish, in Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (responsa 2:113); Portuguese, in *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (responsa 2:651), etc. In some cases local monetary terms are translated literally into Hebrew, thus florins (peraḥim); gulden (zehuvim); albi or whitten (levanim); doblas (kefulot). Coins of pure silver are variously called tabor, naki, ẓaruf, mezukkak, or zakuk. Often a local term is equated with a talmudic one, at times with confusing results. Thus, for example, a pashut or pashit may stand for esterlin, sol, denier, dinaro, pfennig, etc.

[Daniel Sperber]

Currency of Palestine

ereẒ israel under ottoman rule

Both Turkish and European coins circulated in Ereẓ Israel during Ottoman rule. Tokens issued by various communities, such as the Jews and the German Templers, and by some business firms, were also in circulation. The reasons for this variety of currency were lack of trust in Turkish coinage, shortage of coins, disparities in the value of Turkish coins of high denomination in different parts of the country, and the capitulations which granted special rights to some European powers and resulted in French gold napoleons and Egyptian coins being brought into circulation alongside Turkish coins. Egypt, though nominally under Turkish rule, enjoyed coinage rights from the middle of the 19th century, and its currency also circulated in Ereẓ Israel.

[Yitzhak Julius Taub]

palestine under the british mandate 1917–48

On the British occupation of Palestine, the Egyptian pound was made legal tender in the territory. It was replaced in 1927 by the Palestine pound (œ-P), administered by the Palestine Currency Board in London. The Palestine pound was divided into 1,000 mils, and all subsidiary coins issued for Palestine were denominated in mils. A one-pound gold coin, equal to the British sovereign, was authorized but never issued. The first coins of Palestine were placed in circulation on Nov. 1, 1927. Their denominations were 1 and 2 mils in bronze, 5, 10, and 20 mils in cupro-nickel, and 50 and 100 mils in silver. The designs, prepared by the Mandatory government, were intended to be as politically innocuous as possible, the only feature besides the inscriptions being an olive branch or wreath of olive leaves. The inscriptions were trilingual, giving the name of the country, Palestine, and the value, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. As a concession to the Jewish community, the initials, א״י ("Ereẓ Israel") appeared in brackets following the name Palestine. Perhaps in order to stress the colonial nature of the coinage, the 5, 10, and 20 mils coins were holed in the center.

The design of the Palestine coins remained unchanged, with the exception of the date, throughout the period of the Mandate. The only changes introduced from 1942 to 1944 were the minting of the 5, 10, and 20 mils in bronze due to wartime shortage of nickel, and a slight change in the composition of the 1 and 2 mils (from 1942 to 1945) in order to save tin, which was scarce. Coins were not minted annually, but according to local requirements as reported by the Mandatory government to the Currency Board. They were all minted at the Royal Mint, London. The last coins to be minted were those of 1947, but the entire issue bearing this date was melted down before leaving the Mint, except for two sets, one in the British Museum and the other in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The entire series of coins actually in circulation numbers 59. Some of these exist in proof state as well. The Palestine Currency Board also issued bank notes (see Table).

[Dov Genachowski]

DenominationObverse designReverse designMain color
500 MilsRachel's TombDavid's Towerlilac
1 PoundDome of the RockDavid's Towergreen
5 PoundsTower of RamlehDavid's Towerred
10 PoundsTower of RamlehDavid's Towerblue
50 PoundsTower of RamlehDavid's Towerpurple
100 PoundsTower of RamlehDavid's Towergreen

In the Concentration Camps and Ghettos

In the concentration camps, which had been established in Germany as soon as the Nazis came to power in 1933, the possession of currency, German or foreign, by the inmates was strictly prohibited. Amounts which they were allowed to receive every month from their relatives had to be exchanged for Lagergeld ("camp money"), a kind of scrip issued in denominations of 10 and 50 pfennig and 1 and 2 rm. Such camp money was in use in Oranienburg, Dachau, and Buchenwald. A substantial part, however, of the prisoners' monthly transfers was confiscated by the camp administration under the heading of "deduction for damage to camp inventory," and was channeled into the special accounts maintained by the ss.

ghetto currency (paper)

In several of the ghettos established by the Nazis, the Jewish administration was ordered by the ss to set up special banking and postal departments. The purpose was to deprive the Jews of all the money in their possession by forcing them to convert it into bank notes of a nonexistent currency. In the Lodz (Litzmannstadt) ghetto, established on April 30, 1940, all contact with the outside "Aryan" world was prohibited on pain of death. As early as June 1940, special 50 Pfennig notes were issued by the Judenrat, on orders of the ghetto commandant, in order to enable the ghetto inmates to purchase postcards bearing a postage stamp. The notes were overprinted in black with smaller denominations – 5, 10, and 20 Pfennig – which could be cut out for separate use. In July of the same year six more notes were issued, in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 marks. This series, like the first, was printed by the German authorities outside the ghetto. The notes, called Quittungen ("receipts"), showed the respective denominations on one side, and the serial number, the Star of David, and the signature of the Aeltester der Juden in Litzmannstadt on the other; the denomination was repeated and, in addition, there was a menorah and a statement threatening severe punishment for any forgery of these notes. In April 1942, 10-Pfennig scrips totaling 2,000 marks were in circulation in the Lodz ghetto in order to meet the demands on its postal department. Additional series of 10 Pfennig notes were issued in the course of the year.

ghetto coins

The first coins specially minted for use in the ghetto, made out of an aluminum-magnesium alloy and issued in the denomination of 10 Pfennig, were put into circulation on Dec. 8, 1942. They were withdrawn after a few days because they lacked the inscription Quittung ueber … ("receipt for …") and were replaced by a newly minted coin bearing the missing inscription. In 1943 more coins were minted in denominations of 5, 10, and 20 marks. On one side the coins showed the respective denomination, and on the reverse the Star of David, the word "ghetto," and the year of issue.

theresienstadt "bank notes"

In the Theresienstadt ghetto the Aeltestenrat was ordered by the ss commandant to establish a ghetto bank at the end of 1942. In the spring of 1943 on the eve of a visit by a Red Cross commission, a hasty effort was made to prepare the ghetto for the visitors: shops were opened, in which items confiscated from new arrivals were put on sale; a "cafe" and "concert hall" for the "entertainment" of the starving prisoners were established; the only thing missing in the show was money. Thereupon the "technical department" of the ghetto was ordered to design bank notes on the spot, which were printed in a rush by the Prague National Bank in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Kronen. The "money" was deposited in the ghetto "bank." Desider *Friedmann, a prominent Austrian Zionist, was appointed bank manager and was forced to report to the commission on the ghetto currency, the bank reserves, and the progress of the "savings accounts." This tragi-comedy reached its climax when the prisoners had to form a long queue in order to deposit their "money." Soon after the commission's visit, the bank and the ghetto currency became the subject of a Nazi propaganda film. Once again "banking transactions" were performed and filmed. Part of the film was discovered after the war; it shows emaciated old people waiting outside the bank in the old Theresienstadt town hall, with ghetto currency and savings books in their hands. Soon after, the "actors" in the film were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Several series of Theresienstadt ghetto banknotes have been preserved. They vary in color and show Moses with the Ten Commandments, a Star of David, and the inscription Quittung ueber… Kronen on one side, and Quittung, a Star of David, the date of issue (Jan. 1, 1943), the signature of the Aeltester der Juden, Jacob *Edelstein, and the serial number on the reverse.

forging foreign currency at sachsenhausen

A different story altogether was the "production" (i.e., forging) of foreign bank notes by Jewish prisoners in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for use by the Nazis. This was known as "Aktion Bernhard," after the officer in charge, Sturmbannfuehrer Bernhard Krueger, and began in 1942. Experts in graphic art and printing among Jewish prisoners were sent to Sachsenhausen. They were kept in a separate block, surrounded by barbed wire and isolated from the rest of the camp. A total of 130 prisoners was engaged in the work; the monthly output of sterling notes alone was as high as £400,000 but gold rubles, dollars, and foreign stamps were also forged. Shortly before the end of the war, a similar project was organized at the Mauthausen concentration camp.

[B. Mordechai Ansbacher]

The State of Israel

On the establishment of the State of Israel, the Palestine pound and its subsidiary coins continued to be legal tender until Sept. 15, 1948, when the Palestine pound was replaced by the new Israel pound (I £, in Hebrew lirah (לִירָה) abbreviated ל״י). The Palestine coins continued in circulation until 1949, disappearing, however, even before their demonetization when the Iœ was devalued against the pound sterling.

legal and administrative arrangements in israel

While the issue of banknotes was carried out for the State from 1948 until 1954 by the Issue Department of Bank Leumi le-Israel (before 1950 the Anglo-Palestine Bank Ltd.), the issue of coins during the same period, that is until the establishment of the Bank of Israel, was the responsibility of the government, exercised by the accountant-general in the Ministry of Finance. This responsibility was transferred to the Bank of Israel under the Bank of Israel Law, 5714 – 1954. A treasury note for i £4.1 million was issued to the bank on its opening day, Dec. 1, 1954, to cover the liability arising from coins in circulation on that date. This note was redeemed in 1965.

The Bank of Israel continued, between 1954 and 1959, to issue mainly the same coins issued previously by the Treasury. The first series of Bank of Israel trade coins was issued in 1960, while the first Bank of Israel commemorative coin was issued in 1958. The issue of coins is handled in the Bank of Israel by the Currency Issue Unit, charged with planning and producing the currency, while its placement in circulation comes under the Issue Department of the Bank. Coin designs are chosen by tender among qualified artists, or in some cases by open tender, by the Advisory Committee appointed for this purpose, which submits its recommendations to the governor of the bank. In order for the coins to become legal tender, the approval of the minister of finance and publication of the particulars of the coin in Reshumot, the official gazette, are required.

the 25 mils of 5708–9

Following independence in 1948 the shortage of coins in Israel became acute. Firms, municipalities, and bus companies started illegally issuing coin-tokens, out of sheer necessity. As a result, in August of that year the Treasury decided to mint the first Israel coins. The first coin minted, denominated 25 mils (the term perutah replaced mil only later), was made of aluminum, carrying the design of a bunch of grapes taken from a coin of the Bar Kokhba War. It was at first minted by a private factory in Jerusalem, and later by one in Tel Aviv. It was not a successful coin and was placed in circulation only because of the pressure of demand. It established, however, the principle of design governing Israel trade coins – all designs are taken from ancient Jewish coins, those of the Jewish War (66–70) and of the Bar Kokhba War (132–135), and all are dated according to the Jewish year. The 25 mils coins are the only ones that were actually demonetized in Israel following the establishment of the perutah as the subdivision of the Israel pound.

the perutah series

The perutah series, commencing in 1949 and ending in 1960, comprised eight denominations: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 perutot. Various changes occurred during the period as regards the 10 perutot coin (minted in bronze and aluminum, four types in all), and the 100 peru-tot (two sizes) – there are several varieties, as distinct from types, in each coin of the series. The 250 perutot was minted in cupro-nickel for general use and in silver for sale to numismatists. The 500 perutot was minted in silver only, for numismatists' use, and was never in actual circulation. In all, the series includes 25 types for the eight denominations and numerous varieties. Until 1954 all perutah coins were minted for the Israel government by two private mints in Britain: the ici Mint and The Mint, Birmingham. In 1954 the Israel Mint was established in Tel Aviv, as a division of the government printer, and gradually took over the minting of Israel's coins.

the agorah series

The law amending the Currency Order of 5719 – 1959 abolished the division of the i £ into 1,000 perutot and introduced instead its division into 100 agorot. Following this enactment, the Bank of Israel began in 1960 to issue the new series, denominated in agorot. Four denominations were introduced in 1960: 1 agorah made of aluminum, and 5, 10, and 25 agorot of cupro-nickel-aluminum. In 1963 the series was completed by the addition of half-pound and one pound coins in cupro-nickel. The one pound coin introduced that year proved unpopular owing to its similarity to the half-pound coin and its design was changed in 1967, this being the only change in the series. Complete sets of all six denominations were issued for each year since 1963 with the exception of 1964. By the end of 1968 the series comprised 47 coins. For some of these there are several varieties. Coins of the agora series were minted by the Israel Mint, the Royal Dutch Mint at Utrecht, and the Swiss National Mint, at Berne. The Israel Mint was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1966, and all 1967 trade coins were minted in Jerusalem, this being the first year in which no foreign mint took part in the minting of these coins.

commemorative coins

The first commemorative coin of Israel was issued by the Bank of Israel in 1958 to mark Israel's tenth anniversary. It proved to be a success, and established the series of Israel's commemoratives as one of the most popular in the world. The basic series of commemoratives is the Independence Day coin, of which the 1958 coin was the first. These were issued until 1967 in the denomination of i £5 and from 1968 in the denomination of i £10, in silver. Two other series of commemorative coins were started but discontinued after a period: half-pound "half-shekel" series issued for Purim, of which two coins were issued in cupro-nickel, and one pound Ḥanukkah series, six coins also in cupro-nickel. Special (horsde-série) commemorative coins were issued on several occasions: a 20-pound gold coin to mark the centenary of the birth of Theodor Herzl; 50- and 100-pound coins in gold to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Chaim Weizmann; a 50-pound coin in gold to mark the tenth anniversary of the Bank of Israel; a 10-pound coin in silver and a 100-pound coin in gold to commemorate the victory in the Six-Day War; and a 100-pound coin in gold to mark Israel's 20th anniversary and the reunification of Jerusalem. Most of the commemorative coins were issued in both proof and uncirculated conditions. In all they were minted by four mints – the Utrecht and Berne mints already referred to, the Italian State Mint at Rome, and a private mint in Jerusalem. Under an amendment to the Bank of Israel Law, passed in 1968, the government granted the distribution rights of Israel's commemorative coins to the Government of Israel Coin and Medals Corporation. Its profits, deriving from the surcharge on the face value of coins and from the sale of state medals, are devoted to the maintenance and reconstruction of historical sites in Israel.

bank notes

Until the Bank of Israel was established in 1954 there were two series of bank notes issued by the Bank Leumi. The first series bore the former name of this financial institute, Anglo-Palestine Bank Ltd., and was printed in denominations of 500 mils, 1, 5, 10, and 50 p £. A second series was printed in denominations of 500 perutah, 1, 5, 10, and 50 i £ under the new name of the bank, Bank Leumi Le-Israel. The Bank of Israel has issued two series of bank notes – the first in denominations of 500 perutah, 1, 5, 10, and 50 i £ and the second in denominations of one-half, 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 i £. In 1969 the government of Israel voted to change the name of the standard currency from that of the Israel (pound) lira to the shekel.

[Dov Genachowski]


in ancient palestine: L.A. Mayer, A Bibliography of Jewish Numismatics (1966); G.H. Hill, Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine (1914); T. Reinach, Jewish Coins (1903); F.W. Madden, Coins of the Jews (1881; repr. with introd. by M. Avi-Yonah 1967); A. Reifenberg, Ancient Jewish Coins (19472); L. Kadman, Coins of the Jewish War of 66–73c.e. (1960), includes bibliography, 153–79; Y. Meshorer, Jewish Coins of the Second Temple Period (1967), includes bibliography, 110–2; L. Kadman and A. Kindler, Ha-Matbe'a be-Ereẓ-Yisrael u-ve-Ammim mi-Ymei Kedem ve-ad Yameinu (1963). in talmudic times: B. Zuckermann, Ueber talmudische Muenzen und Gewichte (1862); Krauss, Tal Arch, 2 (1911), 404–16, 712–20; S. Ejges, Das Geld im Talmud (1930); Sperber, in: jqr, 56 (1965/66), 273–301; idem, in: Numismatic Chronicle, 8 (1968), 83–109; Carson, in: A. Kindler (ed.), International Numismatic Convention, Jerusalem 1963 (1967), 231–61. in post-talmudic times: Zunz, Gesch, 535–43; Y.Z. Cahana, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 129–48. under british mandate: Palestine Currency Board, Annual Report (1926–48). state of israel: Bank of Israel, Annual Report (1954–to date); Israel Numismatic Bulletin, nos. 1–5 (1962–63); Israel Coins and Medals Co., Israel's Coins (1965); Israel Numismatic Society, 13 Years of the Israel Numismatic Society: 1945–1959 (1959); Israel Numismatic Journal (1963– ); Alon ha-Ḥevrah ha-Numismatit le-Yisrael (1966– ); S. Haffner, History of Modern Israel's Money, 1917 to 1967 (1967); F. Bertram, Israel 20 Year Catalog of Coins and Currency (1968); L. Kadman, Israel's Money (196322); F. Pridmore, Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations, pt. ii: Asian Territories (1962); Deputy Master and Controller of the Royal Mint, Annual Report (1926–48).

coins and currency

views updated May 21 2018

coins and currency may be viewed from different angles—as symbols of monarchical or national authority; as art-forms reflecting the culture of a period and the influences at work; or as an economic weapon, control of which was essential for financial stability. For centuries coins were hammered out by hand and the quality of individual coins and the output of different mints varied considerably. Debased or worn coinage was bad for trade: in 1695 William Stout, a Lancaster shopkeeper, complained that ‘the old silver coin of this nation continued to be more and more diminished, which made great distraction in trade’. If the intrinsic value of coins was more than their formal exchange value, they were hoarded or melted down; if markedly less, there was reluctance to accept them.

The king's coinage was one of the most visible manifestations of royal authority. The number of mints was carefully controlled and permission to subjects to strike coins granted sparingly: it was an indication of the weakness of government during Stephen's reign that so many magnates began to mint coins. Counterfeiting or clipping the coinage was regarded as a heinous crime. In 1350 Edward III declared counterfeiting to be high treason and Henry V extended treason to clipping or defacing. As late as 1742 gilding shillings to pass as guineas was made treason. Nor were these idle threats. Phoebe Harris was burned before 20,000 people in 1786 and Christian Murphy in 1789. It was an act of clemency in 1790 when Parliament substituted hanging and not until 1832 was the death sentence abolished.

At the time of Caesar's invasion in 55 bc coins were circulating in southern England. They were largely imitations of Gaulish coins, themselves imitations of Greek staters. Tasciovanus, king of the Catuvellauni, minted gold, silver, and copper coins (c.20 bc), and his son Cunobelinus had coins circulating in the Colchester area: the Iceni and the Coritani also had their own currency. After ad 43 the Romans substituted their own imperial coinage but by c. ad 430 the import and use of coins seems to have ended.

The peoples who penetrated the Roman empire—Vandals, Visigoths, Lombards, Franks, Angles, and Saxons—soon began to issue their own currency. At first the coins imitated Roman specimens, often without understanding the originals, but later kings substituted their own names and images. In England, gold thrymsas and silver sceats appeared around ad 600, minted mainly at Canterbury and London. The earliest coins to be struck by an identifiable king came from the short-lived Peada of Mercia (656). King Ecgfrith of Northumbria had his name on coins soon after (670–85), and Northumbrian coins showed some artistic originality, with a recurrent griffin or dragon. In the 750s, Pepin assumed the kingship of the Franks and introduced a completely new silver coinage, using the Latin term ‘denarius’. When this was borrowed by the English, they used the name penny but retained the symbol d.: twelve denarii made one solidus, and 20 solidi one pound or libra, giving the term £.s.d., which survived until decimalization in 1971. Within a few years Offa of Mercia was issuing his own silver pennies, which were the main form of currency for the next 600 years. Offa's coinage was produced largely at Canterbury, by named moneyers, was more plentiful than before, and of higher artistic merit. Two subsequent advances were Athelstan's claim on his coins to be ‘Rex Totius Britanniae’ from 927, his insistence on one coinage, and the extension of his mints to Exeter, Shrewsbury, Chester, and York. Edgar carried out a great reform of the coinage (c.973), with a system for calling in worn coins for reissue and a large increase in the number of mints.

There was little alteration in the design of the silver penny in the two centuries following the Norman Conquest. Richard and John not only kept the basic design but retained the name of their predecessor Henry II on their coins. A continuing problem was that of change. With only one denomination, pennies were cut to provide halves and quarters. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported in 1124 that a man who took a pound of pennies (240) to market might find only twelve accepted. Henry I resolved on drastic action the following year, summoned nearly 100 moneyers to Winchester, and mutilated many of them for shoddy work. The coinage was at its worst during the civil war of Stephen's reign, when rival coins circulated, many of them crude. Henry III in 1257 introduced a new gold coin worth 20 silver pennies, but it was undervalued and therefore melted down: after three years he was obliged to abandon it.

The later Middle Ages saw a great increase in trade. Edward I carried out a grand recoinage in 1279–80, minting new coins, silver halfpennies and farthings, to remove the need to cut, and a fourpence groat, which was not at first successful. Quality was improved, a mint master appointed, and the London mint moved to the Tower. The innovation of Edward III's reign was the introduction in 1344 of gold coins—a florin (6 shillings), half-florin, and quarter-florin. They were augmented by nobles (80 silver pennies), half- and quarter-nobles. Representations became more interesting. The half-florin had a rather benign leopard (which gave the coin its popular name): the noble had an elaborate scene of Edward III, sword drawn, in a two-castled ship, perhaps commemorating his naval victory at Sluys in 1340. The noble was replaced during the reign of Edward IV by a coin of the same value, a noble-angel, which had a representation of the archangel Michael. It was accompanied by a ryal (from French royaux), valued at 10 shillings and with a large Yorkist rose—hence its popular name, rose-noble.

Tudor coinage was marked by three features—fluctuations in the value of the currency; the introduction of a great number of new coins; and the appearance of lifelike representations of the monarchs. Despite the political upheavals of the previous decades, Henry VII inherited a stable currency and bequeathed a strong position to his successor. But Henry VIII's systematic debasement of the currency from 1526 onwards drove up prices. Elizabeth brought the situation under control with some difficulty, admitting that her recoinage of 1560 was ‘bitter medicine’. The new coins included a magnificent golden sovereign by Henry VII in 1489 and a half-sovereign; a gold Crown of the Rose at 5 shillings by Henry VIII and a half-crown which settled down later as a silver coin and ran until the 20th cent.; and a George noble in 1526 on which the patron saint made his first appearance. Edward VI introduced a treble sovereign, sixpence, and threepence; Mary a half-groat; and Elizabeth a rather strange silver 1½d. and ¾d. to facilitate change. Henry VII's silver shilling carried a good likeness of the king, known as the testoon (from French tête). Henceforth the national coinage carried some remarkable portraits—Henry VIII aged on a Bristol groat (1544–7); Edward VI's silver shilling (1550–3); Philip and Mary's sixpence (1554–8); an imperious Elizabeth gold pound (1561–82); a stylish Charles I shilling (1638–9), and a saturnine Charles II crown (1663).

James I celebrated the union of his two kingdoms in 1604 with a gold crown called ‘unite’ or ‘unit’, bearing the title ‘King of Great Britain’ and the legend ‘I will make them one people.’ But a more important development of his reign was the introduction of copper coinage. Lord Harington in 1613 was given a patent to produce copper farthings, known colloquially as Haringtons, with an intermediate status between coins and tokens.

Charles I had a keen interest in art and before 1642 his coinage was of a high standard. The Civil War produced some desperate expedients, particularly ‘siege-money’, made out of any metal to hand and cut into strange shapes. The Commonwealth issued its own coinage, with inscriptions in English: one legend ‘God with us’ prompted cavaliers to the obvious retort that ‘the Commonwealth was on one side and God on the other’. Good likenesses of Cromwell were produced but never issued.

As soon as he returned from his travels in 1660, Charles II tackled the question of the currency. The following year he ordered all coins to be mechanically produced and called in the Commonwealth issues. An innovation was the use of Guinea gold from Africa, which settled at 21 shillings and was called a guinea. The need for small change remained a problem and thousands of tradesmen's tokens circulated. To meet this, Charles introduced copper halfpennies and farthings in 1672: on the new coins, Britannia made her appearance for the first time. But one further step, in 1684, to bring in tin coins proved disastrous, since the metal oxidized rapidly.

Charles was also king of Scotland and of Ireland. The Scottish coinage dated from David I's reign in the early 12th cent. But the number of coins struck was small, there were mints only at Edinburgh, Berwick, and Roxburgh, and what circulation there was came from England. The Scottish coinage had much in common with the English, partly through direct imitation, partly because each copied continental, and especially French, designs. But Scottish coins had their own peculiarities. Their international standing was undermined in the 15th and 16th cents. by persistent debasement. In 1423 the English government forbade the circulation of Scottish coins and at the union of the crowns in 1603 the Scottish pound was fixed at only one-twelfth that of the English. The falling value of the Scottish currency derived in part from the practice of mixing silver with alloy to produce the base metal billon. One result was that Scotland had less trouble about small change than England. James I introduced a billon penny and halfpenny: James III followed with a billon plack (from French plaque) valued at first at threepence and later at sixpence, a half-plack, and a copper farthing (1466); in James V's reign the bawbee (1½d.) and half-bawbee were issued, and in Mary's the hardhead was issued to help ‘the common people’ buy bread, drink, flesh, and fish. The billon coinage was discontinued after 1603, but twopence pieces in copper called hardheads, bodles, or turners continued to be issued until the Act of Union.

The earliest known Irish coins were minted by Sihtric Olafsson in the Viking kingdom of Dublin after 990 and were copies of English silver pennies. The circulation was probably very limited. No regular coinage was issued until after the Norman Conquest when John introduced coins stamped with a harp. There were no gold coins and, as in Scotland, silver was heavily alloyed. By the reign of Edward IV there were mints at Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, Drogheda, Limerick, and Trim, though the English government would not permit a national currency. In the Tudor period the Irish coinage suffered great debasement, as did the Scots and English, fuelling inflation and damaging trade. In 1689 James II issued a bronze currency known as ‘gun-money’ which, after his defeat at the Boyne, was bought in at metal value—less than 3 per cent of its face value. The fury caused by Wood's halfpence in 1723 had less to do with the coins, which were of respectable quality, than the state of Anglo-Irish relations.

In Wales, no coins were struck until after the Norman invasion. Coin hoards have been found in Wales dating to the 9th, 10th, and 11th cents., but the coins were foreign, mainly English, Viking, or Arabic. Hywel Dda's silver penny (c.940) was minted at Chester, copied an English coin, and may have been a presentation piece. Subsequent Welsh rulers do not seem to have produced their own coins and what circulated were English, though there were mints at Cardiff and Rhuddlan.

One persistent problem was the weight of coins and the hazard of transporting large quantities. Individual merchants and financiers had long issued personal bills of exchange, from which developed the cheque and the banknote—at first for special named customers, then for general use. The earliest extant cheque, dated 1659, is preserved in the Institute of Banking Library and is for £400. On 29 February 1668 Pepys recorded sending his father a goldsmith's note for £600. Paper credit expanded rapidly and by the end of the 17th cent. it was calculated that England and Wales had £11.6 million circulating as coins, but tallies, banknotes, and bills worth £15 million. The Bank of England began issuing large-denomination printed notes in 1725 with, in effect, the credit of the government behind them. Nevertheless, many people preferred their local banks. Banknotes are still issued on the authority of the Bank of England and contain the comforting message from the chief cashier ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of … pounds’. Scotland retains its own banknotes which also circulate in the north of England.

At the time of the great recoinage of 1696 bimetallism was still the basis of the British currency, silver and gold providing the mainstay. Later in the 18th cent. declining production of silver made it excessively expensive and the currency went over to gold almost completely. When in turn gold became in short supply during the Revolutionary wars, the government declared banknotes to be legal tender. There was continuing difficulty about small change. Some of George III's copper coins (‘cartwheels’) were too heavy to be practicable since they were intended to contain their own value in copper. The result was that the country was again flooded with token coins.

Reorganization of the currency after the Napoleonic wars became a major political question and it was decided to go to one standard—gold. Silver tokens were prohibited in 1813 and copper tokens in 1818. The gold standard was retained, with increasing difficulty, until the economic crisis of 1931.

Four developments in the 20th cent. may be noted. Substantial inflation, particularly after the Second World War, caused several coins to be abandoned as their purchasing power dwindled: the farthing, beloved of haberdashers, was withdrawn in 1960, and the halfpenny, which survived decimalization in 1971, succumbed in 1984. Secondly, in 1971 the whole coinage was decimalized in preparation for Britain's entry into the EEC. Decimalization had been advocated as early as 1849 when the florin had been introduced as one-tenth of a pound. Thirdly, there was fierce debate in the 1990s whether Britain should join a European currency and, if so, what inscriptions the coins should bear. Fourthly, the spread of credit cards and electronic banking meant that coinage played a smaller part in financial transactions than in the past, heralding the day when money would be carried only for sundry purchases like sweets and newspapers.

J. A. Cannon


Davies, G. , A History of Money: From Ancient Times to the Present Day (Cardiff, 1994);
Feavearyear, A. , The Pound Sterling: A History of English Money (2nd edn. Oxford, 1963);
Oman, C. , The Coinage of England (Oxford, 1931);
Sutherland, C. H. V. , English Coinage 600–1900 (1973).


views updated Jun 27 2018



Human civilizations have long used metals as a medium for exchange. In addition to their long-lasting properties, metals lend themselves easily to melting and casting. As early as 1000 b.c., the Chinese were using a type of metal token to represent payment. These artifacts have been labeled "spade" and "key" money because of their resemblance to a digging tool and to the modern-day Yale key. Both types bore denominations and were cast from molds. Although the ancient Egyptians did not mint coins, gold weights and rings were used to trade for products and services.

The first record of Western coins did not occur until 700 b.c., in western Asia Minor. Evidence of coins made from a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver called electrum were found in the foundation of the temple to Artemis at Ephesus on the banks of the Aegean Sea. King Croesus of Lydia, who ruled from 560 to 546 b.c., has been credited with creating a bi-metallic system of pure gold and pure silver coins. These early coins typically carried imprints of animals, such as bulls, birds, insects, or mythical creatures. Engravings of vegetables were also popular. Imprints were stamped on one side of the coins with a tool bearing that particular design. Coin design was elevated to an art form during this period, and elaborately imprinted coins were afforded a high status. Many Greek cities vied for the distinction of having the most beautifully designed coins.

Alexander the Great built mints throughout his kingdom, from Macedonia to Babylon. He instituted uniform weights and types. It was during Alexander's reign that the coin portrait rose to popularity. Rulers, gods, and goddesses were the portraits of choice. By the fourth and fifth centuries a.d., engravers in Italy, and particularly in Sicily, were generally recognized as the experts in coin design. So revered was their skill that the engravers began signing their work.

Before the advent of the Industrial Age, the striking of coins was accomplished manually. A round blank of metal was placed over an anvil that had been fitted with an imprinted die. Another die was affixed to a pestle, which was then placed on top of the blank. The coin maker held the pestle in place with one hand and then brought a two-pound hammer down on top of the pestle. Remarkably, this resulted in seven tons of pressure, which forced impressions into both sides of the blank. The high relief typical of early Greek coins sometimes required two or three blows to achieve the desired effect. Heating the blank before striking often reduced the number of required strikes. This method allowed one coin to be struck every two seconds.

Raw Materials

Each country institutes strict guidelines for the composition of its currency. The outside vendors who provide the metal or "stock" to the mint must follow these guidelines to the letter. Originally, the U.S. penny (or cent) was composed of 95% copper and 5%zinc. In 1982, this composition was changed to a copper-plated zinc. A zinc alloy with traces of copper constitute the core of the coin, while the outer surface is electroplated with copper. Five-cent coins are composed of cupronickel, an alloy of 75 % copper and 25% nickel. Dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins are made from three layers of metal that have been bonded or "cladded" together. The outer layer is 75% copper and 25% nickel, while the core is pure copper.

In the factories of the outside vendors, the metal alloys are melted in furnaces and poured into rectangular molds. When the stock cools, it is rolled under pressure to the appropriate thicknesses. The rolling process causes the stock to harden excessively, requiring the application of a process called annealing. In this process, a series of heatings and coolings softens the stock and brings it to the consistency needed for shaping and stamping. The rectangular sheets of metal are cut into strips approximately 13 inches (33 cm) wide and 1,500 feet (457 m) long, and then rolled into coils. The mints purchase the coils according to their needs.

The Manufacturing

Molding and engraving the master hub

  • 1 When a new coin has been commissioned, sculptors employed by the mint develop a set of sketches. When one particular sketch has been approved and refined, the sculptor creates a clay model. The model can be anywhere from three to twelve times larger than the actual coin.
  • 2 Plaster is poured over the clay model to create a negative, or reverse, plaster model. The words of the inscriptions are carved into the plaster in reverse. The sculptor repeats this process several times until the plaster model is perfect.
  • 3 Next, a durable rubber mold is made by pouring epoxy into the plaster mold. The epoxy mold is mounted onto a transferengraver. At one end of the transfer-engraver, a stylus traces the epoxy mold. As the stylus moves, a ratio bar in the middle of the engraver reduces the design to the actual coin size. This reduced size is communicated to a carbide tool at the opposite end, which then cuts the design into a steel blank. The result is a positive replica called a "master hub." The sculptors examine the master hub and remove any imperfections.

Creating the working dies

  • 4 Heat-treated metal is placed under a computerized lathe, where it is smoothed and polished into a precisely measured blank die. The master hub is pressed into the die. The result is called the "master die." The master die is used to create working hubs and working dies. The master hubs and dies are then placed in storage.

Punching out the blanks

  • 5 The appropriate coil of metal is fed through a blanking press, which punches out round disks corresponding in size to the coin to be minted. The blanks are cut at a speed of 400 strokes per minute. The leftover scraps of metal are shredded and recycled for future use.

Annealing and pickling the blanks

  • 6 The blanks are subjected to another annealing process and then placed in industrial washing machines and dryers. The lubricants used in these various processes cause the blanks to become stained and oxidized.
  • 7 The blanks are next placed into revolving tubs or barrels filled with an acidic pickling agent. As the blanks are tossed together in the tubs, they become burnished.

Sorting and weeding the blanks

  • 8 The blanks are sifted through a "riddler," a metal sheet fitted with holes that match the exact size of the particular coin to be minted. In this manner, misshapen and odd-sized blanks are weeded out.

Striking the coins

  • 9 The perfect blanks are carried by conveyer belt to the coining press, where they are stamped with designs and inscriptions. A steel collar is inserted into the press around one of the dies. The die for the reverse side is loaded into the upper arm of the press. Hundreds of tons of air pressure push the blank into the collar. At the same time, the overhead die is forced down into the collar and onto the blank. The impact causes the impressions to form on both sides of the blank. The press releases the newly minted coin, and it moves along a conveyer belt to the inspection line.

    In some instances, the collar has grooves to make the ridged edges on the coin. Otherwise, the grooves are made after the striking process, on a tool called an upsetting mill. The size of the press varies from single capacity to ones that stamp four coins simultaneously. Single-striking presses generally stamp 400 coins per minute, with pressure loads up to 180 tons. Multiple presses can crank out 120 coins per minute under 250 tons of pressure.

Inspecting and sorting

  • 10 The press operator spot-checks each batch of new coins with a magnifying glass. The coins move through another riddler that sorts out blanks that have become misshapen or dented during the striking process.

Counting and bagging

  • 11 An automatic counting machine spits I out a predetermined amount of coins and drops them into large canvas bags. The bags are sewn shut, loaded onto pallets, and then moved by forklift trucks to storage vaults.

Quality Control

Inspections are carried out at many points throughout the engraving and manufacturing process. Alloys are analyzed using xray fluorescent spectrometers or chemical processes. The surface condition of the blanks is checked frequently for maximum center line average. The diameters of the blanks are measured with gauges such as micrometers. Weights are controlled by weighing a specific number of coins against a standard weight plus a pre-determined allowance.

The Future

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. made preparations to join other industrialized countries in the use of a dollar coin instead of a paper bill. Although backers point to the savings that the switch would bring, and environmentalists extol the virtues of phasing out the dollar bill, traditionalists see the dollar bill as a well-entrenched symbol of the United States. Unions and trade associations representing the paper industry also voiced opposition to the new coin.

Elimination of the penny has also gained support in recent years. Ironically, the American public's view of the penny as worthless has caused millions of people to stockpile them in jars and boxes at home, to be traded in for larger denominations at a later date. This has led to a shortage of pennies in the commercial arena. Decisions about eliminating coins are intensely political, attesting to the continuing symbolic power of the metallic coin.

Where To Learn More


"The Art of Money." The Economist, January 15, 1994, p. 91+.

Georges, Christopher. "House Republicans, Believing Change is Due, Consider Plan to Insert Coin in Place of $1 Bill." The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 1995, p. A22.

"Noncents." The New Republic, August 8, 1994, p. 7+.


How Coins Are Designed and Produced. The Department of the Treasury, United States Mint, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 1992.

U.S. Mint: Its History and Coinage. The Department of the Treasury, United States Mint, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mary F. McNulty


views updated Jun 27 2018


When Islam emerged in 610 c.e., Mecca did not have its own coinage. Instead, it relied entirely on the coins of neighboring regions, particularly the Byzantine and Sassanid empires. Being both a trading town and a pilgrimage center, Mecca attracted a wide range of the coins in circulation at the time. Neither the prophet Muhammad nor his immediate political successors sought to change this. When the Muslims conquered much of the Byzantine and Sassanid empires after the death of the Prophet in 632 c.e., they left the administrative structures of these regions, including their mints and coinages, largely intact.

As a result of the Muslim conquests of the seventh century c.e., rapid economic expansion and currency circulation occurred in the Near East, along with Muslim migration from Arabia to the newly conquered regions. Regular cash stipends began to flow out to Muslims from the Central Treasury (bayt al-mal) in Medina during the caliphate of ˓Umar I (r. 634–644), and there was substantial inflow of taxes and tributes from the conquered lands to the treasury, first located in Medina, then in Damascus during the Umayyad period. The monetization of the economy that resulted from this expansion required not only large amounts of cash (coins) but also a standard monetary unit for transactions and account keeping. In response, the silver dirham, modeled on the Sassanid drachma, was adopted, with the coins being provided by the former Sassanid mints.

Economic expansion continued with the establishment of the Umayyad caliphate, but the silver dirham remained the unit of currency. As mints did not generally issue gold coins, the market had to rely largely on the Byzantine solidi to meet its gold currency needs. The solidi themselves suffered wear and tear, which led at times to a less than uniform weight. Similarly, the silver dirhams in circulation, or those minted by the Muslims, showed discrepancies. Strong pressure therefore existed for a standard currency, including a unit based on gold, the production of which could be controlled by the Muslims.

Following minor attempts at currency reform by caliphs such as ˓Umar I, ˓Ali b. Abi Talib and Mu˓awiyah, which went only as far as adding an Islamic inscription or date to existing Byzantine or Sassanid coins, ˓Abd al-Malik b. Marwan (r. 685–705), the Umayyad caliph, took the initiative. Between 696 and 698, he changed the form as well as the weight of the dinar and dirham and regulated minting. The coins emphasized the emerging power of Muslims and of Islam as a religion, with Islamic inscriptions such as "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." Unlike Byzantine and Sassanid coins, the reformed coins did not bear the Caliph's image.

The pre-reform dinar had weighed approximately 4.55 grams, but ˓Abd al-Malik reduced it to 4.25 grams. The fineness of the dinar was set at a minimum 96 percent gold alloy. The weight of the pre-reform dirham had been approximately 3.98 grams, but ˓Abd al-Malik standardized it to 2.97 grams. This weight remained largely unchanged until the mid-ninth century c.e. The fineness of the silver dirham was also maintained at near 96 percent. Though the capital, Damascus, minted some coins, particularly gold dinars, ˓Abd al-Malik did not centralize minting in that city. This function was given to provincial mints, and here the caliph relied heavily on his governor in Iraq, al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf, to impose coinage reform on the eastern regions of the caliphate. Later, caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik (r. 724–743) also tightened control over the quality of both dinar and dirham.

˓Abd al-Malik's reformed coinage set a standard that continued in some respects well into the following Abbasid period. In order to standardize further the coinage of the powerful Abbasid caliphate, the caliph al-Ma˒mun (r. 813–833) introduced new coinage in 821 and 822. He abolished inclusion of the caliph's or the provincial governor's name on coins, ordered that both gold and silver coins should follow specific design guidelines and inscriptions, and appears to have centralized the production of coin dies. His successor, al-Mu˓tasim, however, reintroduced the addition of the caliph's name. In the post-Mu˓tasim period, some Abbasid caliphs even added the name of the heir-apparent or would-be successor. From the early ninth century to the middle of the tenth century c.e., the vast Abbasid caliphate thus acquired a significantly uniform coinage, which vastly aided internal and external, and Muslim and non-Muslim, commerce and trade. These dinars and dirhams were imitated in Europe and elsewhere.

With the decline in Abbasid power, the disintegration of the caliphate, and the emergence of independent provinces and dynasties, central control of the coinage as well as its uniformity were lost. Independent provinces began minting their own dinars and dirhams and determining the fineness of their coins. Although the fineness of gold dinars was at times maintained and even excelled, for instance under the Fatimid caliph al-˓Amir (r. 1101–1130) and the Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil (r. 1218–1238), large variations did occur. For this reason, there is disagreement among scholars on the use of the terms "Islamic dinar" and "Islamic dirham" as a standard unit of currency in the Muslim world, particularly in respect of the post-tenth-century c.e. period, except insofar as it refers to the theoretical dinar and dirham of the Muslim jurists (fuqaha˒).

Despite the variation in the quality of the coinage under different dynasties, certain features introduced by reformers remained common. These included inscriptions symbolizing the religious basis of the coinage, an indication of the mint year, the mint name, and often the name of the caliph or ruler under whom the coin was issued. Coins from Islamic dynasties have therefore an important historical significance. Apart from their commercial role, they can tell us much about the political and economic condition and the artistic and aesthetic tendencies of the time.

In the modern period, each Muslim state has its own coinage and, like other countries, has abandoned the gold standard, even though Muslim jurists have not relinquished the concept of the gold dinar or the silver dirham in their legal texts. In many juristic discussions, money proper is still the dinar and the dirham of early Islam. However, as part of a wider Islamic revival, the idea of a specifically Islamic standard unit of currency, a dinar, has been revived, though not necessarily based on the earlier gold dinar. The most visible aspect of this was the adoption in 1975 of the Islamic Dinar as its unit of accounting by the Islamic Development Bank, an international Islamic financial institution whose shareholders are member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The value of the Islamic Dinar is equivalent to one SDR—Special Drawing Right—of the International Monetary Fund.

See alsoEconomy and Economic Institutions ; Law ; Networks, Muslim .


Ehrenkruetz, Andrew S. Monetary Change and Economic History in the Medieval Muslim World. Edited by Jere L. Bacharach. Hampshire, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 1992.

El-Hibri, Tayeb. "Coinage Reform Under the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma˒mun." Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 36 (1993): 58–83.

Grierson, Philip. "The Monetary Reform of ˓Abd al-Malik." Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3 (1960): 241–264.

Miles, G. C. "Dinar." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960.

Miles, G. C. "Dirham." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960.

Abdullah Saeed


views updated May 21 2018

coin / koin/ • n. a flat, typically round piece of metal with an official stamp, used as money. ∎  money in the form of coins: large amounts of coin and precious metal. ∎ inf. money. ∎  (coins) one of the suits in some tarot packs, corresponding to pentacles in others.• v. [tr.] 1. make (coins) by stamping metal. ∎  make (metal) into coins.2. invent or devise (a new word or phrase).PHRASES: the other side of the coin the opposite or contrasting aspect of a matter.


views updated May 23 2018

coin·age / ˈkoinij/ • n. 1. coins collectively: the volume of coinage in circulation. ∎  the action or process of producing coins from metal. ∎  a system or type of coins in use: decimal coinage.2. the invention of a new word or phrase. ∎  a newly invented word or phrase.


views updated May 17 2018

COINAGE. An invented WORD or PHRASE and the process of inventing it. Like loan and borrowing, the term coinage is based on an ancient analogy between language and money. The creation of words without the use of earlier words is rare: for example, googol, the term for the number 1 followed by a hundred zeros, or 10100, introduced by the American mathematician Edward Kasner, whose 9-year-old nephew coined it when asked to think up a name for a very big number. See NEOLOGISM, ROOT-CREATION, WORD-FORMATION.


views updated May 18 2018

coin Stamped metal discs of standard sizes used in commercial transactions. The earliest coins are of Lydian origin, from the 7th century bc. Early coinage also appeared in China and India. Ancient coins usually contained a specific quantity of precious metal, often gold or silver, and were stamped with the symbol of the issuing authority. With the introduction of bank-notes in the late 17th century and the decline of the quantity of precious metal in each coin, the role of coins changed.


views updated May 18 2018

A. †corner-stone; †corner, angle, wedge;

B. †die for stamping money; piece of money; coined money. XIV. — (O)F. coin, †coing, wedge, corner, †stamping-die :- L. cuneus wedge.
So coin vb. make (money) from metal, make (metal) into money. XIV. — OF. coignier mint, f. coin. coinage coining money XIV; money coined XV. — OF. coigniage, f. coignier.


views updated May 29 2018

1. Disc used in a series of overlapping coin-like forms, resembling guilloche, set in horizontal or vertical strips called coin-mouldings or money-patterns.

2. Quoin.