Coin of King Joel
Aksum, modern Ethiopia
6th century AD
Symbolizes Aksum's conversion to Christianity
This coin was minted during the reign of King Joel in sixth-century Aksum. Between the second and the ninth centuries, the kingdom of Aksum prospered in Ethiopia. The trade routes along the Nile Valley that led to the Red Sea and on into the Indian Ocean made Aksum a destination for many merchants and travellers.
The large cross on the reverse of the coin symbolizes the country's shift to Christianity. This took place during the fourth century when a traveller named Frumentius converted Aksum's ruler, King Ezana. The old religious symbols of the sun and the moon no longer appeared on coins and were replaced with a cross, which was enlarged over the years.
The religious symbolism on these coins had strong political implications, as it aligned Aksum's religious identity with its main trading partners, Rome and later Byzantium.
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)