Gold solidus of Theodobert I

Frankish, AD 534-48
Minted in the kingdom of Metz (eastern France)

A presumptuous barbarian

After the fall of Rome in AD 476, the Eastern Roman Empire survived with its capital at Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey). In the west, a number of new 'barbarian' kingdoms emerged. The majority of these acknowledged the emperor in Constantinople as their nominal overlord, but few Byzantine emperors had real authority in the west.

The barbarian kings took over much of the machinery of Roman government, including the coinage. This consisted of large gold coins called solidi, and smaller gold coins called tremisses, as well as smaller denominations in silver and bronze. Their design generally followed that of the imperial coinage in the Byzantine east. While a number of barbarian rulers issued silver or bronze coins in their own names, gold coins normally carried the name of the reigning emperor in Constantinople.

The first exception to this is the gold coinage of the Frankish king Theodobert I (reigned AD 534-48), who extended his power into northern Italy in the 540s. As a sign of his political independence, he issued gold coins in his own name, some of which also gave him titles normally reserved for the emperor. The Byzantine historian Procopius noted the existence of these coins, which he described as 'illegal' and 'presumptuous'.

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More information


P. Grierson, Coins of Medieval Europe (London, Seaby, 1991)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


Diameter: 19.000 mm
Weight: 4.420 g

Museum number

CM 68-12-1-10 (B10331)


Gift of Count de Salis


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