Studying money

Coins have a history of thousands of years. Because they are mass-produced and made of metal they survive in large quantities. As a result they are often valuable sources of information about the nations and rulers who have made and used them.


The word 'numismatist' comes from the Greek nomisma meaning 'coin'. A numismatist, therefore, is somebody who studies coins and other types of money, usually from an archaeological and historical standpoint. Coins are one of the most important sources of information from which archaeologists and historians can try to interpret the past. This is partly because, unlike most other ancient artefacts, they are often stamped with words and images. It is also because they are hard-wearing and survive in large numbers.


Gold aureus of Octavian, Roman, probably minted in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), 28 BC

Unlike most objects studied by historians, coins were officially produced by the state rather than privately made by individuals. This means the type of information they can provide is often different from that provided by other artefacts.

Their designs and inscriptions are an unrivalled source of detailed information about political history, religion and culture. Their role as the main form of money over the past 2,000 years means they can tell us about economies for which we have little or no written evidence.


Gold coins and ingots from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo, Frankish, early 7th century AD

Coins are one of the most commonly found archaeological objects. Millions of coins survive from past societies dating back over 2,500 years. Being made of metal, coins have tended to survive much better than less durable objects. Also, because they are valuable, they have often been concealed for safe keeping in hoards.

Most coins can be dated, which is crucial to interpreting them. Their high survival rate and their official inscriptions make them the most easily and most accurately datable of all archaeological artefacts.

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The history of late Roman coins, £60.00

The history of late Roman coins, £60.00