Glossary

alloyCombination of two or more metals, normally combined to give the material added strength. BACK
Arab-SasanianSeventh-century Islamic issues closely resembling those of the old Sasanian empire. In many cases they are only distinguishable from their Sasanian prototypes by the addition of a brief Arabic inscription on the lower margin of the obverse.
BactriaKingdom in present day northern Afghanistan formed when its Seleucid governor, Diodotos, declared independence and made himself king in about 250 BC. It was overthrown by nomad invasion in about 140 BC.
billon A silver-copper alloy containing less than 50 per cent silver.
bullionUncoined metal, usually gold or silver, in the shape of bars, ingots, or other regular forms.
cash coinsThe type of cast round copper-alloy coin, with a square hole, that was typical of coinage in China and neighbouring countries.
chop-marksPunch marks stamped on to foreign silver coins in China as a sign that they had been tested and approved for a transaction. In India these are known as 'shroff-marks'.
cobA coin struck on a roughly cut, irregular flan, often too small to contain all the design on the die. Typical of Spanish possessions in Latin America of 16th-18th centuries. BACK
daler A copper coin of Sweden circulating in the 17th and 18th centuries.
denarius The principal silver coin of Ancient Rome from the late 3rd century BC until the early 3rd century AD.
diesA pair of metal blocks, normally of steel, engraved on one end with the coin designs and used to strike coins.
dinarAn Islamic gold coin, first struck in Syria under Abd-al-Malik in AH 77 (AD 696/7), which remained the principal gold coin of the Muslim world.The term is occasionally also used for a silver coin.
dirham The principal Islamic silver coin, first struck in AH 79 (AD 698/9).
drachmThe basic monetary unit of Ancient (and modern) Greece, from ‘dragma’, ‘handful'.
electrumA natural and therefore variable alloy of gold and silver, which was used to produce the earliest Ancient Greek coins.
ethniconPart of the inscription indicating the origin of the coin, referring to the citizens of a polis.
fals An Islamic copper coin, introduced around AD 700, and intended as part of a reform in which Islamic money would be struck in strict accordance with the Koran.
Five DynastiesOne of the most tumultuous and short-lived eras in China, AD 907-960.
flan A blank piece of metal used for striking a coin. BACK
Guptas Successors to parts of the Kushan empire. Originally the rulers of a small state in eastern India, these peoples built an empire which extended throughout northern India, reaching its height under Kumaragupta I (about AD 415-50).
HellenisticThe period from the late 4th century BC, following the reign of Alexander the Great, until the end of the 1st century BC.
IlkhanidsThe Mongol dynasty that ruled Persia in the 13th and 14th centuries.
incuseThe deep punchmark on the back of Archaic Greek coins. Initially merely a rough shape, it gradually became more formal, eventually incorporating designs and inscriptions.
inscriptionThe wording on a coin, also known as the legend.
jitalA billon coin originally struck by the Shahi dynasty from about 750 AD, which became a denomination widely issued by both Hindu and Muslim rulers over the following 500 years in Afghanistan and much of India.
KalimaThe Muslim declaration of faith, La illaha ill-Allah, Muhammad-ur rasul-ullah ('There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messanger of Allah'), commonly used as the main incription on the obverse of many Islamic coins.
Kushan A nomadic people who ruled Afghanistan and parts of northern India during the 2nd century AD.
Mauryan A dynasty which ruled northern India from about 321-184 BC.
monThe standard copper coin of Japan, from the 17th century. BACK
MongolsA nomadic tribe originating on the Steppes of Asia. Under the leadership of Chingiz (Ghengis) Khan (1162-1127) they invaded China, Tibet and Khwarazm to the east of the Caspian Sea. They later went on to conquer the Caucuses, Persia, much of Asia Minor and southern Russia.
MughalMuslim dynasty founded by Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), which ruled an empire covering a large part of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the early 19th centuries.
muhur The standard gold coin of India, struck originally under the Mughal dynasty.
nimbate From ‘nimbus’, a bright or golden disk surrounding the head, especially of a saint or king.
obolA small silver coin valued at one-sixth of the drachm in Ancient Greece.
obverseThe ‘front’ or ‘heads’ side of a coin.
pagoda The principle coin of southern India in the 6th - 19th centuries. Some issues showed a pagoda on the reverse.
paisa (pice) Indian monetary unit, equal to one-hundreth of a rupee.
ParthiansRulers of Persia, an empire founded by Arsaces I (238-211 BC) which lasted into the 3rd century AD.
pesoName used for a number of different coins from areas formerly ruled by Spain. Its original form was the Piece of Eight, or Eight-real silver coin, produced from around 1500 to 1900.
polisA city community in the Greek world, often a distant colony. BACK
real The standard unit of Spanish and Portuguese coinage from the mid-14th century. The term derives from ‘royal’, referring to the king who first struck it.
reliefRaised design on a coin or any other material.
reverseThe ‘back’ or ‘tails’ side of a coin.
rupee The principal silver coin of India, dating from the 16th century.
SasaniansA people who ruled parts of Persia during the 3rd to 7th centuries AD.
satamana A standard silver coin of the earliest phase of Indian coinage.
Satavanas Rulers of most of southern India, who issued coins from the 1st century AD.
satrap A viceroy or governor of an ancient Persian province.
ScythiansA nomadic people who established kingdoms in areas of Afghanistan and northern India, around the 1st century BC.
SeleucidThe empire formed when Seleucus won virtually all the eastern provinces of Alexander’s empire in 281 BC, at the end of the Wars of the Diadochi. This included Syria and Asia Minor. It survived until 64 BC.
Sixteen KingdomsThe period towards the end of the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420) when following a widespread rebellion, China was divided into sixteen small kingdoms.
staterTerm used for any standard silver or gold coin of Ancient Greece; often double demoninations. BACK
striking coinsMethod of making coins by placing a blank piece of metal between two dies and applying pressure with a hammer ('hand-striking') or in modern times using machinery.
syceeSilver ingots produced privately in China, mainly during the 18th and 19th centuries.
tetradrachm A four-drachm coin of Ancient Greece, the largest standard silver coin in the series.
token coinagesWhen the face value of a coin is greater than the actual value of the metal within it, the coin acts as a token. Its value is guaranteed by the government or ruler which issued it, not by its own precious metal content. All modern monetary systems employ token coinages, as did many in earlier periods.
trite‘Third’, name used for one of the divisions of the early Greek electrum staters.
Yen The sole Japanese monetary unit since the introduction of Western-coinage in 1870.
YuanThe Mongol dynasty that ruled China from AD 1279 to 1368.
Zoroastrian The dualistic religious system taught by Zoroaster and his followers, commonly known as fire-worship.

 


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Department of Coins and Medals, © Fitzwilliam Museum.