Aezanis, Temple of Zeus, 117-138 AD 
  
History/Medieval Studies 303
Early Medieval and Byzantine Civilization: Constantine to Crusades

Index 

Syllabus 

Readings: 
 Book List  
 Iconoclasm 
 Discussion Topics 

Chronologies: 
 Imperial Crisis 
 Later Roman Emperors, 306-395 
 Fall of Western Empire 
 Age of Justinian 
 Islamic Caliphs 
 Byzantine Dark Age 
 Triumph of Christianity 
 Macedonian Resurgence 
 Crusades 
 Restoration and Ottoman Advance 

Handouts: 
 Population 
 Finances under Justinian 
 Byzantium c.850A.D. 
  
Currency charts: 
   Diocletian and Constantine 
   Justinian and Heraclius 
   Isaurian, Amorian, and Macedonian Ages 
   Comnenian and Palaeogian Ages 
  
Links 

CURRENCY IN THE AGE OF JUSTINIAN AND HERACLIUS:
 
Imperial currency was based on a gold SOLIDUS (in Greek nomisma), struck at 72 to the Roman pound (4.48 grs.) and 99-99.5% fine. Gold fractions of SEMIS (1/2 solidus) and TREMISSIS (1/3 solidus) were minted. Each soldius was reckoned as composing 24 carats (siliquae), divisions by weight against which ceremonial silver denominations were struck. In 615 Heraclius reintroduced a large silver coin, the HEXAGRAM (6.75 grs.), exchanged at 12 to the solidus, when he coined ecclesiastical plate during the Persian War

In 395 fractional bronze currency consisted a single, tiny denomination called a NUMMUS (in Greek nummia), measuring 15 mm. in diameter and minted at 216 to the pound (1.50 grs.). This coin, the wretched suvivor of the numerous abortive currency reforms of the fourth century, was reckoned by the thousands to the solidus. Nummi were usually traded in bags of the hundreds or thousands. In 445 the nummus (at 288 to the Roman pound or 1.12 grs.) was fixed at 7,200 to the solidus. The rate doubled to 14,400 nummi to the solidus when Leo I (457-473) halved the weight of the nummus (0.56 grs. or 576 to the Roman pound).

In 498 Anastasius (491-518) recoined nummi into large bronze multiples based on the FOLLIS (called in Greek slang an obol), which was tariffed at forty nummiae. The follis headed a chain of denominations bearing on the reverse Greek numerals as value marks. The FOLLIS was struck at 36 to the Roman pound (8.5 grs.) so that the exchange was 1 SOLIDUS = 420 FOLLES = 16,800 NUMMIAE. The fractions of HALF-FOLLIS (20 nummia), DECANUMMIA (10 nummiae) and PENTANUMMIA (5 nummiae) were also minted. In 512, Anastasius doubled the weights of the follis (17.5 grs.) and its fractions; the new exchange was 1 SOLIDUS = 210 FOLLES = 8,400 NUMMIAE. Coins of 498-512 circulated at half their face value so that the follis of 40 nummiae passed as a piece of 20 nummiae. In 539, Justinian (527-565) again increased the weight of the follis (22.0 grs) and set the exchange at 1 SOLIDUS = 180 FOLLES = 7,200 NUMMIAE, the rate imposed in the Law of 445. War and inflation in 542-578 compelled emperors to lower the weight of the follis to half its Justinianic weight and to fix the exchange at 1 SOLIDUS = 288 FOLLES = 11,520 NUMMIAE.

WEIGHT & VALUE OF FOLLIS, 498-641
 
 Period Folles per Pound Average Weight Exchange: Folles per Solidus Exchange: Nummiae per Solidus
498-512
36.0
8.5 grams
420
16,800
512-539
18.0
17.5 grams
210
8,400
539-542
14.5
22.0 grams
180
7,200
542-547
16.0
20.0 grams
180
7,200
548-551
18.0
18.0 grams
180
7,200
551-565
19.0
17.0 grams
180
7,200
565-570
21.5
15.0 grams
240
9.600
570-578
25.0
13.0 grams
288
11,520
578-615
29.0
11.0 grams
288
11,520
615-624
36.0
9.00 grams
352*
14,080*
624-629
54.0
6.00 grams
532*
21,280*
629-631
32.0
10.0 grams 
288
11,520*
631-639
56.0
5.5 grams
576*
23,040*
639-641
72.0
4.5 grams
704*
28,160*
*Values surmised; coins were usually trade by weight at rates such as 10 pounds of folles to the solidus.

The emperors Constans II (641-668) and Constantine IV (668-685) minted folles that averaged 3.5 to 5.0 grs. during the Arabic, Avar, and Lombard wars. In 668-674, Constantine IV briefly revived large sized bronze denominations, striking a heavy follis (17.5 grs.) probably tariffed at the standard of 512 of 210 folles = 1 solidus. Wars and inflation ruined this reform too, and the follis fell to 25% of this value. Many heavy folles of Constantine IV were quartered and restruck as folles (4.5 grs.) in the reign of Justinian II (686-695).
 
WAGES AND PRICES IN THE AGE OF JUSTINIAN (527-565)

MILITARY WAGES. Between the joint reign of Valentinian I (364-375) and Valens (364-378) and Heraclius (610-641), annual wages of 9 solidi were paid to each cavalryman and 5 solidi to each infantryman, but salaries were a fraction of military costs. Salary and provisioning of a soldier was perhaps reckoned annually at 30 solidi and another 6 solidi were added to cover clothing and equipment. War horses were reckoned as costing 20 to 25 solidi per year; their initial purchase price at 7 to 10 solidi. Soldiers received most of their pay in bronze folles at the following rates:

MILITARY SALARIES, 498-542 
 
Year Cavalryman Infantryman
  Annual Wage  Annual Wage
  (in folles): (in folles)
498 3,780 2,100
512 1,890 1,050
539 1,620 900
  Daily Wage Daily Wage
  (in folles) (in folles) :
498 10.5 6.0
512 5.25 3.0
539 4.5 2.5
 
Laborers at Constantinople and in Levantine cities during the sixth and early seventh century received daily wages of 3 to 5 folles, the price of 1 modius of wheat. Since most work was seasonal, many laborers worked for wages only 4 months per year, earning 360 to 600 folles. Sometimes laborers could demand higher wages. In 506, when Anastasius rushed construction on the fortress of Daras, he offered daily wages of 35 folles per man and 70 folles (= 1 gold tremissis) for each man with a draft animal (Zach. Myt., Chron. VII. 6).

PRICES. The best index of purchasing power is the price of wheat; 48 modii of wheat represented two-thirds of the annual caloric intake of an adult male. In markets commodities were priced in the numbers of modii or sextarii per solidus, and then small purchases were priced based on the exchange rate of the follis to the solidus. In 365-600, the imperial government fixed the rate of 1 solidus per 30 modii of wheat in tax collection, but in markets prices ranged between 40 and 60 modii per solidus.

In 498-542, 1 modius of wheat cost between 2.5 and 6 folles (depending on the rate of exchange) or the equivalent of a soldier's daily wage. The modius of wheat was baked into 15 to 18 loaves of 1 pound each. Debasement and inflation produced higher prices. The Paschale Chronicle in 578-618 records that 1 modius of wheat cost between 10 and 12 folles (weighing 11.00 grs.). Therefore, the minimum annual allotment of wheat for an adult male cost 120-144 heavy folles (weighing 18 to 22 grs.) during the early sixth century. During the later sixth and early seventh century, prices rose to 450-540 folles (weighing merely 11.0 grs.). The prices suggest that the annual cost of wheat of an adult male rose from 1/2 solidus to nearly 1-1/4 solidi during the period 498-615.

In the early sixth century, a follis (weighing 18 to 22 grs.) purchased the daily subsistence of an adult male (bread, oil, and vegetables); ascetics needed a half-follis. In 600 inflation raised the price to 2 folles (weighing 11.0 grs.); after 615 it rose to 5 folles (weighing 3.5 to 5 grs.). In Nisibis of the mid-sixth century, the Sassanid silver dirhem (4 grs. and exchanged at 12 to 14 folles at the rate of 539) bought daily subsistence for two adult males (bread, oil, and fish).

Prices of the early Byzantine age reveal a remarkable similarity to the stable pricing of the high Roman Empire (31 B.C.-235 A.D.). The Justinianic follis of 538-542 (22.0 grs.) approximated the purchasing power of the Augustan sestertius (a brass coin weighing 25.0 grs.). The lighter follis of 578-615 (11.0 grs.) had roughly the same purchasing power as the Augustan as (a copper coin weighing 10.5 grs.).

Prices, however, often soared to prohibitive levels during times of famine. In the Mesopotamian city of Edessa during the famine of 499-500, the price of 1 modius of wheat in the first year jumped to the catastrophic price of 105 folles or 1/4 solidus; this was 7.5 to 8 times greater than the average price. In the second year of the famine, the price rose to 130 folles per modius. Prices of other commodities soared. One pound of meat sold for 2.5 folles and one egg sold for 1 follis--prices that were many times in excess of customary rates.

 

Dr. Kenneth W. Harl 
Office: History 211 (504)862-8621 
Fax: (504) 862-8739 
Home: (504)866-5392 
 
 Tulane University
Last updated 03/19/98
by Annette Lindblom