front and back of a gold coin. one side has the head of Constantine the Great wearing a laurel, the other shows Empirar Constantine receiving a globe

Gold coin of Constantine the Great (r. 306–337) minted at Arles in 317 AD

Obverse: Laureate head of Constantine I/Reverse: Emperor Constantine I in military attire receives Victory on globe from Sol, the personification of the invincible Sun

The British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals, R.154

The project examines celestial bodies depicted on coins, focusing on the global late antique and medieval world. When considering twenty-first-century money, we prioritize its function as a medium of exchange and less as portable art and a platform for political, religious, economic, and scientific statements. Money in pre-modern societies functioned differently, and its association with astral knowledge proved enduring and multi-faceted. In ancient Mesopotamia, the creation of the lunisolar calendar and the seven-day week contributed to the emergence of clay seals—precursors of coinage—as indicators of property and value. In ancient Greece, celestial bodies on coins articulated advances in ancient astronomy and philosophy and the relationship between communities and the natural environment. Roman coins further developed those earlier traditions, associating numismatic iconography with prophecy, horoscopy, cosmic legitimacy, and the emperors’ semi-divine status and presence on the world stage. In Byzantium, cosmology, astronomy, and astrology continued to influence intellectual life and authority, whose most potent manifestation was imperial money. Coins featuring stars, the crescent moon, rays of light, clouds, and rulers holding globes remained central in the visual culture of Byzantium and the medieval East and West. Drawing on coins and related artifacts, the project traces patterns of continuity and change in the numismatic vocabulary of the heavens, and the interplay between makers, materiality, and meaning at the nexus of science, religion, politics, and mobility in the late antique and medieval landscape.