Solidus (coin)

Solidus (coin)

The solidus (the Latin word for "solid") was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans.

The solidus was first introduced by Diocletian around 301, struck at 60 to the Roman pound of pure gold (c. 5.3g) and with an initial value equal to 1000 "denarii". ["The Cambridge Ancient History", p. 335, by Alan K. Bowman, Peter Garnsey, Averil Cameron.,M1] However, Diocletian's solidus was only struck in small quanities, and thus had only minimal economic impact.

The solidus was re-introduced by Constantine I in 312, permanently replacing the aureus as the imperial gold coin of the Roman Empire. The solidus was struck at a rate of 72 from a Roman pound of pure gold, each coin weighing twenty-four Roman/Greek caratsPorteous 1969] , or about 4.5 grams of gold per coin. By this time, the solidus was worth 275,000 increasingly debased denarii.

The solidus maintained essentially unaltered in weight and purity until the 10th century, though in the Greek-speaking world during the Roman period and then in the Byzantine economy it was known as the "nomisma" (plural "nomismata"). Porteous 1969] Whenever the coin was taken in by the treasury, it was melted down and reissued. This maintained the evenness of the weight of the circulating solidi, since the coin did not tend to be in circulation for long enough to become worn.Porteous 1969]

Minting of the gold coin - unlike the base-metal coins of the time - had no permanently established minting facility. Due to the requirement that taxes were paid in gold, solidus minting operations tended to follow the emperor and his court. For example, solidi were minted in Milan in 353, and in Ravenna after 402. Each of these locations were imperial residences at those times.Porteous 1969]

Although merchants were forbidden from using solidi outside of the Byzantine empire, there was sufficient trade in these coins outside of the empire that they became a desirable circulating currency in Arabic countries. Since the solidi circulating outside the empire were not used to pay the taxes to the emperor they did not get re-minted, and the soft pure gold coins quickly became worn.Porteous 1969]

Through the end of the 7th century, Arabic copies of solidii - dinars minted by the caliph Abd al-Malik who had access to supplies of gold from the upper Nile - began to circulate in areas outside of the Byzantine empire. These corresponded in weight to only 20 carats, but matched with the weight of the worn solidi that were circulating in those areas at the time. The two coins circulated together in these areas for a time.Porteous 1969]

Except in special cases, the solidus was not marked with any face value throughout its seven-century manufacture and circulationFact|date=July 2008. Solidi were wider and thinner than the AureusFact|date=July 2008, with the exception of some lower quality issues from the Byzantine EmpireFact|date=July 2008. Fractions of the solidus known as "semissis" (half-solidi) and "tremissis" (one-third solidi) were also producedFact|date=July 2008.

The word "soldier" is ultimately derived from "solidus", referring to the solidi with which soldiers were paidFact|date=July 2008.

Impact on world currencies

In medieval Europe, when the only coin in circulation was the silver penny (denarius), the 'solidus' was used as a unit of account equal to 12 denarii. Variations on the word "solidus" in the local language gave rise to a number of currency units:


To this day, "sou" is used as slang a small coin of little value, as in "sans le sou". "I'm broke", "without money". It is also a slang term for the Canadian cent (standard French, "cent").


The name of the medieval Italian "soldo" (plural "soldi") was derived from "solidus".This word is still in common use today in Italy in its plural "soldi" with the same meaning as the English equivalent "money".

pain and Peru

The name of the medieval Spanish "sueldo" (which also means salary) was derived from "solidus", which is also used in the Philippines as "Suweldo". Subsequently the name of the Peruvian "sol" (more formally "sol de oro" intended to mean "gold solidus") was derived from this name although, because "sol" actually means "sun" in Spanish (from the Latin "sol"), the etymology of the currency's name is commonly misunderstood. To complicate matters, the Sun God was a foremost figure of the Incan Empire that reigned in what is now Peru.

United Kingdom

Until decimalisation in the United Kingdom in 1971, the abbreviation "s.", from "solidus", was used to represent shillings, just as "d." and £, from "denarius" and "Libra", were respectively used to represent pence and pounds, leading to the abbreviation "£sd".


*cite book
author = Porteous, John
year = 1969
title = Coins in history : a survey of coinage from the reform of Diocletian to the Latin Monetary Union.
chapter = The Imperial Foundations
pages = 14-33
publisher = Weidenfeld and Nicolson
isbn = 0297178547

ee also

*Roman currency
*Byzantine coinage
*Solidus (punctuation)
*Slash (punctuation) (also called a solidus)

External links

* [ Online numismatic exhibit: "This round gold is but the image of the rounder globe" (H.Melville). The charm of gold in ancient coinage]

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