Historic currency names

One can bank on the fact that most coins derive from Latin words and are named after people, places, or things. Even the word coin translates from the Latin "cuneus," meaning wedge, because early coins ressembled the wedges the dies used to coin coins. The cent which derives from the Latin "centum," meaning one hundred, the dime from the Latin "decimus," meaning tenth, and the French franc from the Latin "Franconium Rex," meaning King of the Franks, are all examples of the naming of money, the root of all evil, which translates from the Latin word "mona," meaning to warn!

Weight - Metal - Location - Crowns - Heroes

Physical weight was another manner in which people named their coins. The English pound translates from the Latin "pondo" meaning pound, or, to get more heavily into detail, from the Latin "libra pondo" meaning a pound of weight. This method of naming coins weighed heavily in naming of the Spanish peso and of the Italian lira. A sense of fairness dictates that some coins bear the names of the metals of which they are composed. Thus, the nickel is made of nickel. Location sometimes figures prominently into the naming of some coins. The dollar, not always in paper form, originally hailed from the silver mines of Bohemia, where Bohemians extracted silver for the coins and minted them in the town of Joachimsthal. Realizing that the coin they titleed the Joachimsthaler, short of lacking in creativity, was rather lengthy, our Bohemian friends lost the head of the name and kept the tail, with the end result being the thaler. The thaler eventually lost its lisp and became the dollar.

Many countries used their word for crown, for example, crown, sovereign, krone, krun, krone, corona (not the beer), to demonstrate that some crown authority initially granted permission to mint them. Other countries named coins in honor of their heros, such as the Panamanian balboa, after the explorer Balboa, the Venezuelan bolivar, after one of it's national heros, and the Peruvian sol, also not a beer, but the Spanish word for sun, after this ancient Incan object of worship.

A Word About Money

Many of the words we associate with money today come from ancient uses of currency. Examining where these words came from helps us understand how currency systems developed.

  • Buck - Early settlers in North America relied heavily on the skin of the deer for trade. Each skin was referred to as a buck
  • Pecuniary - This modern word means, "relating to money." It comes from the Latin word pecus, which means cattle
  • Fee - This word comes from the German word for cattle, vieh
  • Shell out - The use of shells as currency among Native Americans, and, later, the European colonists, led to the phrase "shell out," meaning "to pay"
  • Salary - This is another money-related word we got from the Romans. At one point, Roman soldiers were paid part of their wages in salt. The Latin word salarium means "of salt"
Coin ItemMerchantDescription
Coin ItemMerchantDescription
(Anonymous) follis, pl. (anonymous) follesBronze Byzantine coin
Antoninianus, pl. antoninianiSilver (or, later, billon) Roman coin
Argenteus, pl. argenteiSilver Late Roman coin
As, pl. assesBronze Roman coin
Aurelianianus, pl. aurelianianiBillon Roman coin
Aureus or denarius aureus, pl. aurei or denarii aureiGold Roman coin
Basilikon, pl. basilikaSilver Late Byzantine coin
[Billon] aspron trachy or stamenon, pl. [billon] aspra trachea or stamenaSilver-wash billon (or, later, silver-wash bronze) Byzantine coin
Chalkous, pl. chalkoiBronze Hellenic coin
Daric, pl. daricsGold Persian coin
Decadrachm, pl. decadrachmsSilver Hellenic coin
Denarius, pl. denariiSilver (or, later, billon) Roman coin
Denier, pl. deniersSilver (medieval) West European coin
Deutschmark, pl. DeutschmarksModern German coin
Dinar, pl. dinarsGold (medieval) Arab coin
Dirham or dirhem, pl. dirhams or dirhemsSilver (medieval) Arab coin
Distater, pl. distatersGold Hellenic coin
Double victoriatus, pl. double victoriatiSilver Roman - Hellenic coin
Drachm, pl. drachmsSilver Hellenic coin
Ducalis or ducatus (argenti), pl. ducales or ducati (argenti)Silver (medieval) West European coin
Ducatus (aurei), pl. ducati (aurei)Gold (medieval) West European coin
Dupondius, pl. dupondiiBronze Roman coin
Eight realesSilver (early modern) Spanish or Latin American coin
[Electrum] aspron trachy, pl. [electrum] aspra tracheaElectrum Byzantine coin
Fals, pl. fulusBronze (medieval) Arab or Turkoman coin
Follaro, pl. follariBronze (medieval) South Italian coin
Follis, pl. follesBronze Byzantine coin
Gros tournois or groat, pl. gros tournois or groatsSilver (medieval) West European coin
Guinea, pl. guineasGold (early modern) British coin
Half-siliqua, pl. half-siliquaeSilver Late Roman, Byzantine and (medieval) West European coin
Half-tetarteron, pl. half-tetarteraBronze Byzantine coin
Hexagrammon, pl. hexagrammaSilver Byzantine coin
Histamenon, pl. histamenaGold Byzantine coin
Hyperpyron or (Lat.) perperum, pl. hyperpyra or (Lat.) perperaGold (or, later, electrum) Byzantine coin
[Light weight] solidus, pl. [light weight] solidiGold Byzantine coin
Livre, pl. livresSilver (early modern) French coin
Maria Theresa thaler, pl. Maria Theresa thalersSilver (early modern) Austro-Hungarian coin
Miliarensis or miliarense, pl. miliarensesSilver Late Roman coin
Miliaresion, pl. miliaresiaSilver Byzantine coin
Nummus or ‘follis', pl. nummi or ‘folles'Silver-wash billon or bronze Late Roman coin
Nummus (minimus), pl. nummi (minimi)Bronze Late Roman coin
Obol, pl. obolsSilver Hellenic coin
Quinarius (argenteus), pl. quinarii (argentei)Silver (or, later, billon) Roman coin
Quinarius (aureus), pl. quinarii (aurei)Gold Roman coin
Semis, pl. semissesBronze Roman coin
Semissis, pl. semissesGold Late Roman and Byzantine coin
Sestertius, pl. sestertiiBronze Roman coin
Shilling, pl. shillingsSilver (early modern and modern) British coin
Siglos, pl. sigloiSilver Persian coin
Siliqua or keration, pl. siliquae or keratiaSilver Late Roman, Byzantine and (medieval) West European coin
Solidus or nomisma, pl. solidi or nomismataGold Late Roman and Byzantine coin
Sovereign, pl. sovereignsGold (modern) British coin
Stater [gold], pl. staters [gold]Gold Hellenic coin
Stater [silver], pl. staters [silver]Silver Hellenic coin
Stavraton, pl. stavrataSilver Late Byzantine coin
Tari, pl. tariGold (medieval) South Italian coin
Tetarteron or tarteron [bronze], pl. tetartera or tarteraBronze Byzantine coin
Tetarteron [gold], pl. tetartera [gold]Gold Byzantine coin
Tetradrachm, pl. tetradrachmsSilver Hellenic coin
Tetrobol, pl. tetrobolsSilver Hellenic coin
Trachy, pl. tracheaElectrum or billon Byzantine coin
Tremissis, pl. tremissesGold Late Roman, Byzantine and (medieval) West European coin
Triobol or hemidrachm, pl. triobols or hemidrachmsSilver Hellenic coin
Trite, pl. tritesSilver Hellenic coin
Victoriatus, pl. victoriatiSilver Roman coin