The invention of coin, a stamped piece of metal with a stable, defined weight bearing the symbols of its issuing and guaranteeing authority, initially met the commercial and practical needs of ancient peoples. Gradually, the coin also came into use as a means of depicting and legitimizing those in power. Thus, coins have become a primary source of historical, religious, and societal infrormation; they illuminate both the state policies and the simple, everyday activities of the civilizations that produced and employed them.
The First Coins
The first coins in Greece were stuck during the 6th century in Aegina, Athens and Corinth (Kraay 1976, 42, 58-59, 79). These coins were made of silver and featured designs on one side (the obverse) only, while the other side (the reverse) bore an incuse square. The type on the coin served as the mark of the issuing authority which guaranteed its valus (Kraay 1976,2). The purity of the precious metals used to mint these coins, and their weight in particular, determined the value of the coins. Weighing played an important part in the production of coins, and the names of these early coins, such as the stater or the siglos, were often derived from their particular weights. The images on the first Greek coins, almost always associated with the issuing authority or city-state, were chosen with great care. Greek mythology, its deities and their symbols, were an endless source of inscriptions for the first engravers (Oeconomides 1996, 17), while animals, emblems or scenes symbolizing benefactions, power and prosperity also appear on these coins.
Ancient coins began as flans, formless and heated blanks created by pouring molten metal into moulds, or by cutting pieces of metal from rods. Once the flan was moulded or cut, it was placed was moulded or cut, it was placed between two dies and struck with a hammer, which impressed the images onto the face of the coin. The frontal stamp (i.e. the bronze obverse die, the pile) was placed atop the anvil, while the reverse die (the trussel) was positioned above it.
The necessary tools for the striking of coins were a pair of tongs, used by the die cutter to place the flan on the anvil; the scales, for measuring the weight of the coin; and the graver and the punch, for engraving the dies (Penna 2001, 51-53). The punch required great dexterity on the part of the engraver; ancient Greek engravers managed to produce real works of art, and many of their coins are miniature masterpieces (Oeconomides 1996, 15)
The process of striking coins by hand-hammering was superseded in the 17th century, when the first machine-made coins were produced; the screw press, which stamps designs on blanks, and the rolling mill, which rolls metal into sheets, were introduced to the production of coins. The use of the steam press in the 18th century and the widespread use of electricity during the Industrial Revolution eventually led to the industrialization of coin striking.
The intense phenomenon of the minting of Cypriot coinage began sometime during the final three decades of the 6th century BC. The minting of coins was introduced to Cyprus via the Greek world, specifically Ionia, which had strong economic and trade relations with the island. The adoption of coins throughout the island of Cyprus by the close of the 6th century BC took place far sooner than in the neighbouring regions of Cilicia and Phoenicia (Destrooper 1996, 39-50).
Many Greek coins were found, along with numerous silver coins, in hoards throughout Anatolia. One of the earliest of these hoards is Ras Shamra in Syria (IGCH 1478), dated to 525 BC, which contains, among its Greek coins, Cypriot coins of the Kingdom of Salamis, while the Persepolis hoard (IGCH 1789), dated to the same period, contains coins of the kingdoms of Salamis, Paphos and Lapethos. Cypriot coins were also found in Egypt, in the Demanhur hoard (IGCH 1637), dated to the 6th century BC. Most of the information we have on the early stages of Cypriot coinage, however, comes from the Larnaka hoard (IGCH 1272), dated to 480 BC and containing at least 700 sigloi (Kraay 1976, 301-302; Destrooper 1984, 140-161).
Persian occupation of Cyprus began toward the end of the 6th century BC, and tribute to the Great King of Persia was obligatory. However, the Persians did not mint their own coins in Cyprus, and the individual Cypriot kings retained the privilege of minting coins. The Cypriot kings adopted a distinct weight standard, with the silver siglos, of approximately 11 gm, as the heaviest denomination (Picard 1994b, 11-12). The coinage of the Cypriot city-kingdoms, which remained extant throughout the Persian occupation of the island, was both a clear privilege and an expression of the local authority of the city-kingdoms (Destrooper 2004, 80-81).
The Cypriot City-Kingdoms
The images impressed onto the earliest Cypriot coins, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, were derived from the animal kingdom and from Greek mythology, and included the bull, the lion, Medusa, the ram, the sphinx, and some floral compositions; these motifs added a religious and symbolic character to the coins. During the 4th century BC, the style of Cypriot coinage broke away from its previous Oriental influences and began to hew to the design and iconography of Greek coins (Destrooper 1996, 40). The legends that often accompanied these images were in the Cypriot syllabary. A bronze obelos found in Palaipaphos inscribed “of Opheltes”, dated to the second half of the 11th century BC, is the earliest example of Cyprosyllabic script on the island’s coins (Karageorghis 2002a, 125 and 127). The Cypriot syllabary rendered the Greek language in Arcadocypriot dialect, and was used by Cypriots until the 3rd century BC (Iacovou 1999, 14). In the beginning of the 4th century BC, King Evagoras I of Salamis began using the Greek alphabet on his coins, which he combined with Cypriot syllabary. The legends on the coins of the Phoenician kingdom of Kition (present-day Larnaca) were written in the Phoenician language and alphabet; Phoenician legends were also found on some rare coins of Marion, and on the coins of the kingdom of Lapethos. The legends on the coins refer to the name of the king and his royal title, the ethnicity of the king’s subjects, and sometimes, even, the name of the mint. Most royal names on the coins minted by the Cypriot city-kingdoms are abbreviated, shortened to one syllable or one letter, which makes their identification with names from literary and epigraphic sources especially difficult (Kraay 1976, 300). The names of certain kings are known only from the legends on these coins, including two of the kings of Salamis, Nikodamos and Evanthes, and the kings of 5th century BC Paphos. The absence of the mint’s name on most of the issues leads to the classification of many coins in the category of “mint unknown”. Coin production in Cyprus gradually decreased after the 5th century BC. According to Kraay, this is probably due to the development of coinage in the Levant, particularly in Tarsus and in the Phoenician mints of Tyre and Sidon (Kraay 1996, 311). The supply of silver was channeled to these new mints, resulting in a reduction of silver available to mints in the Cypriot city-kingdoms. In the 4th century BC, most of the Cypriot city-kingdom mints began striking gold coins, in addition to silver coins, which followed the Rhodian weight standard. Bronze coins were used in local transactions, along with small denominations of silver coins. The Greek alphabet, inscribed alongside the Cypriot syllabary, was used for the legends, while deities and heroes were preferred for the representations. An exception to this was the coinage of the kingdom of Amathus, which persistently depicted lions.
The Hellenistic Period
Alexander the Great descended to the Eastern Mediterranean basin, and the Cypriot city-kingdoms joined his forces in 332 BC. The Cypriot kings soon adopted Alexander’s numismatic system, and the issues of the Cypriot kingdoms were distinguished only by the symbols or the letters in the coin’s field (Destrooper 1996, 50). Alexander the Great adopted the Attic weight standard, which was already widely in use, and managed to add a universal character to his coins. Throughout the empire, from Pella to the Hindus River, a common coinage was in circulation, and these coins depicted Alexander as ideal ruler and divinity (Touratsoglou 2000, 16). Alexander’s successors, in an attempt to legitimize themselves as the rightful inheritors and custodians of his empire, immediately adopted Alexander’s numismatic types, later developing and impressing their own iconography onto their coins. Various successors established the royal portrait as a numismatic type, in order to impose themselves politically on certain segments of the empire. Beginning in 295 BC, the island’s numismatic production followed the Ptolemaic weight standard. The most significant mint during this period was at Paphos, as evidenced by the moulds, flans and coins found there, with additional mints at Kition and Salamis.
The Roman Period
Rome annexed Cyprus in 58 BC, and soon thereafter Cyprus coinage conformed to the uniform numismatic system established throughout the empire. The Romans used coinage as a form of propaganda, and the iconography of Roman period coins was designed to convey the prestige and authority of the emperor. The striking of bronze coins in Cyprus continued during the Roman period. Beginning during the reign of Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54), these coins were inscribed with the legend “KOINON KYΠPIΩN” (League of the Cypriots); this affiliation of the peoples of Cyprus was responsible for the minting of bronze coins on the island. In addition to the legends inscribed on these numismatic issues, the reverse types also bore iconography of a distinctly Cypriot character, either Zeus Salaminios or the Temple of Aphrodite at Paphos. Numismatic production continued in Cyprus until early in the third century, toward the end of the Roman period, when coins ceased to be minted on the island (Carradice 1989, 182-187; RPC I, 576).
The Byzantine Period
During the Byzantine period (330-1191), the coins in circulation on the island were struck in the mints of Constantinople, or in other large mints throughout the Empire. Byzantine coins were issued in Cyprus in the 7th Century during the revolt of the Heraclii (608-610), during the reign of Heraclius (610-641), and during the reign of Constantine IV (668-685) (Grierson 1982, 121). The last Byzantine governor of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus (1184-1191), proclaimed himself emperor of Cyprus in 1184. Comnenus issued coins according to the Byzantine tradition, but in his own name (Metcalf 1998, 80). The gold Byzantine solidus, also known as the bezant, is considered by historians as the “dollar” of the Middle Ages (Penna 2002, 22). The solidus was accepted as an international numismatic unit, and was used in transactions within the empire and beyond its borders. The iconography of Byzantine coins, in keeping with the prevalent belief of the era, presented the emperor as the supreme lord and guardian of the Orthodox faith (Penna 2002, 48-63).
The Frankish Period
The 1191 conquest of Cyprus by Richard the Lionheart (Cœur de Lion), king of England, and Richard’s subsequent transfer of the island to the dynasty of the Lusignans (1192-1489) resulted in radical changes to Cypriot coinage. The island’s new numismatic system comprised the Byzantine bezants and the deniers used extensively in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Toward the end of the 13th Century, King Henry II of Jerusalem (1271-1324) introduced the silver gros (Metcalf 1998, 80-82); the gros and its denomination, the gros-petit, became the official coinage of the kingdom of Cyprus.
The Venetian Period
During the Venetian period (1489-1571), coins struck in the mint of Venice were circulated in Cyprus. Lusignan issues were also in circulation on the island, along with numerous foreign coinages, all countermarked by the Venetian authorities. The Venetians issued a bronze coin especially for Cyprus for transactions of minimal value, the carzia, which they shipped to the island. In 1570-71, during the Ottoman siege of Cyprus, the Venetian Governor-General of the island, Marc Antonio Bragadino, struck bronze coins with a nominal value of one bezant, to be redeemed for silver after the war.
The Ottoman Period
During the Ottoman period (1571-1878), the gold sultani, the silver aspra (akçe), the silver kurus and the copper paras were circulated on the island. These coins bear Turkish legends in Arabic script, and were often inscribed with the sultan’s sign (Petranyi 1991-1994, 13-18). The Ottoman coins were struck mainly in the Constantinople mint; research undertaken prior to World War II demonstrates that some of this coinage was minted in Cyprus during the first half of the 17th Century (Du Plat Taylor 1935).
The Period of British Occupation
Britain took control of Cyprus in 1878, and the British government established a distinct numismatic system on the island; this system was based on the copper piastre, with 180 copper piastres equivalent to one English pound. In 1955, Queen Elizabeth introduced a new numismatic system, wherein one Cypriot pound equaled 1000 mils (Pridmore 1974, 56-57).
The Republic of Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960, issued its first coins in 1963 (Fitikides 1996, 57). Cyprus retained the British numismatic system until 1983, when the Cypriot pound was divided into 100 cents, in order to adapt to the demands of modern international transactions. On 1 May 2004, the Republic became a full member of the European Union; on 1 January 2008, Cyprus entered the eurozone, and the Euro replaced the Cyprus pound. The Central Bank of Cyprus has planned a series of coins commemorating the island’s turbulent history, its flora and fauna, and current international events. The history of coinage is wedded to the history of a place and its people, and the discipline of numismatics provides much historical, political, religious and social information to scholars, students and interested members of the general public.