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Historical Monetary System Examples:


Thanks to Dungeons & Dragons, the 'gold piece' is almost universally accepted as the medium exchange in fantasy worlds.  There's nothing wrong with that on the surface; western Europe usually used silver instead of gold, but the Byzantine Empire did use gold coins extensively, and the 'bezant' was used in many other countries as a medium of exchange for gold.  However I find this very dull, especially when historical money systems were so messy and interesting.  For the Sundered Spheres© I have a monetary system with names for every coin in every language, and then I mangle them up in the novels so that it's kinda hard to tell how much anything is worth.  Just try figuring out the difference between pistoles and doubloons and louis and ecus in "The Three Musketeers."  That's actually what got me started on all collecting this information, and the basic coins of the Renaissance are listed at the bottom of the page, where you'll find they still make no sense.  

Ancient Greek:

The Greeks of the ancient classical period had a monetary system based on the drachma, or handful of grain.  While the basic ratio of gold to silver was 10:1, there are no gold coins at all.  The Attic or Athenian silver coins are used for the example.


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Talent 6000 drachmas 69.1 pounds silver 16,580 25.8 kilograms

Mina 100 drachmas 1.2 pounds silver 288 448 grams

Decadrachma 10 drachmas 1.4 ounces silver 27.8 43.35 grams

Tetradrachma/Stater 4 drachmas 0.6 ounces silver 11 17.2 grams

Drachma 6 obols 0.14 ounces silver 2.8 4.3 grams

Obol 0.02 ounces silver 0.5 0.72 grams

The talent and mina were never really coined, but were rather units of exchange.  Imagine trying to carry around a 69 pound block of silver.  


Ancient Persian:

The ancient Persian system was relatively simple. The ratio of gold to silver was 1:13, and the value of the coins was similar to the Greek  system.  1 Persian daric was equal to 25 Greek drachmas.


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Daric 20 siglos 0.27 ounces gold 5.37 8.35 grams

Siglos 0.18 ounces silver 3.56 5.55 grams

Fals copper

Jital copper



The Eastern Roman Empire had several different coinage systems over its thousand-year history.  The sytem described below is an amalgam of the most common coins pulled together into one system.  The ‘bezant’ mentioned above is the gold solidus or numisma.  Though the ratio of gold to silver varied widely over the Byzantine period, to keep from getting a headache we will assume 12:1 as an average.


Early Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Solidus/Numisma 180 folles 0.15 ounces gold 2.93 4.55 grams

Semissis 90 folles 0.07 ounces gold 1.49 2.28 grams

Tremissis 60 folles 0.05 ounces gold 0.98 1.52 grams

Miliarense 15 folles 0.15 ounces silver 2.93 4.55 grams

Siliqua 7.5 folles 0.07 ounces silver 1.49 2.28 grams

Follis 2 Half-folles 0.29 ounces copper 5.79 9 grams

Half-follis 2 Decanummi 0.15 ounces copper 2.93 4.5 grams

Decanummium 10 nummi 0.07 ounces copper 1.45 2.25 grams

Nummus - 0.007 ounces copper 0.15 0.23 grams

Later Coin or Unit* Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Hyperpyron 48 trachies 0.11 ounces gold 2.06 3.2 grams

Aspron 16 trachies 0.05 ounces electrum 0.98 1.52 grams

Miliaresion 4 trachies 0.24 ounces silver 4.8 7.5 grams

Trachy 18 terarterons 0.13 ounces billon 2.6 4 grams

Terarteron 0.14 ounces bronze 2.9 4.5 grams

* Ratios were very odd in the later Empire  



For centuries the only English coin was the silver penny, based on the Frankish denier which was in turn based on the Roman denarius.  In the High Middle Ages the system became a little more complex and gold and copper coins were added.  The ratio of gold to silver was often as high as 18:1, but once more I will use 12:1 to keep things simple, and historically inaccurate.


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Pound 20 shillings 1 pound silver 240 373.2 grams

Ryal 10 shillings 0.5 ounces gold 10 15.55 grams

Angel or Noble 6 shillings 8 pence 0.34 ounces gold 6.8 10.58 grams

Crown 5 shillings 1.2 ounces silver 24 37.32 grams

Shilling 3 Groats 0.6 ounces silver 12 18.66 grams

Groat 4 pence 0.2 ounces silver 4 6.22 grams

Penny (silver) 1 penny 0.05 ounces silver 1 1.55 grams

Penny (copper) 2 halfpence 0.6 ounces copper 12 18.66 grams

Halfpenny (copper) 2 farthings 0.3 ounces copper 6 9.33 grams

Farthing 1/4 penny 0.2 ounces bronze 4 6.22 grams


Helenistic Greek

In the period between the death of Alexander the Great and the rise of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean was divided by the descendents of Alexander’s generals.  While there was no truly standardized coinage usages were fairly similar, and the use of Greek terms made understanding the usages and meanings of coins fairly easy, even if the names themselves were often different.  Below I have compiled a few commonly used coins with a few commonly used modifiers to make a single coherent system.  Any one of the coins below can be found somewhere to buy today, but the values and weights vary wildly.  The ratios of gold to silver and silver to bronze is 10:1.


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Zachrusion 80 drachmas 1.12 ounces gold 20.8 34.4 grams

Tetrachrusion 40 drachmas 0.56 ounces gold 10.4 17.2 grams

Dichrusion 20 drachmas 0.28 ounces gold 5.2 8.6 grams

Chrusion 10 drachmas 0.14 ounces gold 2.8 4.3 grams

Tetradrachma 4 drachmas 0.56 ounces silver 10.4 17.2 grams

Didrachma 2 drachmas 0.28 ounces silver 5.2 8.6 grams

Drachma (Denarion) 2 hemidrachmas 0.14 ounces silver 2.8 4.3 grams

Hemidrachma 2 argurions 0.07 ounces silver 1.4 2.15 grams

Argurion (Stater) 4 tetrachalkous 0.04 ounces silver 0.7 1.08 grams

Tetrachalkous 2 dichalkous 0.1 ounces bronze 2 3.11 grams

Dichalkous 2 chalkous 0.05 ounces bronze 1 1.55 grams

Chalkous 2 hemichalkous 0.03 ounces bronze 0.5 0.78 grams

Hemichalkous 0.015 ounces bronze 0.25 0.39 grams



You might think it strange to take a monetary system from the Book of Mormon but it is a very interesting system indeed.  Unfortunately there is no conversion of weights into any modern form.  I have simply chosen to use a 1/7 ratio of gold to silver (since this is a base-7 system) and just made up the modern weights.  This is the money system used by the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. The unit of exchange is the gold senine or the silver senum, both of which are worth 1 measure of grain.


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Limnah 7 senines 0.143 ounces gold 2.86 4.45 grams

Shum 4 senines 0.08 ounces gold 1.6 2.5 grams

Seon 2 senines 0.04 ounces gold 0.8 1.25 grams

Antion 3 shiblons 0.027 ounces gold 0.05 84 centigrams

Senine 2 shiblons 0.02 ounces gold 0.4 63 centigrams

Onti 7 senums 1 ounce silver 20 31.1 grams

Ezrom 4 senums 0.57 ounces silver 11.4 17.7 grams

Amnor 2 senums 0.29 ounces silver 5.8 9.02 grams

Senum 2 shiblons 0.143 ounces silver 2.86 4.45 grams

Shiblon 2 shiblums 0.08 ounces silver 1.6 2.5 grams

Shiblum 2 leahs 0.04 ounces silver 0.8 1.25 grams

Leah 0.02 ounces silver 0.4 63 centigrams


The interesting part of this monetary system is that if you add 1 shum, 1 seon, and 1 senine you get 1 limnah of gold, and if you add 1 ezrom, 1 amnor, and 1 senum you get 1 onti of silver.  This is what I mean by a base-7 system.  According to an economist friend of mine it would be a very useful system for a coin-based agricultural society, though it doesn’t make much sense today


While the Roman Empire came to use the denarius as the standard of exchange, originally the basic unit of exchange was an ass, i.e. a donkey.  No, really.  1 denarius was worth between 10 and 16 asses, and a coin came into being to represent that value.  It was called an as or asinus.  The silver denarius is in fact the basis of all modern money, but at the time it was not quite so cut and dried.  While the bulk of the coins listed below were used in the ‘Augustan’ coinage, I added a few and changed the weights to have a consistent 12:1 ratio for both gold to silver and silver to bronze and copper.  I also cheated and made an aureus only worth 24 denarii instead of 25, because it fits better and makes everything consistent.  If you really want to be accurate then you should put the aureus back to 25 denarii, but if you're making up a fantasy world you should be able to improve on reality a bit.  


Coin or Unit Value Weight Pennyweight Metric

Aureus 24 denarii 0.1 ounces gold 2 3.1 grams

Quinarius 12 denarii 0.05 ounces gold 1 1.55 grams

Cistophorus 3 denarii 0.15 ounces silver 3 4.65 grams

Denarius 4 sesterces 0.05 ounces silver 1 1.55 grams

Sestertius (Sesterce) 8 dupondii 0.025 ounces silver 0.5 0.78 grams

Dupondius 2 es 0.038 ounces bronze 0.75 1.17 grams

As 4 quadrans 0.02 ounces bronze 0.38 0.56 grams

Quadrans 0.01 ounces copper 0.19 0.28 grams


Other Monetary Terms


Money has had all kinds of names over the centuries, and has been of many forms besides coins.  Roman legionaries were paid in salt, the Sumerians used copper axe-heads, and Algonquin tribes traded wampum.  Below I have compiled a list of money terms from a number of cultures.  The list is by no means exhaustive but it does have many interesting and useful terms.  You may also notice that some seemingly alien cultures have very similar terms for money.


Arabic/Turkish Imperial

akce (silver coin of the Ottoman Empire)

asper (silver coin, based on the electrum aspron)

dinar (gold coin similar to Roman solidus or gold denarius)

dirhem (silver coin worth 1/20 dinar)

piaster (small copper coin)

qirsh (small Egyptian coin)

silliques (Serbian silver coin worth 1/24 gold dinar)

sikkah (lit. coin die, basis for Venetian sequin)



arc’hant (silver)

placque (copper coin)



carcedu (silver coin)

denier (Frankish silver coin, based on denarius)

liard (silver coin, 1/3 silver denier)

livre (lit. pound, gold coin worth the value of 1 pound of silver)

pistole (gold coin)

sou (copper coin worth 1/20 franc)



áiz (brass, coin, money)

gild (tribute, money)

gul (gold)

guleins (golden)

silubr (silver)

skatts (coin, penny)



gerah (coin, equals 1/20 shekel)

prutah (copper coin of the Hasmonean period)

shekel (silver coin, weighing approximately 0.46 troy ounces, equals a measure of grain)

talent (gold measure weighing approximately 228 troy pounds)

talent (silver measure worth 3,000 shekels and weighing 114 troy pounds)


Holy Roman Imperial

groschen (silver coin)

guilder (gold or silver coin)

mark (gold coin worth 8 ounces of silver)

schilling (silver coin, equal to an English shilling)



ducat, ducato ( ie duchy, a silver or gold coin of Venice)

florin, florino (from flore, “flower.”  Gold coin originally made in Florence)

sequin (gold coin made in Venice)  also zechin, zecchin, zequin

scudo (generic name for any silver coin from any city)

teston (silver coin of Milan)



asem, asemen (silver)

denar (gold dinar)

grilw (measure of grain)

kabilz (1/10 of girlw)

pisilz (copper, farthing)

ster (stater)

üroly (copper, brass)



dinara (gold coin (dinar)

huna (gold coing worth 8 shillings)

kakani (small coin)

kaparda (cowry shell-coin)

karshapana (silver coin)

panchi (copper or iron coin)

pala (gold coin, equals a dinara)

retti (silver coin, 1/32 pala)

varata (cowry coin)

satamana (copper or silver coin)


Scottish (& Gaelic):

airgiod (silver)

canach (golden)

copar (copper)

crùn (crown, shilling)

cú (coin)

gròta (groat)

mancus (Saxon silver coin equal to 2 shillings, 6 pence used in Lowlands)

mark (Scottish silver coin worth 13 shillings 4 pence)

peighin (penny)

plack, plang (scottish copper coin equal to 4 pennies, of Flemish origin)

punnd (pound stirling)

sgillinn (shilling)

tasdan (shilling)



doblón, doubloon (lit. double, gold coin of worth 2 escudos)

escudo (lit. shield, gold coin worth 16 reales)

maravedi (tiny copper coin worth 1/34 real)

peseta (silver coin, worth 2 reales)

pistole (gold coin, worth 2 escudos)

real (lit. royal, silver coin)



gín=small axe head used as money=shekel of silver or 8.4 grams silver

har or àr=ring or chain-link; coil of metal used as money, could be any precious metal

kùg, kù=silver or gold “noble metal”

kù-babbar=silver (noble metal+white)

kù-sig=gold (noble metal+yellow)

urudu, urud=copper



arian, ariant (money, silver)

arian cochion (copper money)

arian gleision, arian gwynion (silver money)

bath (coin)

ceiniog (penny)

dimai (ha’penny)

punt (pound stirling)

sofren (sovereign)

swllt (shilling)


Money of the Renaissance


When you see these coins you might think the Renaissance was misnamed.  The flowering of science and knowledge and THIS is their system of money?  I put the English pound (£) at the bottom of each to give some idea of value.  £ equals one pound of silver, worth about $225 in 2013.


Doubloon Peso Real Maravedi

gold silver silver copper

Maravedi = - 1/272 1/34 1

Real = 1/128 1/8 1 34

Peso/piece of 8 = 1/16 1 8 272

Doubloon = 1 16 128 4352

£ = 1/4 1 8 272



Ducat Lion Guilder Stuiver

gold silver silver copper

Stuiver = 1/100 1/40 1/20 1

Guilder = 1/5 1/2 1 20

Lion = 2/5 1 2 40

Ducat = 1 2 1/2 5 100

£ = 1/2 1 1/4 2 1/2 50



Louis d'Or Ecu Livre Pistole Sou

gold silver silver silver copper

Sou = 1/180 1/50 1/20 1/15 1

Pistole = 1/12 1/4 3/4 1 15

Livre = 1/9 1/3 1 1 1/3 20

Crown = 1/3 1 3 4 60

Louis d'Or = 1 3 9 12 180

£ = 1/3 1 3 4 60



Guinea Crown Shilling Penny

gold silver silver copper

Penny = 1/252 1/60 1/12 1

Shilling = 1/21 1/5 1 12

Crown = - 1 5 60

Guinea = 1 4 1/5 21 252

£ = - 4/5 4 50