Western Turks and Byzantine gold coins found in China

Western Turks and Byzantine gold coins found in China

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Western Turks and Byzantine gold coins found in China

Lin Yin

Transoxiana 6 – Julio (2003)


Since a solidus of Justin II was excavated in a Sui Dynasty tomb at Dizhangwan, Xianyang, Shanxi province in 1953, over 40 specimens of Byzantine gold coins and their imitations have been unearthed and found in China. The gold coins from eastern Mediterranean made their way east and finally settled down in the heartland of China.

Under what background they were sent out of Constantinople? Who, for what purpose carried them into Far East? How did the contemporary Chinese treat these exotics? These Byzantine gold coins have already raised a series of questions deserving further exploration. From 1959 to 1977 Prof. Xia Nai published three articles on these finds. He not only examined the date and epigraphic character of these coins but also pointed out the significance of these finds for learning the relationship of Byzantine and China in the early middle ages. In 1988, Japanese scholar Otani Nakao examined the burial custom of obolus, namely, coin in the mouth of deceased, in Central Asia and China. In contrast to Xia Nai’s conclusion, he argued that the burial custom of obolus prevailing from Han to Tang in Turfan, Xinjiang was more likely to originate from Central Asia instead of inner China. However, the discussion on these coins continued in the 1990’s. Francois Thierry and Cecile Morrisson published their article in 1994, making a detailed catalogue for 27 specimens of solidus unearthed from China so far.

Judging from the limited amount of finds in contrast to the thousands of Sasanian silver coins excavated from China, they believed that the presence of solidus in China might not reflect a direct and frequent connection between Byzantine Empire and China, rather, these scattered finds implied an uncertain relationship between two countries. In 1996 Luo Fen gave a specific study on the imitations of solidus from the graveyard of Shi family in Guyuan, Ningxia and other regions of China. In 2002, he published a more detailed research on the iconographic and epigraphic characters of 46 specimens of gold coins that have ever been unearthed.

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