barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


Visualising the divine on Byzantine and Early Islamic Coinage

Epochal moments in the early histories of two of the world’s great religions – as illustrated by the currencies their followers created and circulated – are explored in this absorbing exhibition.

Coins have always provided a stage on which the dramas of religion and politics, statehood and rebellion, marriage and succession, and triumph and desperation are played.

In the early seventh century, the East Roman Emperor Herakleios requisitioned silver from Constantinople’s churches to pay his army. The coins bore the petition ‘God help the Romans’.

A generation later the leader of the first Muslim Empire, the Umayyad Caliph Abd Al-Malik, created a gold coinage emblazoned with Islamic verse, establishing a blueprint for Muslim coinage for centuries.

The origins, meanings and manufacturing processes of coinage in the neighbouring Byzantine and early Muslim empires are explored in this exhibition, while two beautiful sacred also reflect how attitudes to depicting religious subjects differ between Islam and Christianity.

The relationship between these two empires was characterised by a constant dialogue of trade, intellectual exchange and military confrontation. This display explored how currency was used by each to assert cultural difference and promote its own concept of the divine.

Curated by Rebecca Darley and Daniel Reynolds, with Ali Miynat and Maria Vrij.

Buried Treasures

Uncovering Hoards

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Inheriting Rome

Until 24 April 2016

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Byzantine Seals

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