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Transoxiana 6 - Julio 2003

Western Turks and Byzantine gold coins found in China

Lin Yin


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 (1). 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 (2). 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 (3).

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 (4). 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 (5).

In general, before the 1980's, most scholars treated these finds as evidences for the frequent connection between Byzantine and China, which could be further associated with the seven-times visits of Fulin (Rum) emissaries recorded in Tang literature. However, after the 1980's, more and more researchers tended to take these gold coins as a result of prosperous international trade along silk road. In their opinion, it is possibly Sogdians, rather than Byzantines, who carried these coins to China for exchange of silk.

Nevertheless, the studies till now have not yet given convincing answers to concerned questions. For instance, the Byzantine gold coins found in China are of limited number and mostly from graves, in contrast to the numerous Sasanian silver coins from hoard. It adds to that imitation of solidus comprises an outstanding part of these finds. As we know, Byzantine Empire prohibited strictly the imitating of gold coins for both political and economic purposes, consequently, the imitations of solidus certainly have provenance other than Constantinople. Moreover, some imitations are just thin gold discs, clearly showing a decorative function rather than economic value. Therefore, it is hardly to conclude now that these gold coins made their way to China in the active long-distance trade along silk road in early medieval times. On the other side, an amount of Byzantine gold coins have also been found in the Western Central Asia. These gold coins actually bear quite a lot of similarities with the finds from China: limited number; many imitations and even thin discs with only decorative purposes; most finds from tombs and so point to a kind of burial custom (6).

Obviously, it is not enough to make judgment only from the Chinese finds. We should begin with the Byzantine Empire, the origin of these gold coins, examine the various intermediate links concerning the eastward flowing of solidus, and then may have an opportunity to reach a reasonable conclusion. In general, solidus played a large role in Eurasia from the 6th century to the 8th century as the only important gold coin. But it's function varied from the western part to the eastern part of silk road. In Western Asia, it is no doubt an indispensable currency for international trade. However, its economic significance can't be compared to the Sasanian silver coins in Central Asia and China. On the contrary, the presence of many decorative imitations of solidus implies a new cultural function more than an economic use.

According to the researches so far published, (7) the Byzantine gold coins in China fall into three categories:
(1) the genuine solidus struck in Constantinople, bearing clear images and legends and weighting 4.4 to 4.54 grams;
(2) imitation of solidus, resembling the real one in weight and image, its prototype thus can be established;
(3) gold bracteate, struck or pressed with only one die using a very thin sheet of metal for the flan or metal blank, less than 2 grams, being hardly corresponded with the monetary function.

The numismatics differences of these three-group coins have already been raised out in previous researches, however, when they are further related with finding place, date, status of tomb occupant and other historical elements, these standards indicate more divergence for provenance, channel of influx and function.

The first group coins, i.e. genuine solidus, were buried from 576 AD (the 8th year of Wuping period, Northern Qi Dynasty) to 612 AD (the 4th year of Wude period, Tang Dynasty). They are all unearthed from graves, moreover, each grave contains more than one solidus. The greatest number (five specimens) was found in the tomb of Tian Hong, the Zhuguo General of Northern Qi. Two specimens were unearthed separately in tombs of Dugu Luo and Heruo Que, but considering that the tomb occupants were spouses and buried in vicinity, the two finds can be accounted for one case. The owners of these coins were either emperors' trusts or relatives of the royal family. As for the finding place, most tombs are located in the contemporary political center, indicating that Byzantine gold coins had entered the core land of China from the mid 6th century to the early 7th century.

The second and third groups, i.e. the imitation of solidus and gold bracteates date from the mid 6th century to the mid 8th century (from late Northern Qi to the mid Tang). All finds come from graves except one from the treasure hoard of Hejiacun (Xi'an). The majority was found in Astana tomb site in Turfan area and graveyard of Shi family in Guyuan, Ningxia province. Most tomb occupants in the central region of China were descendants of Sogdians. Luo Feng therefore surmises that Central Asia may be the main provenance of these imitations and bracteates.

The first group shows that the influx of solidi concentrate in the short span from the mid 6th century to the early 7th century. If we make further analysis on the imitations and bracteates, we will be more impressed with this period. In contrast to the real solidi owned by the earlier aristocratic tomb occupants, Li Shouli, the Fen prince in the period of Tianbao (713-741), only have an imitation after solidus of Heraclius (610-640) (8). Obviously, real solidus had already disappeared in China in the mid 8th century. In addition, the chronological distribution of the imitations and bracteates which prototypes can be established for shows that all coin prototypes are issued before the times of Heraclius. The chronological distribution of original coins is from Leo I (445-474) to Heraclius (610-641), i.e. two centuries before the mid 7th centuries as well. These chronologies are fairly parallel to the chronological distribution of solidi found in Western Central Asia, where the six known gold coins date from Honorius (vota coin of 412) to Tiberius III Apsimar (698-705) (9). Also noteworthily, the frequent presence of Jinqian (gold coin) in the Suizang yiwushu (lists of funerary objects) in Turfan concentrated in the very period from mid 6th century to mid 7th century, indicating that Solidi were widely recognized by the local people at this period (10).

Why the influx of Byzantine gold coins only span the 6th and 7th centuries? Who, for what purpose, brought them into China? Below, I will try to give explanations to these questions.

I. A Turfan Document of Jinqian (gold coin)

Otani Document, N° 1040 which is now collected in the Ryukoku University Library of Japan, lists several gifts attached to the letters from the rulers of Western Turks:

Line 1. A Turfan Document of Jinqian (gold coin) attached to letter of Touliu Shi as gift from King

Line 2. Jiabi Tanhan Daguan add a Jinqian (gold coin) to the letter as a gift from Kadun (wife of Kaghan), as well as a black horse, a book, two linings (twill-weave silk), and three Dies (a thinner silk fabric). This document is entitled Gaochang Undated (late 6th century or early 7th century). Ledger of Letter and Gift from Touliu Shi and Others (11).

We should first explain the historical meaning of Jinqian. From the 6th century to the 8th century, Byzantine gold coins, Sasanian silver coins, and Chinese copper coins constituted standard currency relevant to international trade in Eurasia untill the purely Islamic coins were introduced in the mid 8th century. In Turfan, the important transit place along the silk road, Sasanian silver coins had widely circulated for a long time before Tang reunited it in 640. However, Sasanian silver coins are called Yinqian (silver coin) in the various documents excavated at Turfan, without any specific term like Persian Yinqian and so on. It is most likely resulted from the fact that silver coins minted by local principality (Gaochang kingdom) imitated Sasanian drachma. Consequently, we may surmise that the Jinqian in Otani N° 1040 refers to Byzantine gold coins or their imitations as well. The gold coin finds in China also provide evidence for this suggestion. Most identifiable imitations have prototypes of solidi except one after Sasanian gold coin of Ardarsir III (628-630) (12).

Now let us turn to the titles and names in this document. It is first pointed out by Prof. Jiang Boqin that Touliu Shi is another transliteration of Dulu She (Dulu Shad) appearing in the Tang documents. Jiang Boqin identifies it as Yipi dulu She, i.e. Yipi Shad of the Western Turks (also named Yugu Shad) who established a garrison north of the Tianshan mountains to monitor Turfan in eary 7th century. According to the record of Turks in Tongdian (written by Du You in late 8th century), She (Shad) denotes the military commander of other tribes (besides the tribes controlled by Kaghan himself). Touliu is also written as Duliu and Dulu which refers to a Turk tribe mentioned in the Chinese sources as early as the 6th century. The record of Turks in Jiu Tangshu (written in mid 10th century) mentions that the father of Simo, a Turk aristocrat, is named Duliu She. The same source also writes that the Western Turks include many tribes like Dulu, Nushibi, Geluolu, Chuyue, Chumi, Yiwu and so on. Obviously, Dulu is an important tribe of the Western Turks.

Prof. Jiang finds three Kaghans of the Western Turks whose names may be relevant to Touliu. They are, Duliu, son of the famous West Kaghan Datou (Datu), Nishu Kaghan, and the above-mentioned Yugu Shad. However, judging from the contemporary Chinese sources, the title of Touliu Shad is more likely connected with the five Duoliu tribes of the Western Turks.

Volume 194 of Jiu Tangshu records:

Shortly after that (635), the state (of Western Turks) was divided into ten tribes. Each tribe was commanded by one head under the title of Shad. So there are ten Shads together. Each Shad is given a arrow (by Kaghan). Their tribes thus were called Ten Arrows. The Ten Arrows were also divided into left Xiang (party) and right Xiang (party). Each party included five arrows. The left party consisted of five Duoliu tribes, headed by five big Shads separately. The right party consisted of five Nushibi tribes, headed by five Sijin separately ... ... The five Duoliu tribes inhabited east of Suiye (Chu River), and the five Nushibi tribes to the west of Suiye. Since then, they began to call themselves Tribes of Ten Names".

The Setting of Ten Names represents diminishing of Kaghan's power, instead, Shads controlled their tribes independently, and even the election of Kaghan. A note taken from the record of Turks in Tongdian witnesses the independence of these chieftains:

"In the next year (715), the Duolu Shads from the left party of Ten Names, the five Sijin from the right party, and their sons and son-in-laws all called upon (Emperor)"

Thus we may conclude that Touliu Shad in the Dagu document more possibly denotes a cheiftain from the five Duoliu, who attached a Byzantine gold coin to his letter as gift.

The second name in Dagu document is Jiabi Tanhan Daguan. Jiabi accords with Ka:b (leather bag, by extension means distant relatives according to Rui Chuanming's study (13)) in Turk language for which the record of Turks in Jiu Tangshu also provides an evidence:

Simo, the fellow tribeman of Jieli Kaghan. Shibi Kaghan and Chuluo Kaghan suspected that he is not from Ashina family because he looked like the Hu (Sogdian). Therefore in the period from Chuluo to Jieli, he was all along appointed as Jiabi Tegin, having no chance to take the position of Shad to command military force.

Tanhan often appears as a name of Turk people, like Tanhan Kaghan. Daguan accords with Dakan, an official title of Turks. The post of Dakan is often held by the trusts of kaghan. For instance, the record of Turks in Jiu Tangshu mentions:

In the 8th year of Zhenguan period (634), (Jieli Kaghan) died. (Emperor Taizong) ordered his fellow tribemen to bury him. Hulu Dakan Tugu Hunxie, an old minister of Jieli, committed suicide to accompany his Kaghan. Hunxie was originally a minister accompanying Poshishi, i.e. mother of Jieli to her new home. On the birth of Jieli, Poshishi entrusted him to Hunxie. So Hunxie died of deep grief.

It is noteworthy that Hulu Dakan was trusted by Jieli's mother. In the Dagu document, Jiabi Tanhan Dakan is responsible for Katun's letter, hence, he may be a close minister of Katun. In conclusion, this document informs us that the chieftain and Katun of Western Turks attached two Byzantine gold coins to their letters as gift to the king of Gaochang during the 6th and 7th centuries.

Otani N° 1040 is not the only Turfan document pertaining to gold coin. The Third Letter of Lihezi to His Father and Mother Dated to Tang Period (647 CE) mentions that "(Ju) Shaozhen carries letter and two gold coins to brother for greeting" (14). In the same period the word of gold coin (Jinqian) made frequent presence at the local lists of funeral articles. These documents display the usage and function of Byzantine gold coins at Turfan. In contrast to the numerous records of Sasanian silver coins, Solidi and their imitations didn't play a large role in the local monetary system. As gift or burial offering, their cultural meaning seems more significant. Hence, Otani document reflects that at least, some Byzantine gold coins entered Turfan as diplomatic gifts from the Western Turks to Gaochang kingdom. Here, they were no longer currency in circulation, rather, they became symbol of power and status as gift from a ruler.

II. From Constantinople to Inner Eurasia: the Eastward Diffusion of Solidus

The presence of Solidi in the territory of Western Turks raises following questions: what was the relationship between Byzantine and Western Turks? How did these gold coins entered inner Eurasia?

From 502 CE onwards, the war between Byzantine and Sasanian Iran had continued for a century. Under this background the Western Turks got into the scope of Roman emperor. In 567 the first delegation of kaghan, leaded by Sogdian Maniah, arrived at Constantinople with the hope to trade silk directly with Romans. However, Justin II paid more attention to the strategic significance of this visit. Byzantine and Western Turks hence made an alliance and several Byzantine emissaries made their ways to the land of Truks (15). However, this ally fall into low tide around 576 because the Romans broke their promise to accept Avars, the enemy of Turks. On the other side, the military conflicts between Western Turks and Sasanid Iran in Central Asia broke out again. In the two years from 588 to 589, the Western Turks conquered Badhaghis and Herat, but were later defeated by the Persian general Bahram. When Persians marched into the territory of Hephthalites in 597 and 598, the relief troops of Western Turks crossed the Oxus River and defeated the Persian general Smbat.

In Western Asia, the Sasanian emperor Khosrou (re. 590-628) started new military attacks to the borderland of the Byzantines to revenge the Byzantine emperor Maurice (re. 582-602). In this situation, Western Turks and the Byzantine Empire allied again in the battlefield with the Sasanians (16).

The new alliance between Western Turks and Romans was also recorded by Armenian historian Movsés Dasxuranci. This note gives us clues to the gift from Byzantine emperor Heraclius to the Western Turks:

He equipped and instructed one of his nobles named Andre, a capable and intelligent man, and sent him with promises of immense and countless treasures, saying:'If they will help me by their zeal, I for my part shall undertake to satisfy the thirst of these bestial, gold-loving tribes of hairy men. When the viceroy of the king of the north who was second to him in kingship and was called Jebu Xak'an heard this and considered the promise of great gifts and the loot to be had by attacking all the countries subject to the king of Persia, he replied with great eagerness... (17).

According to this note, Turks are regarded by the Roman emperor as a gold-loving nation. In the same time, solidus comprised the major gift from Byzantine to Avars. At the end of 579 CE, the Byzantine Empire made a peace treaty with the Avars and promised an annual tribute of 80,000 solidi to them. Since then Romans sent the tribute to Baian Kaghan of the Avars every year according to the treaty (18). Heraclius (610-641) even increased the tribute to 200,000 solidi aiming to guarantee a solid rear when he engaged in battle with the Sasanid Empire (19). The Avars were regarded as slaves by the Turks. They were possibly Rouran (Ruru), the long-time enemies of Turks. Judging from the Byzantine sources, the custom of Avars is similar to that of Turks (20). Now that the tribute from Byzantine to the Avars is gold coin, it is reasonable to surmise that the gold Heraclius promised to kaghan of Western Turks was solidus.

On the other side, Byzantine coins not only have economic value but also proclamatory potential. The typical sixth-century solidus is a coin of 2 centimeters in diameter, with a three-quarter or fully frontal bust of the reigning emperor, usually in armor, on its obverse. The reverse generally showed a Victory or an archangel supporting a cross. In the seventh century portraiture was introduced under Phocas (602-610) and in the reign of Heraclius (610-641) coinage reflected changes both in the emperor's appearance and in the arrangements he made for his succession. As Philip Grierson pointed out, inscriptions on coins can perform the propaganda functions more precisely than types, but in societies of limited literacy they have the disadvantage of being less widely understood (21). This conclusion can be witnessed by many evidences, for instance, Jesus, through portraiture and legend on the Roman silver coin, ascribed them to Ceasar's article and confirmed the legitimateness of taxation (Matthew: 22). Obviously, with the widely circulation of these Roman coins, the emperor's image and power are familiar and accepted by his subjects. Thus, Byzantine coin becomes "portraiture of power".

It is noteworthy that Byzantine coins enjoyed a good fame in the neighboring countries as well. Under Justin I (518-527), Cosmas Indicopleustes, a Greek Nestorian, recorded an oversea encounter of Byzantine gold coin:

"Sielediba (Taprobane, Sri Lanka), which is in the middle of the Indian region and possesses the hyacinth, exchanges merchandise with every port of trade and she is herself a large port of trade. One day one of the merchants active there, by the name of Sopatros -who we know died thirty-five years ago- came for the purpose of trading to the island of Taprobane, and a vessel from Persia also docked there. When the merchants from Adulis were disembarking -Sopatros was among them- also merchants from Persia disembarked. An old Persian man was with them. So, as normal the officials and the customs officers greeted them and escorted them before the king.

The king, after having received them and accepted their homage, ordered them to be seated and asked 'How do your countries and things fare?'. They replied, 'Well'. Then the king after a while asked 'which of your two kings is the mightiest, and the most powerful?'. The Persian subject jumped in and said, 'Ours is the mightiest, the greatest and the richest. He is king of kings and obtain all that he wishes'.

Sopatros for his part remained silent. So the king asked, 'And you, Romans, why do you say nothing?'. Sopatros replied, 'What should I say, if this man says such things? If you wish to learn the truth, you have before you both kings, consider them both and you can see who is the most distinguished and powerful'. The king listened and was baffled. Then he said 'What do you mean by saying that I have before me both kings?'. Sopatros replied, 'You have the coins of both, the nomisma (the solidus) of one, of the other the drachma, that is, the miliarisin. Consider the image of each one and you can see the truth'.

Having praised and approved the suggestion, the king ordered that both coins be brought before him. The nomisma was made of pure gold, shone and was beautiful to look at; since only such selected coins circulate there. The miliarisin was, in a word, a piece of silver, and that was enough to prevent its comparison with the gold coin. The king turned over the two coins again and again considering them both, and praising the nomisma without reserve he said, 'Truly the Romans are splendid, powerful and wise'. He then ordered the Sopatros be honoured with great magnificence and, placing him upon an elephant, had him escorted through the city with great honours, to the beating of drums (22)".

Obviously, within and outside the Empire, solidus displayed the portraiture of Roman emperor who was bestowed by God the power for ruling the entire Christian world. This Christian empire towered over eastern Mediterranean, blocked attacks of nomadic people from west and north, and contended with Sasanid Persia in east. In a sum, solidus was the very symbol of Roman civilization which had shone for centuries.

Only half century after Cosmas wrote out this story, the first delegation of Western Turks arrived at Constantinople. We learn from the Byzantine documents that Valentine, the Byzantine emissary in 576, had to follow the Turk custom under the pressure of Western Turk chieftain Touxanth. He cut his face for expression of grief at the funerary of Istami (Shidianmi in Chinese) Kaghan. We can imagine the great significance of this action in the eyes of Western Turks; such a powerful empire hung its head in front of Turks. Till the mid 8th century, this scene was still within the living memory of Turks:

When the upper blue sky and the lower brown earth were created at first time, man then was made between them. Up the mass, my ancestors, Tuman Kaghan and Istami Kaghan became rulers. After that, they organized and ruled the state and institution of Turks. ... ... They left the world, those, who went to the funerary and expressed grief, are from the east, that is, Moli people from the sun-rising direction. There were also Chili, Chinese, Tibetian, Abar, Puroms (Romans), Jigas, Guligan of Three Names, Tatars of Thirty Names, Kithans and Didouyu. So many nations went to funerary and expressed their grief, so famous Kaghans they were (23).

Therefore we can surmise that solidus, as the sign of Byzantine Empire, reflected the westward extension of Turk Kaghanate when it reached the hand of Turk ruler. It thus was qualified to come out with Turk chieftain's letter together. On the other side, this transformation owned also to the role that gold played in Turk tradition. The record of Turks in Zhou shu (written in the first half of 7th century) describes the usage of gold in Turks around mid 5th century:

(The Turks) inlaid gold sculpture of wolf head on their flag; their military men were calledFuli, that is, wolf in Chinese; It is because they are descendant of the wolf, and naming so is for not forgetting their ancestors. The arrangement of military forces and horses and imposition of assorted livestock are often inscribed in wood board. A gold arrow was attached to it and sealed with wax as a sign (of ruler).

The wolf is the totem of Turks. In the legend of Turks, Ashina, kaghan's family, is from a wolf mother. A gold-made wolf head on the army flag indicates the high value of gold in Turks' eyes. A gold arrow appeared with most important official papers, i.e. military commands and imposition orders together also means that gold stands for the power of kaghan.

The gold in Kaghan's tent was so impressive that Zemarchus, the first Byzantine emissary to Western Turks, made detailed description in his report (24). In 568 he met Sizabul Kaghan for three times. On the first occasion Sizabul sat in a two-wheeled gold chair; on the second occasion he sat in a carriage made of pure gold and many gold vessels were placed in his tent. The third meeting was held in a place with four gold-decorated wood pillars; Sizabul Kaghan again sat in a gold bed which was supported by four gold sculptures of peacocks. On the other side, numerous silver plates and silver animal sculptures were loaded in a big cart outside kaghan's tent. Judging from this first-hand report, gold vessels and furniture were placed within Kaghan's tent, while the silverwares, though very fine in Zemarchus' eyes, were only placed outside. Obviously, gold was always associated with kaghan's power. It is no wonder that the place that Sizabul Kaghan lived in was called "gold mountain" in Zemarchus' report.

In conclusion, the first Turk Kaghanate found by Tumen and Sizabul controlled over the steppes of Eurasia and became an unneglected political force from east to west. In this situation, solidus, with its rich cultural meaning and the assistance of Turk gold-loving tradition transformed into kaghan's Jinqian (gold coin) to show his hegemony.

III.Solidus in the heartland of China

Gongwu (tribute to Chinese court) in Chinese historical sources is a discourse of vagueness and culture superiority, embracing a variety of articles from the surrounding countries. The tributes of Turks from Northern Dynasties to Early Tang can be classified into two categories: horses for official exchange of silk; diplomatic gifts reflecting the relationship of Central Dynasty and Turk Kaghanate. To the later, Emperor Taizong (627-649) once give an opinion of deep sight from historic time to the present day:

The plans that you present are not good. You only know the history rather than reality. In the past time Han Dynasty was weak and Xiongnu were strong, so (Han Emperor) had to dress up and marry their princess with Chanyu. Now China is strong and the northern barbarians are weak. A thousand Chinese military men can defeat ten thousands (of northern soliders). Yantuo's obedience and respect (to China) lies in that he is newly appointed by us as the leader.Zaxing (the tribes of a variety of names) were not originally subjected to Yantuo, they just look for support of big country to rule over their people. They have enough military force to confront Yantuo. If they are not doing so is because Yantuo is erected by China and they fear the power of China. If I marry my daughter with him and increase his fame in the north, Yantuo will unite more parties and Zaxing will pay more respect and obedience to him. Barbarians have no ability to learn ceremony and propriety. A little unsatisfactory will make them invade the south. As you say, it is so-called eating by the beast fed by oneself. Now I don't give my daughter to him and treat his envoy without respect. When Zaxing know it, they will definitely flock to battle with Yantuo (25).

This point was made in the 16th year of Zhenguan (642). The Zhenzhu Pijia Kaghan of Xueyantuo was pleading for a marriage with Tang. The Emperor Taizong agreed it, asking him to prepare enough sheep and horses as betrothal gifts. However, the majority of sheep and horses Xueyantuo imposed on the subjected tribes died in their way to China, so Zhenzhu Pijia Kaghan was not able to pay the bride-price on time. For this sake Emperor Taizong cancelled the plan of meeting Zhenzhu Pijia Kaghan in Lingzhou, recalled his envoy and stopped the discussion of marriage. But in the back of Emperor Taizong's refuse lied some deeper consideration. Zhenzhu Pijia Kaghan was ambitious to replace Turks and set up his own hegemony in the north. He often incited conflicts among the tribes and seized the opportunity to strengthen his power, hence, broke the political pattern that Tang established in this area. On the other side, Zhenzhu Pijia Kaghan made frequent visits to Tang, keeping the manner of subjected principality in surface, actually intending to increase his status with the support of Tang. Therefore, Emperor Taizong saw through the disguise and on the excuse of delayed betrothal gifts, firmly expressed Tang's authority over the northern tribes. In general, the selection, acceptance, and even refuse of diplomatic gifts closely relate to the very international pattern, thus convey in silence the political intention and strategic policy of both sides.

However, the relative strength of Turk Kaghanate and central dynasty formed another picture in the period from Northern Dynasties to early Tang. The record of Turks in Sui shu (written from 629 to 636) writes:

At that time Tabo (Kaghan) controlled numerous men with bow and arrow. China feared his power very much. Zhou and Qi Dynasties competed to marry their princesses with him. They poured out their treasures to flatter him. Tabo then became more proud. He often said to his subordinates: "my two son-in-laws in the south made presents so often, how should I worry about my living?

In late Northern Dynasty, Northern Qi and Northern Zhou fought against each other for controlling over the heartland of China. Both sides thus contended the support of Turks by all means. This situation changed a lot after Sui's reunification of China. But in the political turmoil of Late Sui, most new military leaders in the north of China accepted the title of Turks in order to establish a new dynasty with support from Kaghan. Li Yuan, the first emperor of Tang submitted himself to the rule of the Turk Qaghanate and erected the white flag of Turks at that time. The emperor Taizong, second son of Lin Yuan once made brother with Tuli Kaghan according to the Turk custom (26). In conclusion, Turk Kaghanate preserved its hegemony over East Asia from late Northern Dynasty to early Tang, therefore, we can surmise that solidi flowing into the heartland of China in this period were diplomatic gifts to display kaghan's power.

Now let us look at the first group of coins, i.e. real solidus. These gold coins were buried in a quite concentrated time, ranging from the 7th year of Wuping of Northern Qi (575) to the 4th year of Wude of Tang (612). The five tomb occupants all have very high social status.

In the earliest tomb is buried Li Xizong, an important minister of the Northern Qi Emperor Gao Huan. According to his biography in Bei shi and Wei shu and his tomb inscription, he had a close relationship with the royal family of Northern Qi and presented many important advises to Emperor Gao Huan. After his death, Emperor Gao Huan "got off his magnificent carriage and walked with an expression of grief, stood in the riverside and shed tears for the deceased" (27).

In addition, the second daughter of Li Xizong married with Gaoyang, son of Gao Huan and later Emperor Xuandi of Northern Qi. Cui Youji, wife of Li Xizong was therefore bestowed the title of Taiji (mother of imperial concubine) in 551 AD. Li family then was promoted to royal relatives.

The tomb of Tian Hong, the Zhuguo (pillar of state) general of Northern Zhou was seriously destroyed before excavation and provided little information. However, according to the biography of Tian Hong in Bei shi, he was trusted by the ruling group of Northern Zhou:

The emperor Zhouwen once bestowed his armour to Tian Hong and said: "when the order of the country is restored, please show it back to me. (Tian Hong) was granted the name of Hugan (name of royal family) and the office of Yuanzhou prefectural governor. Hong's military achievement and fame were both great, so were bestowed many gifts by the emperor. At Tongzhou, the emperor called the officials and generals together and said: "if everyone did his best like Hong, wouldn't it be earlier to restore the order of country?" He granted Hong the title of Cheqi General and the honorable ceremony of San si (28)

The spouse of Dugu Luo and Heruo Que also came from a very prestigious family. Dugu Luo's tomb inscription begins with the following words:

The revered sir (buried here) is the eldest son of the revered Jinggong, the eldest brother of present emperess.(29)

Dugu Xin, father of Dugu luo was one of the highest officials of Northern Qi. Dugu Luo's eldest sister was the empress of Yuwen yu, the Emperor Mingdi of Northern Zhou. His fourth younger sister married Li Bing, father of the first Tang emperor, Li Yuan, while his seventh younger sister was Empress Wenxian (Dugu), wife of the first Sui Emperor, Yang Jian. Hence, Dugu family is closely related to three royal families, i.e. Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tang. Dugu Luo held the post of Chijie General and prefectural governor, in charge of the military affairs of Liangzhou, Ganzhou, and Guazhou. He also inherited Zhaoguo Gong, the honorable title of his father.

That solidi are buried only in these high officials' tombs indicates that their spread was confined to the small circle of imperial court and close ministers. Then, how these people used these foreign gold coins?

Li Xizong's tomb is best documented among the four tombs, from which three solidi are excavated, near the body of Cuishi, wife of Li Xizong who was placed in the west of the tomb chamber. N° 1 solidus is pierced twice; N° 2 and N° 3 are clipped seriously. Therefore, Xia Nai surmised that they were used as jewelry instead of money. Indeed, money-form jewelry once prevailed in the period of Northern and Southern Dynasties. The section of Money in Tong dian writes:

Buquan qian is a coin of a cun (3.3 centimeters) in diameter, with a weight of 4.5 zhu (around 9 grams). It is generally called Nan qian (male coin). It is said that a woman will have a boy if she wears this coin as jewelry.

However, the usage of solidi in the above-discussed four tombs seems different from that of Buquan coin. The fact that the tomb occupants include both man and woman, especially in tombs of Tian Hong (4 solidi) and Dugu luo (1 solidus), shows that not only women used these gold coins. Again, thinking about the high social status of these deceased, we can surmise that solidi in their hands don't have direct connection with the folk custom even if they are used as jewelry. On the other side, burial articles were always seriously attended and arranged in ancient and medieval China. In addition to the indispensable pottery figurines and various Mingqi (specific burial objects), the others are almost tomb occupants' favorite things. In the case of Li Xizong, on the east side of the tomb were placed Li Xizong's coffin unearthed gold-gilded copper jiaodou (a kind of tableware), gold-gilded copper kettle, and Sasanian silver cup.

According to the observation of archaeologist, these vessels seem often used by Li Xizong in his lifetime. Besides, the coffin of his wife yield a gold ring inlaid precious stone with pattern of pearl roundel and deer. Therefore, the archaeological report concludes that "these gold coins and ring weren't able to reach the hand of ordinary officer at that time; judging from the close relation of Li Xizong and the imperial court of Northern Qi, these gold articles and gold-gilded drinking vessels might be gifts from the emperor" (30). In fact, gold and silver comprised the main gifts bestowed by imperial court to ministers who rendered outstanding service in the period from Northern Dynasty to Tang. For instance, the biography of Yang Su in Sui shu writes:

In the 18th year (Kaihuang period, 598), Tadu Kaghan of Turks invaded borderland. The Emperor appointed Su as the general of Lingzhoudao army to suppress Turks. (The emperor) granted two thousand pieces of silk and one hundred jin (0.5 kilogram) of gold to him.

The emperor appointed Xuan, son of Su, as Yitong (a kind of officer), granted him forty jin of gold, and a silver bottle filled with gold coins.

It is noteworthy that the tomb inscriptions of Li Xizong and Dugu Luo, as well as the literary documents concerning Tian Hong all stressed their close relationship with emperor. Therefore, these Byzantine gold coins were very possibly from the imperial court and thus were paid unusual attention by their owners. They were not only cherished by their owners in lifetime but also accompanied them to their tombs. We may surmise that these solidi are not ordinary money or jewelry, rather, they represent the special favor of the emperor to the deceased and his family. Moreover, their appearance only in the highest class indicate that they are possibly diplomatic gifts from the Turk kaghan.

Then, why the emperor granted solidi to these tomb occupants? It is also noteworthy that all of the deceased in these tombs once joined the wars between central dynasties and northern nomadic people. Li Xizong once "followed the army to the border, chased after the enemy to the passgate mountain". Dugu Luo and Tian Hong had a more explicit connection with the northern nomadic people. Yuanzhou (nowadays Guyuan), hometown of Tian Hong, was an important front fortress against Turks, which was regarded as " wall of state". Tian Hong in early Northern Zhou assumed the Yuanzhou prefectural governorship and thus defended it against the Turks as the local leader. The seat of Dugu luo is the very region that was frequently attacked by the Turks. The biography of Daxi Changru in Sui shu records:

(In the 17th year of Kaihuang period, 597), the Emperor Gaozu sent Dugu Luo, governor of Liangzhou, Yuan Bao, governor of Yuanzhou, Heruo Yi, governor of Lingzhou. These officials were all commanded by Daxi Changru. Changru led the army to the north of Qilian Mountain, to the west of Pulei Sea, had no chance to confront enemy and finally returned.

Possibly, owning to great military service that these deceased rendered in war toward Turks, kaghan's gold coins were bestowed by imperial court to them as a memorial. Consequently, a question arises: did the Chinese rulers in the period from late Northern Dynasty to early Tang recognize the real provenance of these gold coins? In other words, did the Turk envoys intentionally point out the Byzantine origin of these coins to display the hegemony of Turk Kaghanate in east and west?

We haven't enough evidences to answer this question till now. However, the selection and exchange of diplomatic gifts is never a simple process but a deliberate conveyance of ruler's intention. Therefore, an investigation on the gifts from Tong Yehu Kaghan of the Western Turks (617-628) would provide proof for our present argument. According to the record of Turks in Jiu Tang shu, "Tong Yehu Kaghan is a man of bravery and astuteness. He is good at art of war. Thus he controlled Tiele tribes to the north, confronted Persia to the west, connected with Kasmira (nowadays Kashmir) to the south. All countries are subjected to him. He controlled ten thousands of men with arrow and bow, establishing his power over the western region. He occupied the land of Wusun and moved his tent to Qianquan north of Tashkent. All of the princes of western region assumed the Turk office of Jielifa. Tong Yehu Kaghan also sent a Tutun to monitor them for imposition. The power of Western Turks had never reached such a state before".

Tong Yehu once intended to expand eastward. In the 5th year of Wude period (622 AD) his envoy called upon Tang to plead for a marriage with Chinese princess. The Emperor Gaozu agreed it after consulting with his ministers. But this plan then was obstructed by Jieli Kaghan of the Northern Turks. According to Cefu yuangui, from the 2nd year to 9th year of Wude period (622 AD-629 AD), the envoys of Tong Yehu Kaghan visited Tang court almost every year; were some years they came even twice. Considering the Western Turks is not bounded with Tang, most of the tribute from Tong Yehu Kaghan should be diplomatic gifts. In the 3rd year of Wude (620 AD), the envoy presented a big bird egg from Tiaozhi. The 5th year of Wude (622 AD) saw fur of lion and precious horse. In addition, the Western Turks had a close relationship with Gaochang (Turfan). The Da Ciensi Sanzang fashi zhuan ( biography of Sanzang priest of Great Cien Temple, written down by Huili and Yanzong in the 7th century) recorded that the eldest son of Western Turk Kaghan married with Gaochang king's younger sister when the famous Buddhist monk Xuan Zang reached Turfan in early Zhenguan period (627-649 AD).

In the record of Cefu yuangui, it is with Gaochang kingdom together that the Western Turks made first visit to Tang court in 619 AD. Gaochang possibly guided envoys of the Western Turks who did not know China well in their way to China. It is noteworthy that Gaochang kingdom presented a Fulin (Byzantine) dog to Tang emperor that was able to catch up with horse and hold candle in its mouth. Tiaozhi is the name of Persia in ancient China, the so-called Tiaozhi big bird egg refers to ostrich egg. Fur of lion is also a famous product of western region. Fulin dog no doubt originated from Byzantine Empire. In sum, the diplomatic gifts from Western Turks and its principality Gaochang bear a telling feature of Western Asia. What they display is the hegemony of Western Turk Kaghanate in west and thus arouse the attention of Tang Dynasty.

From this argument we can surmise that the Turk envoys possibly claimed solidi's origin when they were sent to Tang emperor as kaghan's gold coins. It is also noteworthy that Fulin, the new name for Byzantine, though appeared as early as mid 6th century in Zhigong tu (written around 541 AD), actually was widely used till Sui (581-618). The biography of Pei Ju in Sui shu recorded:

The north road passes Yiwu, Pulei sea, territory of Tiele tribes, capital of Turk Kaghanate, then cross Beiliu River and finally reaches Fulin and West Sea.

Also, the record of Tiele in Sui shu mentions:

The ancestors of Tiele belonged to the tribes of Xiongnu. The Tiele include many tribes. They occupied the valleys, scattering in the vast region in the east of the West Sea ... ... In the east of Fulin live Enqu, Alan, Beirujiuli, Fuwenhun and so on, they have nearly 20,000 soldiers ... ... the names of these tribes are different, but all of them can be called Tiele. The Tiele don't have kings. They are subject to the Western Turks and Eastern Turks separately.

The two sources narrate the territory of Turks and tribes subjecting to them. The presence of Fulin (Byzantine) in these writings makes us associate Purum, the Turkic transliteration of Rum in the Kul-Tegin Inscription. According to P. Pelliot's exhaustive study, Purum is one of the etymons of Fulin.(31) We have reasons to believe that, as the powerful empire in West Asia, Byzantine culture can be transited eastward through various channels with the change of time and space. Therefore, our conclusion is that some ambiguous geographical information on Byzantine reached China, altogether with the spread of solidus, and, Western Turks were one of the middlemen for this transition who established the most powerful steppe empire in Eurasia in the 6th and 7th centuries. It is interesting that Solidus was regarded as the "Portraiture of Power" in Byzantine; as the gold coin of Turk kaghan, it then reflected the hegemony of Nomadic empire; when it finally rested on the high officials' tombs in the heartland of China, it sketched out still a picture of power and fame, although it is already thousands miles afar from Constantinople.


I am much obliged to Dr. Alice-Mary Talbot and Dr. Elizabeth Fisher who facilitated my research trip to Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Study Library; to Dr. Cecile Morrisson, Prof. Liu Xinru, Prof. Peter B. Golden, Prof. Clive Foss, Prof. Zhang Guangda and Dr. Zhu Xueyuan who guided me to the latest western references related with this subject; to Paola E. Raffetta who corrected my English style. Moreover, I greatly appreciate Prof. Cai Hongsheng, my teacher in Zhongshan University, for stimulating my interest in numismatics and the Western Turks. I am also grateful to the United Board of Higher Christian Education in Asia and Seiyu Research Foundation for the Promotion of Young Faculty Members in Zhongshan University for their generous financial support to me.


(1) Xia Nai, "Xianyang Dizhangwan Suimu chutu de Dongluoma jinbi", Kaogu xuebao, 1959-1, 67-73; "Xi'an tumencun chutu de Baizhanting jinbi", Kaogu, 1961-8, 446-447; "Zanhuang Li Xizong mu chutu de Baizhanting jinbi", Kaogu, 1977-6, 403-406.

(2) Otani Nakao, "Guangyu sizhe kouzhong hanbi de xisu", Renwen zazhi, 1991,5,80-86; 1993,1,81-87 (Wang Weishen and Liu Dong, trans. of original article in Toyama Daigaku jinbun gakubu kiy¨­ 13.1)

(3) Francois Thierry et Cecile Morrisson, "Sur Les monnaies Byzantines trouvées en Chine", in Revue numismatique, 1994, 6 série, XXXVI, p. 109-145.

(4) Luo Feng, "Guanyu Xi'an suochu Dongluoma jinbi fangzhipin de taolun" (Discussion on the imitation of Solidus unearthed in Xi'an), Zhongguo qinbi (Chinese Numismatics), 1993,4, 17-19; Luo Feng, Guyuan nanjiao Sui-Tang mudi (A Sui and Tang graveyard in the southern suburbs of Guyuan), Beijing, 1996, 151-156;

(5) Luo Feng, "Zhongguo jingnei faxian de Dongluoma jinbi" (Byzantine gold coins found in China), International Conference of Relations of Ancient China and Foreign Countries: Investigation, Compilation and Studies of New Document. Collected Papers, Beijing University, Nov. 15-16, 2002, 184-22

(6) A. Naymark, Sogdiana, Its Christians and Byzantium: A Study of Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquite and Early Middle Ages, (UMI Dissertation Services, 2001), chapter III.

(7) Apart from the above mentioned scholarship, see also, A.L. Juliano and J.A. Lerner, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China, Gansu and Ningxia, Asian Society 2001, 270-290; Kang Liushuo, "Zhongguo jinnei chutu faxian de Baizhanting jinbi zongshu" (A survey of the Byzantine gold coins excavated and found in China), Zhongguo qianbi (Chinese Numismatics), 2001,4, 3-9.

(8) Shanxisheng bowuguan, "Xi'an Hejiacun, faxian Tangdai jiaocang wenwu", Wenwu, 1972-1, 30-42.

(9) A. Naymark, 130-131.

(10) Jiang Boqin, Dunhuang Tulufan wenshu yu Sichouzhilu ( Silk Road and Documents from Dunhuang and Turfan), Wenwu chubanshe, 1994, 11-13.

(11) Cited from Jiang Boqin, ibid, 9, n.4.

(12) Luo Feng, Guyuan nanjiao SuiTang mu, 156-158.

(13) Rui Chuanming, Gu Tujue beiming yanjiu (A study of ancient Turk inscriptions), Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1998, 209-212.

(14) Tulufan chutu wenshu (Documents excavated at Turfan), vol. 6, 369. See Jiang Boqin, ibid, 10.

(15) R.C.Blockey, The History of Menander the Guardsman, (ARCA 17, Liverpool, 1985), pp.171-179.

(16) Cyri Mango and Rogers Scott tr., The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, AD 284-813.Oxford, 1997, 447.

(17) C.J.F. Dowsett tr., Movsés Dasxuranci, The History of the Caucasion Albanians. Oxford, 1961, Book Two, Chapter 12.

(18) Menander, 227. Also see, Denis Sinor ed., The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia,. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, . 209-210; Simocatta Theophylact, History,. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1986, vii, 15.

(19) Denis Sinor, ibid; Simocatta Theophylact, History, (Oxford, Oxford University Press,1986), vii, 15.

(20) Denis Sinor, p.211.

(21) Philip Grierson, Byzantine Coinage, Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Snd Edition, 1999, p.23.

(22) Cited from Federico De Romanis, "Romanukharattha and Taprobane: Relations between Rome and Sri Lanka in the First Century AD", Crossings: Early Mediterranean Contacts with India (F. De Romanis and A. Tchernia ed.,New Delhi: Manohar 1997), pp.186-187.

(23) Kul-Tegin Inscription (East 1-4), Cited from Rui Chuanming, 219-220.

(24) Blockley, ibid, 119-120.

(25) Cefu yuangui, juan 978.

(26) Chen Yinque, "Lun Tanggaozu chengchen Tujue shi" (on Tanggaozhu's submission to Turks), Hanliutang ji, Sanlian bookhouse, 2001, 108-121.

(27) Shijiazhuangdiqu Geweihui wenhuaju wenwufajuezu, "Hebei Zanhuang Li Xizong mu", Kaogu, 1977,6, 382-390.

(28) Bei shi, biography of Tian Hong.

(29) See Note 27

(30) Shijiazhuangdiqu Geweihui wenhuaju wenwufajueju, 390.

(31) P. Pelliot, "Sur l'origie du nom Fou-lin", Journal Asiatique ser. II, vol. 3 (1914), pp. 497-500.

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