The Sun and Its Coins



The sun has formed human mythology and symbolism since the beginning of history. It’s no surprise that sun symbols and imagery have appeared on our coins for thousands of years.




Karshapana coin, credit of Wikipedia user Jean-Michel Moullec. Used under CC by SA 2.0

Karshapana coins from India date back to the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, and take their value from the person authenticating them. These authentications were punched into the coins, which could be made of gold, silver, copper, or an alloy. Sun symbols are common on these early coins.





Coin with Helios on obverse, credit of, used under fair use.

While the sun was initially associated with the god Helios in the time of Homer, Helios and Apollo merged to become one sun deity, riding the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. Apollo was one of the most beloved and powerful gods, able to provide knowledge and plague, feast and famine.





Apollo with lyre on Greek coin, credit of
, used under fair use.

Helios and Apollo are both found on Greek coins. Helios is usually pictured as a bust in profile, with a crown of rays on his head. Coins with Helios on the obverse can be found from the 4th to the 1st centuries BCE. Apollo appears on coins from the same periods, but does not usually have sun imagery on his coins, the artists generally preferring to depict him with his musical attributes, though he is still associated with the sun.





Iceni coin with sun symbol, credit of Numismantica, used under CC by SA 3.0

During the first few centuries ACE, the Celtic tribes in Gaul and Britain were minting coins with sun and star symbols. Though initially copies of Greek coins of Alexander, the British coin makers gradually stylized the coins and replaced Greek symbols with their own imagery of horses, wheat, and sun symbols. The Iceni, in particular, were known for their distinctive coinage, and were the only British tribe to use their own name on their coins. While the Iceni were initially aligned with the Romans when they came to Britain, a disagreement and assault lead Iceni queen Boadicea to lead the nation in a revolt against Rome. The revolt failed, and Roman control, including Roman coinage, gained strength in Britain, and the sun symbols of the Iceni fell out of use.





Gold coin of Louis XIV with sun symbol.

Nearly a thousand years later, French king Louis XIV ascended to the throne and reigned for 72 years, the longest reign of any monarch in a sovereign European country. He was known for grandiosity and commissioned many works of art depicting himself as elegantly as possible. He became known as the Sun King, and one of the gold d’or coins from his reign shows a radiating sun on the reverse.




Even today, many countries release commemorative coinage for eclipses or other significant astronomical events. It’s not hard to believe that there will be sun images on coins as long as coins are made.

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  1. Pingback: The Sun and Its Coins — Past - Peterborough Coin Club

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