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Crusaders and money, seen in a different way

This strategy I have adopted of putting the current content up top and the backlog below is getting somewhat top-heavy, but there is just one more thing to announce, and then I expect actually to start letting some of these bits of self-publicity back into their rightful place in the time-stream. That thing is another upload of Barber Institute coins to the Internet, and this time it is our entire collection of coins from the Crusader States! Admittedly that is only 61 coins, but there are few enough of these series online that it seems like plenty anyway. A great deal of the work here was done by our willing volunteer and my ex-student, Alex Nagle, so first of all thanks to him, and now, here are some coins!

Bronze follis of Tancred, Regent of Antioch, struck in Antioch between 1104 and 1112, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR002

Bronze follis of Tancred, Regent of Antioch, struck in Antioch between 1104 and 1112, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR002

Bronze anonymous follis struck at an unknown mint between 1071 and 1092, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5278

Bronze anonymous follis struck at an unknown mint at a date after the accession of Emperor Michael VII Doukas, because it’s struck onto one of his coins, and probably before the reform of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) in 1092, making it unusually datable for one of these anonymous issues that made up most of Byzantine small change between around 976 and that date. It is Barber Institute of Fine Arts B5278.

This post follows on the chronologically previous one better than one might expect, because here too the narrative is one in which incomers to the government of an area with several disparate coinage systems already running maintain them at first, and then after a while replace them with things that seem more in keeping with their origins and ideology. So, above you have one of our several copper folles of the regents of Crusader Antioch, who were left to hold the fort while Prince Bohemond I gadded about trying to raise money and support to free himself from his Byzantine lord and master, and I have stuck beneath it a contemporary anonymous bronze follis from our Byzantine holdings so that you can see the derivation.1

Bronze follis of Count Baldwin II of Edessa, struck in Edessa between 1108 and 1118, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR005

Bronze follis of Count Baldwin II of Edessa, struck in Edessa between 1108 and 1118, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR005

This gets a bit weirder out at Edessa, where the types perhaps reflect the imagery of the Kushan Empire, whose coins seem still to have been known, presumably from hoard finds (if it can happen for us, it presumably happened then too).2

Electrum besant of King Henry I of Cyprus, struck in Cyprus between 1218 and 1253, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR052

Electrum besant of King Henry I of Cyprus, struck in Cyprus between 1218 and 1253, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR052

The resemblance to Byzantine coinage lasted longer at Cyprus, with that concave fabric we were talking about a few posts ago, although the metal is much more obviously silver than the contemporary Byzantine trachea. Nonetheless, here too, by the fourteenth century we have a flat Western-style gros in place of the concave ‘besant’.

Silver gros of Count Bohemond VI of Antioch and Tripoli, struck in Tripoli between 1251 and 1275, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR013

Silver gros of Count Bohemond VI of Antioch and Tripoli, struck in Tripoli between 1251 and 1275, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR013

On the other hand, at Jerusalem, where we sadly have no holdings, the antetypes were Islamic, and so the initial coins of the Crusader kingdom there were also dinars and dirhams, of which some bore Arabic lettering. (You can see some here.) Now, none of this lasts terribly long: within a century, almost all these areas had adopted coinage that looked a lot more like contemporary French issues. Above you see one of Tripoli.

Silver anonymous dirham struck in Acre in 1251, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR014

Silver anonymous dirham struck in Acre in 1251, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR014

This piece, however, is sort of poised at the crossover. This was a very short-lived issue from Acre in 1251, a city in a fairly desperate situation, but they seem to have responded to this with numismatic propaganda. You can see straight away that it’s lettered in Arabic, but, if you can’t read it, if you follow the link you’ll see that what that Arabic actually gives is a doctrinal statement of the Christian Trinity: “One God alone, one faith alone, one Baptism alone” and “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one Godhead alone”, a fairly neat adaptation of what an Islamic audience might have expected on an Arabic-lettered coin. Never surrender! Well, until you actually have to, you know, surrender…

Billon denier tournois of either Geoffrey II or  William de Villehardouin, Princes of Achaia, struck in Corinth between 1246 and 1278, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR017

Billon denier tournois of either Geoffrey II or
William de Villehardouin, Princes of Achaia, struck in Corinth between 1246 and 1278, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR017

Most of this upload, however, looks like this, which is to day, almost exactly like French small change of the same era, the famous denier tournois. These coins are from the Frankish principality of Achaia in mainland Greece, taken over in the wake of the Fourth Crusade. The above, indeed, was issued by a son of Geoffrey de Villehardouin, everyone’s go-to chronicler of that sorry episode, because it was his position in Achaia he had to justify with that same chronicle, but we can’t tell his two sons Geoffrey II’s and William’s coins apart, they’re both just signed with ‘G’.

Billon denier tournois of Isabelle de Villehardouin, Princess of Achaia, struck in Glarentza between 1297 and 1301, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR025

Billon denier tournois of Isabelle de Villehardouin, Princess of Achaia, struck in Glarentza between 1297 and 1301, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR025

More interesting in some ways is the above; it looks hardly different to the above, but is signed “+ YSABELLA· P· ACH”, which you may detect is not quite the normal picture of medieval rule. The lady in question is Isabelle de Villehardouin, Geoffrey I’s great-granddaughter, and also grand-daughter of Michael II, Despot of Epiros, because the Franks and the Greeks were quite inconsistent about whether they were at war with each other during the Frankish presence here. This, unfortunately perhaps for her, made her heiress to a reasonable chunk of Greece, with the effect that she was married off by her suzerain lord, King Charles I of Naples, twice, including once to his son, Philip of Sicily. He died (as King of Thessaloniki) in 1277, and her second husband Florent of Hainaut died in 1297. This left her briefly as sole ruler of Achaia, and she seems to have decided she liked it, to the point where off her own bat she married Philip of Savoy, some of whose coins we also have, rather than let Charles marry her off again. That didn’t work out, as he provoked a peasants’ revolt, and so she was shipped back to Hainaut in 1307 to live with her children so as to make room for a new ruler, Charles’s grandson Philip of Taranto. She spent her remaining five years petitioning anyone she could reach in the West to acknowledge her claim to Achaia. It’s something of a type case for the restrictions on women’s power in the high Middle Ages.3

Gold ducat of Pierre d'Aubusson, Grand Master of the Knights of the Hospital of St John, struck in Rhodes between 1476 and 1500, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR037

Gold ducat of Pierre d’Aubusson, Grand Master of the Knights of the Hospital of St John, struck in Rhodes between 1476 and 1500, Barber Institute of Fine Arts CR037

This, however, may be the coolest of the bunch, and it took us longer than it should have done to identify.4 It is, as the caption says, a gold ducat, which is to say that it imitates a coin of Venice (and we have two much more obvious imitations in this upload as well, though they’re not really Crusader coins) on which the legend reads something like, “SIT T XKS IS ISTE DVCAT”, abbreviated from “Sit tibi Ihesu Christo iste ducatus”, “O Christ, let this same duchy be yours”, with our modern term for the coins coming from the shortened form of the last word. This is not from Venice, however, but from Rhodes during the period when that island was held by the Knights of St John of the Hospital, by this time booted out of the Holy Land but still determinedly holding on. Accordingly the legends are tweaked slightly, not least to name St John rather than Venice’s patron St Mark. In other words, even this was a local adaptation of the contemporaneously current coinage, it’s just that the current coinage in the world to which these people looked was now very different.

Anyway, some links, because while at the moment these are the only coins in that catalogue tagged as ‘Culture: medieval’, hopefully that won’t last long:

Enjoy! For I know not at this stage whether I shall be able to upload any more before I demit…


1. This reading of Bohemond’s situation I get largely from Peter Frankopan, The First Crusade: the call from the East (London 2012).

2. The basic numismatics here is coming from D. M. Metcalf, Coinage of the Crusades and the Latin East, 2nd edn. (Oxford 2004) and Alex G. Malloy, Irene F. Preston, Arthur J. Seltman, Michael L. Bates, A. A. Gordus, D. M. Metcalf, Roberto Pesant, Coins of the Crusaders States including the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its Vassal States of Syria and Palestine, the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus (1192-1489), and the Latin Empire of Constantinople and Its Vassal States of Greece and the Archipelago, 2nd edn. by Allen G. Berman (Fairfield 2004).

3. There is probably something written about her, indeed, but I mainly got the background from the online Britannica and Malloy et al., Coins of the Crusader States.

4. Mainly because although the 2nd edition of ibid. bodges on a chapter at the very end, after the index, about Rhodes in which this coin is listed, it doesn’t actually add the chapter to the contents or index it…

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2 responses to “Crusaders and money, seen in a different way

  1. I posted links to your latest three articles on coins to a Facebook that is interested in Medieval coins. You are getting rave reviews. Thanks for these.

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