OK, I admit, this is not a temple

I often hark back to much older posts on this blog, which I suppose is part of having been blogging for more than a decade. Still, you would have to have a special kind of memory to remember my theory about the so-called ‘tomb type’ deniers of ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona, which is just as well as I think I now have to admit that it was wrong.1 So, I probably ought to explain a bit, and then show you why it’s wrong and wonder what’s right now.

So, when the Frankish kings took over in what’s now Catalonia, they set up mints in four towns, Girona, Barcelona, Castelló d’Empúries and either Roda de Ter, Roda d’Isàvena or Roses, with the balance of likelihood for now on the third.2 These mints struck the regular Carolingian coinage of silver pennies, which Simon Coupland has called the ‘medieval Euro’, which under the rule of Charlemagne (768-814, here 785-814) and his son Louis the Pious (814-840) was standardised pretty much across their empire.3 The principal design of that is the so-called ‘Temple’ type, which you see here.

'Temple' type denier of Emperor Louis the Pious

‘Temple’ type denier of Emperor Louis the Pious, uncertain mint, 822-840. Image by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The reverse design is fundamentally Roman, the closest resemblance being to a coinage of Emperor Antoninus Pius, but as befitted their new dispensation the Carolingians converted the once-pagan temple into a Christian space by adding the cross at the centre and the legend, PXISTIANA RELIGIO, with the first two letters being Greek, the chi-ro monogram meaning Christ, so, ‘Christian religion’. Visually, it’s fairly clearly a design in three registers, the pediment, the pillars and cross, and the fundament. This type continued to be struck in the West under Louis the Pious’s son Charles the Bald (844-77), but at a decreasing standard until in 864, at the Council of Pîtres, Charles ordered a reform and brought the coinage back up, more or less, to the standard of his grandfather, whose KAROLVS monogram he also reinstated on the coins.4

'Temple'-type denier of King Charles the Bald, struck at Reims 840-864

‘Temple’-type denier of King Charles the Bald, struck at Reims 840-864. Image by By Numisanticahttp://www.numisantica.com/, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, somehow or other the Catalan mints don’t seem to have got that memo. There’s no specimen of a post-Pîtres coin so far known from any of them—although as this post shows, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one waiting to be found—and it seems therefore that coinage in Catalonia either ceased to be made for a while or they carried on making the previous issue. I favour the former, simply because Charles stayed in fairly close touch with his distant province in his later years, but it’s possible an exception was made.5 The real difficulties for numismatists however start after Charles’s death, because while we have one or two not very good temple-type coins in his name from Barcelona, we don’t have any clearly in the names of his successors. What we have instead is a set of three types of coin, all rather below even pre-Pîtres standard in size and weight, all lettered in more or less junk characters, As, Vs, lozenges and triangles, and all with a small cross in a circle on one face. They’re distinguished by the other face, which carries either another such small cross in a circle, a triangle of three annulets in a circle, or a blocky design in three registers which we know as the ‘tomb’ type, and which has been guessed to represent the then-recently-discovered tomb of Saint Eulalie of Barcelona. Here is a typical example of such a coin.

Silver transitional denier struck at Barcelona in 865-1018, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.345-2001

Silver transitional denier struck at Barcelona in 865-1018, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.345-2001, image by your humble author

As you can see, that’s not a lot to go on. You may remember me being sceptical here about our ability to date the supposed rediscovery of Eulalie’s tomb, and of course we can’t independently date the coins except by hypothetical seriation, so neither one thing can be used to date the other, though people still do of course. The three known coins of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell (992-1018) use the triple annulet device, so it seems likely—no more—that the anonymous ones with the annulets come before his. Eulalie’s tomb was supposedly found by Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, who was around in the 870s, so we usually put the ‘tomb’ type first, and the cross type has to fill the gap. Braver souls than I have even assigned each type to a known ruler, Bishop Teuderic of Barcelona for the ‘tomb’ type, Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona (911-947) for the cross and my own favourite, his son Borrell II (945-993), for the annulets.6 That could certainly be, but equally, we don’t know from what we have that they weren’t all issued simultaneously in a fifteen-year splurge under Count Guifré I the Hairy (870-898) and then just used till they wore nearly blank, and then a century later Ramon Borrell decided to revive his great-grandfather’s coinage, on a current standard, as a sign that he was taking up the fight against the Muslims anew. That could just as easily have happened from this evidence.

Anyway, whenever it dates from, this post is about the ‘tomb’ type. It is very rare to have a clear, unworn specimen of any of these coins, and all the ones I’ve seen hitherto of the tomb type have left me quite dubious about its iconography. It’s often no more than three raised rectangles, the uppermost slightly domed, and the repetition of the triple register has made me wonder before now whether it’s not in fact just a rather degraded recollection of the temple type that the revelant mint, wherever it is (we usually assume Barcelona, but again don’t actually know), had probably once struck. And, as I now know, that’s where I’m wrong, because in April of 2014 (and why, yes, I have had this post stubbed for a while), there passed through the sale-rooms of Aureo & Calicó in Barcelona this example:

Silver denier struck in Barcelona, probably in the late ninth or early tenth century. Aureo y Calicó, Ramon Muntaner sale, April 2014, lot 211

Silver denier struck in Barcelona, probably in the late ninth or early tenth century. Aureo y Calicó, Ramon Muntaner sale, April 2014, lot 211

Now, they attribute it to Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, but you know from the above how much that’s worth. It probably is very early in the possible timeframe, at least, because its weight is high (1.36 g), the obverse legend is still legible as +CARLVS REX rather than being pseudo-literate and the cross is longer than on the later ones. The reverse legend is pretty clearly +BARCINONA, Barcelona, too, even though whoever engraved the legend on the die didn’t realise it needed to be in mirror-image and so it has come out, as the numismatists say, retrograde. That implies that they were copying a Carolingian-era denier, however. So perhaps this is the earliest tomb-type denier we have so far, and in that respect maybe it could be Frodoí or Teuderic (or Guifré the Hairy or his son Guifré II Borrell). Mainly, though, it’s really clear, even though someone apparently put a knife point right through its middle at some point in its history. The device on the reverse does have three registers, though the top one is subdivided vertically into two or three. But they plainly aren’t the temple. I’m not saying I know what it is. It could be Eulalie’s sarcophagus, but I’ve seen that myself and it’s not an obvious resemblance to me, plus which I don’t see how anyone who hadn’t seen it could possibly be expected to recognise it.

Crypt of Saint Eulalie in cathedral of Santes Creu i Eulàlia de Barcelona

Seen but not photographed, alas. The thing you’re looking for is not the raised-up Gothic box in the middle but the rougher-cut one lurking between the pillars and behind the railings at the back, almost invisible from any available angle of approach. Image by Bernard Gagnonown work, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

But it’s not the temple. The omission of the vertical elements when the horizontal ones are so clear is impossible to explain. So, I have to retire that theory and another one is needed. But this is the fun thing about medieval coinage, and I suppose material culture more widely except that coins were produced on such a scale; our understanding can genuinely be transformed by one new find. I would love to know where this coin came from, which I probably never will. Its pedigree is likely to be dubious, but that it got to a sale-room and they photographed it gives us more than we would have known otherwise. In this case, what we now know is that my idea doesn’t work, but that’s OK; now, whatever idea we come up with will have to work better than that. This is how scholarship progresses, and I have plenty of other progress to make, I hope.


1. Not least, I think I actually first expressed the theory in print, in my “Currency Change in Pre-Millennial Catalonia: Coinage, Counts and Economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217–243, online here, at p. 220, though I was then less dubious about Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona’s rôle than I am now (and below).

2. See Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 70-73.

3. See Simon Coupland, “The Medieval Euro” in History Today Vol. 54 no. 6 (June 2002), pp. 18–19, or in a bit more depth Coupland, “Money and Coinage under Louis the Pious” in Francia Vol. 17 (Sigmaringen 1990), pp. 23-54, online here, repr. in his Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: Studies on Power and Trade in the 9th Century, Variorum Collected Studies 847 (Aldershot 2007), chapter III.

4. See Philip Grierson, “The Gratia Dei Rex Coinage of Charles the Bald” in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: Court and Kingdom, 2nd edn. (Aldershot: Variorum, 1990), pp. 52–64.

5. He issued all of Ramon de Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 75, facsimile reprint (Barcelona 2007), Arles IV, Banyoles III & IV, Particulars XXVI, XXVII & XXVIII, Sant Andreu d’Eixalada I, Sant Julià del Munt I, Sant Llorenç del Munt I & Sureda III & app. VII & VIII to recipients in the area of modern Catalonia after the date of P&icrc;tres.

6. Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “La moneda barcelonina del segle X. Altres novetats comtals” in Acta numismàtica Vol. 38 (Barcelona 2008), pp. 91–121, modified by Crusafont, Balaguer & Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, pp. 74-76.

2 responses to “OK, I admit, this is not a temple

  1. ‘Saint Eulalie of Barcelona’: well, you’ve improved my education there. I had vaguely assumed that Eulalie was a name invented by Wodehouse for comic effect.

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