Post-classical history

Outremer: Coinage

The period of Frankish settlement in Palestine and Syria (1098-1291) coincided with a monetary revolution in western Europe. At the end of the eleventh century, the only denomination coined in Europe, with the exception of Spain and southern Italy, was the penny (Lat. denarius), the value of which was determined by its widely varying weight and silver content. The last third of the twelfth century saw a massive increase in minting, while in the thirteenth, fine silver multiples of the penny and, somewhat later, gold coins were introduced. The coinage of the Franks in Outremer partly reflected these trends, but it was also characterized by the need to interact with the local currencies, which were themselves influenced by the bullion the crusades attracted to the Near East.

Coinage of Frankish Syria: Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli

At the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099), Byzantine coins in the form of gold nomismata of Emperor Michael VII (1071-1078) and, mostly clipped, copper folles were widespread in northern Syria but less so further south. The basis of the Muslim currency was the Fātimid gold dinar, usually of high purity, and a rather sparse debased billon coinage called black dirhams. Very little fine silver and copper had been struck for over a century. Coins were reckoned by weight rather than count and frequently cut up.

The crusaders began by briefly issuing a Byzantine-style copper coinage at Antioch and Edessa, but most of their coinage consisted of French-style billon (i.e., debased silver) pennies, although unlike the mints in France they also issued fractions: copper in Antioch and Tripoli, billon halfpennies (before 1187) in Jerusalem. The mints of Acre and Tripoli struck substantial quantities of imitations of contemporary Arabic gold dinars and silver dirhams, but their Latin-style gold and fine silver issues were, with one exception, very limited. West European billon pennies brought in by the First and Third (1189-1192) Crusades circulated alongside local coins. As in France, cast pewter tokens supplemented the lack of small change. It seems likely that minting was sporadic rather than continuous, but the immobilization of coin types (the use of the same design for different issues), the absence of mint records, the occurrence of anonymous issues, and the plethora of homonymous rulers make the dating of many of the coins very uncertain. The situation is further complicated by the existence of coinlike objects of uncertain status.

It seems that the first Frankish coins were struck in the county of Edessa in the name of Count Baldwin I (1098-1100), as a continuation of the black dirhams but with a cross and Christian legends in Greek. These were replaced by a much heavier (c. 6.5-9 grams) copper issue, based on the Byzantine anonymous folles. The adoption of a copper coinage was a novel step for the region and was soon followed by a major innovation in iconography. An archetypal “crusader image” of an armed knight on an anonymous issue is probably attributable to Count Baldwin II at the start of his second period of government (1108-1118). After the next issue of more conventional Byzantine type, the weight was reduced (c. 3-4 grams), and all the subsequent light coins used the armed knight type. The “heavy” issues of Edessa are characterized by intensive overstriking. (No. 1) The issue of coins seems to have ended with Baldwin II, apart from a unique coin of Count Joscelin II (1131-1150) with a Syriac legend.

Crusader coins minted in Syria and Palestine. (Courtesy Marcus Phillips)

Crusader coins minted in Syria and Palestine. (Courtesy Marcus Phillips)

The Norman princes who occupied the principality of Antioch were already familiar with gold and copper coins. Their Byzantine-style copper coinage, with legends in both Latin and Greek, although of variable weight, was roughly on the same standard as the lightweight coins of Edessa, although struck on a far greater scale. There are ten types of copper coins from the period of Frankish rule, starting with Prince Bohemund I (1098-1102) and ending with Bohemund II (1119-1130). The designs on the Antioch coppers tend to be more “Byzantine” than those of Edessa, though the third type of Prince Roger, which depicts St. George spearing the dragon, is an exception. This coin is the first in which the title “Prince of Antioch” is used. Hitherto the formula “Lord help your servant . . .,” widely used on Byzantine seals, had been employed. It is clear from the documents that nomismata of Michael VII were used by the Franks, and they would have backed the copper, but they were the last Byzantine gold coins to reach Syria in any quantity, and the supply must have gradually dwindled.

Antioch began to strike thin billon coins, weighing a gram or less, on the French model in the reign of Prince Raymond of Poitiers (1136-1149). The issue of Byzantine-style coppers had probably ceased some time before. The striking of billon coins of the same size and weight also began about this time at Jerusalem and Tripoli, as did the striking of imitation Fātimid dinars. It is not yet clear if these developments were connected or even contemporary with each other, but they can hardly have been coincidental. Raymond’s coins show him bareheaded, and when he was succeeded by Bohemund III (1149-1201), coins of similar design were struck. When Bohemund attained his majority in 1163, a new type depicting a mailed, helmeted bust was introduced. This extremely common type is the most characteristic of all Frankish pennies. (No. 2) The hoard evidence shows that both the coins in the name of Raymond and the bare head type of Bohemund were systematically withdrawn when they were replaced by new issues. The helmet type of Bohemund was never withdrawn and continued to be issued well into the thirteenth century. Its chronology has been established by analysis of letter forms and privy marks. Between 1216 and 1219, Prince Raymond- Rupen held Antioch and issued helmet pennies in his own name, which afterwards circulated with the Bohemund coins. As far as one can tell from the evidence of the coins themselves, the output of billon pennies at Antioch reached its maximum shortly before Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem (1187). The number of coins in the name of Bohemund that can be identified as postdating the issues of Rupen is much smaller. It would appear therefore that minting had ceased sometime before the fall of Antioch in 1268.

The billon pennies of Antioch were supplemented by a copper currency of similar thin fabric. They fall into two types: coins with circular legends in the style of the pennies and coins with legends in the field or no legends at all. They are either anonymous or in the name of Bohemund, and as they were not hoarded, the chronology is uncertain.

The designs of the pennies of the counts of Tripoli were far less innovative than those of Antioch, being essentially copies of Provençal types. The counts were the first to strike Frankish style pennies but, to judge from surviving examples, did so on a very small scale. The first billon issue of any substance consisted of pennies in the name of RAIMVNDVS, that is either Count Raymond II (1136-1152) or Raymond III (1152-1197); they show a star above a crescent. The second, introduced around 1170 and extending into the reign of Bohemund IV (1187-1233), has an eight-pointed star with annulets in the angles. Production declined in the midthirteenth century but seems to have picked up toward the end. The final issue of Tripoli star pennies was almost certainly the last Frankish billon penny to be struck. The copper coins of Tripoli consist of four types: two early issues in the name of Raymond; a star and crescent type, a few of which are in the name of Raymond but are mostly anonymous, and a final and prolific anonymous issue showing a tower. At the end of the Tripoli series is an extraordinary issue of large fine silver coins (Fr. gros)weighing over 4 grams, and their halves. (No. 3) Their weights suggest that they were intended as multiples of the Venetian grosso.

Coinage of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The coinage of the kings of Jerusalem is fairly straightforward until 1187, though the picture is complicated by a number of rare anonymous types that cannot yet be dated. A unique and very heavy copper piece in the name of Baldwin has recently been found in excavations in Jerusalem, but it would appear that the series of billon coins began with yet another anonymous issue with a patriarchal cross and the legend MONETA REGIS. This was replaced by two more plentiful issues in the names of BALDVINVS and AMAL- RICVS showing the Tower of David and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they appear on the seals of the kings of Jerusalem. The BALDVINVS coins were introduced at some point in the reign of Baldwin III (1143-1163), while the AMALRICVS date from his successor Amalric (1163-1174), but following the traditions of French coinage the AMAL- RICVS coins continued to be issued in the reigns of Baldwin IV and Baldwin V (1174-1186). Unlike Antioch and Tripoli, Jerusalem coined billon halfpennies with the same designs as the pennies. Gold “coins” in the names of Amalric and Baldwin and possibly Fulk (1131-1143) are known but only survive as cut fragments. Before 1187 there were two mints for the kingdom, at Acre and Jerusalem, though the former was probably always the more important.

After the loss of Jerusalem in 1187, the Holy Sepulchre pennies in the name of Amalric continued to be struck at Acre, becoming increasingly light and crude. Apart from these, the royal billon coinage virtually ceased, although there are a number of experimental or possibly commemorative issues Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem (1186-1192) and lord of Cyprus (1192-1194), struck coins as lord of Cyprus, one of which uses the title REX DE IERVSALEM, but this is thought to have been struck on the island. The Cypriot billon pennies of Guy and his successors circulated widely in Syria, but their debased gold bezants did not.

Two types of copper coin both specifically calling themselves PVGES (i.e.,pougeoise, “farthing”) were struck at Acre by Henry of Champagne (1192-1197). Some very rare anonymous fine silver coins, of variable weight, from Acre, depicting the Holy Sepulchre, specify their denomination as DRAGMA (drachm or dirham?). This mention of the denomination was highly unusual for a medieval European coin, though normal for Islamic ones, and the issues may be linked as part of a short-lived monetary experiment. King John of Brienne (1210-1225) issued silver coins of the same type. Equally rare is an anonymous debased gold coin with concentric legends depicting the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which presumably dates from toward the end of the period of Frankish settlement.

John of Brienne also struck a billon penny with a crowned facing bust and the legend DAMIATA. A much scarcer variety with transposed legends, a different bust, and the spelling DAMIETA also exists. The latter may have been struck during the siege of the Egyptian city of Damietta (May 1218-November 1219) in the Fifth Crusade, but the former is too common to have been issued over such a short period.

Three of the lordships of the kingdom of Jerusalem (Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon) also struck coins, though they only ever made up a small proportion of the circulating currency. The most extensive issues are those of Sidon, which may have started before 1187 but then ceased, only to recommence when the city was recaptured by the Franks in 1227. Unlike the royal coinage, the baronial fractional coinage was in copper (No. 4).

Western Coins in Outremer

To judge from the evidence of hoards, Western coinages circulated alongside the local issues as long as they roughly corresponded to the prevailing standards. The chronicler Raymond of Aguilers lists coins of Poitou, Chartres, Le Mans, Melgueil, Lucca, Valence, and Le Puy (the latter being half the nominal value of the others) as being the ones that the participants on the First Crusade used among themselves. These particular mints have been identified with individuals and communities that supported Pope Urban II’s preparations for the crusade. All these coins are frequently found in Syria and Palestine, those of Lucca and Valence being particularly abundant. It seems likely that they continued to be imported in quantity for several decades after the First Crusade. There is nothing that can be easily associated with the Second Crusade (1147-1149), but substantial numbers of billon pennies from Dijon, Guingamp, Champagne, and other French mints arrived with the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and circulated for long afterward. Coins of a different standard seem not to have circulated. Hoards of German silver pennies, which, unlike the French coins, were of fine silver, are recorded from Turkey. One, the so-called Barbarossa Hoard, consisted of nearly 8,000 of these coins, but none have been found in the Holy Land. One partial exception is the English “short cross” sterling pennies, of which a few have been found. There is naturally a distinction between ports such as Acre and Caesarea, where foreign coins, particularly low value Sicilian pennies, are found in excavations, and sites further inland, where local coins predominate. Given the powerful Italian commercial presence in the region, the scarcity of Venetian and Genoese silver grossi is also remarkable. Only one, unpublished, hoard of Genoese coins is known, and although Venetian gold and silver is plentiful, the major imports took place after 1300.

Islamic Coins and Frankish Imitations

Whereas at the time of the First Crusade Byzantine gold and copper were readily available in the north, the crusaders encountered a somewhat different situation in Palestine. Three Fātimid mints in Palestine were striking gold dinars: Tyre, Tripoli, and Acre, though the majority came from mints in Egypt. Black dirhams were issued, but apparently in decreasing numbers, the last known being that of Nûr adDin at Aleppo in 1148/1149. Before beginning to produce their own coinage, the Franks seem to have relied on the aforementioned billon pennies of Lucca and Valence, and there is rather slender literary evidence to suggest that these also circulated among the Muslims. It is not certain when the Franks first began to imitate Fātimid dinars, but it was certainly by the 1140s at the latest. If mint output is calculated purely in terms of the quantity of precious metal coined, then the bulk of Frankish minting was of imitation Islamic coins. This is certainly true for gold. But it is also the case with silver in the thirteenth century. An imitation Ayyûbid dirham contained fifteen to twenty times as much silver as a billon penny.

The Franks copied two different gold prototypes: dinars of the Fātimid rulers al-Amir (1101-1130) and al-Mustansir (1036-1094), struck at Acre (and Jerusalem?) and Tripoli, respectively. Tyre has been canvassed as another mint, and the Frankish imitations were always referred to as dinar Sūrī (i.e., dinars of Tyre) by the Muslims, though this may mean “Syrian dinars” [Heidemann, Die Renaissance der Stadte, pp. 423-424]. No dinar imitations have been identified from Antioch, but some may have been struck before the union with Tripoli. The Frankish copies seem to have been the products of official mints and not to have been intended to deceive, since they were easily distinguishable from their prototypes by their garbled legends and lower gold content. Why the Frankish coins were of lower fineness is not clear. The gold of Emperor Michael VII was debased, and the Franks may have been influenced by this. It has been suggested that the original intention was to provide a localized gold coinage for Frankish commercial interests. The dinar imitations are frequently mentioned in treaties between the Muslims and the Franks, and Arabic literary sources make it clear that, despite their lower fineness, they circulated among the Muslims as well, since they provided a useful supplement to their own gold currency.

Since the legends on the Sūrī dinars are meaningless, their chronology has been determined partly by style, but mainly by measuring the declining standards of fineness. There appear to have been three phases at both Acre and Tripoli: an initial issue of over 80 percent gold, a second of about 80 percent or less, and a third of 68 percent [Metcalf, “Crusader Gold Bezants of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem”]. The latter change can be dated to the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin (1187). The fineness of the phase three issues at Tripoli was below that of Acre. Standards of engraving and design tended to deteriorate at both mints but were lower at Tripoli (No. 5).

In 1250 the papal legate accompanying the Crusade of Louis IX of France to the East was scandalized that Acre and Tripoli were issuing coins with Islamic legends, and this led to a threat of excommunication. In 1251 Acre issued dinars with Christian legends in Arabic, and these continued until 1258. Gold dinars from Tripoli with ornamental legends and the letters B and T on either side may have been the reaction to the papal threat by that mint.

In 1174 Saladin began the coining of fine silver dirhams and half dirhams at Damascus using a new design with the legends enclosed in a square. A further issue at Aleppo, which began in 1183, was even more innovative, in that the legends were arranged in and around a six-pointed star. Both types were issued in greater quantities by Saladin’s successors. The forces behind the re-adoption of a fine silver coinage by the Muslims were complex, and it is probably an oversimplification to see it as made possible solely by the imports of Western silver.

The Frankish imitations of the Ayyûbid dirhams were far closer to the originals than their copies of the gold. Although on average very slightly less fine and of lower weight than their prototypes, copies and prototypes circulated together and can only be readily distinguished by their use of anachronistic Hijra dates. The first issue copied the Aleppo type of al- Zāhir Ghāzi(1186-1216), but the coins are dated to 1216-1233. The decision to begin coining them has been linked with al-Zāhir’s death and the lapse of an arrangement whereby the Venetians could take silver bullion to the Aleppo mint. A later issue in 1240 coincides with a brief treaty allowing the Franks to buy supplies in Aleppo. The year 1243 or earlier saw the commencement of copies of the Damascus type in the name of al-Sālih Ismā‘il (1237 and 1239-1245), citing the caliph al-Mustansir who died in 1240. The issue lasted until 1250 and ceased following the papal intervention. Even before this, there was a hint of unease about the use of Islamic legends, since on some coins the phrase “Muhammad is the messenger of God” was altered to read “Michael is the messenger of God.” Dirhams with crosses and Christian legends were struck in 1251 (No. 6), but unlike the gold, they were soon replaced by new types bearing legends calculated to be acceptable to both Christians and Muslims. These coins were struck with an immobilized date, so it is not clear how long they lasted, but there appears to have been a falling off in standards of weight and fineness.

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