Medieval European Coinage

(c) copyright 1986 by Chicago Coin Club

Medieval coinages of Europe, with perhaps the exception of those of the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire, certainly do not attract the average American collector as do the more easily understood U.S. series and the European coinages of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is unfortunate since medieval coins provide the collector with an intellectual challenge not found in the modern issues, not to mention their intrinsic historical interest, their distinctive art forms, and their reflections of coinage patterns during the period when the western world, as we know it, was developing. Why so many collectors are intimidated by medieval coins is not easy to explain but there are a number of possibilities. First, the coins themselves are rather crude when compared to the classic art of the ancients and the clean cut pattern of modern coins. The letter forms used in the legends seem strange and difficult to decipher. The fact that legends are in Latin puts some collectors off, one suspects, by unhappy memories of high school when they escorted Caesar through the Gallic and Civil Wars.

The lack of references in English may have some effect, since, although there are texts in print on most medieval European coinages, they tend to be written in the national language of the series. This can discourage those who have been weaned into the hobby by the excellent references published by the Whitman and the Krause organizations. In truth, those who have been intimidated have not really given the matter full thought. With the exception of new issues, medieval coins are less expensive than ancients, those of the Renaissance or U.S. Colonials.

The letter forms are really not that complicated, if time is taken to analyze the exact patterns, and the legends usually follow the same form regardless of issuing authority. The fact that the legends are in Latin makes it relatively simple to decipher them.

The types follow relatively consistent patterns and allow the collector to categorize coins into fairly narrow groups based on national origin. The reference situation is a bit more difficult but with a little effort the collector can learn sufficient "numismatic" French, German, Spanish, etc. to read the coin lists without too much trouble. If necessary, a dictionary will easily solve most problems. In the following pages, we shall take up these considerations in sequence and indicate how, with a minimum of effort, the average collector can enter into the dark but romantic era of bold knights, fair maidens in distress, the clash of sword and lance against shield and armor, dragons and unicorns, the whistle of the arrow, the looming castle and keep. It also was an age of crushing poverty, heavy taxation, plague, disease, constant war, superstition, serfdom, and death at an early age. But why dwell on these facts of life when it is so much more pleasant to remember the romantic side of the medieval world. We shall look at the cathedral spires and ignore the lack of sewers. Finally, one should dispel the common concept that it is necessary to be an expert historian to collect medieval coins. Not true. Collectors who wouldn't know Palmerston from Gladstone and never heard of the Peterloo massacre acquire the coins of Queen Victoria and they feel perfectly at ease. Actually, what knowledge is needed will be painlessly acquired as one advances into the series, since it is impossible to study these coins without becoming curious about the issuing authorities.


Letter forms on medieval coins are illustrated in the accompanying typical alphabet. Letters changed somewhat during the passage of time but they always retained certain characteristics. In the beginning, coinage dies were cut using master punches in the forms of annulets, periods, wedges, crescents, etc. of various sizes. Later, die engraving became more sophisticated but the letters retained much of their original pattern. The medieval love of the ornate is well shown by the letters with exaggerated bowls, elaborate serifs and stalks. Rounded letters were normally C, E, G, O, P, and Q (the last sometimes resembled the numeral 9). Two major types of letters were used, the Lombardic and the Latin or Gothic forms. In the former, the letters h, m, n, t, resembled the small case forms used today, while in the latter, they appeared much as the capital forms of the present, H, M, N, T. Early coins struck from punch made dies tend to follow the Latin or Gothic forms while later issues use the Lombardic form. Normally the styles were not mixed in any one legend, but it can happen. The rounded forms of E, G, F, resembled C (and each other). E very often is shown without the middle bar and is very similar to C. The die cutters were often poorly educated and they did reverse letters and C and E could look like D. The Lombardic form of h could resemble n if the left stalk was lowered, and the Latin or Gothic N was at times rendered as an H. The letter K could easily be mistaken for R. On some Iberian coins, an unusual form of T was used which looked like the letter O with a cross bar over the top. The letter S was sometimes depicted as lying on its side. Until the late middle ages, U and J were rarely used but were replaced by V and I. W was often shown as a double V or VV. Ligatures were not unusual and two letters bound into one can be found.


The letters were overly ornate and often crude but anyone who can read a calling card or invitation in "Old English" script can read the legend on a medieval coin. Two Saxon letters may cause trouble: P may = W; a D with a cross bar on the stalk = TH. The obverse legends on coinage from western and central Europe all follow a similar format. The variations that do occur result from (1) excessive abbreviation, (2) the exact titles of the issuing authority, and (3) the place of origin of the coin. Almost all medieval coin legends begin with a small symbol, a cross, called the initial mark, or in some cases the mint mark. In the later medieval period, mints were indicated by altering the symbol to a rose, a sun, or a fleur-de-lys. This can be important. An example is the coinage of the boy king, Edward V of England, whose issues can only be differentiated from those of his father, Edward IV, by the initial mark of a boar's head, the personal sign of his uncle and protector, later Richard III. Following the initial mark, the name of the issuing authority appears, always in Latin, and frequently abbreviated. Thus we find (in full form) IOHANNES (John), HENRICVS (Henry), LVDOVICVS (Louis), PHILIPPVS (Phillip), CAROLVS or KAROLVS (Charles), FRIDERICVS (Frederick), CONRADVS (Conrad), GVILLEMVS (William), ROBERTVS (Robert), SANCHVS (Sancho), ALFONSVS (Alfonso) etc. Abbreviations were more the rule than the exception, and usually John was presented as I or IO while Charles became KAR or simply K. If one knows the Latin form, determining the entire name is not difficult since it comes immediately after the initial mark. Following the ruler's name, especially on regal and ducal issues, come the letters D.G. (DEI GRATIA or DEI GRACIA), "by the Grace of God." Lesser feudal authorities frequently dispensed with the D.G. Next in sequence was the ruler's title (or titles), again always in Latin: IMPERATOR or IMP (emperor), REX or REGIS (king), COMES (count), EPS (bishop), ARCHIEPS (archbishop), PAPA (pope), MARCHIO (margrave), LANDGRAVIS (landgrave), or ABBAS (abbott). These are the more common authorities but there were others of less import who also struck coins. The final item in the obverse legend normally is the name of the geographical or political area for which the coins were stuck. The titles and area designations could be repeated several times. Thus, we find, given in full although usually abbreviated: ANGLORVM (England), SCOTORVM (Scotland), FRANCORVM (France), CASTELLE ET LEGIONIS (Castile and Leon), ARAGON (Aragon), PORTVGAL (Portugal), POLONIE (Poland), VNGARIE or HUNGARIE (Hungary), BOEMIE (Bohemia), more likely to be rendered on coins as ANG, FRA, SCOT, ARA, POL, or even just the initial letter. Germany and Italy did not exist as such in the medieval period but instead were composed of multiple states, hundreds in Germany, a good number of which issued coins. The aggregate composed of what is now Germany, Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, eastern France (Alsace and Lorraine), and the Netherlands, was organized into a loose state called the Holy Roman Empire. The nominal ruler was an Emperor but his power was only as great as his own native state allowed (the emperor was usually chosen by electors from the great lords of the realm - it was in theory an elected office). Most of the time, the empire was engaged in civil war and the German half was almost always at odds with the Italian part. Money was struck by the mints of the emperor and in his name by the free cities but most of the coinage came from the various feudal authorities. Thus, in addition to the regal authorities already listed, there are great feudal domains, again usually abbreviated in legends: BVRGVNDIE (Burgundy), BRABANTIE (the Brabant), FLANDRIE (Flanders), HANONI (Hainaut), LVCEMBVRG (Luxembourg), TREVERENSIS (Trier or Treves), MOGVNCIA (Mainz), COLONIA (Cologne), HASSIE (Hesse), MISNENSIS (Meissen), SAXONI (Saxony), NAMVRCENSIS (Namur), FLORENTIA (Florence), VENETI (Venice), and SABAVDIE (Savoy) are all good examples. Rarely is the entire name spelled out in a legend. We find then that the obverse legend consisted of a number of specific parts: (1) the initial mark; (2) the ruler's name; (3) the DEI GRATIA, usually given as D.G.; (4) the title; and (5) the name of the land for which the ruler held title. Items 4 and 5 could be repeated (and usually were in the later period) if the ruler wished to indicate all of his domain. Stops also play an important part in legends, both obverse and reverse. After each item in a sequence, a stop usually appeared indicating the end of the word. This can be most helpful when there is excessive abbreviation. Stops could consist of something as simple as a period but often were more ornate. Minute crosses of various types, usually one above the other, are found, as are St. Andrew's crosses (little "x"s), also in pairs, colons, rosettes and tiny fleur-de-lys. The initial mark was usually not repeated and can be used to determine the start of the legend. This is very important, since unless you can find the legend's beginning, deciphering it can be tricky. Two sample legends: +ALFONSVS.REX (on reverse PORTVGAL); a late one: +PhS: DEI: GRA: DVX: BVRG: Z. COM: FLAD or "Philip, by the Grace of God, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders" (1419-67). Note how the passage of time has complicated the legend. The lesser lords that issued coins are often difficult to identify without references since place names have changed. Often they mention the name of the mint city on the coin and that may help determine its origin. The coinage of free cities in what is now Belgium and Germany, and of course Italy, is a bit more complex since you do not have royal or feudal titles in the legend. However, the city name is almost always listed and, if it can be recognized in its medieval form, attribution is possible. In practice, it is far easier to attribute medieval coins than it may appear from this text. One acquires a "touch" after a bit of practice.


The reverse legends differ from those of the obverse since normally a name and title do not appear. In the early middle ages, the reverse legend did contain the name of the moneyer who was responsible for striking the coin and that of the mint city. This is best seen on the English coinages from Saxon times up the advent of the Edwardian (Edward I to IV) coins. References to this series include lists of all moneyers, their mint, and the rulers for whom they issued coins. A similar format was used elsewhere but nowhere was it so marked as on the penny. The legend consisted of (1) an initial mark, usually a cross; (2) the name of the moneyer; (3) the word ON; and (4) the name of the mint city (often all abbreviated). Period-type stops interrupted the legend. Examples: (penny of Aethelred II) +GODPINE.ON.SEARB (Salisbury mint); (long cross penny of Henry III of Canterbury) +NICOLE.ON.CANT. By the time of Edward I, the moneyers' names were omitted but the mint city remained as in: +CIVI TAS LON DON (the legend being interrupted by a long cross, as indicated by the four spaces in the middle of, and between, the words CIVITAS and LONDON). On the continent, moneyers' names were not used as commonly but place names were often the entire reverse legend. Examples: (denier of Aquitaine struck by Richard the Lionhearted) +AQVITAINE; (a civil issue of Augsburg in southern Germany) +AVGVSTA CIV; (dinero of Aragon King, James I) +VALENCIE (for Valencia) and +BARCINO (for Barcelona). Finally, +PARSII CIVIS (Paris denier of Philip II) illustrates a mint city of a king, while +PICTAVIENTSIS is the reverse legend of a denier of Alphonse, Count of Poitou. Many reverse legends on early medieval issues do not have any real relationship (at least apparent) to the mint or geographical area and a reference text is necessary.

Reverse legends tended to become more complicated in the later period, especially on the larger coins, the groat, groschen, and gros. Often two legend circles were present, one surrounding a type and the second at the edge of the coin. The outer legend almost always was religious in nature and variations of "Blessed be the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ" were very common - and almost always abbreviated. Some examples: +SIT*NOME*BENEDICTVM (demi-blanc of Charles VII of France); +SITxNOMENxDOMINIxBENEDICTVM (blanc of Louis XI of France). This legend in its variations was especially popular in France, Burgundy, and neighboring areas. The legend "Christ victorious, Christ reigns, Christ the Lord" was also popular (again usually abbreviated): +XP'C*VINCIT*REGNAT*XP'C*IMPERAT (mouton of John II, Duke of the Brabant). There are many others but these are representative. The rationale behind such legends was the idea that people would hesitate to clip a gold or silver coin and damage the statement of faith (wrong, they did).

Inner legends on the larger coins tended to contain the name of the mint city. Examples: +TVRONVS.CIVIS (gros tournois of France) or +MONETA:NOVA:BADENSIS (late medieval quarter thaler of Baden). The key words were MONETA (money), NOVA (new), sometimes ARGENTIS (silver), plus the city or area name. If the name of the city can be deciphered, the mint is identified. Unhappily, it always isn't that simple, because the mint name may be omitted or its spelling has drastically changed over the years, as in +MEDIOLANVM (Milan, Italy).

Normally when two legend circles are present, there is a border between them. If only an inner legend is present on a larger coin, the outer border is often composed of fleur-de-lys or other ornamentation.


Normally when coinage types are discussed, the obverse and reverse faces are considered separately. This is not really too valid an approach in the medieval series since the faces are not always clearly defined. As a rule of thumb, the obverse is considered to be the face on which the name of the issuing ruler appears. Here, types will be approached as a unit, mainly because for centuries both faces were almost identical. The medieval era was one of great religious faith and this is reflected in almost all art forms with the coins being no exception. In the early days, once rulers stopped striking bad imitatives of the old Roman coinages such as the "barbarous radiates" found in northern Europe (imitative of the antoniniani of the 3rd century) or the small bronzes imitative of the coinages of the 4th and 5th centuries, the logical choice for a type was a Christian cross. This was used as both an obverse and reverse type for years with some variations in the exact form of cross used. The commonest forms were the Greek cross, the cross fourchee, cross bontonee, cross potent, cross crosslet, and cross moline. The cross fourchee was usually modified for use on coins, being more slender than usually depicted elsewhere. Later, ornate forms of the cross fleury are found. The cross usually was surrounded by the legend, but in "long cross" coinages the arms extended to the edge of the coin, interrupting the legend. This was supposed to suppress clipping since it was felt that no one would deface the symbol of Faith (wrong). Crosses could be "voided" to allow accurate cutting for the production of small change (cut a penny to get a half penny). The Latin cross with only the extended lower arm cutting into the legend was characteristic of the coins of Majorca. Various symbols began to be placed in the angles or alternating annulets and pellets as on the coins of Barcelona. Busts of rulers were standard on some coins, mainly England, Scotland, Castile and Leon, and Aragon. French coins, both regal and feudal, rarely used the ruler's likeness. This was also true of Portugal. Seated figures can be found on Papal issues and those of many German states. Some central European rulers were influenced by the Byzantine coinages and used religious figures such as John the Baptist (Florence) and Christ (Venice, on the gold zecchino and silver matapane - the obverse showing the Doge kneeling before St. Mark). Hungary struck coins depicting the Virgin and child. Heraldry as such did not really become important until the Renaissance, but there were some states that did use heraldic figures during the medieval era. England used its three leopards (on gold) on both English and the Anglo- Gallic series, and lions were used by the dukes of Brunswick (passant), the kings of Leon, Venice (on baser coinages), the dukes of Burgundy and the Brabant (on large silver), and Bohemia (the twin-tailed lion, still used today, was standard on the Pragergroschen). The fleur-de-lys, 2 over 1, is found on late French coinages as well as on certain issues of Burgundy and the Brabant (usually as an accessory symbol). The large fleur on the reverse of the Florentine florin, widely imitated from Germany to Spain, is one of the best known examples. The Portuguese adopted the shield bearing a St. Andrew's cross of five billets, still used today, for coinage as early as the 13th century. Monograms, especially variations of the Carlovingian one, were very common and were found not only on French issues but were used by the Popes in the early days. The Carlovingian "temple" was also widely copied, especially in central Europe, and resembles a small square house with a peaked roof often topped with a small cross, all surrounded by the legend. The Tournois "castle" was another widely copied type. Crowned letters were used and one can find a crowned "Y" for John of Portugal, "E" for Edward of Portugal, "P" and "Y" for Castillian kings, and "FY" for Ferdinand and Isabella of United Castile and Leon, and Aragon. The Swedish arms of three crowns, 2 over 1, were used in the late medieval period by that country. Animal types other than those noted occur and the eagle was used by the Polish rulers and Aragonese kings of Sicily, the ermine by the kings of Naples, and the martin on the coins of Slavonia. A shield bearing a simple cross was used by both the county of Savoy and the Teutonic Knights in the Baltic area.

During the medieval period, from roughly 1200 to 1300, the central European states struck a most unusual coin, a thin uniface piece in silver, today called "bracteates" (they called them pfennigs, as they did two-faced coins). These can be quite large, and then are called "grand" bracteates; if they lack a legend, "mute" bracteates. They have rather rounded impressions and the reverse is simply the incuse of the obverse. In later years, small uniface coins were struck and are usually called hohlpfennigs and although technically identical to the earlier coins are not considered as true medieval issues. Bracteates portray a full range of types from civil and ecclesiastical rulers, all in full regalia, animals (the Brunswick and Czech lions appear as well as the Falkenburg falcons), flowers (linden leaves from Bohemia are present), even fish. Inanimate objects are common such as buildings, millwheels, even plain letters. The human figures are shown simply as heads, or as busts, half figures (often over battlements), or full figures either seated or standing. Saints are common (especially St. Maurice) and even elaborate combinations of figures occur. Horsemen, especially from Hesse and Thuringia, are most impressive (called "Ritter" or Rider Bracteates). The series is so large and varied that not much else can be done except to mention their existence in such limited space. These coins alone make an interesting and unusual study. They do follow the same general rules regarding letter forms and legends as the standard two-faced issues. These unusual coins were struck from present day Switzerland north to the Scandinavian kingdoms. They are not found in France, England, the Iberian states, nor in Italy.


Denominations and coinage metals should be briefly considered. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed in the west in the 5th century, the standardized coinage system so long established was also fragmented. The organized commercial world of Rome was converted to what was essentially a local agricultural society. Slave labor, already under attack by the new Christian faith, was replaced by a master-client relationship which developed into the typical feudal pattern of lord and serf, bound to the land. It wasn't slavery (which still existed to some extent) but it certainly was not freedom. The small freeholder almost disappeared. Such "middle class' as existed was centered in the cities with their still viable commercial life. Coinages were reduced in western and central Europe to imitatives of the old Roman or the still functioning East Roman (Byzantine) Empires. The bulk of these coins were miserable little specimens in copper or bronze but a few gold 1/3 solidi (triens or tremisses) were issued by some barbarian rulers. Good gold coins were still struck at Constantinople and were often used as a "trade" coinage (the "bezant" of the middle ages). When the Frankish kings began their rise to power in the 8th century it was clear that a better internal coinage system was needed. In 752, Pepin the Short demonetized the gold in his realm and issued a new coinage based on the "denarius novus" struck in good silver. With this move, true medieval coinages were initiated in the west. For nearly 600 years, this coin, called the denier in France, the penny in England, the dinero in Spain, the dinheiro in Portugal, the denaro in Italy, and the pfennig in Germany, in its parts and multiples was the standard coinage unit. The common division was the obol or obolo (1/2) (mealha in Portugal) and the multiple (4) was the gros in France, croat in Spain, the grosso in Italy, the groat in England, and the groschen in Germany, Bohemia and Poland. Later many specialized names developed for modifications of these denominations (blanc, blanca, matapane, grave, esterling, schilling, weisspfennig, etc.) but basically these coins are the denier or gros in disguise. Gold began to be struck in the 14th century and reached full bloom during the Renaissance. The angel, noble, ecu d'or, lion d'or, and zecchino are examples. These gold coins are often quite handsome and are normally well struck from good dies. Heraldic types are quite common among these issues and knowledge of national emblems is helpful.

In summary, the period immediately after the Roman collapse in the west was followed by fragmented coinages, mostly imitative of the old Roman or Byzantine models. Metals were bronze and copper and gold with almost no silver issued. The Frankish reforms of the 8th century brought silver back as the principal coinage metal (the Byzantine Empire continued to issue gold and its coins were often used as "trade" pieces). Then, in the 14th century, gold returned to its old place of prominence. Some base coins began to circulate. The "hammer" method of striking was used until the 16th century but the coin press was just around the corner and in the Renaissance, European coinage began to assume its modern patterns.

At this point, a comment should be made on condition, so dear and near to the hearts of collectors of modern coinages. To be quite blunt, you need not worry about BU/AU or MS-60 when dealing with medieval coins. A very large number would not grade any better than Fair to Good the day they left the mint, much less after the passage of centuries. If one can determine the types on the obverse and reverse and decipher the legends on a coin, it is an automatic winner. Anything more is strictly profit. Dealers do use the traditional grading in their lists but it is just a means of indicating how sharp a coin appears. If it can be accurately attributed, it is acceptable. It's nice to have pretty specimens, but a true medieval collector doesn't put too much emphasis on it. After all, one collects this series for its intellectual challenge, its historical value, and for a sense of romance, not as a means of a quick buck at the next auction.


The common denominations of each country (using modern terms), information on types not given elsewhere, and any specific characteristic of interest will be noted.

ENGLAND - Initially barbarous radiates were struck followed by the AE sceat (Northumbria and York), then AR pennies of the Heptarchy, the commonest being of Mercia and Wessex. Later came the kings of All England (from Wessex), the period of Cnut, and finally the last Saxons. The Norman kings followed, then the Tealby coinage of Henry II and the "short cross pennies" (four kings), the "long cross" coinage of Henry III and finally the groat and pennies of the Edwards and the Henries. The coinage of the "anarchy" of Stephen and the few feudal issues precede the coins of Henry II. The obverse type after the Saxon issues, who used varied obverses, was routinely a facing bust of the king. The reverse until the Edward I period was a cross with the name of moneyer and mint city. After the "long cross" period, just the mint was listed. On the groat the mint name is on the inner legend, a religious inscription on the outer legend. First gold was struck by Henry III but routine striking did not begin until Edward III.

SCOTLAND - Coinage very similar to the English in style and denominations. First struck by David I. Obverse type was usually a profile bust of the king. Reverses similar to England.

IRELAND - Early coinage struck by Norse invaders, (Hiberno-Danish), common obverse legend SIHTRIC or variant. Anglo-Irish coinage began with John. Obverse type is facing bust of ruler in a triangle with sun and moon on either side. Pennies continued to be struck, with groat being introduced when struck in England. Obverse of groat not distinctive but the Irish mint city is in reverse legend. Edward IV issued a large number of different reverses, all rare.

References are suggested in the bibliography but one can use the Seaby Catalogues as simple reference to this series (as well as later) and all types are illustrated. FRANCE - Initially the coins were barbaric AE Roman or Byzantine imitatives with a few imitative AV 1/3 solidi. The Frankish reforms introduced good silver coins and the Carlovingian period produced good deniers, usually with the royal name (later imperial) on the obverse and mint city on reverse. Crosses may or may not be present, the Carlovingian "temple" is common and monograms abound. However, most of this early coinage is rare. True French coinage began with Hugh Capet and the denier was struck, later the gros appeared. Likeness of the king was never found on the royal coinage. Crosses were used and later the fleur-de-lys usually on a shield. The feudal states also struck coins and they resembled the royal issues but the title REX is not present in the legends. Crosses were common on both faces, busts do appear on a few feudal coins but not of the ruler (a saint, Julius Caesar - of all people - etc.). Greek letters alpha and omega are used as is PAX. Monograms are also popular. All of the feudal issues are shown by Poey d'Avant. Heraldic types do appear on late issues including the cross on shield of Savoy, the lions of Burgundy and the Brabant, and the dolphin of Dauphine. Brittany used its ermine tails and Lorraine its sword. By the 15th century French coinage was being restricted by the king and by the end of the next century, little feudal coinage remained.

SPAIN AND PORTUGAL - Actually Iberia was not as simple as it is now. Christian Spain consisted of the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, and the county of Barcelona (the Moslems controlled most of the south). Portugal started as a fief of Castile but became independent in 1140. Heraldic types are most common and consistent on the Iberian coins. Castile used a castle, Leon a lion rampant, and Portugal a shield with St. Andrew's cross composed of five billets. Barcelona used a characteristic cross (noted before). When the king of Aragon became count of Barcelona, he continued striking Barcelona types (dinero, croat). Later he initiated special types for Valencia and Majorca. The denominations changed names a great deal in these countries but the size is consistent. Mint marks were used for coins of Castile (an aqueduct for Segovia, a S for Seville, for example). The mint mark was usually on the reverse side of the type. Profile busts are a common obverse Spanish type although a few facing ones are found in late coinages. Busts were not used on Portuguese coins although a helmeted form is used on coins of Ferdinand. Crowned letters were popular in both Portugal and Castile and Leon. The Aragonese arms are not found on coins struck for Aragon, just on those for occupied areas. The Aragonese kings of Sicily used these arms especially on the AR tari. Aragon also issued gold florins similar to those of the city of Florence except for the king's name in the legends. Although most Spanish coins tended to be struck in high grade silver, some base metal crept into the coinage. This was most marked in Portugal where the dinheiro appears as a copper coin rather than a silver one. One characteristic of Iberian coins is the continuation of an obverse legend on the reverse. Both Portugal and Castile and Leon did this frequently, especially on the dinero sized coins.

GERMANY - As previously indicated, this is an extremely difficult area to give any really useful specifics. Coin denominations were much the same as elsewhere, the denar or pfennig paralleling the denier, and the groschen similar to the gros. Types are many and varied, and depend on issuing authority. The name of the ruler and domain is normally on the obverse and mint city on reverse. Late in the medieval era, heraldic types do become popular and you find them as a reverse type. Many place names are similar to their present ones such as BAVARIE for Bavaria and FVLDA for Fulda. A large number of Florentine imitative florins were struck in Germany and were usually called gulden. The bracteate series also was struck in this area and follows the same rules as the two-faced coins. Rentzmann is invaluable in locating coins by heraldic types, and a good source of rulers names is Craig's Germanic Coinages (1954). Because of its complexities there really isn't one simple reference available. Auction catalogues are of great help.

ITALY - This national area has the same problems as Germany. It was not unified until just about 100 years ago. The main coin issuing areas can be indicated: Venice, Milan, Genoa, and Savoy in the north; the Papacy in central Italy; and Naples and Sicily in the south. In the early days, the Lombards struck a rare coinage in the north and the Duchy of Beneventum did so in the south. The Norman kings of Sicily also issued coins, some quite similar to Byzantine types even being scyphate in form. Most of the heraldic types associated with Italian medieval coins have been noted. However, the Renaissance started in Italy long before it came to the northern nations and coins even in the 15th century began to have lifelike portraits as types. Many of the names, as in Germany, are still similar to the modern forms and calculated judgments can be made of a coin's origin. However, for best results, Rentzmann and the Thomsen catalogue are invaluable. As with Germany, if you exclude the huge corpus prepared by the late king Victor Emmanuel III, there isn't a good general reference on Italian coins.

BOHEMIA - Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire and the king one of the electors during the middle ages. The area was initially conquered by Charlemagne and its ruler made a duke. The duke was often raised to rank of king and eventually it became permanent. The early coins are characterized by a bust of a saint or the king on the obverse and a hand, palm outward, on the reverse. The lettering is very unusual with a spidery appearance. In time, the king is shown on the obverse, a saint on the reverse. The twin-tailed Czech lion was used on the larger coins (pragergroschen) and on some bracteates, especially during the Hussite era.

HUNGARY - Similar to Bohemia with smallish denier-sized coins and later, the larger groschen type. Bracteates do appear. The name BELA is almost a sure sign of a Hungarian coin. The traditional madonna type was used fairly early and also is typical of this coinage. A few coins use two seated figures on the obverse and a single seated figure (usually Christ) on the reverse following the Byzantine pattern.

POLAND - Almost all that has been said of Bohemia and Hungary applies to Poland except for legend and the crowned eagle as reverse type. REX POLONIE is a key to attribution. The name KASIMIRVS as a legend suggests strongly a Polish coin.

BALTIC STATES - The Teutonic Knights initially entered this area in a crusade against the pagan Prussian. This eventually brought them into contact with the Russians and conflicts started that lasted centuries. The Knights established a church state and issued coins authorized by the Grand Master. The coinage of the Order itself is characterized by the cross on shield reverse and the reverse legend + MONETA DNORVM PRVC (or variant). The name of the master (title - MAGIST) does appear on the obverse. In addition to the knights, coins were issued by the Livonian Order (LIVONIE), and the archbishop of Riga (+MONETA RIGENSIS). The usual denomination is the AR schilling (denier sized).

RUSSIA - Russian coinage as such actually did not begin until after the year 1500. However, some independent principalities did strike coins prior to that date in the form of smallish AR dengas, called wire money from the way they were struck (not unlike the Spanish cobs). The key to attribution is the Cyrillic letters used in the legends (horsemen were a popular type). The subject is introduced in another chapter in this book. Also see the excellent short monograph by Lapa and the text by Petrov.

SCANDINAVIA - Readily available references are hard to find for the entire medieval series. The coinage of Cnut is similar to his English series. Later coins of Eric XIII are often seen (after the Treaty of Kalmar, all Scandanavian countries were united for a time). Typical issues for Sweden can be found. In general, these coins just do not appear frequently on the U.S. market. Anyone with a real interest should find a source in Europe.


Medieval coins were never dated in terms of the Christian era until roughly the 14th century. Byzantine coins, after the reforms of Anastasius, were dated by regal years on the bronze (Roman numerals to the right of the denomination mark) but this was dropped during the Iconoclastic period. To confuse the matter, rulers rarely indicated their place in the numerical sequence of those of the same name, the kings of England named Edward for example. Attribution is made on other factors. In fact, four English kings (Henry II, Richard 1, John, and Henry III in his early years) all struck "short cross" pennies bearing the obverse legend HENRICVS REX. Dating would have helped.

In the 14th century, a few states issued Christian era dated coins and by the end of the 15th century, it was becoming more accepted, especially on larger issues. Those interested in such dating should consult Cervin's 1973 A.N.A. monograph, The First Twenty Eight Anno Domini Dated European Coins.

Coinage of the Byzantine Empire

The coinages of southeastern Europe differ greatly from those of the west. When the barbarian hordes destroyed the Roman Empire in the west, the eastern half was able to repel them and continue intact for another thousand years before falling to the Turks in 1453. The East Roman or Byzantine Empire continued issuing its coinage throughout this period. Interest in this series has increased greatly in past years and there are many good references on the market in English. Consequently, the author has summarized each of the coinage periods (oriented to political eras) through which the Empire passed during its life. The periods used are those of Baynes, The Byzantine Empire (Oxford, 1952).

THEODOSIAN PERIOD (395-491 AD) - Coinage was identical to that of the 4th century with small bronze, the AR siliqua, and the AV solidus and fractions all being struck. The obverse type was the bust or head of the emperor, profile on AE and AR, often facing on AV coins. The commonest reverse type on gold was the Victory (winged female figure) and the legends were the same as used on all Roman coinage. Monograms appear, and the cross and the Christogram are used, mainly on bronze coins.

JUSTINIANEAN PERIOD (491-610 AD) - The emperor Anastasius reformed the coinage by stabilizing the division of the solidus in units called nummia. The bronze coins were then struck in multiples of nummia, using Greek numerals (Roman in some cases) to indicate denomination: M=40, K=20, I=10, E=5, IB=12, H=8, and S=6. On occasion, XXXX=40, XXX=30, XX=20, X=10, and V=5. The bust of the emperor, diademed or helmeted, was the standard obverse type although two facing seated figures are found on some larger AE coins (emperor and empress). Silver was issued in denominations of 250 nummia (CN), 125 nummia (PKE), and 120 nummia (PK). The gold solidus still resembled that of the last period except the emperor was almost always shown facing. VICTORIA AVGGG was a common reverse legend. The Victory still appears on gold and the cross potent on three steps was introduced as a reverse type.

HERACLIAN PERIOD (610-717 AD) - The coinage of the previous period continued but the AE tended to degenerate in workmanship. Coins were still dated, as they had been starting with the reforms, in regal years. In addition to the ruler's bust, standing figures became common, often three on the obverse. The cross on three steps was the standard reverse on gold. Greek letters began to appear in legends and the Greek title BASILIOS or king began to be used in place of the old Roman IMPERATOR. The first busts of Christ appeared as reverse types of emperor Justinian II. The silver hexagram was struck replacing the siliqua. The really poor appearance of the bronze should be stressed although the gold solidus was still well struck.

ISAURIAN-AMORIAN or ICONOCLASTIC PERIOD (717 - 867 AD) - When Leo III became emperor at the height of the Arab attack on Constantinople, he brought change to the coinage as well as repelling the invaders. Religion was a paramount interest to Byzantines and the emperor, convinced that images in churches smacked of idolatry, forbade their use on pain of death. Thus started the long and bloody "Iconoclastic Revolt." Religious objects were removed from the coinage as well as churches so the cross on three steps disappeared. It was replaced by a bust or busts of the ruling family as a reverse type. When Leo died, his son just reversed the portraits. At one point, the solidus had three portraits on one face and two on the other. The bronze coinage continued much as before, but regal dating disappeared. Silver is not common during this period. Greek letters were frequently used. On bronzes, inscription-type reverses proclaiming the emperor ruler of the "Romans" became common (in five or six lines).

MACEDONIAN PERIOD (867-1057 AD) - The facing bust was now the accepted obverse form and busts do appear on reverses as in the previous period but religious types begin to reappear. The legends "Christ Conquers" and "King of Kings" start a series of religious types that continued to the fall of the empire. The title "King of the Romans" is routine (Imperator was last used by Michael III, in the previous period). The gold solidus was still struck but the flan became larger in time, while silver was not in large supply. The bronzes used the five-line legend but during the reign of Basil I, the anonymous bronze series was started. Normally, these coins depict a bust or half figure of Christ (the Virgin in some cases) on the obverse and a legend of up to five lines on the reverse. The usual form was "Jesus Christ, King of Kings" or simply "Christ Victorious." They were called "anonymous" since the emperor's name is not present. Bellinger lists 13 classes of these bronzes. Now these have been reduced to 12 classes. The nummia marks of Anastasius disappear.

COMNENIAN PERIOD (1057-1224 AD) - The coinage changed during this era with religious types used on both obverse and reverse faces. The seated figure or Christ or the Virgin (or selected saints) was standard on the reverse and on the obverse, the ruler with a religious figure (or the "hand" of God). The Virgin or Christ were the most popular. Saucer-shaped or scyphate coins appeared in all metals. Legends are mixed Greek and Latin, becoming almost completely Greek. They may be circular around the coin or vertical on either side of the obverse and reverse figure(s). Emperors are dressed in jeweled robes but can be found in armor. Religious figures are in robes or armor and always nimbate. Common abbreviations are XC IC for Christ, MO or MP OV for Mother of God or the Virgin.

PALEOLOGIAN PERIOD (1204-1453) - Western crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204 and divided the Empire among themselves. Naturally, the Greeks did not agree and most of the Empire remained in their hands. In 1261, Michael VIII regained the city and reestablished the Empire. Unfortunately it was a downhill slide for the Byzantines that lasted, however, about 200 years. The coinage initially was very similar to the Comnenian but gradually it deteriorated both in style and workmanship. The gold scyphate coin was still struck and one of its last forms had as the reverse type the Virgin surrounded by the walls of Constantinople. Early bronzes depict saints (St. Theodore, St. Michael, or St. George) and are scyphate. In the last days, a flat coinage in silver was introduced with the emperor's bust on the obverse and that of Christ on the reverse. Gold is scarce except in the early years of this period.

Imitative Byzantine coinages are found throughout the medieval period. Initially, the western barbarian states copied Byzantine gold including the emperor's name and even the reverse mint mark. Later, neighboring countries in the Balkans also used the Byzantine types. The most common later imitative is of a silver coin of Andronicus II with two standing figures on the obverse and Christ seating facing on the reverse. This coin, with legends altered to indicated the real issuing authority, was used by the Bulgarians, the Serbians, and to some extent by Venice. The Normans in Sicily and southern Italy also copied the multiple as well as the single standing figures. They even struck scyphate coins. The Empires of Nicaea and Thessalonika between 1204 and 1261 issued coinages similar to Comnenian coinages. The Empire of Trebizond, another Greek splinter state, struck coins, the most representative being the silver asper which initially had a standing figure of the emperor and that of St. Eugenius on the reverse. Later both were placed on horseback. The legends were in Greek. Often considered with the Byzantine series are the coinages of the Vandals in North Africa and the Ostrogoths in Italy. The former issued rather characteristic AE coins using a horse's head as a type and imitative silver. The latter struck bronze coins that were distinctive but their silver was typical of the Empire. The BMC catalogues by Wroth cover both and the author's own monograph also reviews these imitative coinages. The coinage of the Visigoths in Spain is covered in great detail by Heiss.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (except Byzantine Series)

Munzen des Mittelalters, Adolph Hess Nachfolger, Frankfurt am Main, 1921.
English Coins from the Seventh Century to the Present Day, Methuen, London, 1952.
Catalogue de la Collection des Medaillen et Monnaies Polonaises, Akademische Druck, Graz, 3 vol. 1957.
Anglo-Saxon Coins, Methuen, London, 1961.
Anglo-Saxon Pennies, Trustees, London, 1964.
Ulster Museum, Belfast, Pt. 1, Anglo-Irish Coins: John-Edward III, Oxford, London, 1968.
DOWLE, A. and P. FINN.
The Guide Book to the Coinage of Ireland from 995 A.D. to the Present Day, Spink, London, 1969.
Trait‚ de Numismatique du Moyen age, E. Leroux, Paris, 3 vol., 1891-1905.
Numaria Medieval Portuguesa, 1128-1381, Lisbon, 2 vol., 1960.
Beschreibung de Sammlung Bohmischer Munzen und Medaillen des Max Donebauer, Academische Druck, Graz, 1970 (reprint).
Handbuch der Polonischen Numismatik, Akademische Druck, Graz, 1960.
Descripcion General des Monnaies des Rois Wisigoth d'Espagne, Imprimerie Nationale, 1872.
Description General de las Monedas Hispano-Christianas des Invasion de los Arabes, Milangro, Madrid, 3 vol., 1865-1869.
Anglo-Gallic Coins, Baldwin, London, 1920.
The Venetian Gold Ducat and Its Imitations, A.N.S., New York, 1954.
Les Monnaies de Rois de France. Hugh Capet à Louis XII, Emile Bourgey, Paris, 1951.
Medieval Bracteates, an Empirical Guide, A.N.A., 1958.
Medieval Feudal French Coinage, A.N.A., 1966.
Survey of Medieval Iberian Coinages, A.N.A., 1963.
Russian Wire Money, Private Publishing, 1967.
Coinage in the Balkans, 820-1355, Argonaut, Chicago, 1966.
The Coinage of South Germany in the Thirteenth Century, Spink, London, 1961.
Carolingian Coinage, A.N.S., New York, 1967.
Catalogue des Monnaies Russes de Tours les Princes, Tsars, et Empereurs dupuis, 980 jusqu'a 1899, Akademische Druck, Graz, 1899 (1964 reprint).
Monnaies Feodales de France, Camille Rollin, Paris, 3 vol., 1858-1866 (reprint Akademische Druck, Graz, 1961).
Dinheiros e Mealhas Portugesas, Lisbon, 1949.
Numismatisches Wappen-Lexicon, Anastatischer Neudruck, Halle (Saale), 1896 (reprint 1924).
Corpus Numorum Hungariae, Akademische Druck, Graz, 1958.
Des Bracteates d'Allegmagne, Paris, 1875.
English Silver Coins, 1066-1648, Seaby, London, 1948.
The Scottish Coinage, Spink, London, 1955.
The Coinage of Medieval Austria, 1156-1521, 1970. i
Descripcao Gerl e Historica das Moedas Cunhadas em Nome dos Reis, Regentes e Governadores de Portugal, Machado, Porto, 3 vol., 1964 (reprint).
Monnaies de Moyen-age, Imptimerie de Thiele. Copenhagen, 1873- 76. (An absolute must for anyone interested in medieval coinages.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY (Byzantine Coinages)

The Anonymous Byzantine Bronze Coinage, ANS, New York, 1928. (dated but still of value).
Handbook to the Coinage of the Byzantine Empire, Spink, London, 1931 (reprinted in 1957).
Byzantine Coins, Methuen, London, 1982.
Introduction to East Roman Coinage, A.N.A., 1955 (beginners text).
Introduction a la Numismatique Byzantine, Spink, London, 1961.
Byzantine Coins and Their Values, Seaby, London, 1974.
Byzantine Coins, Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1973.
Catalogue of the Imperial Byzantine coins in the British Museum, London, 2 vol., (reprinted by Argonaut in 1966), (dated but good).
Western and Provincial Byzantine Coins, London (reprinted by Argonaut in 1966).
This list was compiled with the reader in mind. All above references have been used by the author and with a few exceptions are in the ANA library. Several very important Byzantine references such as Tolstoi and the Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues were omitted since the reader will probably not have ready access to them. The latter reference is now the definitive work for Byzantine coins.
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