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Coins Of The European Dark Ages

Author: Charles French

( Article orginally published January 1964 by Hobbies )

Rome fell. The barbarians sacked and burnt it. Thus ended the Civilization that for hundreds of years had ruled the known world.

Chaos and devastation ensued. Governing bodies disintegrated and Europe was left with little or no controls. Travel was perilous, for roving bands of outlaws were everywhere, raping, pillaging, and stealing. The terrible European dark ages had begun.

In the East, the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantines, continued to rule but this hardly helped the West.

Something had to be done, and the more enterprising lords and barons built themselves strong castles to protect their domains. People flocked to them far safety and thus the Feudal system began.

Each his own ruler, these lords used a heavy hand in enslaving the populace. Armor and the sword were the words of the day.

Tradesmen, business men, and commercial enterprise were looked down upon. Money was of little account. Men who could fight the best and be the bravest were the greatest.

The Byzantine Empire carried on its regular coinage in both gold and silver, and some bronze. So did other empires in the East. Sassanian Persia, issued silver dirhems for several centuries.

Europe's coinage had dropped to an all-time low. England issued small, poorly struck silver pennies with, the Christian Cross upon them as early as the 7th century A.D. These coins were struck by local petty kings. The French, later on under Charlemagne, issued silver pennies and other coins, similar to the English coins.

Salerno was one of the first to resume gold coinage with its crude, poorly struck one taro coin of iGisulf I in the 10th century. Its design was fashioned after the gold coins of the Arabian caliphs.

If gold was needed for trade the Arabian dinars, and Byzantine Nomismas were used. The wealth of the world was in the East.

Eastern coins were sometimes poorly made. Arabian dilvars had no living objects or figures upon them. Their designs were calligraphic legends in Arabic, Byzantine pieces were crude, cup-shaped coins depicting religious figures of Christ, crosses, and icons.

The Crusades to the Orient, very likely started Europe back on the road to recovery, for about that time we find a revived interest in trade. Merchant cities began to, prosper. Venice became a power. And with this recovery we begin to see the first Western European gold coins struck.

The Venetian ducats first coined by John Dandolo in 1280 were widely used throughout the Mediterranean. The gold nobles of Edward III 1327-1377, the chaise d'or of Philip IV 1285-1314, and the gold maravedi of Alfonso VIII of Castiille and Leon 1158-1214, began to make their appearance. These were the forerunners of the many gold coins struck throughout the Continent from then on.

Europe had finally come out of its dark ages.

It came out with hundreds of city states, principalities, dukedoms, and small governments, many of which issued their own coins. Germany alone had well over 100 cities and principalities, all issuing coins. Similar situations were evident in, the Italian Peninsula. Many of the coins were very well done, for the Renaissance had arrived and Art had taken an important place in the world. The coins were ornate, with all kinds of designs.

Crests and heraldry were popular. So were views of medieval cities, bells, wild men, marriages, and knights on horseback. Most everything conceivable was used as a design on coins.

Salsburg, the latter part of the 15th century, is credited with having coined the first dollar-sized coin, the first thaler. The modern age was about to begin.



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