The Other Coin: Coins of the Crusades

The Crusades were an attempt to take back the Holy Land and restore the Roman
Empire from 1095-1272. Shortly after Justinian the Great’s restoration of Roman
Empire in the 6th century and defeat of the Parthians was halted by the spread of
the Black Plague, Islam rose from the desert and conquered much of the Roman
Empire from North Africa to Asia Minor. The Byzantine Army was defeated at
Manzikert in 1071 and the Roman Emperor beseeched the Western powers for
assistance. The first crusade 1095-1099 succeeded in retaking Jerusalem and
setting up several small Christian kingdoms. Subsequent crusades (1147, 1187)
saw the loss of Jerusalem, but the expansion of the Christian kingdoms in the
Middle East, especially Cyprus and Rhodes. The 4th Crusade was the most
infamous of all–as the knights of the crusade lead by Venice sacked
Constantinople and set up petty kingdoms all through Greece. The looting of
Constantinople’s art, churches, and libraries in 1204 gave rise to the Renaissance
as Greek scholars followed their looted libraries and taught in the West. St.
Marks in Venice is entirely constructed from Byzantine loot, for example. Later
crusades got a foothold in Egypt and retook Jerusalem briefly, but by the end of
the 13th century the crusader kingdoms were gone, although the Knights
Templar ruled Cyprus until 1489 and Venice ruled Cyprus until 1571 when it was
lost to the Ottoman Turks. The Crusades were at first successful until first the
Mamluks and then the Turks turned the tide conquering the crusader kingdoms.
Finally, Constantinople fell in 1453 and the Turks conquered Eastern Europe all
the way to walls of Vienna 1683.
The coins are varied and include strikes of local barons from Tripoli, Antioch,
Jerusalem, Tyre, Beirut, and Edessa in the Middle East. There are also coins of
the great orders of knights, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem , and the Order of
Malta. Unfortunately, the Templars never struck their own coins. Coins were
struck in Constantinople for the years of Crusader rule 1204-1261, as well as
various kingdoms: Thessalonica, Cyprus, Malta, Achaea, and Athens. The
coinage of the Crusader era had simple denominations: only one silver coin (a
penny or denier) and two gold coins (dinar and quarter dinar). Bronze coins
initially imitated Byzantine coins, both in the cup shaped trachy and the flat follis
with images of Christ or the Virgin and cross or ruler on the reverse. The coins
were often smaller than the Byzantine coins to conform in weight with coinage in
the West. Alas, much of the coins minted by the Crusaders in Constantinople
were made from thousands of Greek bronze statues that had been collected by
the Byzantine emperors to adorn the city. The silver denier followed western
models most often with a cross on the obverse and a castle gate on the reverse.
The name of mint and ruler appeared on the coin. Coins of Cyprus have a lion
rampant and cross. Some time an armored knight appears or Arab coins are
imitated. Gold coins were made, but immediately cut as gold was too valuable in
the denier size coin. It has long been a challenge to collect enough of the
fractional gold coins to figure out what the original looked like. Crusader coins
are still cheap, often $25 in even fine grade and have a colorful history. You can
also collect coins of the great Arab opponents like Saladin or Mehmet II.
Venetian coins are also plentiful as well as the Western rulers like Richard the
Lionhearted. Medieval coins, especially those of the Crusade are still awaiting a
catalog and website.

Numismatically yours, David Elliott
Bohemund of Antioch
In helmet and mail/cross
Lion/Jerusalem cross
Latin Imitation (Constantinople)
Mary enthroned/Emperor enthroned
(made from melted Greek bronze
statues by the Crusaders, who
sacked Constatntinople in 1204)
William I of Sicily
Rex W, Arabic around/Maddona and