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Deciphering an interesting denier tournois from the 14th century Greek Frankokratia


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After Tzamalis and Baker did their in depth research into the denier tournois of Frankish Greece, there isn't much left to mystery in this incredibly rich field. The major mints with their main output ca. 1270-1340 have had their issues sequenced and even the less important mints are under at least some degree of understanding. In fact the main mints -- Clarentza, Thebes and Naupaktos-Lepanto are now better understood and represented numismatically than the mints that struck the denomination of the denier tournois originally in France. The phenomenal output of the Greek mints made the denier tournois a common fixture from northwestern France to the eastern Levant, with Greek coins commonly used in Angevin Italy and imported to France during the periods of economic difficulties like the early 1300s under Philippe IV 'le roi faux monnayeur'. There are also primary sources that help a lot with understanding the importance that the Italian Angevin rulers placed on the Mediterranean commerce and the place of the Greek realms in its structure, like the Registri Angioini, where we find about silver being shipped to Clarentza to be coined for Charles d'Anjou in 1279 and early 1280, or the Pratica della Mercatura by Pegolotti, where we find out the technical aspects of the coinage in the 14th century and the organization of the mint at Clarentza, including details like wages paid and direct and indirect costs of turning metal into coin for merchants and the political players of the period.

So in this vast and rather charted territory, one aspect that neither Tzamalis nor Baker dwell in great detail is the widespread phenomenon of counterfeiting and/or the evolution of 'local' coinage and/or immobilizations. Lord Grantley was probably the first to recognize the interest in low billon or even base metal deniers tournois, trying to tie them to actual political figures as early as 1923, while Seltman tried to work out a first draft for the classification of the 'irregular' deniers tournois of Greece. As in the case of 13th century and later 'Byzantine' petty coinage, the 'irregular' Greek denier tournois is one field where systematization is rather far away and there's enough room for research for both academics and private numismatists/collectors. This is actually a field where research is actively needed.


Mainly because at their best, the coins in question look like this:


AE19mm 1.02g

So the common medieval design but even worse because it's actually mostly base metal rather than billon.

What makes this coin of particular interest is that, unlike the vast majority of these counterfeits/irregular coins, this one is readable. Or it would have been, if the skilled engraver wasn't illiterate, basing the legends he was carving on vague impressions of how a legend should look like. In this case though the vague pseudo-legend is good enough to establish the model(s) and as such, place this particular piece in a chronological interval.

The 'obverse' can be read (in reverse, so counterclockwise) ⠪ I PS P A[C]h DX SIV/Y and the 'reverse' ⠪ IIЄ P[A]NT P CISV. The lettering is quite clear and the stops are inspired by an actual official issue of Guillaume de Villehardouin from the 1270s (GV113, Baker p. 1386). Going over the pseudo-legend with some degree of imagination, two things become evident:

1. the actual pseudo-legend does not flow clock-wise as on the official coinage, but the look of the legend is made to resemble known issues; the V or rather Y that ends the legend points to a likely model in the coinage of Isabella de Villehardouin of ca. 1299-1301 (YSABELLA P ACh) while the reverse seems to mimic one of the issues for Philip de Tarento at Naupaktos-Lepanto, ca. 1301-1304/6 -- IIЄ P[A]NT P CISV is intriguingly similar to NEPANTI CIVIS on the regular Angevin Epirote coinage for Philip.

2. the stop signs are understood by the unofficial die cutter and used accordingly, on both sides marking the beginning of the 'text' -- so he was illiterate but skilled enough to understand at least some of the intricacies of the official operations at both Clarentza and Naupaktos.

Is this possibly the result of a local criminal enterprise, or perhaps under the direct or indirect supervision of a quasi-state actor? If the latter, in our case it would be probably located in the territories held by the Catalan Company in Atticoboiotia and the former Duchy of Neopatras, or in the actual Greek-held Epiros, where the Angevins were disputing the inheritance of Nikephoros of the Komnenodoukai with Thomas Komnenodoukas and his mother and regent Anna Palaiologina-Kantakouzene.

The overall look and quality of the workmanship indicates professional skill, which might mean a more coherent and professional operation than just a local criminal enterprise, employed not to satisfy a local need for currency (as in the case of the Arta imitations from Thracia and Bulgaria) but rather to fraud local economies in Morea. If so, this would have to be viewed in the larger context of the Angevin-Catalan conflict or Angevin-Greek conflict in Epiros.

Either way, the piece has enough information to establish a dating for it early in the first quarter of the 14th century.


Edited by seth77
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  • 2 months later...

Another local variation of a denier tournois of Isabella de Villehardouin ca. 1300, probably fully copper rather than billon.



AE16mm 0.75g copper denier tournois, a contemporary forgery/local issue, ca. 1300s-1320.

The flan looks mostly coppery, but it could have been coated in silvering initially. The legend is semi-official, recognizable as an abbreviated version of YSABELLA P ACh as seen on the official coinage of Clarentza at this time:

+ [Y]ALLA D :AꞏЄIЄ[]


Although it does not copy the exact legend on the official coinage, both the obverse and reverse are remarkably literate, making the prototype for this imitation to be obvious.

Edited by seth77
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