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Madelinus from Dorestat


Roerbakmix

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Last week, I finally bought a coin that has been on my wish list for many years. It's a gold coin from Madelinus, minted in (or nearby) Dorestat in the 630-50's. 

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, Anonymous. Denomination: AV Tremissis (Pseudo-MADELINUS (Frisian immitative) type), minted: Frisia; 630-650 AD
Obv: Degraded diademed bust right, with pointy nose and pellet lips. ∇°REഗTɅT FIT (DORESTAT FIT; Delta D, upper-case o, sideway rotated S, unbarred A). Three pellets between R and E
Rev: MɅ∇ELINVS M (MADELINVS M; unbarred A, delta D), cross on single step, six equidistant pellets below.
Weight: 1.26g; Ø:15 mm. Catalogue: . Provenance: Ex. Elsen auction 130 (10-09-2016), lot nr. 291 (unsold)
Ex. Hollandia Numismatics 05-2023
Find location: Unknown Published: Included in Arent Pol's (unpublished) study on Madelinus tremisses.
The gold content of this coin was measured for Arent Pol's (unpublished) study on Madelinus tremisses, using specific gravity (gold content of 44%, assuming pure silver/gold alloy) and XRF (Bruker method, 69-70% gold content). Small abrasion on the obverse (at the cheek), apart from that, a superb example.

This night, during a slow night shift in the hospital, I compiled a little write-up on Madelinus and his coins. 

Madelinus and Dorestat

Not much is known about Madelinus, a Frankish moneyer at Dorestat (current Wijk bij Duurstede, the Netherlands) between 630-650. He minted together with Rimoaldus, both were active first in Maastricht (where no less than 20 or perhaps even 25 moneyers were active in less than a century). Though Rimoaldus was active in Dorestat as well, he seems less prolific as only five coins can be attributed to his issues there, whereas more than 600 coins can be associated with Madelinus. The output of Madelinus in Maastricht was limited, only a few coins of him can be attributed to that period (I’m unsure how the output of Rimoaldus to him was in that period). Interestingly however, his coins from Dorestat were widely imitated, so called ‘pseudo-madelinus’ tremisses.

Madelinus minted most of his tremisses at Dorestat, a city near the Rhine with Roman roots, was a prolific international trading center at the natural border of the Frisians and the Franks. Around 700, an anonymous cleric in Ravenna described Dorestat as patria Frigonum (or Frixonum), so ‘in the region of the Frisians’ (Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia I.11 and IV.23), but after the battle of Dorestat in 695, the Frisian ruler Rêdbêd (better known as Radboud, born <670-719) was beaten by the Frankish Pepin of Herstal. Following this battle, and especially after the death of Rêdbêd in 719, the Frankish influence over Dorestat and the Frisians increased. Yet, Dorestat has been described as a meeting point between the two cultures – a neutral place to trade and earn money, and perhaps discuss diplomatic and political issues between the two kingdoms. This mixture between Frisians and Franks is illustrated by Madelinus and Rimoaldus – two Frankish moneyers from Maastricht (a Frankish city of importance) moving to the Frisian Dorestat. 

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17th century copy by an anonymous painter, showing how Radboud might have looked.

Madelinus and pseudo-Madelini

Following the same pattern of the Frankish and Anglo Saxon regions, gold coins were widely imitated, initially in the same fineness (c. 50% gold for Madelinus types), but dropping to  5-10% gold content in the following decades. Finally, the coins contained no gold at all, marking the beginning of the sceatta-era. In this process of imitation, the appearance of the Madelinus tremisses changed: designs became abstracted, and legends corrupted. These imitative Madelinus tremisses are commonly referred to as pseudo-Madelinus tremisses. It’s difficult to draw the line between ‘true’ and pseudo-Madelinus. Arent Pol, a numismatist who’s compiling an overview and die-study early medieval tremisses, suggested this sequence with progressive degree of abstraction:

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A distinguishing feature between the original ‘true’ Madelinus tremisses and pseudo tremisses, apart from varying degrees of abstraction (see photo’s later), is the I between DORESTAT and FIT (i.e. DORESTATI FIT). No die links between these coins, and the imitative coins have been found, whereas die links are abound in the group of coins sharing this feature. Following this, my coin can be identified as pseudo-Madelinus, probably relatively early given the high gold content of 44% (using specific gravity methods, assuming an alloy of only silver and gold. The coin was also analyzed with XRF, which showed a gold content of 69-70%.

Two questions regarding pseudo-Madelinus questions can be asked, and partly answered: first, where were these coins minted, and second, why. To answer the first question, one can look at find locations. This, unfortunately, is not helpful in this case as the coins are evenly found in northwestern Europe, and no distribution pattern can be identified. The heterogeneity of design also suggests a large number of mints that were involved – perhaps (as has also been suggested of sceattas), most coins were not minted at a mint, but merely by the traveling goldsmith. One find is perhaps helpful in pinpointing a location, namely Katwijk (a small, but historic village at the North Sea coast near the Rhine, c. 80 km from Dorestat by boat on the Rhine). Here, a test strike on a piece of lead was found, showing (part of) the obverse of a pseudo-Madelinus. This suggest that, at some time, near Katwijk, a moneyer tested his obverse die.

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The second question – why these coins were so widely imitated – may be impossible to answer. With the decreasing gold content over time, the traveling goldsmiths may have profited from minting a coin of lesser purity. A coin as popular and recognizable was perhaps accepted at face value, resembling a certain, more or less standard amount of gold – in some extent similar to the Roman practice of decreasing the silver content of denari.

Dating of early medieval coinage is tricky, as most coins contain no meaningful legend, and if they do, it’s often the name of the moneyer or the place of mint. Though there was probably some royal control on minting, contrary to the later Karolingian period, royal names were seldomly mentioned on coinage. Thus, hoard evidence is important to allow more precise dating. There are a couple of hoards, though mostly from the Karolingian period, as the prosperity of the city caught attention of the Vikings, who raided Dorestat many times between 834 and 863. The unrest caused by these raids resulted in the burying of valuables in hope to retrieve them later. Indeed, many hoards from this period have been found, including for example this fabulous fibula dated between 775 and 800.

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Unfortunately for numismatists, the 600-700s were a relatively stable period and few hoards from that period have been unearthed. Two hoards, one from Escharen (a hoard of 60 gold coins, found in 1897 and sold for melting to a local jeweler. Luckily, they weren’t, and it remains one of the crucial hoards to date early medieval gold coins.), and one from Wieuwerd (discovered in 1866).

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 Two other hoards have been found more recently: the Utrecht hoard (2014, containing 52 gold and 12 silver coins),

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...and the Springendael hoard (published last year). Especially the last hoard is regarded as important because of the large variety of types.

 

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Apart from news items, I have not yet read a numismatic article on these two hoards, which I eagerly await. 

I know some users here have Madelinus tremisses or Frisian gold coins as well: please share these beauties! 

 

Sources (amongst others): 

Arent Pol. A new sceat of the Dorestat/Madelinus type

Arent Pol. Madelinus and the disappearing of gold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by Roerbakmix
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Great write-up @Roerbakmix, these are handsome coins - would love to have one.  I think that there were a number of these found at the 'productive' site at Rendlesham in Suffolk, England but not sure what types they were. Of the known corpus of these coins, do you know what proportion are the original Madelinus types rather than pseudo/ later imitative varieties?  

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Thanks @JeandAcre. Nothing can be said with certainty regarding the moneyers (ie imitative versus 'real'). Based on Arent Pol's research, which I summarized in the table above, the i in DORESTATI FIT might suggest it's the 'true' Madelinus, whereas DORESTAT FIT (and variants) are likely imitative. I've emailed Arent Pol an example that has the DORESTATI FIT legend, but is clearly imitative, ans asked for his opinion (as this coin doesn't fit in his theory), but sadly received no response. 

Thanks as well @Grimulfr. This is one of the more common Frisian gold coins, and the do turn op at archaeology digs everywhere in Europe (proving the widespread trade in those days). Unfortunately Arent hasn't published his corpus. Rumours is that it already includes >15.000 examples of early medieval gold coins. I guess it's difficult to draw a line - when is a corpus complete? I have asked the question on the original / imitative ratio as well, but no response alas. 

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Great coin and great write-up!

 

Here is my Madelinus, or perhaps pseudo-Madelinus. My coin has also been studied by Arent Pol, who said that it was more likely a pseudo-Madelinus.

 

Obv.: DOR.ESTATIT

Rev.: MA.D.ELINVS H  (Madelinus monetarius)

Mint: Dorestad

Date: early 7th century

Extremely fine and well centered.

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Edited by Tejas
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  • 6 months later...

Madelinus has also been on my wish list for a long time. An exemplar was once offered to me, but at that time, my budget didn't allow me to go overboard... what a pity! I think it will be difficult to have another chance like that...

Fantastische muntje! Gefeliciteerd!👋

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