Medieval Greek Coins after the Fourth Crusade

By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..

In 1204, Constantinople was fired during the Fourth Crusade. Less than six months later, Enrico Dandolothe Doge of Venice; bonifacethe marquis of Montferrat; BaudouinCount of Flanders; and Louis ICount of Blois signed on Partitio terrarum imperii Romania. Translated as “The division of the lands of the Empire of Romania”, this treaty saw the first official disillusion of the Byzantine Empire and established the frankokratiaor “Rule of the Franks”.

The former Byzantine lands were carved out and divided among the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. Considering the central territories of the empire, the new Latin Empire held Constantinople and the East Thrace. Greece proper was to be divided into a series of small states: the Kingdom of Thessalonikithe Principality of Achaiathe Duchy of Athensand the Duchy of the Archipelago controlled by Venice.

Despite this segmentation, the Crusaders did not actually take control of the majority of their holdings. In fact, since the exiled Byzantine Greek nobles controlled the Empire of Nicaea and Despotate of Epirus as two successor states, the Sheet music declared divisions failed. The eastern territories, which had not been seized by the Seljuk Sultanate of Rumwere taken by the newly formed Empire of Nicaea, while the Despotate of Epirus claimed sovereignty over the western Balkan coastal region.

Venice, as the greatest beneficiary of the treaty, demanded that they retain all previous privileges and territories they had seized or granted by Constantinople, as well as a vote on who would be elected to head the new Latin Empire.

the latin empire

This Crusader feudal state, holding about 25% of the former Byzantine lands, acted as Western Europe official replacement for the Byzantine Empire. This ensured that the region would be ruled by a Catholic emperor. The Empire would have six rulers during its short 57-year existence.

Medieval Greek Coins after the Fourth Crusade

The Latin Empire minted coins, as evidenced by Niketas Choniatesa Byzantine official present at the time of the conquest, in a document colloquially called From Statues. In it, Choniates repeatedly explained how the Crusaders cast “great statues of great artistic value” and used the metal to mint “coins of little value” (Stahl, 199). This description, however, was perhaps based more on the Choniates’ disdain for the invaders than on an official report of the minting activities.

The pre-invasion monetary money system in Byzantium was based on a hyperpyron of “good but not pure gold” (Stahl, 197). This currency was mostly discontinued after the invasion, and a general lack of national currency “created a void of medium of circulation” (Stahl, 205). Despite this, there is no significant evidence that coins from the successor states of Nicaea and Epirus “played a significant role in the monetary life of the Latin Empire” (Stahl, 200). Instead, the economy was mainly fueled by imported Venetian silver coins, pre-existing Byzantine coins, Western European silver, and uncoined bullion or flat silver.

Among the coins minted by the Latin Empire, there are “no surviving coins that bear the names of their emperors”, which has led to wide disagreement over the timing of said minting (Stahl, 197). For example, this money trachy minted in Constantinople displays a nimbate bust of Christ facing obverse and Archangel Michael on the reverse.

Kingdom of Thessaloniki

Not to be confused with later Empire of Thessaloniki, which was a short-lived puppet state of the Despotate of Epirus, the Kingdom of Thessalonica was founded in 1204 by Boniface of Montferrat who led the Fourth Crusade. Set in the Latin Empire, Boniface was technically a subordinate of his rival, Baldwin. In fact, he was never officially crowned and instead reigned as the titular king. While only reigning for three years, Boniface was able to extend his control over most of northeastern Greece, including Thessaly, Boeotia, Euboeaand parts of Penthouse.

Medieval Greek Coins after the Fourth Crusade

After Boniface was killed by the Bulgarian Tsar’s forces Kaloyan on September 4, 1207, his infant son Demetrius was placed on the throne. Following the centuries-old tradition of child rulers influenced by courtiers, Demetrius was a puppet for most of his reign. But immediately after Boniface’s death, Michael I of Epirus and the Bulgarians both invaded. Although they failed at first, Theodore of Epirus finally conquered the kingdom, and with the capture of Thessalonica in 1224, Theodore exiled Demetrius, who fled to the emperor’s court Frederick II.

Medieval Greek Coins after the Fourth Crusade

Empire of Nicaea

Founded in 1204 by Theodore I Laskarisson-in-law of the previous Byzantine emperor, the Empire of Nicaea controlled the northwest Anatolia and lasted until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire in 1261. Although initially unsuccessful, the Empire grew stronger and became a fairly powerful entity after the defeat of the Latin Emperor Baldwin I by the Bulgarian army at the Battle of Adrianople in 1205. Despite this success, the Empire did not have a solid financial situation and struggled to maintain the quality of its coinage. For example, the electrum used in this Trachy Aspron of Jean III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) was quite “silvery” and contained almost no gold (LHS Numismatik).

Despotate of Epirus

Like the Empire of Nicaea, the Despotate of Epirus was founded in 1204 by an exiled branch of the Byzantines. Angelos dynasty. Initially ruling over modern times Albaniawestern Greek Macedonia, Thessaly and parts of Western Greece, the Empire pursued an aggressive policy of expansion. Around 1230, Théodore Comnene Doukas (r. 1224-1230) had conquered Central Macedonia, Thessalonica and Thrace until Adrianopolis. He was incredibly close to conquering Constantinople itself. This dramatic expansion into the territory of the Latin Empire was made possible by the growing threat of the Empire of Nicaea. Theodore was so successful that he crowned himself Byzantine Emperor in 1225. He was, however, captured soon after by the Bulgarians and held captive until 1237.

Medieval Greek Coins after the Fourth Crusade

After its defeat and capture in 1230, the state was soon forced to return to its original borders. It was only recovered by the resurgent Byzantine Empire in 1337.

Much of the despotate’s later coinage, such as this billon last tournaments of John II Orsiniresembled contemporary Western European coinage due to the influence of Crusader coinage imported from France. It also facilitated Epirus’ trade with its neighboring Crusader states.

The Principality of Achaea

Founded by William I in 1205, the Principality of Achaia was a small state controlling the center of the Peloponnese (Morealisten)) and was a vassal state of the Kingdom of Thessalonica. Although geographically small, after Theodore of Epirus captured Thessalonica and freed Achaia from the suzerainty of Thessalonica in 1224, it became the main authority in Greece. This was due to his relatively wealthy nature and ability to help secure the Latin Empire against the Nicaean Empire. After a series of battles against Venice and Nicaea, the fourth prince of Achaia, William II (r.1246-1278), was captured by Nicaean forces.

Despite William’s capture and the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire, the Principality struggled successfully to prevent Byzantine control until 1432. However, from the beginning of the 14th century until the Byzantine reconquest, the Principality was rocked by violent succession disputes between Italian princes. Despite this century of violence, Achaean coinage flourished. In fact, it was not uncommon for pieces imitating the Venetian ducats struck in order to facilitate trade. Below is an example hit by Robert of Taranto (r. 1333-1364), imitating a gold ducat of Andrea Dandolo, the doge of Venice.

Duchy of Athens

Lasting from 1205 to 1458, the Duchy of Athens was controlled by the Burgundians rock family, the Sicilian kings and the Florentines Acciaioli family. Covering parts of Attica and Boeotia, the Duchy was originally a vassal of the Kingdom of Thessalonica. But when the power of Thessalonica was broken, the Principality of Achaia took over the suzerainty.

A little later in 1267, Charles I of Sicily became dominant in the region. Yet the La Roche family continued to rule Athens until 1308, when the Catalan company of mercenaries took control. In 1312, the King of Sicily took direct control of it and named his son Duke. It was not until 1388 that the Florentine Acciaioli family took over the city. Their control did not last long, however, and the duchy became a tributary of the Byzantine Empire in 1444.

Duchy of the Archipelago

Covering the Cyclades, Naxosand paros, the duchy was created to extend Venetian domination. The Duchy was to become the most enduring Crusader state formed by the Fourth Crusade, and it was not until the Ottomans officially annexed the islands in 1579 as the duchy was dissolved. This period of reign can be broken down into three main periods: the Sanudo dynasty (1207-1383), the Crispo Dynasty (1383-1494), and the Ottoman conquest (1566-1579).

This article is just a very brief introduction to a hugely interesting period of history, full of complex interstate conflicts that resulted in a range of remarkable pieces. Coins produced during this period run the gamut from well-minted coins to those with soft detail and extremely poorly minted. The mixture of Western European designs brought by the Crusaders and traditional local Byzantine imagery shows how disruptive these years were for the region.

There is a coin for every numismatist of this period. Happy collecting!

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LHS Numismatik –

O’Connell –

Stahl –

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About the Author

Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and studies sustainable international development and conflict resolution. Before graduating from American University in washington d.c.he worked for save the children creation and management of international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the United States after living abroad in the Republic of North Macedoniawhere he served as Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).

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