Featured A fleeting view of Athens as realm of the Frankokratia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by seth77, Dec 8, 2019.

  1. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    A short historical and numismatic overview

    By 1285/6, Charles I d'Anjou was dead and his heir Charles II was held captive in Messina to the Aragonese, who had occupied the island as a result of the Vespri Siciliani. So the regency of Robert II d'Artois for the Angevin domains put Guillaume de la Roche -- the "Megaskyr" and Duke of Athens -- in charge of the Principality of Achaea as baillie. Guillaume was the most powerful vassal of the Angevins in Greece, as the Duke of Athens owed traditional allegiance to the Prince of Achaea and because after the Viterbo treaty of 1267, Charles I had become overlord of all Latin Greece.

    vravon27.jpg The Frankish tower of Markopoulo in Attica, built under the de la Roche dynasty around the early 13th century. These defensive fortifications follow the typical keep shape that is well-known in Western Europe and were used primarily as local fortifications, points of surveillance and as a network of beacons, to warn against raids.

    Of Burgundian origin, the Maison de la Roche were the founders of the Lordship of Athens and Thebes. Othon/Odo de la Roche rode for Boniface de Montferrat and was acknowledged in 1204 as Lord of Athens, marking the beginning of the Burgundian domain in Attica. Between 1205 and 1212, Othon pacified the local population and assured the Greek landowners who decided to accept his lordship. He was also the first to take on the Greek title of "Megaskyr" -- possibly in a bid to make his rule more acceptable to the locals -- but his official title used in his correspondence is the Latin dominus Athenarum. After the murder of Boniface in 1207, Othon decided to side with Latin Emperor Henry of Flanders which in turn granted him Thebes (1209) as a hereditary fief.

    The relationship between Athens and Achaea begins with a joint campaign by Othon and Geoffrey de Villehardouin in 1210-1212, which resulted in the capture of Argolid and Acrocorinth. Subsequently, Othon received fiefs in the Argolid -- Damala, Argos and Nauplia and usufruct rights over Corinth in return for an oath of allegiance to the Prince of Achaea. That oath was usually kept by the Lords and later Dukes of Athens even after Viterbo, until 1291, when Helena Angelina refused to acknowledge Angevin overlordship and pay homage to Isabella de Villehardouin and her consort Florent d'Avesnes-Hainaut, as required by Charles II.

    Helena's statement of independence can also be related to the status her husband Guillaume enjoyed between 1285 and his death.

    The castle of Argos was conquered by Geoffrey and Othon in 1212 and refortified with a citadel defended by large round towers and an enceinte defending an outer bailey. Othon kept it and the neighboring Nauplia for himself.

    Guillaume was the grandson of Othon and inherited Athens and the associated domains from his brother, Jean de la Roche, who died in 1280. By marrying Helena Angelina of the Thessalian despotes of Neopatria, he established an alliance with the Komnenodoukai of the north, establishing a buffer zone between his lands and the Palaiologoi.

    An extremely able and well-liked lord, Guillaume de la Roche had the ear and loyalty of the Morean barons and governed Achaea with the same consideration and care as he governed his own realm. But this bailliage turned him from a first rank vassal into the most powerful lord in the whole Frankokratia. As a result, it is likely that at this point (according to Tzamalis) he begins striking deniers tournois -- the billon coinage of the land -- in his own name, very likely at Thebes, where he had his power base, in part to cover for the cessation of the Achaean mints (or at least the one at Glarentza) after the Vespers of 1282, in part to assert his prestige as power broker in Greece.

    2.JPG A denier tournois of Guillaume I de la Roche, struck at Thebes, possibly not long before his demise in 1287, during a time when the Athenian coinage was developing from the very rare experimental types to a regular coinage of the land, and the minting operation at Thebes began supplying the market with a more stable output of coins.

    Specs: AR19mm 0.7g billon denier tournois, Thebes mint (primary), cca. 1287(?).
    + ⁑ G ⁑ DVX ⁑ ATENES ⁑; Cross pattee
    + ⁑ ThEBE ⁑ CIVIS ⁑ ; Chateau tournois, with a horizontal bar and three dots and open circles at each corner.
    Malloy 85, Metcalf MN(1971) XXXIX, 14, Tzamalis GR103.

    The new denier tournois was very experimental during its initial period but, by the death of Guillaume in 1287, the mint at Thebes was delivering coinage with enough success as to be continued by the regency of Helena Angelina (1287-1291) for Guillaume's minor son Guy, who would rule the Duchy of Athens as Guy II (1294-1308).

    Specs: AR19mm 0.81g billon denier tournois, Thebes mint (primary), cca. 1287-1288(?).
    + ⦂ G ⦂ DVX ⦂ ATENES ⦂ Cross pattee
    + ⦂ ThEBE ⦂ CIVIS ⦂ Chateau tournois, with a large arch, open circles at each corner.
    cf. Malloy 86, Metcalf MN (1971) p. 186, cf. Tzamalis GR105

    A possible early issue (according to Tzamalis) from the regency of Helena Angelina for her son Guy II, keeping an immobilized legend of Guillaume I. This type is later than the one above, which is contemporary (judging by the privy marks) with an early and very rare experimental minority issue of Guy II, naming the young prince GVIOT. The GVIOT type is very rare, which means that it probably did not get the approval it needed from the new administration to be minted en masse.
    An interesting link in the evolution of the tournois at Thebes, marking the passing from the early experimental types (1285-1287) to the regular simplified types that were mass produced and used in the 1290s.

    This issue is probably part of a series of deniers tournois that ties the early, arched types, with the transitional bar chateau types -- it should be between Class A, early variety and Class B, transitional variety cf. Malloy p. 386. The characteristics of this specimen: the long arching part, the three dots in the middle spire arranged in triangular shape and the open circles at each corner tower are reminiscing of the first issues. But the reverse legend of ThEBE instead of ThEBES and the annulet-only stops point to a later transitional phase.

    Metcalf notes this type with bar and horizontal dots at the base of the middle spire as the most plentiful variety in the Pylia Hoard, but this sub-type with the arching part and the triangular setting of the dots in the chateau seems to be less common, although it is currently identified as Malloy 86/Tzamalis GR105.

    Although both types are not of the earliest tournois of the Duchy but rather of the period around 1286-7, they both keep some early features and they are both rather scarce, coming from a period of a couple or so years after the opening of the mint. The intricacies of the design are beyond the regular tournois of Glarentza or Corinth and indicate a professional operation by very skilled celators. Tzamalis likens the early and transitional Athenian chateau designs with the evolution of a tournois from the Genoese "city gate" coinage, a design that was very popular throughout the Levant by the second quarter to mid 13th century, being used in 1235 by the petty coinage of the County of Tripoli or by the Hospitaller Knights in Rhodes in 1310, and by Guillaume I de la Roche himself on the copper coinage of Thebes in the early 1280s. Whether this likeness is warranted or not, the design of these late 1280s tournois of Thebes is unlike their earlier competitors of Achaea and shows a deeper level of care, quality control or even artistic interest.

    The two coins above come from an old British collection, possibly gathered around the mid 20th century or earlier, a rather fitting provenance considering the continuous interest invested in the history of Greece by British institutions such as British School of Athens. More digging into the provenance might also prove worthy.

    The Athens that the Maison de la Roche knew

    Othon and his heirs fortified the Acropolis and incorporated ancient ruins into their new capital citadel. The fortifications reused much of the earlier Greek and Roman masonry found on site and some newly-quarried stone and had a most distinctive keep guarding the gates of the Propylaia, close to the Erechtheion.

    Today these medieval structures are no longer standing. Because of this, a dating of the structures and a viable chronology are very difficult to ascertain. The keep has been assigned to a later phase, dating from the revival of the Duchy by Nerio Acciaioli in 1388. However, Chaucer references a high and imposing tower inside the Acropolis citadel in "A Knight's Tale" which was written in 1382, 6 years prior to the installation of the Acciaioli regime:

    "The grette tower, that was so thikke and stroong,
    Which of the castel was the chief dongeoun
    Was even joynant to the garden wal.
    As was his wone, by lyve of his gayler
    Was risen and romed in a chamber an heigh
    In which he al the noble citie sigh."

    Frankish_Tower_1.jpg The Frankish tower of the Crusader citadel of Athens, on the Acropolis, next to the Propylaia; the Erechtheion can be seen to the right. The tower was dismantled in 1874/5 at the urging of H. Schliemann, who wanted the Acropolis purged of post-classical structures, causing irreparable damages to the whole area and practically destroying the citadel and most medieval buildings (and some Roman and pre-Roman that had been incorporated into the Crusader fortifications). Photograph made by W. J. Stillman, cca. 1870.

    But very likely the keep is part of the defense system put in place by Othon or Guy I.

    If we look for similar structures still standing, the best preserved is the one at Markopoulo which was pictured above, and which stands about 20miles north-east of Athens, with a probable date in the first quarter of the 13th century. In his work The Frankish Tower on the Acropolis, Athens: The Photographs of William J. Stillman, from the Annual of the British School of Athens, 1987, P. Lock doesn't do much else than to reiterate what had already been proposed: either an early de la Roche dating, a later Acciaioli dating or and even later Venetian assignment.

    10-16.jpg The Athenian Acropolis in 1860, with the Frankish keep, the Propylaia, the medieval enceinte built by the de la Roche and the Parthenon in the back. Photograph taken by Demetrios Constantin.

    D. Nicolle's Crusader Castles in Cyprus, Greece and the Aegean 1191-1571 doesn't dwell on the Acropolis citadel and its medieval structures, as they had already been taken down and purged when he compiled his work on medieval and crusader structures.

    The purism of a well-meaning but exclusivistic fanatic left us without an extraordinary body of fortifications and monuments of high historical and aesthetic value and without what we could have learned by studying them and their ties to the earlier classical ruins of the Acropolis.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2019
    svessien, harrync, talerman and 28 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Cool thread @seth77 . I especially like the old photos of Athens.

    I enjoy types that show architecture and buildings so I find your new examples very appealing. Nicely done!
    harrync likes this.
  4. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Here are some more pics of the Frankish structures in the Duchy and the de la Roche fiefs in Argolida:

    frankish tower acropolis.jpg The keep at Markopoulo and its entrance elevated on about 5-6 rows of masonry. The access was probably made through a wooden bridge and ladder, which could be retracted in times of need. Photo by W. J. Stillman, recovered and used by P. Lock for his British School of Athens piece. Apparently Stillman did not contend with only photographing the Acropolis of Athens but did photo surveys of the surroundings too.

    This tower is the best preserved Frankish structure of its type and possibly contemporary with the old Crusader citadel on the Acropolis.

    vravron2.jpg And this is how it looks like these days.

    And the citadel at Argos, rebuilt by Othon de la Roche after 1212 on a Greek stamp of 1998:

  5. VD76

    VD76 Active Member

    Athens, Frankish Greece, William or Minority of Guy I de La Roche, 1280 - 1294 Billon denier tournois
    0.812g, 18.8mm, 180o, obverse : + : G: DVX•ATENES, cross pattée, double annulet stops except pellet after DUX, square E's; reverse : + : ThEBE: CIVIS, castle tournois, double annulet stops, square E's;
    CCS 86 ; Malloy Crusaders 86, Metcalf Crusaders Series A2 (A1 in first edition), Tzamalis GR 105
    Ex Alex G. Malloy ; Ex A.J. Seltman

    Athens, Frankish Greece, Guy I de La Roche, 1287-1308 Billon denier tournois
    20 mm 0.75 g.
    Reverse : + . ThEBAHICIVIS. castle tournois , star below .
    Obverse : + GVIDVXATENES , cross pattée
    Metcalf 1077 type 2 . CCS 95 .
    Ex Jacobowitz
  6. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Your second specimen from Jacobowitz collection is what Tzamalis calls the "secondary mint" opened by Guy II very likely after coming of age and starting his own rule in 1294. On the strength of the distribution of the type and the fact that it's not present in the Xerochorion hoard, and not least on the shape of the middle spire of the chateau, he differentiates between the linear evolution of the Thebes mint types from 1285 onwards and the new type introduced after 1292/3 (Xerochorion) -- likely in 1294 at a new "secondary mint" -- very likely Athens.

    You can follow the differences that Tzamalis refers to here:


    Fig. 71 - The "primary mint" of Thebes and the evolution of the types from the very early experimental types GR101 and GR102 of 1285/6 for Guillaume de la Roche to the late experimentals of Guillaume GR103, the early and experimental GVIOT type for Guy II (GR104) in his early minority in 1287 to the immobilized type of Guillaume of cca. 1287-1288 under Helena Angelina (GR105)


    Fig. 72 - The "secondary" mint that Tzamalis identifies with Athens and that starts its output around 1294 with a new design for the chateau.

    Your Jacobowitz coin is part of this corpus, which by 1300 became as abundant as the output of the regular tournois of Thebes, with the simplified spire.

    Here is an early issue, possibly the first, from the mint at Athens in 1294, struck on larger and heavier flans. This one is 1.55g at 21x20mm. Type is cf. Tzamalis GR201, with unrecorded privy marks:


    There were other specimens of similar appearance, fabric and weight offered by Lanz around this same time, in the summer of 2018, so this is not an one-off example or just a "test strike" but rather part of an actual issue.

    I haven't seen other examples afterwards, so I think that it was a very limited issue before the new "secondary mint" got up to speed.
  7. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    This made for a really interesting read Seth, thank you for posting. I had no idea the Acropolis was heavily fortified in the medieval period, though it makes prefect sense. Is Malloy's book on Crusader coinage the best reference for the coinage of Frankish Greece?
  8. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    I would say that if you only need a catalog Malloy is good enough. It's easy to use and very intuitive and most importantly it makes for a fun experience if you consider venturing into Crusader coinage. On the other hand it is not very detailed nor particularly up to date and some drawings are abysmal. Its strong parts are in the Middle Eastern coinages, but it's not very strong in the Latin Empire (the trachea of the Latin Empire) and the Frankokratia sections. My edition even lacks the Lordship of Chios completely.

    For the Frankokratia, Tzamalis is arguably the most detailed and comprehensive work. You will also find paradoxes or incongruities there, but alas numismatics is not an exact science.

    For the Latin Empire, DOC makes for the easiest use.

    For notes on the geography, topography and most importantly the structures of the Crusader States easily accessible, Nicolle's and Hook's series Crusader Castles in the Holy Land and Crusader Castles in Cyprus, Greece and the Aegean.

    And here are the the tickets of the two denarii from the OP, with notes from the collector, as transmitted by TimeLine Auctions. There were no other specifications by the auction house besides "from the collection of an English gentleman."


    The paper is sturdy and patinated and looks rather old and the writing appears to be done in ballpoint pen, which I guess can't be that old. If anyone recognizes the style of the tickets and/or the handwriting, it would be nice to uncover some particular provenance rather than the vague "English gentleman" and anything relating to the British School of Athens would be the icing on the cake.
  9. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Another interesting variation of the secondary mint during the reign of Guy II, possibly in the first part of his sole rule, cca. 1295-1300:

    AR18mm 0.78g
    : GVI ꞏ DVX ꞏ ATЄNЄS
    Malloy 95, cf. Tzamalis F90 (different marks)
  10. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great write up, and fantastic historical pics, learn something everyday on this forum.
    talerman likes this.
  11. VD76

    VD76 Active Member

    Very interesting coin . Florentine Dukes of Athens ??

    + : GVI D…: ATENES

    Strange reverse legend +DE CLARET....CIVIS ????

    0.74 gr .
    5464A285-CF87-40F4-A586-70FD98F1B3A4.jpeg E849360A-4ABB-4CB6-991F-441F526EF729.jpeg
    TheRed, seth77, Johndakerftw and 2 others like this.
  12. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Very interesting specimen. I'll come back after I check my references.
    VD76 likes this.
  13. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    My only specimen from the region (I guess it's from Thebes?)
    [111] Thebe (Billon denier tournois, 1280 - 1294).jpg
    CRUSADERS, William I de la Roche (1280 - 1287), or Guy I de La Roche (1287 - 1294). Denomination: Billon denier tournois, minted: Thebe; 1280 - 1294
    Obv: :G: DVX:ATENES: ( : = double trefoil stop, trefoils resembling Y), cross pattée
    Rev: :ThEBE:CIVIS: ( : = double trefoil stop, trefoils resembling Y), castle tournois with open corner circles, surmounted by cross, distinctive style
    Weight: 0.55g; Ø:17mm. Catalogue: Metcalf Crusades 1030, Malloy Crusaders 85. Provenance: Ex private collection; acq.: 07-2019
    William I de la Roche (died 1287) succeeded his brother, John I, as Duke of Athens in 1280. William reversed the territorial losses of his brother's reign, extending his control over Lamia and Gardiki. He married Helena Angelina Komnene, daughter of John I Doukas, ruler of Thessaly, securing a military alliance with him.
  14. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    This one is very similar to the second specimen in the OP. This is possibly the type that sees the passing of Guillaume and the instating of the regency for Guy II. You can add to your reference table Malloy 86, Tzamalis GR105.

    @VD76 , your array of Latin East coinage is astounding. This one is (as expected) not recorded in the regular references nor as a coinage of the Acciaioli in Athens. It does not look like the Acciaioli coinage, which is quite distinct and compact in its appearance and legends, even if the billon quality is wildly variable. I don't know if we will ever be able to say for certain who and when minted these irregular copper tornesi or if they were meant for the Greek or Neapolitan markets. I suppose both, some are Italian copies minted as far as 1464 and others are local Greek copies.

    I have a pet theory regarding coins like yours, which I won't get into much detail here. To keep it brief, I think that they are either:

    1. counterfeits issued by the Catalan interests, possibly after the conquest of Neopatras in 1318, to subvert the local economy in Morea and weaken the Angevin rule in the Principality of Achaea or

    2. a coinage in its own right based on the two large types that were in use in Greece in the 14th century: the tornesi of both Athens and Achaea, minted locally under the rather clumsy Catalan Duchy of Athens, that might have started in somewhat good billon but became debased in time.

    I'm following this period with great interest and if possible, I will write an article about these irregularities soon.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2020
    VD76 and Roerbakmix like this.
  15. VD76

    VD76 Active Member

    @seth77 Thank you for your help . Unfortunately this coin is not mine . I’m helping my friend :)
  16. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    Very nice and informative posts.
    I only have one crusader coin, and that happens to be Mr. de la Roche.

    VD76, seth77, Bing and 1 other person like this.
  17. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    The Acciaioli coinage, possibly minted at the Acrocorinth from cca. 1388 to the first part of the 15th century, first started in somewhat good billon, which made it legal tender in Italy also but as early as 1400 it probably fell to base metal copper, with usage based mostly in the remaining urban areas in Florentine hands.


    AE16mm, 0.72g, billon immobilized denier tournois, Acrocorinth mint(?), cca. late 1380s.
    + GVI DA . X . ATЭNS; cross pattee
    + THEBANI CIVIS; chateau tournois
    cf. Malloy 107, Saulcy XVII - 17, Seltman (in Mints...) XXII, 7, 10.

    DA . X . is recorded by Malloy and tentatively assigned to Antonio Acciaioli, which I think it's unlikely. This billon coinage is probably the first mintage of Nerio Acciaioli in or soon after 1388. Later on, the coinage was debased to a mere copper issue.

    AE17x16mm 0.50g copper immobilized denier tournois Acrocorinth mint(?), post 1400(?).

    + GVI DVX ATЄNS; cross potent
    + ThЄBANI CIVS; chateau tournois
    Malloy 105, Saulcy XVII - 17, Seltman (in Mints...) XXII 7-10.

    One might notice that the lettering on the legend of these types is of a distinct Italian Gothic style, similar to the tornesi of Sulmona from the 1380s.
    VD76 and Bing like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page