Featured Medieval - The Champagne Fairs

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Feb 3, 2017.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    The region of Champagne is today best known for its distinctive sparkling wine. The common belief is that a 17th century monk named Dom Perignon invented the drink, and was said to have likened it to 'tasting the stars.' This has been disputed, and the real inventor of Champagne is unknown, but the region which lends its name to the drink would be an important area for trade long before it was famed for alcohol.

    A bishop blesses the opening of a fair. From the 14th century. Image from English Heritage.

    A variety of factors were coming together in the twelfth century which would see a resurgence of trade. The end of the Viking invasions lead to a rise in population, which in turn lead to urban growth. The urban growth lead to a growth of markets to sell perishable goods and crafts. Larger seasonal markets, usually held on or near church holy days, began to cater to merchants from outside the local vicinity, carrying non-perishables. These larger seasonal markets were called fairs.

    Map depicting the trade routes of the High Middle Ages. The Champagne fairs acted as a central hub for much of this trade. Image from WorldHistory.biz, but is originally from Agnus Mackay and David Ditchburn's Atlas of Medieval Europe.

    As Italy grew to be the European port for the Silk Road trade to the east, Germany and Eastern Europe grew to be the major silver mining region, and the wool trade from England made the Low Countries the major textile producing region. All three of these areas would meet in Eastern France at the great trade fairs of Champagne. Under the direction of Count Henry I, 'the Liberal,' Champagne would begin hosting six major fairs, spread between four of the county's towns. The towns of Troyes and Provins hosted two fairs each; Lagny and Bar-sur-Aube hosted one each. The region of Champagne became a melting pot of sorts due to the various people throughout Europe who found their way there for the fairs. A special court was established to protect the merchants, and reprisals could be held against certain towns whose merchants misbehaved themselves (these would take the form of not being invited back to the fair).1 The amount of trade would be massive, and the large ingots of silver brought from Eastern Europe would need to be coined to help provide small change for the merchants.

    05a-FCh-1180-Henry II-1-Troyes-4145.jpg
    French Feudal, Champagne
    Henry II, r. 1180-97
    Troyes Mint, AR Denier, 20.52 mm x 0.9 grams
    Obv.: +HENRI COMES, Cross Pattee with annulet in 2nd and 3rd quarters
    Rev.: +TRECAS CIVITAS, TEBO Monogram
    Ref.: Roberts 4145

    Only the towns of Troyes and Provins had mints, ensuring the deniers from these towns circulated frequently during the Fairs. The design of the Troyes deniers is a monogram type reminiscent of many of the Carolingian deniers. It contains the usual cross on one side, and a monogram in the form of a cross on the other. In this case, the monogram spells TEBO, which stands for Thibauld, count of Champagne from 1125-52 and Henry I's father. The bottom of the monogram on this coin is a crescent, rather than an 'O', and Poey d'Avant has suggested this indicates it was minted under Henry I's son, Henry II.2 D'Avant does not give any reasoning for distinguishing between Henry I and Henry II, other than the degeneration of the monogram. While the theory that the monogram would degenerate is sound, I have not found any real proof of when the changes occurred between or during the reigns of the two Henrys. While the coins of Troyes would frequently be used, in time they would give way to the deniers of Provins.

    05a-FCh-1181-Henry II-D-Provins-4727.jpg
    French Feudal, Champagne
    Henry II, r. 1181-1197
    Provins Mint, AR Denier 18.4 mm x 1.0 grams
    Obv.: CASTRI PRVVINS. Comb of Champagne, 'V' made of three triangles above, annulet on either side, legend begining at 10hr.
    Rev.: +HENRI COMES. Cross Pattee, pellet in first quarter, omega in second, alpha in third, and annulet in fourth
    Ref.: Roberts, 4727 variety, De Wit 512-13 variety

    The deniers of Troyes denotes the town was a civitas, (or simply a town - cities will come a little later), but this denier from Provins calls the town a castri. We often translate 'Castrum' as 'Castle,' and the genitive case would mean this coin was stating it was from the Castle of Provins. I have been unable to find any evidence of a castle in Troyes, but Provins did have a castle. The castle still stands, and was called Caeser's Tower. It's shape was rather unique for the twelfth century, with four towers in the keep, topped by an octagonal structure. The castle was first built by Thibauld II, and it's likely that the town was built around the castle; since the castle was a center for the count and garrison it likely would have attracted the earliest merchants and markets.

    The keep of Caeser's Tower in Provins. Image from TopCastles.com

    To return to the coins, the designs on the coins of Provins have some lovely symbolism, which was certainly found to be humorous to many of our merchants. The design is one of a comb (peigne in French) in a field (champ), and is a clear play on words of the county where it was produced and used.3 According to Philip Grierson, the design is derived from the monogram for the Carolingian King Eudes. The ODO REX of the monogram forms the annulets on either side of the triangle above the comb.

    The top coin was issued by Odo and was sold at the CNG shop. I turned the monogram side 90 degrees to compare to the Provins denier. There were later issues from Odo which more clearly show the monogram starting to evolve into the comb shape that would culminate in the denier provinois.

    Outside of Champagne, the deniers of Provins appear to have been in competition with the deniers of Paris and the deniers of Tours to be the dominant coin in France. The deniers of Tours had several imitators (the king himself being one), and would ultimately become the standard for France. However, the deniers of Provins would spread widely due to the merchants and would see their design imitated as well. The trade from the Champagne Fairs seems to have seen more Italian good heading north, and more silver heading south.4 Most of the silver heading to Italy was in the form of ingots, but if it was coined, then it was in the form of the Provins coins used at the Fairs. As such, the Provins denier circulated widely in Italy, and was then imitated by Rome.5

    Italian States, Rome
    Roman Senate, c. 12-13th C.
    AR Denier, 17.26 mm x 0.9 grams
    Obv.: [RO]M[A CAPVT] MV[N]. Legend begining at 3hr. Comb center, S above with sun to left and moon to right
    Rev.: [SENATVS . P.O.R.]. Cross patee, 1st q. moon, 2nd q. pellet, 3rd q. star, 4th q. V
    Ref.: Roberts 4733 Variety
    Note: Immitative of Champagne

    There was such a sparse amount of silver in Europe for the early part of the 12th century that no mint had been in operation in Rome. Thanks to new silver deposits found in Freiberg and its spread south through the Champagne fairs, there was enough silver in Rome that the Senate, in an agreement with the Pope, opened a mint in the 1170s (possibly 76/7) and began striking imitative denier provinois.6 These imitations can be distinguished by the 's' above the comb, indicating the senate. The legend also defines the senate as the producers, but as these imitations are often crude, it can sometimes be difficult to actually read the legend. My own example is a case in point.

    1 Frances and Joseph Giles, Daily Life in Medieval Times, Illustrated Edition (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1990), 340.
    2 Faustin Poey d'Avant, Monnaies Féodales de France, vol. 3 (Paris: Bureau de la Revue Numismatique Française, 1862), 247, cat. #5951. My thanks to @seth77 for pointing this out to me.
    3 Philip Grierson, The Coins of Medieval Europe (London: Seaby, 1991), 88.
    4 Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: University Press, 1989), 140-1.
    5 Ibid., 141
    6 Ibid., 109-19, 201-2

    N.B. Still working on photography. I think I am almost there, but utilized my old methods for these photos. The photo of the denier provinois is not the most accurate depiction of the coin. It looks better in hand.
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  3. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Wow Fitz, thanks for the great write-up and the very cool coin examples

    ... now I feel like poppin' the top on a bottle of Dom!!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  4. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Great writeup. Nice coins and an enjoyable read.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Very informative @FitzNigel. And nice coins as well. My youngest son, who is in Afghanistan right now, has expressed interest in Medieval coins of this period. Maybe he'll start collecting coins like his old man. A chip off the ole block so to speak. I plan on getting him to read this fantastic thread.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2017
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  6. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks guys - they aren't the nicest looking coins, but there is some great history behind them. You don't often find the Roman imitations, so I was happy to snatch that one up.
  7. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    nice FN! interesting to see a "senate" mark on a roman coin from the 12th century...also cool that the roman coin is the "imitative coin".

    i didn't understand what he roma senate actually was during this time period, it looks like it was a single dude! lol!


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  8. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I love these write-ups of yours, I learn a lot. Thank you for taking the time!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  9. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great post!
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  10. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    There was also the mint of the Diocese of Meaux which minted in Champagne in the 12th century. Also, and here it gets confusing, there was the mint of Sens which had minted municipal coinage, coinage for the Counts of Sens (and even after the attachment of the county to the Royal domain, Sens still minted for Renaud II de Sens up until the 1050s) and coinage in the name of the kings of France starting with Henry I of France.
    Then we have, either before the beginning of the 11th century according to some numismatists (Benjamin Fillon in particuler) or all through to the early 12th century according to others, the Provins et Sens coinage: common issues for both cities, which apparently, if we are to accept Poey d'Avant's notes at pp. 248-9 must be prior to the deniers provinois of Thibaut II.
  11. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    I'd also like to add, if permitted, a nice and very interesting issue for Henry II as Lord and Sire of the Kingdom of Jerusalem:


    Attribution via Baldwin and Sons LTD:

    Kingdom of Jerusalem
    Henry of Champagne, (1192-1197), King of Jerusalem, Æ Pougeoise d’Acre, 1.26g
    obv X COMЄS HЄNRICVS , cross pattée, annulets in four quarters, X at start of legend
    rev +PVGES D’ACCON , fleur-de-lis
    (Metcalf 199-200; Schl III, 28).

    Henry was elected King of Jerusalem in the spring of 1192, but in the tradition of Godefroy de Bouillon he did not use the title himself. This pougeoise names him Count Henry.
  12. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Very nice Seth! I knew Henry became king of Jerusalem, but I hadn't looked into his Coinage yet. Thank you for your contributions!
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  13. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    I'm actually quite glad to see people interested in this period of French history. The variety and complexity of the coinage is just extra :)
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  14. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    You know, I've only EVER collected US coinage -- for whatever reason, I just found coins from other regions and earlier periods completely uninteresting.

    Actually, I do know the reason. It's that I didn't see writing like this. Because there's no way to read this and not become absorbed.

    Thank you!
  15. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thank you for your very kind words, Jeff. It's the history of the period that gets me into the coins, and I think that is really the only way to approach medieval numismatics. While there are some beautiful designs out there, medieval coins just don't live up to modern ascetics. And why should they? They were designed for the people of the time, hence a comb on a field, which would mean nothing to us, is incredibly clever to them!

    I recently learned of a similar coin from Rome, in which a hand (manus in Latin) is placed between the letters 'R' and 'O'. To us it means nothing, but it would be a very clear play on words to them ('R-man-o' meaning 'of Rome'). Unfortunately I haven't found any examples for sale...
  16. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great writeup, I am glad to see more medieval coins being posted here. Many get ignored in the World forum, which is a shame. I enjoy medieval coins just as much as ancients. They too have much history to tell as this thread shows.
  17. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    While medieval clearly isn't ancient, I think the production methods and the lack of uniformity of types makes it more appropriate to post them with the ancients. Plus I'd rather be looking at ancients all day rather than moderns...
  18. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Great write up and coins @FitzNigel, as usual should I say
    Thanks for the time and effort, and for sharing those wonderful coins.

    Old Europe is full of History and local coinages as this one, allowing anyone to an infinity of collecting opportunities

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    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunity

  20. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I wonder if CT would consider changing the name of this forum to "Ancient & Medieval Coins." It would make sense. @Peter T Davis
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    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunity

    I strongly support the proposal!
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