Featured Medieval - The Grosso and the Fourth Crusade

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Oct 21, 2016.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I'm quite excited by my newest coin, not only for the very interesting design (let's face it, most medieval coin designs are rather boring), but because of the history surrounding it.

    When Pope Innocent III ascended to the Papal throne in 1198, Europe had achieved an uneasy and temporary truce with Saladin and the Muslim defenders of the Third Crusade. The great kings and princes of Europe became too enmeshed in their own quarrels to organize another crusade like the previous one attended by the kings of England, France, and the Holy Roman Emperor. Yet, a relatively small group of knights would eventually be gathered. Their goal was the Holy Land to re-establish the Crusader states, but without the patronage of the Kings of Europe, they were sorely lacking funds. Despite this, the Crusaders would agree to meet in Venice, and from there hire the boats necessary to sail to the Holy Land. Venice then, was prepared to receive a large amount of money which would be distributed to their shipwrights and other craftsmen for the creation of the Vessels.

    Pope Innocent III

    The amount the Crusaders agreed to pay was 85,000 marks of silver. The mark had become a unit of account, being 2/3 of a pound of silver, and was quite frequently used in international trade in ingot form. The Crusading army, lacking the financial backing of a king, failed to raise this money, and even borrowed some money from Venice to pay Venice. For Venice's part, they had been promised the sum of 85,000 marks, and had already used that sum to start making the ships for the Crusading army.

    The Doge of Venice at this time was Enrico Dandalo. Enrico realized that the silver ingots so regularly used in international commerce would need to be coined to pay the shipwrights and others for their labor and for provisions (the ingots might be an easy way to pay one person, but inconvenient when paying many). However, there was a problem with the Venetian Denier: it had become debased, and much smaller is size than it originated (the denier of Charlemagne was 1.7 grams in weight and became the standard for Europe, but in the ensuing centuries many deniers would become smaller and debased: the Venetian denier in the 1170s was 0.1 grams). Should the 85,000 marks be minted into Deniers, this would equate to 230 million deniers, and an overwhelming amount of labor from the moneyers. The simple solution was to mint a new, larger, non-debased coin: a "great" coin, called a 'grosso.'

    Enrico Dandalo Grosso. Asta Numismatica Ranieri N. 4, lot 1238

    I wish I could say this was my coin. I did search for an Enrico Dandalo Grosso, but the only one I could find for sale had a starting bid price of €1,500; already well beyond my budget. My coin was minted soon after, however, by Enrico's successor Pietro Ziani. Both Ziani and Dandalo would play a role in what came next.

    To give the Readers Digest version, since the Crusading Army couldn't pay Venice for the ships, and Venice had sunk large amounts of their own money into the venture, Enrico Dandalo concocted a plan to attack the rival trading city of Zara and subjugate it for payment. Dandalo, aged and blind, took the cross and led the attack on Zara. Innocent III was shocked by the attack on fellow Catholics, and excommunicated the Venetian leaders (whom he viewed as responsible for the diversion).

    The course of the Fourth Crusade

    Not long before these events, the Byzantine emperor Isaac II was overthrown, and his son and heir, Alexios IV, was imprisoned. Alexios would be smuggled out of his imprisonment, and upon hearing of the Crusader's financial predicament, he promised the Crusaders support, wealth, and use of the Byzantine navy, in exchange for returning Byzantium to him and his dynasty. This would prove to be too tempting a promise for the floundering crusade to ignore. In 1203, the Crusaders would besiege the city of Constantinople. Alexios would be installed as emperor, but naturally was not very popular with the citizens of Constantinople. After a series of political missteps, Alexios would be overthrown, and a new emperor crowned. The Crusading army demanded the new emperor keep Alexios' vow of support. When he did not, the crusaders attack during and sacks Constantinople in 1204. With this attack, the Crusaders not only gained enough money to pay Venice, they gained an empire.

    02-IVen-Pietro Ziani-AR-G-01.jpg
    Italian States, Venice
    Pietro Zani, r. 1205-1229
    AR Grosso, 19.79 mm, 1.9 grams
    Obv.: [·+·]P·ZIANI· ·S·M.VENETI outside (Z retrograde), D/U/X down banner held between doge and St. Mark facing. I suspect the banner is a papal banner based on the devise, but I have no confirmation of that.
    Rev.: [I¯C] X¯C accross field, Christ enthroned facing

    Enrico Dandalo would die in Constantinople in 1205. He would be succeeded as Doge by Pietro Ziani, under whose authority my coin would be minted. Ziani had apparently joined the crusade, but it would be he who would be responsible for bringing back many of the riches of Constantinople, and placing them in Venice. To this day, one can see the golden horses which were once in front of the imperial palace placed on top of the the Duomo de San Marco in Venice (although the ones outside are a reproduction, the originals are just inside the Duomo to protect them from the elements). Ziani also contemplated moving the capital of Venice to Constantinople, but was prevented by the Venetian council.

    The reproduction horses outside the Duomo de San Marco. The real ones from the Byzantine Imperial Palace are just to the left inside the church. Photographs inside were not allowed when I took this photo in April of 2009

    I suppose the point of the tale is that finances and economics are often the crux of history. The split between the Eastern and Western churches may have been official since the Schism of 1054, but the Catholic Crusaders attack on the Orthodox Byzantines would ensure the continued separation of the church, never mind the first major step towards the eventual fall of "Rome." Because of the need to pay individuals, Venice created a new coin, and this too would spread to the rest of Europe, where Grossos (or 'Groats' as the English would call them) would become the new standard for silver coins, on the eve of Europe shifting to a gold standard.

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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Very nice, I like it a lot.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  4. Ajax

    Ajax Well-Known Member

    Nice coin and great write up man
    FitzNigel likes this.
  5. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Interesting coin and a great writeup.
  6. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Coins of Ancient Judaea Supporter

    Fascinating post! Great images and research! Beautiful coin!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  7. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Thanks for the awesome ride through time, FitzNigel ... congrats on the sweet new Grosso (very cool addition)

    Ummm, I have a sweet Grosso example, but it is from the next coin-century ... do you still wanna see it?

    The Duke of Milan, Bernabo and Galeazzo II Visconti, AR Grosso or Pegione
    1355-1378 AD
    Diameter: 25 mm
    Weight: 2.50 grams
    Obverse: Serpent with maiden in its mouth between B G; above (an eagle) a aquiletta R/S
    Reverse: Ambrose on the throne

    Duchy Dragon.jpg

    Bing, De Orc, Collect89 and 16 others like this.
  8. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Absolutely I want to see it Steve! That's interesting because it shows how the Grosso in different areas was larger than in Venice. In size, my Grosso is about as large as an English denier/penny, but about twice the weight. I'll need to take some comparison photos - sadly I don't have any English or French 'grossos' to compare them to, as though coins became rather big!
    stevex6 likes this.
  9. ancientcoinguru

    ancientcoinguru Supporter! Supporter

    Wow, this gives me an opportunity to show off my Grosso, one of the first medieval coin I bought.:D I just started collecting this year, so I admit I know very little about medieval coins. But the seller said this is the coin that many other medieval coins imitate (but it sure looks a lot like your coin, which was minted first...)

    Francesco Dandolo.png
    VENICE, possible Balkan strike
    Francesco Dandolo 1328-1329 AD
    AR Grosso 2.14 gm - 19 mm
    Obv: [FR]A.DANDVLO left, S.M. VENETI right right, Saint Mark giving banner to Doge, DVX between.
    Rev: Christ enthroned, IC XC
    Reference: Bi.2808 R

    Thanks for the writeup @FitzNigel, I appreciated learning some medieval history:)

    @stevex6, I really like the design on your coin...and will have to get me one!
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2016
  10. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    Very interesting story, and cool coin!
    FitzNigel likes this.
  11. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    Wonderful presentation and super cool coins one and all !!!
    FitzNigel and Deacon Ray like this.
  12. Eduard

    Eduard Supporter**

    Thank you for that great post. I have always been interested by the history of the crusades.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  13. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Excellent write-up! The model of the grosso would soon traverse beyond the borders of Venice to other Christian nations who mimicked the grosso to ride the wave of this successful currency for several decades to come. I posted some of my other "Grosso-like" coins in another thread here:


    Can you identify all the Christian symbolism that was added to the coin? ;)
  14. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Great post and coin, thanks for sharing

  15. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    We all like to show coins that don't come up here often.
    This is an Ar Grosh of Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria 1331-1371 AD.
    Curtisimo, De Orc, paschka and 13 others like this.
  16. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    This design would certainly be imitated a lot in the east - as others have shown. The Idea of a Grosso would be imitated throughout most of Europe (but this is probably more a product of the commercial revolution occurring, coupled with more silver deposits being discovered)

    Love the other Venetian grossi and imitations guys!
  17. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Coins of Ancient Judaea Supporter

    Too bad this forum doesn't have 2 Like buttons for each post! I read your excellent article a second time and I wanted to Like it again! :)
  18. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Wonderful write-up @FitzNigel , and a fantastic Grosso! I loved the ties between history, economics, and creating coin standards. Really enjoyed the history. Thank you.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  19. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks guys - I've honestly been focusing more on French feudal coins lately, but when I learned the fourth crusade, and all of its financial problems were responsible for a new shift in currency, I just had to get an example. A shame the Enrico Dandalo examples are so Pricey! However, Pietro Ziani was still involved, and I'm pleased with the example I got. And I've always enjoyed the story behind the fourth crusade - what an epic disaster!
    Alegandron and Theodosius like this.
  20. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector

    Very interesting topic and well written indeed. Hmm, no second like but we can always feature it ... Done. :)

  21. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks Christian! I always feel honored when a post gets featured. I just love the coins and love to tell the stories behind them!
    paschka, Mikey Zee, chrisild and 2 others like this.
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