Bezant

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Crusader coins of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: Denier in European style with Holy Sepulchre (1162-75); Kufic gold bezant (1140-1180); gold bezant with Christian symbol (1250s) (British Museum). Gold coins were first copied dinars and bore Kufic script, but after 1250 Christian symbols were added following Papal complaints. Crusader coins of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.jpg
Crusader coins of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: Denier in European style with Holy Sepulchre (1162–75); Kufic gold bezant (1140–1180); gold bezant with Christian symbol (1250s) (British Museum). Gold coins were first copied dinars and bore Kufic script, but after 1250 Christian symbols were added following Papal complaints.
County of Tripoli gold bezant in Arabic (1270-1300), and Tripoli silver gros (1275-1287). British Museum. Tripoli gold bezant in Arabic 1270 1300 Tripoli silver gros 1275 1287.jpg
County of Tripoli gold bezant in Arabic (1270–1300), and Tripoli silver gros (1275–1287). British Museum.

In the Middle Ages, the term bezant (Old French besant, from Latin bizantius aureus) was used in Western Europe to describe several gold coins of the east, all derived ultimately from the Roman solidus. The word itself comes from the Greek Byzantion, ancient name of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Contents

The original "bezants" were the gold coins produced by the government of the Byzantine Empire, first the nomisma and from the 11th century the hyperpyron . Later, the term was used to cover the gold dinars produced by Islamic governments. In turn, the gold coins minted in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and County of Tripoli were termed "Saracen bezants", since they were modelled on the gold dinar. A completely different electrum coin based on Byzantine trachea was minted in the Kingdom of Cyprus and called the "white bezant". [1]

The term "bezant" in reference to coins is common in sources from the 10th through 13th centuries. Thereafter, it is mainly employed as a money of account and in literary and heraldic contexts. [2]

Medieval history

Gold coins were rarely minted in early medieval Western Europe, up until the later 13th century; silver and bronze were the metals of choice for money. Gold coins were almost continually produced by the Byzantines and medieval Arabs. These circulated in Western European trade in smallish numbers, originating from the coinage mints of the Eastern Mediterranean. In Western Europe, the gold coins of Byzantine currency were highly prized. These gold coins were commonly called bezants. The first "bezants" were the Byzantine solidi coins; later, the name was applied to the hyperpyra, which replaced the solidi in Constantinople in the late 11th century. The name hyperpyron was used by the late medieval Greeks, while the name bezant was used by the late medieval Latin merchants for the same coin. The Italians also used the name perpero or pipero for the same coin (an abridgement of the name hyperpyron).

Medievally from the 12th century onward (if not earlier), the Western European term bezant also meant the gold dinar coins minted by Islamic governments. The Islamic coins were originally modelled on the Byzantine solidus during the early years after the onset of Islam. The term bezant was used in the late medieval Republic of Venice to refer to the Egyptian gold dinar. Marco Polo used the term bezant in the account of his travels to East Asia when describing the currencies of the Yuan Empire around the year 1300. [3] An Italian merchant's handbook dated about 1340, Pratica della mercatura by Pegolotti, used the term bisant for coins of North Africa (including Tunis and Tripoli), Cyprus, Armenia and Tabriz (in today's northwestern Iran), whereas it used the term perpero / pipero for the Byzantine bizant. [4]

Although usually the medieval "bezant" was a gold coin, medieval Latin texts have also silver coin bezants. The silver bezants were often called "white bezants". [5] Occasionally in Latin they were called "miliaresion bezants" / "miliarense bezants". Like the gold bezants, the silver bezants by definition were issuances by the Byzantine government or by an Arabic government, and not by a Latin government, and the usage of the term was confined to the Latin West.

Bezants in heraldry

Banner of the Duchy of Cornwall displaying fifteen bezants Flag of the Duke of Cornwall.svg
Banner of the Duchy of Cornwall displaying fifteen bezants
Arms of Sir John Russell, a 13th-century English courtier. RussellofDyrhamArms.jpg
Arms of Sir John Russell, a 13th-century English courtier.

In heraldry, a roundel of a gold colour is referred to as a bezant, in reference to the coin. Like many heraldic charges, the bezant originated during the crusading era, when Western European knights first came into contact with Byzantine gold coins, and were perhaps struck with their fine quality and purity. During the Fourth Crusade the city of Constantinople was sacked by Western forces. During this sacking of the richest city of Europe, the gold bezant would have been very much in evidence, many of the knights no doubt having helped themselves very liberally to the booty. This event took place at the very dawn of the widespread adoption of arms by the knightly class, and thus it may have been an obvious symbol for many returned crusaders to use in their new arms. When arms are strewn with bezants, the term bezantée or bezanty is used.

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Solidus (coin)

The solidus, nomisma, or bezant was originally a relatively pure gold coin issued in the Late Roman Empire. Under Constantine, who introduced it on a wide scale, it had a weight of about 4.5 grams. It was largely replaced in Western Europe by Pepin the Short's currency reform, which introduced the silver-based pound/shilling/penny system, under which the shilling functioned as a unit of account equivalent to 12 pence, eventually developing into the French sou. In Eastern Europe, the nomisma was gradually debased by the Byzantine emperors until it was abolished by Alexius I in 1092, who replaced it with the hyperpyron, which also came to be known as a "bezant". The Byzantine solidus also inspired the originally slightly less pure dinar issued by the Muslim Caliphate.

Ducat

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French denier

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Byzantine economy

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Gold dinar

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Tarì

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Visigothic coinage

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Byzantine mints

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Medieval Serbian coinage

The first mention of a "Serbian dinar" dates back to the reign of Stefan Nemanjić in 1214. Until the fall of the Serbian Despotate in 1459, most of the Serbian rulers minted silver dinar coins. The first Serbian dinars, like many other Southern European coins, replicated Venetian grosso, including characters in Latin. For many years it was one of the main export articles of medieval Serbia, considering the relative abundance of silver coming from Serbian mines. Venetians were weary of this, and Dante Alighieri went so far as to put the Serbian king of his time, Stefan Milutin, in Hell as forgerer :

E quel di Portogallo e di Norvegia lì si conosceranno, e quel di Rascia che male ha visto il conio di Vinegia.

References

  1. Peter Edbury, "Ernoul, Eracles and the Beginnings of Frankish Rule in Cyprus, 1191–1232", Medieval Cyprus: A Place of Cultural Encounter (Waxmann, 2015), p. 44.
  2. Philip Grierson, "Bezant", The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991).
  3. Yule, Henry; Cordier, Henri. The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition. Third edition (1903), revised and updated by Henri Cordier. Plain Label Books. p. 1226-27. ( ISBN   1-60303-615-6)
  4. La Pratica della Mercatura, by Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, dated 1343, full text online in Italian at MedievalAcademy.org.
  5. Bezant @ The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Difussion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 4, year 1835.
  6. Arms of Russell of Kingston Russell & Dyrham. Sir John Russell was a favoured courtier of King Henry III, granted by the King the barony of Newmarch c. 1216.