Gold and minted coins in Southern Italy and Sicily from the Middle Ages to modern times
PIETRO ODDO was the last numismatic secretary of King Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy. In 1939, the king entrusted him with the full-time job of drafting the Corpus Nummorum Italicorum on the minted coins of the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, a subject in which he specialized.
Between 5 December 1942 and 25 January 1943 he also packed away Victor Emmanuel's coin collection to protect it from air raids.
Following the work undertaken for the King, PIETRO ODDO sold his collection of coins to the Bank of Italy.
The collection consists of 3,833 gold, silver, copper and alloy coins issued by the mints in Southern Italy and Sicily after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and up to modern times. Display cases 1-25 contain a selection of coins belonging to PIETRO ODDO's collection, which highlights their historical relevance and their importance in the study of Southern Italian coins.
Display case 1
The Byzantines in the West, 6th and 7th centuries AD
The Byzantines in Italy, 6th - 7th centuries AD
After defeating the Goths in 553, Emperor Justinian brought the entire Italian peninsula under the direct political control of Byzantium.
Rome, Ravenna and, albeit to a more limited extent, Naples resumed minting coins in the name and manner of the Eastern Roman emperors.
During the reign of Mauritius Tiberius (582-602) mints were opened in Catania and Syracuse. After the Arab conquest of Carthage (697), another mint was opened in the Sardinian city of Cagliari, where the personnel and machinery of the African mints were transferred.
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The Byzantines in the West, 7th and 8th centuries AD
The Byzantine monetary system
The Byzantine monetary system consisted of a comprehensive series of denominations minted in three metals (gold, silver and bronze) based on the weight system of the ancient Roman pound, weighing 288 scruples, subdivided as follows:
1 pound = 12 ounces = 288 scruples = 1728 carats
1 ounce = 24 scruples = 144 carats
1 scruple = 6 carats
1 pound = 327.45 grams; 1 ounce = 27.45 grams; 1 scruple = 1.135 grams; 1 carat = 0.189 grams
In the western mints, the Byzantines minted coins made of gold (solidus and its subdivisions), silver (silique and its subdivisions) and copper (follis, worth 40 nummus, and its subdivisions), based on an exchange rate that varied significantly over time but which, at least initially, seems to have been the following:
1 solidus = 24 silique = 288 folles = 12,000 nummus.
The Byzantines in Sicily, 7th century AD
After the closure of the mints in Catania (628-629), the island's mint in Syracuse became especially important and its production grew significantly following the arrival of Emperor Constans II and his court (663).
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The Lombards in Southern Italy, 7th-11th centuries AD
The Lombards in Italy
The Lombards' occupation of the Italian peninsula began in 568. In the Kingdom's territories, after an initial phase that was marked by a sharp decline in the use of low denominations, the Lombards soon prescribed the use of Byzantine-style gold coins, produced by the mint in Pavia.
Unique coins were made in Tuscia and in the Duchy of Benevento. In Benevento, the Lombardy duchies issued coins and tremissi styled after Byzantine coins marked with their own initials, starting with the reign of Gisulph I (689-706). The mints continued to operate long after the defeat of Desiderius and the fall of the Kingdom (see photo no. III.5).
With Siconolfo (839-849), even the mint in Salerno produced gold coins with a low-quality alloy that imitated those of Benevento, as well as a Carolingian-style silver denarius.
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The Arabs in Sicily, 9th-10th centuries AD
The Arab monetary system was influenced by the Byzantine system. It was based on the gold dînar, which weighed slightly less than the imperial solidus (4.25 grams versus 4.50 grams) but had a high initial intrinsic value, and the silver dirham, which weighed about 2.95-2.97 grams.
For coins of low denominations, and for smaller sub-divisions of the silver coins, the Arab monetary system used copper coins called fals, modelled after the Byzantine follis.
In Sicily, the mint in Palermo issued a large amount of gold quarter-dînars, referred to as ruba’i or tarì, weighing about 1.05 grams (see photo no. III.10), and silver kharrube, copper fals and glass tokens.
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The Norman conquest, 11th-12th centuries AD
Coinage in Southern Italy and Sicily in the 11th century
The Normans, having reached Southern Italy at the start of the 11th century, found an economic situation and a monetary context that differed greatly from one area to the next. While in the areas of Puglia and Lucca Byzantine coins, like the gold nomismata and the copper nummi, were predominantly used, in the Tyrrhenian areas - from the Duchies of Naples and Amalfi to the Principality of Salerno and the Thema of Calabria - the market mostly consisted of Arab quarter-dînars (or tarì) or their imitations.
In contrast, north of Benevento the coinage included silver coins modelled after Carolingian and imperial coins.
In Sicily the coinage was more uniform, consisting mostly of Arab coins.
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The Norman Reign of Sicily, 12th century AD
Sicily's Norman coinage
The first coins issued by the Normans immediately after their arrival in Sicily seem to have been coins of small denominations and low-quality silver alloy, modelled after the Arab kharrube, present in large quantities in the island's coinage, valued at a sixteenth of a dirham and weighing about 0.20 grams. Starting in 1072, the year that Palermo fell, the Normans had the Palermo mint strike Arab-style gold coins valued at a quarter of a dînar, referred to as tarì or tareni, which were impressed with a small tau cross, the only indication of the Christian faith of the island's new rulers (see photo no. III.12 F and no. III.12 B).
Norman coins in Southern Italy
Immediately after the conquest of Salerno (1076), gold Arab-style tarì were produced by the Normans on the peninsula as well, as the mints in Amalfi, Capua, Bari and Mileto also started working for the new rulers. However, except for the Amalfi mint, which issued gold tarì, these mints only produced copper follari, adding to the coins already circulating in Southern Italy and further complicating the region's varied monetary landscape.
Roger II and the reform of 1140
Roger II addressed the disorderly monetary landscape in the territories under his control in the Assizes of Ariano (1140) and tried to resolve the problem by issuing decrees that, once enacted, did not receive popular support.
According to a chronicler of the time, the Assizes of Ariano were 'a terrible edict, to be abhorred in every area of Italy', a source of misery for all.
Following the reform of 1140, the mainstay of the monetary system became the ducatus or ducale, a silver coin weighing about 2.69-2.79 grams, with a fineness of 50 per cent. The same metrological characteristics were shared by its fractional coin, the tercia ducalis.
The characteristics of the Arab-style gold tarì remained unchanged throughout the Norman age: 16.33 karat gold mixed with silver and copper in a 3 to 1 ratio respectively.
It was initially cut like the Arab ruba'i or quarter-dînar and weighed about 1.05 grams. However, it became increasingly irregular over time, so much so that it is speculated that payments in gold were done by weight, according to a custom that seems to corroborated by both the existence of intentionally fragmented tarì and the habit of storing previously weighed coins in sealed sachets.
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The Kingdom of Sicily under the Swabians
The monetary policy of Frederick II
Between 1221 and 1231, Frederick II enacted a series of reforms that affected all the money circulating in the country. The reforms created a mutually complementary system of gold and silver coins and concentrated their production in a small number of mints under direct imperial control.
In 1221, the new gold tareni were issued by the Amalfi mint and the imperial denarii by the mint in Brindisi. Once the mint in Amalfi closed in 1222, the denarii from Brindisi became the most widely used coin in the country. Initially, its exchange rate in relation to the gold coin was 16 to 1.
In 1231, the augustale was created, a very prestigious gold coin weighing 5.289 grams with a fineness of 20.5 karats (see photo no. III.18).
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The Angevins in Naples and Sicily, 13th century AD
The coinage of Charles I of Anjou
In 1266, Charles I conquered the Kingdom of Sicily. At first, the Angevin sovereign continued to issue gold tarì, albeit in a version that had become more 'latinized' by that point (it contained the first initial of his name, K, and the cross). He also issued reali, produced by the mints in Messina and Barletta, which shared the same characteristics as Frederick II's augustale and were impressed with the imperial profile.
In 1278, with the Kingdom's administrative centre having been moved to Naples, Charles I reformed the monetary system, creating a coin made of pure gold and a silver coin to substitute the old coins that had been abolished. The gold coin was called the carlin, or the saluto, modelled on the coins of the Annunciation; it was exchanged at a 1 to 10 ratio with its silver counterpart (see photo no. III.21).
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Sicily under the House of Aragon, 13th-14th centuries AD
The coinage of the Aragons in Sicily
In 1282 Charles I of Anjou, who was known as the King of Sicily, continued to issue gold and silver carlins in Naples. However, in Sicily, which later became an independent kingdom after the Vespers, Peter of Aragon and Constance of Swabia, the daughter of Manfred, issued new, very prestigious reali coins in gold and in silver.
The coins, known as pierreali, in homage to the sovereign, were impressed with the Swabian eagle and the coat of arms of Aragon and were encircled by a double inscription.
Under the successors of Peter of Aragon, gold coins were no longer issued in the Kingdom of Sicily while silver coins continued to be produced in abundance (see photo no. III.24).
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Naples remains under angevin rule, 13th-15th centuries AD
Angevin coinage in Naples
During the reign of Charles II of Anjou, the gold and silver carlin coins modelled after the Annunciation coins continued to share the same metrological characteristics introduced by Charles I with the reform 1278.
A new silver carlin, weighing more than the previous version (3.93 grams), was created in 1303. This coin was referred to as the gigliato because of the depiction on the reverse (a cross surrounded by lilies).
The Neapolitan gigliati were very successful from the start, so much so that they were imitated by some Eastern European mints and by the papal mints.
However, as in Sicily under the Aragons, after the death of Charles II even the Angevins stopped minting gold coins in the territories under their control. Their production only resumed in the 15th century. The many gold fiorini issued in the name of Joan of Naples (1343-1381) were all produced in the mint in Provence (see photo no. III.26).
At the same time, to meet the needs of small businesses, large quantities of denarii were issued, made with very low quality alloy, and, at the end of the 14th century, bolognini as well, produced by the mints in Abruzzo.
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Alfonso of Aragon riunites the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, 15th century
Aragonese coins in Naples in the 15th century
In 1442, having obtained control of the Kingdom of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon resumed the production of gold coins in the kingdom's mint, located in a building that overlooked the Church of Saint Augustine.
The production consisted of a gold coin of the value of 1.5 ducats called the alfonsini, worth 15 silver carlins, depicting the sovereign on horseback and the coat of arms of Aragon (see photo no. III.27).
Double ducats and ducats in gold were later issued by Alfonso's successor, Ferdinand I (1458-1494), who was the first to introduce the use of portraits in Neapolitan coinage.
Giovanni Riparolo, the designer of the coins, also worked for Alfonso II (1494-1495).
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Naples between France and Spain, 1501-1516
On 25 July 1501, the French army entered Naples. Louis XII exercised his authority over the kingdom by issuing gold ducats depicting his portrait, silver carlins with a lilied crown on the reverse and copper sestini.
In 1503, with the kingdom again under Spanish rule, the Naples mint produced for Ferdinand II (the Catholic) and Isabella of Castile gold ducats bearing their portraits, an exact reproduction of the Spanish excelente (see photo no. III.30), and silver carlins designed by Bernardino de Bove.
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The age of Charles V, 1516-1556
The 16th century in Naples
During the forty years of Charles V's rule (1516-1556), coin production by the Naples mint was particularly abundant and of an exceptionally high quality from an artistic standpoint.
In 1538, the first European-style gold scudi were issued with a value of 11 carlins, thereby aligning the South's monetary system to international standards.
Later, the Naples mint produced extraordinarily beautiful gold scudi in denominations of 2 and 4 in the name of Charles V. They bore the portrait of the Emperor on the obverse and allegorical figures inspired by the classics on the reverse (see photo no. III.32).
Among the coins issued by his successor, Philip II, one of the more notable coins is the silver ducatone, weighing about 29.91 grams, first issued in 1586 (see photo no. III.38).
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The age of Philip II, 1554-1598
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The age of Philip III, 1598-1621
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The age of Philip IV, 1621-1665
The 17th century in Naples
In 1619, mintmaster Gian Francesco Citarella updated the Naples mints with specialized machinery imported from central Europe. These machines made coin production easier, especially of larger-sized coins.
In this period, the production of gold coins was minimal, while silver coins and fractional copper coins were produced in abundance.
However, from the reign of Philip III (1598-1621) the currency began to deteriorate to such an extent that the authorities had to intervene repeatedly to stop the devaluation, which was particularly pronounced for small denominations.
Thus, in 1624 a special type of coin was issued, characterized by two concentric circles around the core of the coin, with a value of 5 and 10 grana respectively. The fraudulent removal of the outer concentric circle automatically transformed it from a 10-grana coin to a 5-grana coin.
But the experiment was short lived, while the higher tax burden, which had become unsustainable for a country suffering from various types of natural disasters, resulted in a popular uprising in 1647 which led to the proclamation of the Republic. During this period, silver and copper coins were issued, the latter in three denominations: 3 (pubblica), 2 (grana) and 1 (tornese).
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The age of Charles II, 1665-1700
The coinage produced in the reign of Charles II was of higher quality than that of his predecessors.
During the years of his mother's rule, beautiful coins were issued in silver depicting the busts of the two sovereigns.
In 1684, Charles II, by then sole ruler, issued large silver piastre for the first time, valued at 132 grana, with a millesimal fineness of 895. They bore his portrait on the obverse and a crowned scepter positioned between two hemispheres, symbolizing the old and new worlds, on the reverse. The coin was designed by Giovanni Maiorino (see photo no. III.43).
Starting in 1689, silver ducats were also issued, weighing slightly less than the silver piastre. They were worth 120 grana, with a millesimal fineness of 895, and depicted a coat of arms on the reverse. In 1693, these coins were devalued to 100 grana.
In silver, 20-grana coins were also issued, known as tarì, which depicted the golden fleece on the reverse, as were 10-grana coins (carlin weighing about 2.82 grams with a millesimal fineness of 895). As for copper coins, the Naples mint issued tornesi and 3 cavalli coins.
Even the mint in Palermo issued coins in the name of Charles II.
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Naples in the 18th century
The following weight system was used in Naples at the start of the 18th century:
1 pound = 12 ounces = 360 trappesi = 7200 acini;
1 ounce = 30 trappesi; (from the weight of the tarì)
1 trappeso = 20 acini
1 pound = circa 320.75 grams
1 ounce = circa 26.73 grams
1 trappeso = circa 0.89 grams
1 acino = circa 0.04 grams
Gold coins were measured in 24-karat ounces (= 1000 millesimi of fineness).
Silver coins were measured in 12-ounce pounds (= 240 sterlini = 360 trappesi = 7200 acini).
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The Bourbons in Naples, 18th century AD
The coinage of Charles of Bourbon
In 1734, the Bourbons of Spain took over Naples and Charles of Bourbon was crowned the King of the Two Sicilies.
In 1749, the Naples mint resumed its production of gold coins, which had been suspended exactly 100 years earlier.
In the name of Charles of Bourbon, gold coins were issued in denominations of 6, 4 and 2 ducats (see photo no. III.50). He also issued silver piastre (worth 120 grana), half-piastre, carlins and cinquine (or half-carlins), while in copper he issued the pubblica (or 3 tornesi) and the grana, as well as coins in denominations of 9.6 (= 1 tornese), 4 and 3 cavalli.
In the Palermo mint, which was active until 1758, gold once coins were issued, weighing about 4.4 grams, the weight of half a Neapolitan once (circa 8.8 grams).
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The Bourbons in Naples, 18th century AD
The Neapolitan monetary system
The Neapolitan monetary system at the start of the 18th century centred around the silver ducat, worth 10 carlins, based on a composition of 9/10 silver and 1/10 copper:
1 ducat = 10 carlins = 100 grana = 1200 cavalli
1 carlin = 10 grana = 120 cavalli
1 grana = 12 cavalli
Gold-to-silver ratio = 1:14.5
The coinage of Ferdinand IV of Naples
The coinage of Ferdinand IV of Naples was abundant, in terms of both the number of issues and the types of coin. It can be divided into three main periods: the period before the proclamation of the Parthenopean Republic in 1799; the period between the return of the King and his exile to Sicily (1805); and the period following the restoration (1815-1825).
In the first period, the Naples mint issued gold coins in denominations of 6, 4 and 2 ducats. In silver, it issued piastre, ducats, tarì and carlins.
Copper coins were also issued in abundance, consisting of many coins, including the 10 tornesi and 3 cavalli.
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The Napoleonic era
The coinage of the Napoleonic era
When Joseph Bonaparte became the King of the Two Sicilies he issued silver piastre from the Naples mint valued at 120 grana, which bore his portrait on the obverse and a coat of arms with mermaids on the reverse.
The coinage issued by Joachim Murat was considerably richer. After an initial period in which Murat continued to issue silver piastre and old-fashioned copper coins, in 1811 he introduced a French-style monetary system in Naples based on the silver franc (or lira) and divided into decimals (Law of 19 May 1811 no. 975). Based on the new monetary system, 40-franc coins were issued and, subsequently, 40- and 20-lire coins in gold (see photo no. III.61), 5-, 2- and 1-lira coins and 50-cent lira coins in silver, and smaller sub-denominations in copper.
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The Restoration of the Bourbons in Naples, 1815-1860
The coinage of the Bourbons in the 19th century
Once Ferdinand IV regained possession of his territories, he resumed issuing money using the old system in place before the arrival of the French.
On 20 April 1818, he enacted Law 1176 which abolished the legal exchange rate between the three types of metal coins and replaced them with a monometallic system based on pure silver (see photo no. III.66).
The new system was based on the silver ducat weighing 22.94 grams, with a millesimal fineness of 833, divided into 100 cents (known as grana on the continent and baiocchi in Sicily), which in turn were divided into 10 cavalli.
Gold coins issued with a fineness of 996 became exclusively fiduciary currency. The coins minted were the decupla, worth 30 ducats and weighing 37.86 grams, the quintupla, worth 15 ducats, the doppia, worth 6 ducats, and the oncetta, worth 3 ducats.
Copper coins in denominations of 10, 8, 5, 4 and 1 tornesi were issued. The issuance of grana only resumed in the reign of Francis I.
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Naples becomes part of the kingdom of Italy, 1861
Naples, mint of the Kingdom of Italy
With the plebiscites of 21 and 22 October 1860, Southern Italy became part of the State of Savoy. On 17 March 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was established.
By Royal Decree dated 17 July 1861, the Italian lira became legal tender throughout the entire kingdom.
The treaty unifying the monetary system of 24 August 1862, which established the characteristics of all the coins that could be issued in gold, silver and bronze, established a definitive system for the issue of coinage by the Italian state (see photo no. III.70).
The Naples mint suspended its operations in 1870.
The medallic history of the House of Savoy
In 1757, Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy entrusted LORENZO LAVY, an engraver at the Turin mint, with the task of designing a medallic history of his family.
The abbot FRANCESCO BERTA had the task of designing the reverses and studying the documents detailing the family's legends. With the death of Charles Emmanuel, the project was shelved. Lead patterns were made from the 77 dies already prepared and deposited at the Turin mint at the Museum of the Royal University of Turin.
In 1828, the Royal Printers of Turin published a volume illustrating the medallic history of the Royal House of Savoy. The designs were prepared by A. BOUCHERON and the engravings for the intaglio printing plates by P. PALMIERI. The work was overseen G. GALEANI NAPIONE, who, together with P. DATTA, prepared the explanatory texts and the legends.
Instead, it was only decided to produce the medals in 1865. On that occasion, a further 14 dies were added to the 77 engraved by Lavy, completing the portrait gallery of the most illustrious members of the House of Savoy and their consorts.
The numismatic studies of the 16th century
The foundations of modern numismatic science were laid in Europe in the 16th century.
An initial stage, which can be described as one of encyclopedism, often lacking scientific rigor, was followed by a long period of investigation into the materials, comparing them, where possible, to ancient sources.
One of the most notable scholars was HUBERT GOLTZ, a tireless traveler who viewed numerous coin collections throughout Europe. Although his work contained many false or hybrid pieces, his analysis was more critical and his partitioning more rational than that of other numismatic studies of the time. His Thesaurus Rei Antiquariae, published in Antwerp in 1579, includes, for example, a series of indexes that were absolutely unusual in his time. Goltz was also a skilled painter and personally prepared the drawings for his work.
Numismatic studies were also well developed in Italy in the 1500s. One of the most famous authors was FULVIO ORSINI, librarian of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and a refined and learned collector of coins, gems and ancient manuscripts. His collections are now kept at the Vatican Library and at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.