Portugal is over there on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula
in southern Europe. It is a small country, a bit smaller than the
state of Indiana with getting toward twice as many people. I find
that my almost adequate Spanish allows me to adequately read Portuguese,
but the spoken language sounds radically different and when eavesdropping
on a Brazilan conversation I can only pick out a few words here and there:
coracao, luta, futbol.
The country is about 210 miles from northern tip to southern toe, a maximum of about 65 miles wide. There is a northern region, a central, and a southern, in which are 18 districts. Two groups of islands far out in the Atlantic, the Azores and the Madeiras, are "autonomous regions." The big town up north is Porto. Lisbon is in the middle.
There were hominids in Portugal before the arrival of our species from somwhere else. A brief search of the web gave me ambiguous references to possible finds of homo erectus bones that people are arguing about, and a mention of a "neanderthal-sapiens hybrid" that the mainstream anthropologists seem not even to be deigning to attack, the assertion being so far from current orthodoxy, which is firmly "us and them" regarding neanderthals.
There were lots of homo erectus in Africa 500,000 years ago, so there is no good reason why they shouldn't have been in Iberia, but evidently they are not finding much in the way of acheulian handaxes in Portugal. Most of us are not collecting paleolithic stone anyway, are we?
No doubt about neanderthals though. They were there. In fact, it is currently hypothesized, romantically if I may so characterize, that the "last stand" of the neanderthals, so to speak, was on Gibraltar, not too far from the border in Spain.
"We" showed up in Portugal more than 50,000 years ago it seems, and were making painted and chipped art on rocks 20,000 years ago or more. An article in Wikipedia asserts that genetic studies of currently living Iberians show that a dominant factor in their heritage is over 20,000 years old, and that Portugal actually served as source for the later dispersal of those genes all over Europe.
From that point in time stone artifacts are known, becoming more common in later periods, to the point at which I have been contacted by more than one person in Portugal thinking to sell such things dug up in their backyard so they tell me. What I have seen are pictures of neolithic flakes, not the actual tools. In common "folk" tradition they think of them as votive in some way, connected with a moon goddess, but to me they are "obviously" trash from the stone tool manufacturing process.
Mesolithic and neolithic stuff is found in Portugal, stone tools, dolmens (large standing stones), rock paintings, pottery. There is not a whole lot of it, Portugal was not a population center. Essentially none is available in the "market." There is a fair amount of prehistoric Iberian material, but almost all from what is now Spain. All of it is export restricted these days.
Copper came into use around 4000 BCE, and gold at about the same time. What you see first are copper imitations of stone tools: axes resembling polished stone pieces, arrowheads shaped like flaked points. One of the articles I read on the web asserted that Iberia was the second earliest region of metalworking after the Balkans. In Europe that is, east Asia started smelting at least a millennium earlier. There is Bulgarian material of this sort available for collecting, but none from Portugal that I am aware of.
Bronze came in during the first millennium BCE, brought to northern Portugal by people the scientists are calling "proto-Celts." These immigrants had horses and a class society of sorts, and in sum they pushed aside and repressed the people who were there when they arrived. They proceeded to do business, pleasure, and ritual with their buddies up the Atlantic coast as far as Britain. Non-Celtic bronze cultures later developed in the central and southern zones, perhaps in some way imitative of the "proto-Celts," perhaps also brought in from Africa. There was maritime activity as well, extensively by Phoenicians, to a lesser degree by the Mycenaeans and Egyptians. It wasn't exactly commerce that was going on, one doesn't find manufactured stuff from those culture centers in Portugal. The foreigners came to load up raw material, and eventually to colonize.
By the start of the iron age, around 1000 BCE, there were definitely Phoenician settlements on the Mediterranean coast of Iberia. The hinterland remained in the hands of the people who by that time are regarded as full fledged Celts, accepted as indigenes, the memory of their ancient conquests of the neolithic peoples forgotten.
For purposes of this narrative you want to note that Phoenician Carthage, in Tunisia, was founded in the 9th century BCE. Carthage became a major player in the western Mediterranean in succeeding centuries, clashed with the Greeks in Sicily, and did a lot of business and settlement in Iberia. But in all of the goings and comings that proceeded the extreme west of Iberia, Portugal, was on the sidelines. No Phoenician settlements have been found on that side of the border.
Perhaps the earliest major city in Iberia was Tartessos, on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river in Spain near the Portuguese border. It was a native town, whose chief product was tin, a strategic material required for bronze manufacture, aquired either up in England or from alluvial deposits nearby. The Phoenicians built their own city nearby. They called it Gadir, the Romans later called it Gades, now it is called Cadiz. Tartessos disappeared around 600 BCE and its site is unknown today. Probably it was destroyed by the Phoenicians, possibly of the Carthaginian flavor.
The 9th century also saw the beginning of building in the Lisbon area. There is a myth that it was founded by the Phoenicians as "Alis Ubbo" (Safe Harbor), and another that "Olissipo" was founded by Ulysses. The truth seems to be that it was a small port, Celtic, native Iberian, or mixed, doing business up the coast and with England for several hundred years.
England never disappears from the story of Portugal. The Portuguese have had relations with Britain from way back then until today. When they needed help standing off an overweening Spain or France they got it from the British.
In the 7th century BCE another wave of Celts came in from the north. Meanwhile, far away in the east, the Phoenician city states were incorporated into the Persian empire. Their resources expropriated for the maintenance of that superstructure, the western colonies dwindled. Some of the vacuum was occupied by Greeks, who built settlements on the Mediterranean coast of Spain but never did much in Portugal.
By the 4th century BCE the names of individual tribes begin to be mentioned in Greek writings. Among these were the Lusitani, who lent their name to the later Roman province, and the Gallaeci, from whom was named Gallicia. A number of cities were founded on the Portuguese side in the Algarve region of the far south.
At that time the Phoenician element in Iberia was Carthaginian. The Greek element was hard pressed. Rome was called in and responded by way of Gaul. In the mid-3rd century BCE Roman troops were occupying northeastern and central Spain and Carthage was gearing up for the Punic wars, which were mainly fought in Iberia, and which they eventually lost. Iberia (the Romans called it Hispania) became Roman.
Well, Portugal was only technically Roman in the 2ns century BCE. Too far away, too hard to get to, too uncivilized. But they pushed on in their Roman manner, doggedly, taking their time, founding new cities, weaving webs of administration.
Now we get to the coins, or almost. There were a very few Iberian coins struck in the pre-Roman period. The closest to Portugal were the 3rd century BCE silver and copper coins of Gades (Cadiz). Gades was a Phoenician city, or better put, Carthaginian. The coins have Phoenician legends and are scarce or rare.
Coinage got a big boost when the Romans came. The Romans liked to get their taxes paid in money. They encouraged the local authorities to strike coins, and they did. All of these so-called "Romano-Celtiberian" coins were made in cities in what is now Spain. The coins are cute, with a rather distinctive artistic style that Picasso must have been aware of, and legends sometimes in Latin, sometimes in an evolved Phoenician called Oscan or Iberian.
At that time (2st century BCE) the Romans had Iberia divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior in the east and Hispania Ulterior in the west. The Roman writ did not extend all the way to the Atlantic, but rather faded off into the wild west that was to become Portugal. The people there, called Lusitanians at the time, found themselves sometimes in alliance with the Romans, sometimes opposed. By the middle of that century the Romans decided to stop messing around and went into Lusitania in force. After several decades the Romans were able to establish a permanent presence and Lusitania became a part of Roman Hispania Ulterior.
But no coins. Not yet.
Julius Caesar was appointed to a quaestorship (finance director, more or less) in Lusitania in 69 BC. Eight years later he was made governor of Ulterior. He fought a number of battles against restive natives, and in 60 BC was hailed as "Imperator" by his soldiers, allowing him a formal "triumph" back in Rome, which built his position for his well known later career.
Later, when Caesar was kicked out of Rome and "crossed the Rubicon," he went back to Hispania to begin the civil war that would end in his victory, then his assassination, then more war, then the ascendency of Octavian, who became Augustus and who transformed the wreckage of the old Republic into the new entity that we have come to call the "Roman Empire."
It was during the reign of Augustus that some coins finally got made in Lusitania. Augustus allowed local coins to be made all over the empire, and there were more made in Spain in his time than at any other.
The two Portuguese towns to make coins were Ebora and Pax Julia. The latter has turned into Beja in the southern region of Baixo Alentejo (in Portuguese pronounce the "J" as in English rather than as in Spanish, but soft - "zh" rather than "dj"). Pax Julian coins are rare. Ebora is probably but not certainly modern Evora, also in the south but further north, in Alto Alentejo. The uncertainty comes from the fact that there were no less than five Iberian towns named Ebora in ancient times, and all there is to go on is the coins themselves. And all they say is "Ebora."
You look in Sear's book on Greek Imperial coins at the Spanish coins of Augustus and you see all of these reasonable prices - 20 pounds, 35 pounds, the coin illustrated here is priced at 35 pounds. OK, the prices are from 1982. Triple them if you will. I did when I had one of those "helmeted sphinx" coins from Castulo a few months ago. Sold an aVF for $120, a bit cheap perhaps. There are plenty of those Castulos around, enough for everyone who might want one.
Ebora is a different story. I found only one piece offered on the web when I looked. It was on a European Ebay, described as "fair," there was a picture, it was terrible, I couldn't tell what it was. And several other pieces reported sold on Ebay many months ago, cheap prices, but no pictures, so who knows what they were. There's this guy who puts coins on Ebay with any old description he pleases. He put up a Tibetan gaden tanka described as a medieval Viking coin and sold it for $40.00! Just for example.
My people found me a wonderful picture of an Ebora coin. It comes from www.tesorillo.com, a beautiful site, you must look at it, its in Spanish, but Spanish is one of the easy languages. Try it, you'll like it.
Those are all of the ancient Portuguese coins. The Spanish mints continued to make coins through the reign of Caligula. All of them were closed during the time of Claudius and there were no more Spanish issues until the Vandals came through.
In the recent past, I remember well, because I was there on the
scene, Portugal was one of those "who cares" countries for coin collecting.
It was a poor country with a dictator who kept all the money for himself
and his buddies. There was no mass base of coin collectors there,
so prices were low, even while rare stuff was impossible.
No longer the case, is that. Portugal has a solid middle class these days, and some of them collect coins. The end of national money in favor of the euro woke up a generation of potential collectors as the stuff disappeared from public view. Overnight, more or less, Portuguese coins moved from the junk bucket and the dusty box in the back of the safe to dealer trays to gone again, this time into the collections of the collectors.
Portuguese coins are kind of hot these days.
I was contacted immediately after the appearance of the last article by a Mr. A. de Barros pointing out errors and omissions in my presentation. He reminded me that the current "Redbook" or "Bible" of Portuguese numismatics is by Gomes. I don't have it. I have Vaz, the previous standard. It'll have to do for now. This series I'm writing is, after all, a survey, not a corpus. Someone want to lend me a Gomes for a few months?
Mr. de Barros pointed out that during the reign of first Roman emperor Augustus coins were struck by several more Portuguese towns than the two I mentioned. I got my references from Sear's Greek Imperial Coins and their Values, a handy dandy 600 page beginners' book. He got his from "La Moneda Hispana" by Alvarez Burgos. The town names are: Baesuri, Balsa, Brutobriga, Dipo, Cetovion, Murtilis, Osonuba, Salacia, Sirpens. There are supposed to be some others. The products of these mints are extremely rare, one or two pieces each perhaps, sitting in Portuguese museums. Potential for collectability is low to nil.
In the weeks after the last article was submitted two indisputable Ebora coins showed up on Spanish Ebay. One, the legend in wreath type pictured last time, went for about $110.00 in VG. Another, an as or dupondius, had sacrificial implements, condition aG, went for about $50.00.
I very much appreciate the input of readers. I am no kind of expert, just a hack, I sit down and write these things on a tight schedule. Any help has to lead to a better product. Thankyou all in advance.
Back to the narrative.
The Roman Empire was a polyglot assemblage of many different political arrangements. Parts of it were conquered, other parts came by dynastic inheritance, bequests, buyouts, even by application, as in "please come in and run this country!"
The two provinces of the Iberian peninsula: Hispania Citerior of the east and south, and Hispania Ulterior of the north and west, in which was the region of Lusitania, part of which became Portugal. All of Iberia was technically Roman by the time of Julius Caesar, though the Roman presence in the far west, Portugal to be, was very light. All of it was conquered, which meant that there were no governments there that the Romans took seriously, only a bunch of "barbarians." The Romans made treaties with them the same way the paleface Americans made treaties with the Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries, which is to say "tactically." The "treaties" were generally not considered binding by the Romans who made them, ostensibly because the people they made them with were too disorganized to keep their word, so why should the Romans?
So the Romans moved in and set up Roman settlements all over the Hispanias, outside of which the Indians, I mean Hispanians, huddled in their rude huts and wandered around in the woods being wild. And the administration was entirely Roman, no native puppet governments for the overlords to hide behind, none needed. Iberia was considered part of the core territory of Rome, if rather far flung at the edge. How different from the situation in the east, where all of those little kingdoms and city states would pull out their precedential documents of the previous thousand years and wave them in the Roman's cleanshaven faces. "Look," they would explain, "this is how we did it with the Persians, with Alexander, with the Seleukids, do you want to deal, or do you want yet another hard time?"
The directly administered core went through several monetary reforms over the nearly five centuries of the Roman Empire in the west. The first reforms were consolidative, the later ones were distributive.
During the reign of Augustus silver and gold production was limited to two and then to a single mint, Lugdunum (Lyons) in Gaul. After Augustus many local mints were closed and local coinage arrangements were suppressed. By the end of the reign of Claudius there were only two mints operating in the west. In succeeding centuries a number of western mints opened and closed, many of them serving the needs of factions in the various succession wars. As far as I can tell none of them were in the Hispanias. That leads me to the conclusion, which I put out here for refutation by the better informed, that no coins were struck in the Iberian peninsula from about 40 CE to about 480 CE. More or less, give or take a few decades, maybe.
It took a couple of centuries of mismanagement, several internal wars, constant and growing pressure from outside to extinguish the imperial government in the west. By the end of the 5th century CE most of continental western Europe had been overrun by migrating tribes. The migration was different from what we experience today. Back then it was more like flocks of birds. All of them, the whole tribe, would pick up and move. They're coming, they're coming, here they are. What are we going to do?
The Romans tried all the usual gambits. They fought, they negotiated, they expelled, they gave in with conditions, they bribed (all those late Roman gold solidi, that's what they were for). Nothing worked in the end. Europe became full of newcomers in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Romans were swamped, or at least the administration was.
Waves of mostly Germanic migrants washed over Europe from the Balkans to the Atlantic. Some, from the Roman point of view, were nicer than others, but they were all rude, crude, foreign, and, eventually, irresistable.
Two waves and a wavelet were pertinent to Iberia: the Vandals and Alans, the Suevi, and the Visigoths.
The Vandals and Suevi were Germanic, and came from "up north." The Alans were Iranian, and came from "east." During Roman imperial times they were located east of the Rhine, the territory of the Suevi known today as Swabia. All three groups crossed that river in 406 and continued westward into Gaul. While the Vandals and their allies the Alans got hung up in fighting with the Franks and Romans, the Suevi proceeded south and west into Iberia, where they encountered a political vacuum, the Roman administration having substantially broken down save for the Mediterranean coast.
The Suevi passed through northern Spain all the way to Gallaecia, which is modern Galicia and northern Portugal. They settled there, declared fealty to Rome, and were granted "foederati" status, which means what it sounds like, by the emperor Honorius. In practice the Romans didn't do anything much for the Suevi, and the Suevi didn't do much for Rome, but they were formal allies. The Suevi capital was the modern city of Braga in northern Portugal.
There are Suevi coins, late 5th century gold solidi imitating those of Honorius, a silver coin with the emperor's name obverse and that of the Suevi king on reverse, early 6th century gold tremisses with reverse types "evolved" from the Roman. They are all extremely rare, only a few hundred Suevi coins of all types are known to exist.
Meanwhile, back in Gaul, the Vandals and Alans fought their way through the Franks in Gaul and followed the Suevi south into Iberia, crossing the Pyrennees in 409 CE. Like the Suevi, Vandals and Alans both were assigned lands and declared foederati. About 15 years later, though, the Visigoths showed up in Spain. They got there on their own but had the blessing of Rome on the theory that the Visigoths were going to take back Iberia for the empire. Thought the "foederated" Vandals and Alans were holding it in trust for the glory of Rome. Sic transit, etc.
Ha to that, at any rate. The Visigoths took most of Iberia and kept it along with most of Gaul. They were no friends of Rome.
In Iberia most of the Alans and almost all of the Vandals were driven south into North Africa, where they spread out along the coast. The Vandals set up an administration in Carthage, did normal bureaucratic things like pass laws, collect taxes, strike coins, until they were conquered by the Byzantines about a hundred years later. In their heyday the invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 455 CE. Their allies the Alans lost their coherence and disappeared.
Back in Iberia the Visigoths consolidated their power, pushing the Suevi into a shrinking northwestern domain and finally extinguishing them in 585 CE. The name "Visigoth" is kind of interesting. A contemporary Roman writer, Cassiodorus, interpreted "Ostrogoth" as "East Goth" and Visigoth therefore as "West Goth." Apparently this usage, though true, was not correct. "Ostro" supposedly meant "shiny," and possibly refers to blond hair. "Visi" might refer to wisdom and/or nobility. Never mind. Doesn't matter. Ostrogoths in Italy, Visigoths in Spain.
In 507 the Franks drove the Visigoths out of Gaul, leaving them only Iberia. The Visigoths set up their new capital in Barcelona and then moved it to Toledo. They set up a bureaucratic government in the broadly normal style: local administrators send written reports to center, said reports filed, center issues orders, etc. There were religious problems both internally and externally, interference from the Byzantines. It ended in 711, when the Muslim Arabs invaded from North Africa.
The Visigothic coinage was fairly extensive. About 20 kings struck at more than 30 Iberian mints, including several in what is now Portugal. All, more or less, of the coinage is gold as far as can be determined, and of a single denomination, the tremissis, or third of a solidus. The coins are about 15mm in diameter, half dime size, and weigh a bit more than a gram. Generically Visigoth coins are "common," with some thousands of specimens known. As I write this there are six or so showing up for sale on Google, most on various national Ebays, prices in the $600-1000 range.
In my opinion the Visigothic coins are remarkable for their artwork. Evidently I'm not alone. Plenty of comments out there about the things, references to Picasso. Maybe so, and I mentioned Picasso in relation to ancient Iberian coins last month. Hard to believe the relationship is nationalistically genetic, much simpler to assume that Picasso had actually seen these coins at some early point in his life. For the Visigoths I am perhaps reminded more of Miro than Mr. P. For the "genetic artistry" aspect one would strain to produce Velasquez from the Visigothic ancestor, inclining perhaps in the cultural realm towards divine creationism.
Where was I? Ah, yes, the early Visigothic gold tremisses had a profile bust like most imperial tremisses. Later on they went to facing busts on both sides. Whose face is on the "other" side is debatable. All of the devices are simple sketches using dots and lines. There is no modelling at all. The style is of astonishing "crudity," but the workmanship is astonishingly excellent. The dies are deeply cut, legends are readable, planchets are round and even, coins are well. They so striking that, when pictured, they are almost always enlarged, so that one supposes that one is looking at a nickel sized solidus that one can easily hold in one's hand rather than a skimpy tremissis, easily bent, easily dropped and lost in the shag rug that your wife has been wanting to get rid of for the last twenty years.
Though the Visigoths coined at many mints, most of the available coins are from their capitals: Barcelona for the early kings, Toledo for the later ones. I've seen pictures of a coin from Braga in Portugal. Well, I wonder, is there anyone out there trying to assemble a Visigoth king set? Would look nice in a custom Capital holder, yes? I wonder, if one started now, could such a set be completed, oh, ever? But if one wanted to put together a set of all the mints...
Forget about it, I think.
The story of the Muslim invasion begins with an invitation. The Visigoth kings had started out as Arians, Christians who had a different take on the Trinity, the exact manner of birth of Jesus, and several other aspects of doctrine that people were killing each other about back then. About halfway through the history of Visigothic Iberia the Catholics got the upper hand, and, as was the Catholic habit at the time, they persecuted and banished those who were not them. Die hard Arians, some of them nobles with armies, and their allies the Jews, fled south. Seeking aid for a planned insurgency, they looked to Africa, which had just been conquered from the Byzantines by those rude and crude newcomers, the Muslim Arabs. Perhaps those new guys would lend a hand?
Well, yes, they would. The Muslims landed a fleet in 711. In seven years they conquered nearly all of Iberia. I'll discuss them next time.
I think it does not hurt, in this day and age, under these circumstances,
to rehearse over and over again the origins and early history of Islam.
This is to be an article about the coins of Portugal, and in sequence we are now at the period of Islam in Iberia, a total of 800 years from the first landing of the Muslim soldiers, invited in at the behest of a Visigothic faction, to the expulsion of the last of them in the momentous year 1492. In far flung Portugal the Muslim interlude was somewhat shorter, about 500 years. Blink of the eye in geological terms, a mere fifteen generations, as generations went back then, maybe twenty. As most of us moderns are aware, with our paltry 5 or 6 or 7 generations of family history, 15 generations is more or less forever, in terms of life experience. Dim mists of antiquity. But, I hasten to remind, through all those centuries of Iberian Islam the Christians did not forget that Iberia had once been theirs. And today there are Muslims who remember, as clearly as it were yesterday, that it had once been theirs.
So, in the 7th century CE, way over in Arabia, there was the spice trade, and the metals trade, and the cloth trade, and the slave trade. Politically it was tribal, what we see today in the region: top families, middles, lows. Come to think of it, that's kind of how it is everywhere, isn't it? Sort of. Anyway, it was a religious free-for-all in the old pagan manner. I have my god, you have yours, who cares? In Mecca there was a central shrine with a whole bunch of statues (idols) of different gods and goddesses. Its still there, called the Ka'aba, but all the statues are gone. There were also Jews and Christians and Zoroastrians, locals who had lived in Arabia for generations, whole tribes of them. Hindus and Buddhists passed through.
Muhammad was a mid-level businessman, member of a mid-level tribe. He was the kind of guy who came to spend most of his time wondering what it was all about, and when he was middle aged he started spending many of his nights alone in a cave. One assumes, given that it was the 7th century, that he was sitting there in the dark, and if there was a light it was a little oil lamp.
So one night there he was in the cave and he had an overwhelming experience in which an immense voice engulfed him and recited poetry. He went home all shook up, went back again, it happened again, kept happening. He changed, the message of the voice changed, started telling him to do things, mostly involving preaching and religious observance. After a while he figured out that he was supposed to start a religion. First he thought he was supposed to be some kind of Jew, but no, he was informed, this is new, it is the real thing, I told them before but they got it wrong, so I'm going to tell the world one more time. You're the guy, said the voice, go tell them.
So he did. And people listened. More and more over years and years. His preaching, the public worship and communitarianism of his followers caused a ruckus in the culture and politics of Arabia, opposition from the powers that were, then hostility, then violence. He had to leave Mecca, ran away to Medina, which became his city. He and his people responded to the violence of the Meccans with violence of their own. They were good at it. They won. Muhammad came back to Mecca as a negotiated conqueror. He cleaned the idols out of the Ka'aba, Islam became the thing to be. If you wanted to live in Mecca you were going to be a Muslim.
Muhammad's religion evolved during his life, he died without an heir, or any sons for that matter, and without leaving any instructions to his followers about what to do. The interested parties discussed the next step, did not agree, came to blows, the community of Muslims started to break up. Some of those who had been close to Muhammad decided that the community should be held together by force. Others didn't, but when someone won't fight and someone else will there's going to be a fight. There was.
The errant Muslims were rounded up and given a set of principles and practices to adhere to, on pain of death no less. The ones who refused did not survive. The Muslims having been united, non-Muslims were expelled from Arabia. The leaders of the movement thought "Why stop here?"
They didn't. Muslim armies moved out into the surrounding regions. Not all of them, just the interesting ones, the ones with the major commerce. They did not, for example, go south and west into Somalia. They went north and east into Palestine and Syria and Iraq, and then on into Iran, and then Afghanistan. And they went north and west into Egypt, then Libya, then Tunis (Carthage), then Morocco, 2500 miles away. They tried Anatolia, but that was too difficult.
These Muslim armies were very small organizations and those strings of victories were seen for what they were, which was miracles. What's wrong with us, asked the Byzantines, that those ragtag barbarians keep beating us? They couldn't figure it out. No one ever has. Miracle.
Actually, the process of conquest from outside was described perfectly by a 14th century Arab scholar. I'll come back to him in a bit.
The Muslim "tide" reached the Atlantic ocean about eight decades after Muhammad fled to Medina from Mecca in 622 CE. A thin band of Islam all along the southern Mediterranean. Broken Byzantine bureaucracies, Christians all over the place. Back of beyond, in the hinterland deserts and mountains were Berbers who had been there "forever."
And then there was Iberia. The Arabs were sitting there in Morocco, feeling their oats, when they encountered a group of refugees from Andalus, as they called Iberia. These refugees were a group of Visigothic nobles and their hangers-on. They were fleeing religious persecution and they wanted their stuff back. The Arabs took them in, listened to their story, decided to help. It was something to do, looked more interesting than messing around with the Berbers to the south, who were always running away into the desert.
In 711 CE the first Arab soldiers got off their boats on Andalusian soil. They had all success and no failures. The Visigoths just couldn't get it together. The Arabs took almost all of Iberia in seven years. The Christians held on only in Galicia in the far northwest. The rest of it became part of the 'Alam al-Islam, the world of the Muslims.
You might be wondering, this being a coin newspaper, when we're going to get to the coins. Soon. And what this all has to do with Portuguese coins. The Arabs actually did make a few coins in Portugal. Just a few. Right at the end of their run. Bear with me please.
At the time of the Muslim conquest of Iberia all of Islam was united under the rule of the caliph in Damascus. The first caliph had been chosen by the associates of Muhammad after his death, and the second as well, who was assassinated. By the third politics had entered the picture in a serious way, he too was assassinated. The fourth was Ali, revered by the Shiites, also murdered and then the caliphate was taken by a general, never mind his personal name, but his family was the Umayya. He founded a dynasty known as the Umayyads, handing the caliphate to his descendents for a century. The conquest of Iberia took place under the Umayyads. You need to know this.
I will now digress and bring up that 14th century Arab scholar. He is known to posterity as Ibn Khaldun, and is reckoned as the first sociologist. He developed, from a study of the past, a set of processes he called something like "the law of history." It goes like this:
People somewhere build up a culture with creature comforts. When the comfort level reaches a certain point they get soft and pleasure loving. Outside the gates the warlike barbarians roam, sharpening their warlike skills, disdaining comfort and pleasure. At some point a charismatic leader develops out there in the wilderness and unites the barbarians, who rampage into the culture zone and overwhelm it. The barbarian leader becomes king of the city, hands it on to his son, who is also hard and mean, having been raised on the outside, but maybe not quite as much as the old man. The son lacks some of the charisma of the father, because all the old generals knew him when he was still in diapers. The generals support him out of loyalty to the old man, but the son and his buddies have to prove themselves so they change the winning formula, sometimes for reasons perhaps callow. The footsoldiers don't know much about the son and vice versa.
The grandson, however, has been raised in the palace. He may be mean, but he's soft, and he does not know the people much, nor they him. He spends his time dealing with bureaucrats and court intrigue, and does not have that fire in the belly caused by hunger and desire. All his desires are sated at the moment of their formation.
The dynasty rots. Bureaucrats become dynasts. Provinces break away. Out there in the desert the barbarians await their next charismatic leader.
Sound familiar? Back then these processes took generations to play out. Nowadays, with faster communication, "dynasties" rise and fall in a few decades, maybe less.
So, by 718 the Arab conquest of Iberia was complete. In 733 a revolt against the Umayyads began in Iraq. The Umayyad family had obeyed the law of history, the last few caliphs being mean and incompetent. The rebels won out and inaugurated the Abbasid dynasty. Some of the Umayyads escaped. They went to Iberia, where they set up shop. The world of Islam was divided in two, the caliphate, moved from Damascus to Baghdad, and an independent emirate in Spain. The emirate consolidated and stabilized. After 150 years the emir adopted the title of caliph, so then there were two of them.
Pre-Islamic Arabia had very little in the way of coinage, but the conquered territories had been using them for at least a millennia, and the Arabs immediately took to them for reasons both economic and political. Coins were, until the late 19th century, the preeminent vehicle of propaganda. For the Muslims they were a great vehicle for spreading their ideas77. Christian coins had crosses, Muslim coins had the profession of faith. They are great for historians too; most of them having both date and mint written right there on the coins.
The Umayyads had standardized their gold and silver coinage about a decade before the conquest of Iberia, and when they fled to Spain they took their coinage operation with them. They struck silver dirhams, wider than a quarter but thinner, and a few gold dinars, the word adapted from the old Roman silver denarius, the equivalent of the contemporary Byzantine solidus. Mint name was "Andalus," which meant all of Iberia. The actual mint was in the city of Cordoba, with some coins struck at a branch mint at the nearby palace of Zahra.
Early in the 11th century the dynasty of the Spanish Umayyads lost its oomph and Muslim Iberia fell apart into local governments. Collectively these kinglets are described in Arabic as Muluk al-Tawaif, in Spanish as Reyes Taifas, both terms translating as "party" or "faction" kings. In today's terminology we would call them local warlords. A bunch of them issued coins. Some of the coins, as you might expect, are excessively rare. Guy is in charge of a couple of hundred soldiers, takes over a town of mud huts, calls himself a king, issues a couple hundred coins for bragging purposes. Few years later he's gone.
Every now and then a coin turns up of a previously unknown party king. So far, I think, none of the post-Umayyad party kings were in Portugal in particular.
During the Umayyad centuries North Africa was an active player in the regional game. Local emirs had broken with the Abassids shortly after the Umayyads set up in Iberia. Egypt broke away with the founding of the Shiite Fatimid caliphate early in the 10th century CE and that was basically all of Islamic Africa.
In the mid-11th century a religious reform movement arose amongst the Berbers of southern Morocco. It became political and military and quickly took over Morocco. We call them the Almoravids. In a reprise of the 8th century, they were invited to intervene in the squabbles of the party kings, entered Iberia in 1086, conquered and extinguished most of the warlords within a decade. They struck a few coins in Iberia and deteriorated according to Ibn Khaldun's law of history in about 60 years. The primary pressure for them was yet another religious movement, that of the Almohades. In the wake of Almoravid dissolution another group of party kings came briefly into being, with a few coins, mostly rare testifying to their brief moment in the Iberian sun. One line of them coined some extremely rare pieces in the Portuguese town of Silves between 1145-57.
The Almoravids had a reputation as somewhat live-and-let-live. The Almohades were the opposite. Puritans, intolerant. They took Morocco and most of Iberia in the mid-12th century. They lasted about a century there, then were pushed out by resurgent Christians.
If you want to collect Almohad coins you can do it. There are generically common square silver dirhams, the Moroccan versions fairly cheap, and very nice looking gold coins, not uncommon, but not so cheap. Issues from Spanish mints are scarcer and more expensive. Silver and gold imitations by Christian neighboring enemies are available. The imitations without crosses have a similar availability and price profile to the originals. A few, with crosses, cost arms and legs (so to speak).
In the wake of the departure of the Almohades yet another group of party kings emerged briefly, most to be extinguished in short order by the advancing Christian reconquista. In this group of warlords was one who has provided the only collectable coin of Muslim Portugal. The guy's name was Musa bin Muhammad, dates were 1234-62. He issued a square dirham styling himself "Amir al-Gharb." Al-Gharb means "the west," in Portuguese it is Algarve, the southernmost region of modern Portugal. The mint was probably in Silves. Steve Album told me that the current price is in the $200.00 range.
At the time this coin was issued northern Portugal had been reconquered by Christians for a bit more than a century. Shortly after its issue the southern zone was conquered as well. That process, and the coins thereof, will be the subject of the next instalment.
I spent parts of several days last month looking on the web for
coins of 12th and 13th century Christian Portugal to buy. I didn't
find any. I didn't even find any pictures. Finally, this morning
(12/27/06), I found a coin in my time frame on Ebay, I will bid on it,
the auction will end after the deadline for this article. It is a
crummy little billon coin, thin, crude. I pondered that absence.
The conclusion I came to was that early Christian Portugal was dirt poor
and they didn't make many coins. We all knew that, didn't we?
The history of the Iberian reconquista is mostly about scrubby bands of soldiers led by grubby warlords fighting over mud huts and scrawny flocks of animals. There was a distinct lack of commerce in the interior of the peninsula in those centuries. The business was along the coasts, trading out raw materials, bringing back technology and luxuries to the merchant and ruling classes who were doing the business in the first place. Quite a high degree of development occurred in the power centers of the Muslim zone. Cordoba, the seat of the Umayyad amirs (later caliphs) had amenities like street lights, municipal baths, trash collection, a university, a manuscript production industry.
The early Muslims were into urban planning. Their capital cities were the most comfortable places in the world at the time. The European high society types were living in comparative hovels. Muslim planning did not extend outside the city walls, however, and the peasants of Islam slept very close to the earth, just like all the other peasants of the world.
The Muslim conquest of the 8th century got all the way into southern France. They were kicked out after a few decades. The Christians of Iberia were not pushed out entirely. They held on in the far northwest. The situation was dicey for a number of decades and then what was left of Christian Iberia settled down for a few centuries of squalid poverty.
The Muslim zone deteriorated due to the normal inherent problems of dynastic government: unfortunate successions and court corruption. It was conquered from Morocco by two successive Muslim religious movements, each of which also deteriorated for the same reasons. Each time the Muslim governments dissolved the Christians cleverly took advantage of the situation and siezed some territory, until by the 12th century or so they had about half of the Iberian peninsula. During the last disintegration in the 13th century there was no new group of religious fanatics come storming out of Africa to save them, and the Christians got all but a few nubs of southernmost coastal Spain, the last of them finally extinguished in 1492.
As the Christians acquired actual Iberian cities like Barcelona and Toledo they started acquiring already existing economic activity, including trade, which they really didn't do much of in the so-called "dark ages," during which all of the "real" business was done in the World of Islam The Christians "quickly" got pretty good at it.
Business back then was mostly done in cash, if not in barter, with a bit of very private banking. Cash was gold, silver, or copper, each metal doing the work of a particular economic level. Copper was what you bought your eggs with. Silver was to pay your skilled labor with. Gold was for buying slaves, fighting wars, doing major wholesale.
It is possible to play various games with specie currency if you want to, have to, or can. The major game categories are setting exchange rates and debasement. The goal of the games is usually to disadvantage someone and advantage someone else. Not infrequently the issuing authority finds itself forced to play a game by dint of outside pressure or sheer poverty.
Usually the games are structured so that the chumps are either bottom end copper people or lower middle class silver people. The gold people usually have loud enough voices to keep their swag from getting touched. In the World of Islam, and in the Ancient World, for example, there were plenty of examples of debased or shrunken silver coins, but the gold was almost always pure as could be.
Not necessarily so in the reconquered Christian zones of Iberia. The Muslim money was consistently better than the Christian stuff, especially the gold, and it circulated freely in the Christian towns. When, in the course of the reconquista, and occasionally in response to pressure from the church, the supply of Muslim gold got tight, local imitations were produced. The imitations ranged from "can't tell the difference" through mere misspellings to changed Arabic legends, to things with Latin letters, legends, crosses. And, usually, the Christian versions of the Arab coins were a trifle light or a trifle base, or both. Even the gold. Poverty at work there. Not as much to work with.
The Christians called their imitation Muslim gold coins "morabitini," singular morabitino, from the Almoravids, whose originals they were copying. In the course of time the name morphed into "maravedi," which became a standard Spanish denomination and was debased over several centuries until it ended up as a copper coin. The most common of the morabitini are very rare. They were made all over Christian Iberia. Portuguese versions are extremely rare.
Well, let's look at Portugal from the Reconquista perspective. The last of the Visigoths were holed up in Asturias, which is northwestern Spain. In the late 8th century they pulled all the Christians they could out of southern Galicia and northern Portugal, leaving the region substantially depopulated. When the Arabs did not move in settlers in any kind of quantity the Christians gradually moved back. In due course soldiers came in to protect (or "protect") them, and then bureaucrats to govern them.
The top level of control back then was the warlord network we call the feudal system. They did protection for the "common" people and the merchants and in return they got cuts of the action. There was a chain of responsibility from the count of the county to the emperor of the empire.
In the 9th century there was a king of Asturias and a count of "Portucale" vassal to Asturias. In the 10th century Asturias expanded east and south and became Leon. Further expansion resulted in a breakaway of border areas, the east becoming Castile and the south Galicia. Castile was into reconquest and campaigned in northern and central Portugal, taking the city of Coimbra in 1064 and creating a county. Lisbon was briefly overcome but was relieved by the Almoravids. Castile came back with an army of French crusaders, and the top half of Portugal (but not Lisbon) was definitively taken by the Christians. A French knight, Henry of Burgundy, married Teresa, daughter of the king of Castile, who gave them the county of "Portugal," which they ruled autonomously.
Henry died in 1112. The king of Castile, Alfonso II, had died 3 years before. Both Portugal and Castile were then ruled by the widowed wives. The women did not get along and fought over territory among other things. Nobles on both sides grumbled for reasons both sexist and practical, both queens being somewhat headstrong and incompetent. The Castilian died in 1126, Portuguese Teresa was pushed aside in favor of her son, Afonso Henriques. Mother and son fought a short war. Son won.
Afonso set up an administration in Coimbra and proceeded to campaign southward against the "Moors." He won a major battle at Ourique, in southern Portugal, in 1139. His forces were heavily outnumbered, but the Muslims were a weak force cobbled together from a bunch of "party kings" (warlords). According to the propaganda of the victor, five of those petty kings were slain during the fighting. The image of their shields, arranged as a cross, was adopted by Afonso as his heraldry, and this emblem has become the Portuguese national arms.
Immediately after the battle he arranged to have himself declared king of Portugal. A few decades of mopping up followed during which Lisbon, among other cities, was taken. In 1179, with all but the southernmost region in his hands, Afonso was recognized as king of Portugal by the pope.
Coins. I think I would not go so far as to claim that there were no coins issued in northern Portugal before the crowning of Afonso I, but I have not seen them. The tradtional "first coins of Portugal" are the aforementioned crummy billon dinheiros of the first king, Afonso. There are several different types, all describing him as king, also half-sized mealhas. They are rare, generally not to be found, four figures or more if they were to be.
From this point things get "normal" from a numismatic point of view. Afonso I was succeeded by his son, Sancho I, ruled 1185-1211. Sancho fought the Muslims in the south, winning some then losing when the Almohades came on the scene. Then he got involved in an eight year war with the kingdom of Castile & Leon. His last decade was peaceful and prosperous, save for an argument with the papacy that ended with his abdication.
Sancho's coinage continued the billon dinheiro and mealha denominations of his father and added gold morabitini with the entirely European type of a mounted knight. The 5-shields of Portugal appear for the first time on his coins. The billons are rare at best. Availability of the gold is close to nil. I don't think I've ever seen one.
Before his retirement to a monastery for the last year of his life Sancho had granted enoromous estates to his various children, these holdings to be retained tax exempt and free. This thought of taking care of the kids at the expense of the country has been one of the flaws of dynastic government since forever. He also had to make substantial concessions to the church. Sancho's successor, Afonso II, 1211-23, passed most of his reign fighting with his siblings to get their property back into the national scheme. He was only partially successful, and had to endure intervention from Leon. He tussled with the church too over property and revenue, and was excommunicated for his temerity. When the king is under a ban his country is too, an unpleasant situation for the faithful who died in that time. The ban was only lifted after his death.
The coinage of Afonso II continued the general scheme of his father and grandfather. There were gold morabitini and billon dinheiros. Both are a bit reduced in size. Mealhas were not produced. I suppose there is a possibility of finding one of his dinheiros. Good luck even finding a gold to look at, let alone buy.
The next king was 13 years old when crowned. Sancho II, 1223-48, was under the thumb of a church led regency committee that fired the old anti-clerical ministers and arranged an unequal alliance with Castile. Sancho attained majority in 1227 and immediately rehired the old guard. He campaigned in the south, pushing the Muslims out of Alentejo and parts of Algarve. Arguments with the church led to another interdiction. Sancho submitted, but the Portuguese bishops had been permanently alienated when he took back his father's ministers, and when Sancho married a Castilian lady they used this "commerce with the enemy" to foment a rebellion with a brother, Afonso, as figurehead. The papacy came in on the side of the rebels, and after a year of war Sancho was driven out, retired to a Spanish monaster. Two years later he was dead.
The coins, once again, were the extremely rare gold morabitino and the rare billon dinheiro. There is an early type dinheiro with a shield type obverse and a later series with four of the five Moorish shields, the fifth reduced to a central dot, hanging loose in the field. The coin I found on Ebay is one of his dinheiros. I'll let you know what it went for next month.
There are many subvarieties of lettering and punctuation in the coinage of Sancho II. Scholars argue about these varieties, do they represent privy marks or something, or not? Probably they do. Coinage is important to the people who make it. They tend not to do things by accident. They tend to tell the hired diesinkers exactly what to do.
There is one more ruler in the "early coinage of Portugal" series, an interesting character with a boring name, Afonso III, 1248-79. Coming to power as a result of that rebellion fomented by the Portuguese bishops, he quickly showed himself to be an independent actor by kicking the Muslims out of Algarve. This annoyed Castile, which thought it had a claim there, and a brief war ensued. Afonso concluded this unpleasantness by agreeing to wed an illegimate daughter of the Castilian king, which I guess proved that Castile didn't care all that much about Algave anyway, not actually having any presence there at all.
There was a wrinkle in that marriage scheme though. That was that Afonso was, uh, still married to his, um, first wife, who was, you know, sort of still alive. That was kind of a problem, in a) that the celebration of the wedding was not sanctified by the church, which in that time and place meant it didn't happen, b) therefore the king and his strumpet were immediately and automatically excommunicated, c) and therefore the entire nation of Portugal was too. This was 1254.
King and country hung tough though, and in 1262, to make a long story short, the pope granted a divorce on the old marriage (no children) and gave the nod on the new one. As a sort of belated wedding gift Castile renounced Algarve and with that modern Portugal was complete.
For coins of Afonso III there are billon dinheiros and that's all. No gold - money was tight. Again there are all these minor varieties that are probably privy marks. During one of the national assemblies representatives of the merchant guilds put through a resolution denouncing billon and demanding silver, but nothing happened in the real world. Money was tight. Where, asked the king, was the silver supposed to come from.
The answer, as it happened, was, in the late 13th century, about to be given, allowing larger silver coins to be made in Europe for essentially the first time since ancient Greece. Good point to start with next time.
First some old business. Recall from last month I told you
about a 13th century Portuguese coin I found on Ebay, the only one that
old available (anywhere?) on the web during the several weeks I was looking.
I bought that coin for $71.00 and considered it a bargain. I will
sell it for, well, more. It is much rarer than, say, contemporary
English pennies, nice examples of which go for about the same. Contemporary
Spanish coins go for less than half the price.
I think it would be useful at this point to rehearse the various stages of numismatic development in Europe from the end of the Roman empire to, well, why not take it up to today? It’s pertinent. Then we can get back to the king list: their foibles and their coins.
In a given time frame a nation’s coinage will be influenced by several factors: among which the needs of commerce both internal and external, the ambitions and requirements of the rulers, the general availability of portable value (money). In the last century of Rome and the pre-Islamic centuries of Byzantium silver-using middle class commerce was allowed to wither, copper using peasants enserfed legally or circumstantially, sometimes bound so tightly as to not need money at all, the ruling classes conducting their business in gold as usual. The coinage reflects this: no silver. The silver zone was over east in those days, in Sasanian Iran, an entrepreneurial society that coined almost exclusively in silver. East of Iran gold and copper began again, continuing to China, where they were doing something rather different. The Arabs took over Iran late in the 7th century and adopted that entrepreneurial posture and extended it throughout the zone of their conquests, which extended from Spain to India, leaving Europe as a more or less non-monetary barbarian zone, more or less on a level with sub-Saharan Africa.
Contact between the Europeans and the Arabs created jealousy on the part of the Europeans for the obviously higher standard of living in the Muslim zone, at least in the Muslim cities. In due course the Europeans started to create a merchant class and the tools of that trade to go with it. That tool was silver coinage, an evolved version of the Roman denarius, “denaro” in the Romance language zone, “penny” in the Germanic zone, and of course today that coin is our “dime.”
The full fineness silver penny went a bit more than 2 to the “standard” Islamic dirham, but supply problems in various places and times caused shrinkage, debasement, or both. Rich countries like England could put of high quality money, scrubby countries like Portugal had to work with lightweight billon.
I don’t want to get into the various factors that led to the development of the Crusades, but the economic result was a forced increase of activity in Europe. The growth required more coinage, and in due course a larger silver coin was produced, first in Italy, then everywhere. The coin was equivalent to 4 fine pennies or 12 base denari, called “grosso,” “groschen,”groat,” depending on where it was used. This groschen period started in the 13th century.
The early 14th century experienced the black death, which acted kind of like a war but without the property damage. There was a hit, then the economy got up, dusted itself off, and got back to work, harder than ever. The resurgent middle economy required a yet larger silver coin, and “shillings” came into use.
Continued middle class development developed a need for the silver dollar by the 15th century. They actually were able to make some of them in the late 1400s as a result of the discovery of some minable deposits in eastern central Europe. Then in the 16th century they found all of that silver in the western hemisphere and they went hog-wild with silver dollars for about 400 years. They had so much silver they didn’t know what to do with it. “I know”, said someone, “let’s have some big wars.” So they did.
It was more complicated of course, but essentially that is what happened.
All of that money poured into destruction created inflation. The inflation was dealt with over and over by debasing the middle class money. After the middle class was sufficiently ruined for a couple of decades there was a “reform” that brought back better money for a while.
The inflation and contraction of the silver money kept happening until the 19th century, when, as a result of the California, Australian, South African, and Alaskan gold rushes, there got to be “too much” gold relative to silver. Silver went up so high that countries had to stop making silver dollars. They perforce went on the “gold standard,” making up grammatically correct explanations as to why that was a good idea.
The gold standard “worked,” or seemed to, until World War I. In the landscape of debt in its aftermath the whole world went off the gold standard, using the metal for hoarding private and public. Silver got pretty shaky too, though it didn’t hit the wall until after World War II. By 1950 most of the world had sworn off precious metal money, and by 1970 or so the entire world was using tokens and paper.
From tokens we have moved on to credit. Now when the powers that be want to soak the middle class they do it with tax policy, which is essentially credit management on the public side.
That’s the economic history of the west that has become the history of the world for the past 1500 years.
My last article ended at the close of the 13th century in Portugal. The money was a smattering of little billon denaros, pennies if you will, and maybe a few gold coins, more for purposes of prestige than for any kind of commerce. They just were not doing a lot of business in Portugal at that time. Hardscrabble agriculture, trade with the Muslim enemies in Iberia and perhaps in Africa, some squabbly business mixed with internecine warfare against the Spanish neighbors, and a bit of that ancient maritime trade with England.
The previously discussed sometime bigamist king, Afonso III, was succeeded in 1279 by Dinis I. His 46 years of mostly peaceful rule were mostly progressive and consolidative and he left the country better than he found it. The border was fixed in 1297 by a treaty with Castile-Leon and has remained where it was to this day. His coinage continued the dineros of his predecessors and they are the same little billon things, ugly and hard to get. He struck no gold coins that we know of, but he did make the first large silver coin of Portugal, called “tornes” after the contemporary French gros tournois, whose reverse it emulated. The coin seems to be rare to the point of unavailability.
Denis conducted diplomacy-by-marriage with neighboring Castile-Leon. His ancestors had done the same, his successors would as well, this would cause problems in the 16th century. He produced offspring with people other than his wife, in particular a boy named Afonso Sanches, who became known as his favorite. When Denis died in 1325 his successor, the legitimate son known as Afonso IV, banished Afonso Sanches to Castile, where he plotted and schemed. Two unsuccessful attempts at invasion came to naught, and a peace treaty was arranged. Afonso IV married a royal Castilian according to the tradition, a daughter was produced, she was married to the king of Castile when she came of age. The king turned out to be a jerk who publicly abused his wife. Afonso became irritated enough to go to war against Castile. It took 4 years to calm things down. The story goes that the Portuguese wife played a key role in the peace by saying things like “It wasn’t that bad,” he’s changed,” “he’s really nice otherwise,” and so forth. Anyway, the war ended.
The spouse abuser king of Castile was succeeded by Pedro the Cruel, who was worse. Civil war developed in Castile, with wealthy refugees setting up in Portugal, where they began hanging around at court, conducting intrigue and bribery. Things got touchy when the daughter of one of them became the lover of the Portuguese heir, Pedro, having several children by him. The kids were healthy and strapping, while the legitimate heir, Fernando, was weak and unhealthy. When Pedro’s wife died he announced his intention to marry the Spanish mistress.
King Afonso tried to resolve the situation by having the Castilian lover murdered. Bad decision, it turned out. Such decisions usually are. Pedro gathered an army and went on a rampage for a couple of years. Then things settled down. Then Afonso died in 1357. Noteworthy developments during his reign were government support for a commercial fleet and a navy to protect it, and the first voyages of discovery.
Afonso’s coinage consisted of a no-nonsense return to billon dinheiros only, no fancy silver coins and there had been no gold for a century. Availability of those dinheiros is no better than for his predecessors. Hard to find.
Pedro I ruled for 10 years, continued the centralizing policy of his father, and worked to limit the scope of independent activity of the church. He apparently expended much energy on the punishment of the murderers of his mistress and the veneration of her memory. His coinage consists of dinheiros, even rarer than those of the other kings of this period, and a couple of impossible to obtain gold doblas. The doblas were made in emulation of the rare Spanish versions, themselves struck in me-too fashion in response to the excellent and moderately common double dinars of the Almohades.
Pedro was followed by that unhealthy legitimate son, Fernando I, in 1367. Two years in he put forth a claim to the newly vacant throne of Castile. There were other claimants as well, including the English John of Gaunt. Much palaver and a bit of inconclusive warfare over several years produced, oh, pretty much nothing. In one of the early “settlements” Fernando was supposed to marry a Castilian royal, but, following the family tradition, fell in love and married someone else. Later on the daughter of that union, Beatriz, was pledged to a son of the Castilian king, and this was to unite the two countries. She did indeed marry him, but the Portuguese refused to honor the union clause.
During the reign of Fernando an economic revolution took place in the general European coinage. That revolution consisted essentially of the implementation of a range of denominations on a trimetallic scheme consisting of fine gold, fine silver, and billon. The relations of the metals to each other were a rather floaty, meaning that a given coin would be issued in a decreed relationship to existing coins, but on the ground market forces prevailed where armed enforcers were not present. The denominations could get interesting too, with odd fractions like 5.3 (someplace in France, I forget where). Suddenly, all over Europe, a coinage of 1 or 2 or 3 denominations was replaced by a system with 11.
The Portuguese plethora issued by Fernando I consisted of two gold denominations, the dobra and its half, issued in two successive types, both imitating French coins. In fine silver, the first ever in Christian Portugal, there were reales and halves, made to compete with the contemporary Spanish versions. In billon there was the debased tornes and its half in a couple of successive designs, “barbudas” and halves of slightly altered weight, smaller coins called “graves” and “pilartes,” and dinheiros. The succession of billon indicates an ongoing attempt to squeeze revenue out of the lower middle class. During this reign a secondary mint operated at times in Porto, supplementing the output of Lisbon.
I have read that Fernando’s gold and silver are not impossible to find, but I have not encountered them. Something should be available in billon if you’re patient.
Fernando died in 1383 without a male heir. The throne was claimed by the married Beatriz and also by two illegitimate brothers of Fernando, both named Joao. Two years of anarchy ensued, in which Castile, France, and England got involved. As the dust settled one of the Joaos came out on top. An extremely rare silver real is known for Beatriz.
Joao ruled for 48 mostly peaceful years. His only military venture of note was the capture of Ceuta in Morocco in 1415, which can be seen as the first venture in colonialism by a European state.
Joao’s coinage was simpler than that of Fernando, but was still complex, illustrating a series of debasements and reforms. There was no gold. Silver reales and halves were replaced by billon with quarters added, several different series, from three mints: Lisbon, Porto, and Evora. Later in the reign copper coins were introduced, same types as the billon, except for a rare coin from Ceuta which had a “pseudo-Arabic” legend on one side. The silver is rare as usual for the period. Billon coins can be obtained. Look! I found one!
Isn't it kind of interesting that scruffy little Portugal should
have become for a moment in time a preeminent world power? It was,
relatively speaking, nothing, always having to be looking over its shoulder
at that bully Castile-Leon. Then all of a sudden, so to speak, there
it is on the other side of the world, doing business, overthrowing governments,
What made them go out and do that stuff in the 15-16th centuries? Oh, lots of reasons. Major events of the 14th century had been the Black Plagues, which created opportunities for the survivors. For Portugal, by 1400, the major indecisions regarding Spain and Mediterranean possibilities had been resolved; no joy there. Spain was not going to facilitate Portuguese access to the Mediterranean in a fraternal matter. Instead it was going to grind and cheat and permanently take advantage of the situation. If Portugal wanted in on the Orient trade it was going to have to figure out something else. And if it wanted to do business in Europe it had to transship through England or Germany. Europe was all about kicking them when they were down back then.
They (the Portuguese) were doing a lot of business with their enemies the Muslims. It was kind of late in the game for the Muslim "empire" at that point, but they were still doing business from Morocco to China and Indonesia, they had the silk and the spices, their gold was pure.
In the habit of the time the two "worlds" would occasionally have a crusade/jihad against each other. Then they would get back to trading.
The Muslims had nop notch engineering and mathematics in the 14th century. The Chinese were, in historical terms, the normal global center of culture, but they were having their Mongol interlude and were taking a break from intellectual pursuits.
The big technical problems then mostly had to do with water: transit and usage. In the 14th century they figured out how to use astronomy to go beyond coastal navigation and they learned how to build boats that could run against the wind. The Arabs started the process and the Portuguese took it through to completion. By the start of the 15th century they had the tools and the systems needed to sail all over the world. They could, there were good reasons to, they did.
The Madeira islands were "found" in 1420, the Azores in 1427. Successive expeditions sailed ever farther south along the African coast until by the 1440s the Portuguese found themselves under the shoulder of West Africa and therefore outflanking the Arab caravan routes. Down there in what is now Nigeria and Guinea they found what they were really after: yellow gold and black slaves.
I guess its interesting to note that from the very first slave taken the cover story was that it was a charity venture meant to spread Christianity to the heathen. The first big time European slaver, known to history as Henry the Navigator, hero of Portuguese history, put forth this canard and it remained in use for 400 years. "It's for their own good," they would say.
My survey of Henry the Navigator references revealed two schools of thought. One has him as a scholar and visionary who established a school or salon of scientific research. The other describes him as a greedy slaver who cared about innovation only as a means to ignoble ends. These days for every story there is a counter-story. Is this how myths get made?
Anyway, suddenly there was money in Portugal, gold no less, enough to make gold coins for circulation, to do some building, and to set up colonies in these new enterprise zones.
That general tendency outlined, let us continue with the king list, that most convenient tool for organizing coins.
Joao I died in 1433 of the plague and was succeeded by Duarte I, which name is anglicized as Edward. Joao had gone and siezed Ceuta in Morocco in 1415, thinking that he would be able to control the caravan trade of which that city was a terminus. That turned out to be a crackpot idea. The Arab caravaneers declined to deal with the smelly infidel ruffians and stayed with their own people in the nearby town of Tangier. The Portuguese ruminated on this turn of events and then decided on a plan. Duarte's brothers Fernando and Henry (the Navigator) would capture Tangier as well. Duarte's government would pay for the job. Something doesn't work, try it again, maybe it'll work this time.
The Tangier expedition of 1437 was successful in capturing the city, but the cost was seriously high, and brother Fernando was captured. The terms of his release was the surrender of Ceuta. This was not done, and Fernando died in captivity later.
Duarte died in 1438 of plague, just like his father.
Coins. Duarte I struck a gold escudo for prestige purposes rather than for use. Groat-sized silver leals had limited circulation. There was one billon, the real branco, which name broadcasts the normal European joke of the middle ages and later of calling black billon coins "white." Copper was extensively coined for the first time. The main copper coin was the "ceitil," the half was the real preto. So Duarte made the first ceitil, which became THE common Portuguese coin of the period. Coins were struck at Lisbon and Porto. Porto is much the scarcer mint.
Duarte's coins are not particularly common. He was the last of the pre-imperial Portuguese kings, the last before all that foreign booty started coming in. If you find one of his coins it will probably be a ceitil, but if you find a ceitil, and you will if you look, it will probably not be of Duarte.
The next guy on the Portuguese throne was Afonso V, who was 6 years old at the time of his accession. A child king has to have a regent, and there is always intrigue and backroom dealing when there is a regent. In the case of Afonso there were two in succession. The first was his mother, who was widely despised as a female foreigner. After a year she was pushed aside by the nobles in favor of Afonso's uncle, the duke of Coimbra, who spent a decade trying to restrain the avarice of said nobles.
On attainment of his majority in 1448 Afonso immediately fired Coimbra and brought in an ally of his mother as part of his government. This was the duke of Braganza, another Afonso, who had been scheming against Coimbra for years. Braganza fomented a little war against Coimbra, who was killed, and Braganza became the power behind the throne.
It turned out that Afonso V was fond of marauding. He messed around in North Africa througout his reign, and pushed forward the exploration and colonization of West Africa. He also tried to make a move on Spain when the king of Castile-Leon died without a male heir. Several people tried to jump on that throne, but Isabel, of whom we are all aware, turned out to be the toughest cookie in Iberia. Afonso, unreasonably out of joint about this failure, went whining to the king of France, who said nice things but did nothing. Afonso became depressed, abdicated, retired to a monastery, died. It is written (in Wikipedia) that mourning was universal in Portugal. The people loved him for his proud accomplisments and the money he brought in. The nobles feared, with good reason, his successor.
Coinage of Afonso V, 1438-81, was in gold, silver, billon, and copper. The gold was the ceremonial escudo and its occasional half and the smaller cruzado, the first gold coin of Portugal made for use from that booty they were getting down in Africa. I can't really say that I've seen one of those, but they are theoretically collectible, as opposed to earlier gold coins which never show up in the market.
Silver denominations were the leal, real grosso, half real, and chinfrao (quarter). None of these are likely to turn up as you scour the back shelves of aged European dealers.
Gold and silver struck later in the reign have the arms of Castile-Leon on one side to advertise the claim to that throne.
Billon coins include the normal real branco, the slightly smaller "espadim," named for the hand holding a dagger that was its type, its half, and the still smaller "cotrim." These billon reductions were essentially hidden taxes on the middle class, what they called "merchants" back then. All of Afonso's billons are scarce.
The common Afonso coins are the copper ceitils, which will turn up not infrequently in medieval batches. When you see plentiful copper you are seeing some governmental support of the peasantry. Evidently it was OK to be an ordinary person in mid and late 15th century Portugal. The smaller copper, the real preto, is rather scarce.
The usual mints were active: Lisbon (common), Porto (scarce), and Ceuta (rare).
The son of Afonso, Joao II, became king in 1481 at the age of 25. He was viewed with suspicion by the nobles because he would not play the normal games of intrigue. Immediately on his succession he began to promulgate decrees to restrict the freedom of action of the peers, who fretted and conspired. The biggest noble, the duke of Braganza, foolishly wrote a letter to queen Isabel in Castile in which he complained and requested aid. The treasonous letter was intercepted and Joao outlawed the family, confiscated its assets, and executed the duke.
Now the nobles really had a reason to worry. The following year Joao invited another big noble to the castle for a chat and, so the story goes, murdered him with the knife he held in his own hand. A reign of terror ensued in which dozens of bigshots, including bishops, were killed, exiled, or imprisoned.
After the state terror years Joao settled down to a few decades of serious maritime exploration. We know of the high points, which included the voyage of Diaz around the Cape of Good Hope, but quite a bit of the activity was made a state secret, the records lost in a fire in the 18th century. Recall that Columbus supposedly first went to Joao to back his westward expedition. Some suppose that he was turned down because the Portuguese had already figured out the size of the earth and knew that eastward is shorter, and some hypothesize that they had already visited the western hemisphere as early as the 1470s. There is also some webspinning about Columbus being a Portuguese agent gone to Castile to flimflam them into wasting their time in the western hemisphere while the Portuguese mopped up the Indian Ocean, which they did. But the New World turned out to be of not negligible value and the Spaniards got the best bits, so if that was the plan it sort of backfired.
When Columbus actually found something in the west the Portuguese realized they had to do something, so they hied themselves over to the pope for some mediation. The result was the treaty of Tordesillas which divided the world in half, everything on "that" side was Spanish, everything on "this" side was Portuguese. Since most of the western hemisphere is on "that" side all of Latin America except Brazil speaks Spanish.
The end of Joao's reign was colorful and tragic. He had one son, whom he married to a daughter of Fernando of Aragon, who was married to Isabel of Castile. The heir of Castile was sickly and looked to die before his parents. So the son of Joao, it seemed, was likely to become king of Spain. Except that one day, out riding with his Castilian valet, he was thrown from his horse and died. And the valet disappeared. Colorful indeed, in a reddish kind of way. But that was the end of Joao's designs on Castile, and 4 years later, in 1495, he died without an heir. The nobles chose his successor, a cousin, who became Manuel I.
Joao's coins mark a departure: no billon. The gold cruzados were struck in some quantity, though you are not likely to run into them today. There was also a minor gold series: a large coin showing the enthroned king facing, called "justo" from the beginning of the obverse legend, and its half with the "espadim" type mentioned above. The silver marks the first appearance of the vintem or 20 reis, and therefore the first reis coin. These vintems are not rare, there is one on Ebay as I write this. There were also half vintems and cinquinhos (5 reis), both much scarcer.
Copper ceitils, not uncommon, round out the coinage. The mints were Lisbon and Porto, the latter with a much smaller output. I should remind of the numerous small varieties of lettering and marks, almost certainly marking different issues, though the sequences are not known at present.
I find that a good sized chunk of my life is passed in the contemplation
of the various components of political organization.
What we seem to know of human history is a process of the amalgamation of people's activity into larger units. A hypothetical original organization back in pre-paleolithic times was the "band," what we see in remnant hunter-gatherer groups. And it is constantly remarked that in such groups there is a top-level "alpha" character, usually one of each gender, the rest of the members organized more or less in a hierarchy of status. History is the story of the careers of larger and larger groups until we arrive at today, a time in which the largest groups are national and commercial, with something even larger in the process of being assembled.
The hierarchical structure seems to be a constant feature of human organization no matter what size the group. Ideologies arise that attempt to ameliorate or abolish this feature, but they seem always to produce a hierarchy of their own.
In earliest human times there may have been a substantial component of meritocracy in selection of leaders, but by the start of history proper with the invention of writing the tendency of leaders to attempt to perpetuate their hold on power through their bloodline had become a dominant factor in the affairs of our species. The "age of monarchs" seems to have begun about 6000 years ago and continued unabated as the dominant form of political organization until just about 200 years ago. At that point two things had occurred that allowed a change. One was that it had become obvious that governing had become too complicated for a single person to have an unlimited monopoly on decision making, and the other was that enough money was floating around out of the hands of the monarch that the views of the "feral" money had to be considered.
Big families today continue to attempt to establish dynastic arrangements, but they invariably run into the "dynastic problem," which is that one rarely gets a continuation of good leadership qualities from one generation to the next.
Back in 16th century Portugal, the time and place that is the subject of this article, the "who" of government was the most important thing. by law and custom as well as by facts on the ground. I had closed last month at the end of the 15th century, when a ruthless monarch with a penchant for killing his potential rivals died after naming a nephew as his successor, his own son having died under mysterious circumstances perhaps involving Portugal's neigbhbor and nemesis, Spain. The new king was Manuel I, the date was 1495.
500 years later the last decade of the 15th century resonates with us western European heritage types. Many of us know of that momentous year 1492, if for various reasons depending on our ethnological particulars. Portugal did not have a particularly special year that year. Rather, they were having a special century. From about 1450 until the start of the 16th century Portugal was basically doing all of the European exploration. By the middle of that century it briefly controlled large swatches of the world's southern oceans and could pretend that it was on top of the world, which everyone else, and especially Spain, knew was not the case. Lot of money, showing off, living high. Just about a century, after which the big guys got into the act and pushed underendowed Portugal to the side. Courage is not enough. You have to have resources, more importantly, discipline, more important still, cunning.
By Manuel's accession Portugal was getting significant gold from West Africa, a famous gold dust region, and pulling slaves out of the African gene pool in some quantity. There was a lot of wood too, to make more ships of course.
Some noteworthy events of Manuel's reign:
-in 1496, that's the year after the coronation, he decided he wanted to marry the heir to the Spanish throne. It was like the two royal families couldn't keep themselves from trying to merge. This even though the Portuguese knew that it was fatal attraction. They couldn't stop thinking the thought that they could marry their way out of the problem, put a Portuguese king on the Spanish throne, make everyone be nice. In their dreams. The Spanish looked at the same situation and saw an annoyance they'd prefer to deal with once and never again.
Merger never would have worked. Later on they actually tried it. It didn't work.
So, Manuel, as a sort of bouquet of roses to the girl's mother, that monarch of most enormous prestige Isabella, decided to get rid of his Jews, as the Spanish queen had in 1492. Manuel noticed though, that Spain had kind of made a mess of the venture. A lot of the education, and a lot of the business, happened to be sitting in the brains of those Jews, and their absence had had a significant effect on the economy. Manuel did it differently. Rather than push the Jews over the border after stripping their property he set a date at which the Jews had to show up somewhere for deportation. When they got there he didn't let them leave until they had converted, and then he still didn't let them leave. Evidently the conversion rate was extraordinarily high, possibly because of the 30 year don't-ask-don't-tell period that was part of the deal. Anyway, the Jews "disappeared" without disruption.
For centuries thereafter in many places in Europe and Africa, the phrase "Portuguese businessman" was considered code for "Jew."
He got the girl.
-In 1498 Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama made it to India.
-In 1500 Cabral reached Brazil.
Serious money was poured into securing the Indian Ocean trade route and by the end of Manuel's time Portugal had pretty much of a monopoly in that region.
Sorry, too much history. Manuel coined a lot of coinage to grease the wheels of economy, and there was plenty left over for showing off. Check out those large gold "portugues" he made. 35 grams, more than an ounce! Two types, on the front of one he is described as king of Portugal and Algarve of course, but he also claimed lordship of Guinea, Arabia, Ethiopia, and Persia. That was all hot air of course, all they had was trading stations, but there were no other Europeans around those places to contradict for the moment. There are a few of these big gold coins that come in and out of the market from time to time. Total wows.
Workhorse gold was the cruzado, a ducat more or less, various privy marks to be found thereon, several show up for sale in a given year. A rare quarter exists.
In silver there was also a showpiece coin, a half portugues, same type as the gold one. The major commercial silver was the tostao, analagous to the English testoon or shilling, though lighter of course (English coins were always worth more than continentals). The dimes and quarters of the day were vintems and halves. Collectors can obtain examples of all of them. Low grade vintems can be relatively cheap.
There was no billon. The real, that had been billon in olden times, was tried as a copper along with its half, but they didn't catch on so they are hard to find. Large numbers of copper ceitils were made and can be easily found today.
Three mints were active. Most coins were made in Lisbon, a small quantity in Porto, a few in Ceuta, the Portuguese outpost in Morocco.
Well then. Manuel died in 1521 to be succeeded by his son Joao, third Portuguese king of that name. The changeover was smooth, Joao was an adult, healthy, legitimate, no contenders, all that good stuff. And Portugal was getting toward the high point of its career. And there was no serious war in Europe to get involved in. Should have been a skating reign. But it didn't turn out that way.
Two tendencies and a fixation conspired to knock Portugal off its high horse in the reign of Joao. The first tendency was that everyone is drawn to success and wants to get in on it, thus the talent is diluted as jerks and fools and incompetents of various kinds start cluttering up the scene. Sound familiar? That happened. The other tendency is that of contenders, seeing the winning team strut around, say to themselves, "Oh, yeah? I'll show them." So the Portuguese monopoly of the Indian Ocean trade was challenged by the Turks, the Spanish, the French, the English, eventually the Dutch. So - pressure from without, fraying from within.
Then there was the intense religiosity of the king. He built more than enough religious edifices. And he messed up the Portuguese religious establishment by bringing in the Jesuits. And he expelled the Jews and brought in the Inquisition. None of these moves were cheap, and they added up to a deficit in the end. Giant empire, no money. By the end of Joao's reign in 1557 they were sitting around trying to figure out what programs to cut.
The gold consisted of the giant portugues, the "standard" cruzado, and special mid-weight series - the Sao Vicente and its half. Those possessed of sufficiently deep pockets could expect some opportunities to aquire examples within a normal lifetime. Silver was tostaos and halves, vintems and halves, cinquinhos or quarter vintems, and reals. There are several different minor series and many small varieties of legend, privy marks, etc.
Joao's coppers can be interesting. In addition to the ordinary and common ceitils there are larger and scarcer 3 and 10 real pieces, the latter a rather astounding 36mm. Needless to note, but mentioned anyway, these big coppers are quite hard to find.
All of Joao's coins were struck in Lisbon. Coinage was struck for the first time in and/or for the colonies. I'll discuss that development at greater length in future.
Joao's death provided a good illustration of the standard dynastic problem of unsuitable succession. All of his children had predeceased him and only a single grandchild had been produced. The kid was three years old when the old man died, so there was a regent. Then there was another. Today we would call his upbringing "dysfunctional."
It seems that he grew up to be something of a strange duck. Marriages were proposed, but they fell through, and it seems that he had some hand in making them not happen. Nevertheless, on attaining his majority at age 14 he embarked on a career of patronage of education and medicine and legal reform. Perhaps his most important action, from a 21st century point of view, was the freeing of the Indian slaves (though not the Africans) of Brazil. He got involved most unfortunately in a dynastic squabble in Morocco, imagining he was leading a crusade. He disappeared during a battle down there, and millenialist legends grew up around his memory. Somewhere he sleeps, like king Arthur, like Barbarossa, like the twelfth imam, someday to awaken and save Portugal in its hour of need.
Sebastiao's mintmasters did not make those showy gold portugues coins, and the cruzado disappeared as well. Instead there were the Sao Vicente coins, the engenhoso - a successor to the cruzado, and a mid-sized 500 reis (or reais). You will find his gold coins if you are patient and have money to spend.
Silver was the usual denominations, and, again, examples can be found. Coppers were the large 10 reis, then 5 and 3 reis, real, and ceitil, the last of that denomination. Generally, I think, the Sebastiao coppers are harder to find than the silvers.
A few of the gold and silver coins have dates. All were struck in Lisbon.
Sebastiao died (or disappeared) at age 24 without a successor. This was the dynastic problem writ large. An uncle was brought in, Enrique, who was a cardinal in the church. 63 years old on his accession, Enrique attempted to get released from his vow of chastity so he could get married quick and keep the dynasty going, but the pope was in cahoots with Spain and dawdled. After two years Henry died.
His coins are gold 500 reis, silver tostaos and halves, and vintems. They are distinctly hard to find.
I'm thinking about culinary metaphors.
Over the centuries the relationship of Portugal with Spain has been pretty much salad dressing. Oil and vinegar sitting there in an Iberian jar. Shake them, they get all tangled up with each other. Let them sit a while and they separate again.
Thus the Hispano-Portuguese union of 1580-1640.
The death (or disappearance) in 1578 of young and childless Portuguese king Sebastio in the midst of a battle in Morocco that he shouldn't have been involved in was followed by some dithering amongst those in a position to choose a successor. Successor there had to be. The concept of a country without a monarch was not present in anyone's mind at the time. It wasn't king or republic, it was king or anarchy, a country lying there on the ground, waiting for some foreign king to come in and take it. That's the way they thought back then, just about everyone.
The normal thing to do, back then and over there, when a monarch died without a designated or obvious successor, was to poke around in the family tree for a suitable relative. Usually the pokers didn't have to look to hard. People would show up with their retinues and bribes to present their case. In the Portuguese context, what with all the marriages over the centuries, Spain was always there, big, arrogant, overbearing, supercilious, and worst of all, Spanish.
In the case of the succession to ill-starred Sebastiao the council of choosers had slim pickings and in the end picked an aged uncle who happened to be a priest, a cardinal in fact. This was a notably insalubrious choice, as the guy would have to get himself de-priested if he was going to marry quickly and produce a legitimate heir. And he was in his 60s, which was really pretty old back then.
But he was better, from the Portuguese point of view, than Spain.
The priest-king, Enrique by name, duly put in his request for relief of his vow of chastity and it was duly added to the pile of things to do at the Vatican.
The pope, it seems, was rather friendly with the Spanish crown at the time, Spain being the main muscle for the Catholic church in the wars of the Reformation that were raging across Europe. No reason not to do Spain a favor, especially if it involved doing nothing. Enrique's petition sat on various desks until he died in 1580, leaving the Portuguese succession once again up in the air.
Enrique had actually convened that assembly of notables who were to decide what to do before he passed on. They put the government in the care of their 5 top dogs and then proceeded to interview the applicants. The basic requirement was lineage. Personal qualities were secondary.
The local guy, Antonio, had some degree of popularity, but was illegitmate, so technically not in the running. He had, nonetheless, some status on the ground. It was lower class support, however, without much money. The upper classes, looking out for their own interests, were leaning toward Spain, whose king, Philip II, actually had perhaps the best claim to the throne, genealogically speaking. And all that money his lobbyists were throwing around didn't hurt either.
Antonio played his hand anyway, declaring himself king late in July of 1580. He managed to have a few silver coins struck in his name in Lisbon before the deluge. Good luck finding one.
Spain used Antonio as a cover to do what it had been wanting to do for, well, centuries. To save Portugal from the shame of an illegitimate king a Spanish army crossed the border, engaged Antonio, and drove him out of the country in less than a month. He retired to Terceira island in the Azores, where he set up a government. Then he left pretty quick to go to France, where he lobbied for support. Promises were received, and some money, but nothing much in the way of militararia, which was what he needed. His attempt to return to the Azores in 1582 was blocked by Spain and his government there fell the year after.
There are coins issued in Antonio's name from Angra mint in the Azores. They were struck in gold, silver, and copper. A brief search of the web turned up none for sale. One picture found on a Portuguese website displayed a crude coin about 50% flat, noted as rare, not for sale. Some of those coins are known with countermarks, possibly less rare according to my outdated reference (Vaz). Hard to determine relative rarities when there are none at all to be found.
Back to August 1580. Spain held the cards in Portugal by way of military occupation. The bribing of the upper classes succeeded. Philip II of Spain was "allowed" to become Philip I of Portugal on condition that it remain a separate country with its own laws. OK, said Spain, thinking meanwhile that it could take care of the details later.
The union started out in relative harmony, if with perhaps a bit of wait-and-see. The new king upheld the terms of the settlement and left Portugal to run itself and its colonies. Portuguese bigshots were taken into the union government and Portuguese money was given a shot at some of the Spanish business scene. There were rumors at one point about a plan to move the capital from Madrid to Lisbon. On the surface there was not that much for the Portuguese to complain about.
But the political landscape was disturbed to the detriment of Portuguese interests. Traditional allies France and England became enemies, joined after a few decades by the Dutch, newly independent after a ferocious war of independence against Spain. The new adversaries began to pick at the Portuguese colonies, plucking ripe chunks of India, Ceylon, Malaya, Indonesia, and Brazil. Some of them were retaken by Portugal later, others were lost forever. These overseas depredations caused a serious loss of income for Portugal, putting it at an increasing disadvantage vis a vis Spain. This monetary inequity was made worse by the flow of bullion from Spanish America, which was starting to get quite huge.
Philip I (II of Spain) died in 1598, succeeded by Philip II (III). The new king's Portuguese policy was a continuation of his father's, that being to make nice to the upper class and otherwise leave Portugal to (mis)manage its own affairs. The decay therefore continued under a veneer of OK-ness. "I guess we can put up with this" thought the average middle class Portuguese (the poor Portuguese - who cared about them?)
Philip II (III) spent his reign and his money fooling around and left the business of government to functionaries, who became corrupt and stole things. His government vigorously prosecuted the wars of the Reformation, turning the fabulous quantities of silver and lesser quantities of gold coming in from the Americas into death and destruction all over western Europe. This policy pretty much pushed Spain over the financial edge and set it on a course that would lead to a condition of poverty and second rate-ness that would last until the end of the 20th century.
But wait, there's more! The second Philip of Portugal died in 1621 and was suceeded by yet another Philip, the III of Portugal and IV of Spain. This one acceded at age 16 and chose to let things continue as they were. That meant more decades of war and an increasingly tenuous financial and political situation.
Well, never mind that. Let's get back to Portugal. The new king started to push the Portuguese grandees out of the union government. Then Spanish functionaries began to show up in the local Portuguese administration. Taxes were raised to finance the ongoing wars, and some degree of unfairness began to be noted; the levies on the Portuguese turned out to be consistently higher than those on the Spanish. More and more the food for thought in Portugal seemed to be grumble cake.
Eventually a proposal came out of Spain to abolish the union and to make Portugal into a Spanish province. That pretty much killed whatever support for Spain might have been left amongst the highest of the high in Portugal and the dinner table discussions turned toward the subject of "what are we going to do about this?"
In 1640 Spain was fighting three separate wars: with France, with the Dutch, and the 30 years war in Germany. The Spanish government raised taxes and set military quotas but Catalonia, with its anciently separate government, refused to comply. Polite threats produced nothing, nasty threats likewise, the central government invaded Catalonia, which resisted big time. Now there were four wars.
Perfect time for Portugal to make its move, and it did. In December of 1640 a coup was launched, immediately hailed by the people, and a new king, Joao IV, duke of Braganza was chosen. Spain attempted to crush the rebellion of course, but Portugal was the least of its problems at the time. Essentially, Portugal was allowed to get away with it, and 28 years later, with different kings in both countries, Spain threw in the towel and admitted that yes, indeed, Portugal was its own country.
OK, let's talk about the coins of the six decades long Spanish interlude.
The first thing to note is that with a very few exceptions all of the coins just read "PHILIPPVS" without indicating which one, and that none of them are dated. The reigns are distinguished by little details: arrangements of dots and little crosses and circles and triangles here and there, stops in the legends, that kind of thing. And a few of them have an assayor initial in the Spanish style.
The next general observation is that there is no copper, only silver and gold. Back in metallic currency times when copper was absent it meant that the bottom end of the economy was being squeezed. The bottom end people had to sign up with a smalltime money lender to run their accounts for them. The money lenders charged for their services, and some of them cheated of course, and that's how the squeeze was done; on the up and up and on the down and out. You still see this in India, where it's called debt bondage. We used to do it in the USA, where it was called sharecropping and the "company town."
The coins pretty much look Portuguese, with the Portuguese arms and the Jerusalem cross. Except for the king's name of course. I guess you'd have to say that they really are Portuguese.
The gold denominations were 500 reis, 4 cruzados, 2 cruzados, and 1 cruzado. The basic silver denominations were the tostao or 100 reis, the half tostao, and the vintem, also 80 and 40 reis coins struck in the reign of the first Philip.
They are pretty hard to find. When the revolution came in 1640, with overwhelming public support, no one, it seems had any incentive whatsoever to keep the old coins lying around. Maybe they were declared illegal, I was unable to find out in the time available. What certainly happened is that the weights of the coins were changed and the union coins disappeared from circulation. Apparently most of them were melted rather than hoarded.
As might be expected, the reign of Joao IV was rather tumultuous. There was the immediate war with Spain to attend to, which culminated, in a military sense, in 1644 with the defeat of Spain. Then there was all of the mess to deal with out in the colonies. To make a long story short, perhaps to the point of meaninglessness, Portugal lost lost Muscat to Oman and Malacca and Ceylon to the Dutch, but retook Angola and Brazil from them. A mixed bag therefore in the colonies, but pretty much Portugal ended up the worse. The days of glory were over.
Joao also did a fair amount of public building, not that he could really afford it. And he was a serious amateur in music as composer and critic. He died in 1656.
The coinage reflected the exigencies of the reign. There were all these extraordinary expenses related to the war with Spain and the colonial operations. These caused periods of tight money. There was also the general inflation going on in Europe due to the enormous influx of silver and gold from the Americas. You know all of those thalers that started happening in the 17th century? American metal. Didn't matter which side you were on. There were more round, flat pieces of silver and gold moving around. But things cost more, so what difference did it all make in the end?
Anyway, there was a series of adjustments to the Portuguese coinage during Joao's reign. Weights changed, values of the coins changed, ratios between gold and silver changed. Then they changed again. And again. They did some countermarking, twice as it happened, then they changed the values of the countermarked coins, then they replaced them. It was kind of a mess, but similar things were going on all over Europe at that time.
So for a number of decades you might get a coin in Portugal and it might read LXXX or something like that and you'd have to go to a moneychanger and give him a copper to find out what it was really worth that day. In 1641 that LXXX might be countermarked "100," later that year it might be going for 110 (reis), the next year it might have another countermark "120", soon going for 125 or something. On the ground of course the merchant was likely to tell you that the coin was too worn, he'll only give you 112, you'd have to whine and complain, maybe you could get him up to 117.
Ah, the good old days, when every transaction was like buying a used car.
I propose to start this segment with a brief glance at the beginnings
of the Portuguese colonial coinage.
The Portuguese were the first practitioners of European colonialism in the modern sense. How does the modern sense differ from the ancient sense? Probably the only real difference was guns. Bunch of people go somewhere, if they can they take over the place and do what they want, if they aren't strong enough they deal with the locals until they get strong enough, then they do as they please.
I think I can discern some national differences between the colonial styles of the early European practitioners. The Spanish, for example, definitely had gold fever. Everywhere they went that's what they were looking for, and they only turned to commerce and production when the metal didn't pan out. The Portuguese liked gold but they were not nuts about it. One could almost say they liked slaves more. Almost, but not quite, maybe. They had been in rather close association with the Arabs in Africa for most of 1000 years, slavery was normal to the Arabs, particularly they liked black slaves, especially in Africa where such slaves were to be found. Why? It had been thought from ancient Egyptian times that black Africans made better slaves by and large. They were easier to catch, they tended to accept being slaves better than some others, it was imagined that they worked harder and lasted longer.
The Romans used to think similarly of the Germans. The Arabs at one point thought that about the Turks.
Well, the Portuguese, in their explorations, encountered the practice of large scale slavery everywhere they went, it was different, not being done to any great extent in Europe, it seemed like a good idea to them. So they went for it. And because they wanted to keep Portugal itself for the Portuguese, having just finished dealing with several centuries of absorbing or expelling Arabs and Jews, they planted their slaves far away in Angola, Brazil, etc. and set them to growing commodities, cutting down trees, mining, etc.
OK, that's what they did in Neolithic Africa and South America. In Arabia and Persia and India, well, you know what its like over there, we (the Europeans) are still involved. There the locals are capable and know what they're doing and you can't just walk all over them, you have to actually deal with them. So they made contracts, for what that was worth. And they fought battles, which they mostly won at first until the locals figured out what to do and kicked them out.
In Africa and America the Portuguese were kind of slow getting a coinage going. When you can just catch them and put them to work what do you need coins for? So the coinage there only started when the port cities got big enough to need aid-to-trade. Out in the countryside they used whips instead of coins.
The early Portuguese overseas coins were in places like Malacca and India, where they were already using coins, had customs offices, levied taxes, all the modern bureaucratic stuff. The people on the land they had leased or stolen had to be dealt with in some non-genocidal way, the local politics and power demanded it. They had an economy, it had to be in some way maintained, although that local economy was thought of, normal for the time, as a resource to be mined for profits. They were already using coins, the new bosses would continue to give them coins if they knew which end was up.
So in Brazil, for example, they didn't do coins until the revolution of 1640 when the Spanish were kicked out and then it was extremely rare silver and gold. It was like they were declaring to the world: "Of course we're a civilized part of independent Portugal, we have the money to prove it!" And the governor would give the ambassador one of the 100 or so of those RRRR 1640 Brazil gold coins they made, and the ambassador would send a nice report back home. No copper, you remember why.
But in Malacca the Portuguese coinage got started more than a century before, in the 1520s, and they continued a coinage tradition in tin that had gone round-and-flat when the local sultan converted to Islam and brought in Muslim ways, which included money that we can easily recognize as such, which is to say - coinage.
The pre-Portuguese Malacca coins were conveniently sized tin coins, tin being the metal that was plentiful there, copper rare, gold was made in large quantities by other jurisdictions nearby. The Portuguese decided that they would monkey with the system to the extend of making a denomination set instead of a single coin. They made coins up to 20 times the weight of the local Muslim coins. The idea seemed to work. A lot of those coins seem to have been made.
The Malacca tin coins, formerly super-rare, came into the collector market in quantity about 20 years ago. A bunch of the early arrivals had a "pimply" surface and came with a story of having been brought up from an ocean wreck. Since then more have appeared, now often without the pimples.
There have been questions about the authenticity of all this sudden Malacca tin stuff, but over the two decades in which they have been around, I don't think I've run into definitely counterfeit specimens, and it seems that the sentiment at large tends toward rather indifferant acceptance.
Actually I find them a bit difficult to sell, therefore the relative bargain prices for many of them, at least or especially for the smaller and lower grade. Few bucks for a 16th century coin. Every collector should have one.
There are a very few examples of gold and silver coins from Malacca. They are obviously of the "We make coins here" species, not made to be spent. In all of my decades of dealing in Malacca I have had no Malacca precious. My inquiries to suppliers of tin have always advised that all of them are fake.
The tin coinage ended with the death of Sebastiao in 1578. Portuguese Malacca endured through the Spanish occupation. Silver and gold coins were then struck in Goa for use in Malacca. They are supposedly impossible to acquire. The Spanish occupation ended in 1640. The year after Malacca was taken by the Dutch.
Coinage in India got started about the same time, approximately the same way. Goa is in South India, where the money runs to tiny gold, silver, and copper, with occasional multiples. The Portuguese did exactly the same thing there as in Malacca, which was to make minor multiples in copper and tin. Pretty quickly they got into gold and silver, and a brief search of ebay showed one of those early gold coins, 1521 or thereabouts, relatively excellent condition, wants at least $1000, $500 reserve, very reputable seller. I, on the other hand, once had a pair of the early silvers in crappy corroded and cleaned condition, sold them quickly for reasonable prices. Relatively speaking.
And then there is that veritable hoard of 18th century gold xerifins of Goathat came out about a year ago. Four figure coins. Evidently quite a few around, but they're getting absorbed.
During the Spanish occupation of 1580-1640 the Portuguese were allowed to continue running their colonies in their way, more or less. There was fitful Spanish interference, a general decline in liquidity, some languishing of industry, stagnation of various sorts, the blahs reflected in reduced quality and quantity of coinage. Then the 18th century got going and there was plenty of commerce needing plenty of coins.
I think that's enough about the early colonials for now. Let's go back and talk about the metropolitan Portuguese coinage of king Joao IV, reigned 1640-56.
Back then the way finance ministers tried to control their money supply was by fixing the value of the money of account, which in Portugal was called reis, in terms of a certain weight (mark) of gold or silver or both. When they had debts to pay they would typically decrease the value of the account money, announcing that they would make more of them per mark, therefore they were less valuable. If they were in a strong position they could force repayment of their debts with the new lower value reis, or maybe the creditor had clout and could force an auxiliary payment to cover part of the inflation. Unfairness was just the way it was back then.
The new nationalist Portuguese government decreed such an inflation in 1641. It amounted to about 7% for silver, not too bad. In 1642 they increased the reis value of the gold coins by about 87%. Wow. Then the next year they bumped up silver by another third, they year after that another adjustment to the gold of almost 17%.
The government made its own coins and countermarked the old ones. Decreed values were current where the government had presence, when the cats were away the market played and the coins were worth what they were worth.
The gold coins were generally the cruzado, its double, its 4, all of these dated between 1642 and 1652. Cruzados can be obtained by collectors, multiples less so. There was also a 16-cruzado called conceicao, a presentation piece, pretty much or entirely unavailable. All of the gold was struck at Lisbon.
Silver denominations were the vintem of 20 reis, its half and double, the tostao of 100 reis, its half, double and quadruple (also called cruzado), and a silver conceicao valued at 600 reis. Some of the silvers are dated, others not. Any of the silvers might be found except for the conceicao. Coins from branch mints at Porto and Evora are at least scarce.
Copper denominations were the 5, 3, 1.5, and 1 real. The 1 is rare, the rest of them are not, but you're much more likely to find a silver.
The various countermarks are kind of catch as catch can. I think one doesn't really see them that often. At least I don't.
Joao IV had a number of children. Several died young. The one we want to concentrate on is the second son, Afonso. This kid had a fever when he was 3 years old that left him half paralyzed and brain damaged. Bad luck for Portugal when his older brother died and he became the heir.
When his father died in 1656 Afonso was minor, crippled, and mentally incompetent, or was so judged by the people who mattered. His mother was made regent. She successfully concluded the war with Spain with the signing of a treaty that recognized Portuguese independence in 1668. This success was balanced by the loss of Ceylon to the Dutch and the cession of Tangier and Bombay to England as dowry for Afonso's sister who was marrying English Charles II. It wasn't a total loss, because England then brokered a deal in which the Dutch agreed to get out of Brazil.
Palace intrigue produced an anti-regent party that managed to get Afonso to send his mother to a convent in 1662. 3 years later a marriage was arranged for the king, annulled 2 years later when he could not consummate. The girl then married Afonso's younger brother, Pedro, who wangled his way to the title of prince regent, took over the government, and exiled Afonso to Terceira island in the Azores. The king was allowed to return to Portugal in 1683, just in time to die. Pedro became king.
Well, then, Afonsine coins comprised both new issues and countermarks. There was a break in 1662 when an official revaluation of the gold was made, augmented in 1663 when the weights of the silver were adjusted downward. The pre-reform gold denominations were the normal cruzado, double and quadruple. After the reform they were renamed "moeda" (coin), half, and quarter, but they weighed the same. They looked pretty much the same too, minor differences. But the reis value of the reform coins was 14% higher. Of course there were the old coins still circulating, and some of them were brought in and countermarked with their new values.
The old style silver was based, as under Joao, on the vintem of 20 reis and the tostao of 100 reis, with halves, doubles, and quadruples of each. The denominations were continued after the reform but the coins were about 25% lighter. And the numerous countermarks of course, not only on old Portuguese coins but on Spanish too. You will find coins with more than one countermark.
All the coins were struck in Lisbon. There was no copper.
It should be possible to find representative coins of this reign. A denomination set will be difficult. The nature of countermarks makes the idea of a comprehensive collection rather oxymoronic. Afonsine silver coins tend to appear one at a time in most cases, often quite worn, in a lot of the more common coins of his successors.
When Pedro took over the government he styled himself "prince regent" while Afonso was still alive and issued coins in his name so indicating. That was pretty unusual, having someone named on the coins who was not the king. I'll pick up there next time.
I went poking around for interesting Portuguese coins on Ebay
this past month. Found a few of mild interest. Particularly,
there was one of the countermarked coins of the 17th century post-Spanish
period, decent condition. Starting bid was $99.50 or so, seller in
USA. One day left, no bids. I sent him an email, would he take
$75.00 if it didn't sell. He favored me with the courtesy of a reply.
No, he had a local buy offer at $81.00, also that "it is one of the rarest
of Portuguese coins." Well, that was a laugh, tiny little one.
My general rule of thumb - if its there its not rare. But never mind.
It sold. For $99.50.
I had mentioned in recent months that the gold cruzados of the 16-17th centuries are the most common Portuguese gold coins of that period and should be obtainable. But, truth to tell, I have not actually found much of anything for sale along those lines in recent months. Probably missed something. And probably the most common European gold coin of that period is, um, Spanish, or just maybe Hungarian.
Right now is the second Portuguese boom in my lifetime, or perhaps second and a half. I think I remember one in the late 70s, then there was gathering of steam in the 90s, now is now. In the last few years prices rose across the board as Portuguese everywhere got interested in their money and developed the scratch to collect. The higher prices brought stuff out of the woodwork and the bank vaults. What we have now is a split in the market, with good stuff going out of sight and common stuff in oversupply.
Take, for example, a certain colonial coin: Timor 50 centavos 1970. Few years ago the SCWC price was $30.00 I think. I was the recipient of a few rolls of them in BU, enough that I whined and complained and got them for something like $1.00 each. Now the SCWC price is $4.50, I still have most of mine. If I offered to pay $1.00 each I would probably get 10,000 of them. Please, take them off my hands, thankyou. Can't give them away.
On the other hand, a 1935 1 escudo on Ebay, overgraded, went above SCWC for the grade it was advertized as, which it wasn't. To me, as it happened. Wantlist purchase. 13 other bidders. More on this coin in a future article.
Good stuff is hot.
OK, return to the subject at hand, which is the late 17th century Portuguese coinage.
Pedro, younger brother of damaged king Afonso VI, got for himself through intrigue the title of Prince Regent and enough power to send the king out to the Azores for 16 years of therapeutic banishment, allowing to return to Lisbon in 1683, just in time to die. Then Pedro had himself a coronation ceremony and became king Pedro II.
He suffered a stroke of luck in the year of his accession with the discovery of major silver deposits in Brazil. The money coming out of the ground eventually (1697) gave him the wherewithal to dismiss the Cortes, the advisory assembly that he had to placate in order to get them to give him money. The Brazilian metal allowed him to ignore them, which he did.
He ended up spending most of that money on the War of the Spanish Succession, which was a long fracas involving France, England, and Austria. Portugal started out negotiating with France, but pretty soon went with England and Austria and joined in the invasion of Spain in 1703. Pedro gloriously set out on the warpath (not in person), his armies mucking around in Spain, the conflict dragging on beyond his death (1706), Madrid gloriously captured, then lost, but France eventually won the war (1715).
The coins. Pedro produced numismata in his name as prince regent from 1667-1683. There was gold, silver, copper. Gold was revalued twice, silver once. There are countermarks associated with these adjustments. 3 different gold denominations, 6 different silver, 4 copper, slight differences in types after each revaluation. All are dated, all struck in Lisbon. The entire prince regent series is rare in my experience. Perhaps somewhere, over the rainbow, there is a land of affordable prince regent coins, but I've never blundered into even one in my fevered numismatic thrashings.
For Pedro as king there was one revaluation of both gold and silver in 1688, 20% no less. There are 3 gold denominations, a bunch of silvers, 4 coppers. Most of the coins are dated, a few small silvers are not. There are countermarks of the 1688 revaluation. During this reign there were long periods during which the value of the coin was different from what was written on it. The silver cruzados of 1688 and later, big 2/3 crowns, have "400" (reis) on them but were worth 480, etc. Just imagine, every quarter officially worth 30 cents, what fiscal games were played! This official discrepancy became a traditional practice for about 100 years.
Most of the coins were made in Lisbon, a few silvers in Porto, a few golds in Rio in Brazil, which was getting to be a regular colony rather than a gigantic slave operation.
In my experience some of the small silver coins of Pedro II can be obtained, usually in disappointing condition. The copper is scarce at best, the gold is perhaps the opposite of common. I think the fact that late in the reign the king was hemorrhaging money on that war of his might account for the scarcity of his coins today.
Pedro's 17 year old son became the next king, Joao V, in 1706. Aside from the several years it took to wind down the Portuguese role in the War of the Spanish Succession the situation was generally salubrious during his long reign. His father had a flush of Brazilian silver to play with. Joao had gold and diamonds, bunches. As a result he didn't have to make any deals with anyone in Portugal and he ruled as an absolute monarch, somewhat in emulation of contemporary Louis XIV in France. There was a big new palace, elaborate court ceremonial to keep the nobles occupied. But unlike the French Sun King Joao avoided war, choosing instead to spend similar enormous amounts as bribes to the church to get his country recognized as sovereign. How so? The Spanish had relinquished their claim to Portugal in 1668, but Joao didn't get the Vatican to sign off on that until 1748, two years before his death.
The coinage is complex, interesting, and of much greater availability than previous few reigns. There were several revaluations of the gold and silver during the reign, and they continued the game of valuing the coins higher than their expressed "face" value. There are no countermarks during the reign though, so one could contemplate the possibility of assembling a complete set.
The silver brings forward the old designs: big square crowned shield and Jerusalem cross mostly, crowned Roman numerals and simple cross for the small ones, cross and armillary sphere for the tiny vintem. A few of the little ones are undated. Coppers started with crowned J.V types, switched to a crowned fancy shield in 1723.
The gold started out "normal" but switched over to a portrait type in 1722, the first such since medieval times. The new coins were completely different denominations of different weights than the old coins. It was a matter of prestige. French Louis was doing it. Joao was going to do it too.
The portrait gold coins came in various sizes from the very rare 8 escudos to the also rare 1/4. The middle values are fairly common as types, even if they cost hundreds for the small ones and a thousand or more for the 4 escudos. The same types were struck in Lisbon, Porto, and three Brazilian mints, and maybe the Brazilian ones are a bit more common.
The next king was Jose I. He was 36 years old in 1750 when he took the throne, an absolutist in the fullness of his strength. He immediately put a powerful guy, the marquis of Pombal, in charge of internal affairs. Pombal does not show up in the coinage, but his influence was everywhere during his tenure. A lot of reforms were carried out in finance and administration. Modernization was a necessity. All the other European countries were doing it, Portugal was lagging anyway, better do something. Pombal was efficient but he had a nasty streak and became quite unpopular as time went on.
Five years into Jose's reign an earthquake struck Lisbon. Part of the event was a tidal wave. The city was almost completely destroyed. That put a wrinkle in the plans. But there was all that gold coming out of Brazil, they started rebuillding right away. I bet you if Hurricane Katrina had hit Washington they wouldn't be fiddlefaddling around. Well, the king was living in Lisbon. They put it back together on the QT, which meant a couple of decades, you know how it is. Marble and all that in a severe, earthquake resistant style that has come to be known as Pombaline. Meanwhile the king developed a morbid fear of stone walls and chose to live in tents for the rest of his life.
Jose's coinage continued the last iteration of his father's, with portrait gold and what had become "standard" silver and copper. They look the same, only the name is different. There were no revaluations. You will note that the gold does not have a value on the coins. The silver has the traditional undervaluation, it says 400 (reis) but its really 480. They were made in Lisbon and Brazil. You can find these coins, and in nice condition to boot. Copper 5 (V) and 10 (X) reis are common enough that they still occasionally turn up in junk boxes (in appropriate condition of course). There are enough of of Jose's coins that date collection can be contemplated. Of course you will not succeed, probably. But before this reign there would be no point in even trying.
Jose's children were all girls. He had named the eldest to be his heir as one of his first royal acts, and she became Queen Maria I in 1777. First thing she did was get rid of Pombal.
Maria was 43 years old on her accession. As time passed she became unstable personality-wise, and in 1799 she surrendered her official functions to her son, Joao, who became prince regent. Just in time too, I suppose. Napoleon was in the early phase of his ascendancy. So, though she continued as queen until her death in 1816, she was out of the picture, and off the coinage as it happens, after 1799.
Maria's coinage was a continuation of the regime of the previous half century. An interesting feature was the joint portrait of her and her husband, Pedro III, on the gold until his death in 1786, their names together on the silver and copper. Pedro did not participate in government in any way, confining himself to ceremonies, production of offspring, and moral support. Spouses on coins were an occasional feature of European coinage at that time. Hey, maybe couple portrait coins would make an interesting collection, eh what? Might get expensive though, big coins, gold, marriage and anniversary commemoratives.
Anyway, the dual portrait gold of Maria and Pedro is not more expensive than the subsequent gold with Maria alone. But it is after all gold, so its not cheap.
Maria's silver is available. The copper is common.
There is an ongoing debate amongst historians regarding the influence
of individuals in the great sweep of history. The more process oriented
like to imagine that things would have turned out substantially the same
if the various key individuals of a time or place had not been there.
If not Einstein then someone. Pasteur or someone. Bill Gates
Maybe so in the sciences. Maybe so. Though I can't avoid the thought that someone in Eurasia invented the wheel, but in the Americas no one did.
But someone else rather than Hitler? Stalin? Chingiz Khan? Lincoln? I kind of think probably not. If Douglass had been president in 1861 things obviously would have been different. No Chingiz no Mongol empire. Much as my egalitarian soul might wish that everyone is in some way "the same" it appears that it is, in fact, not so. There are "great" people. They do "great" things.
Which brings us to Napoleon and his effect on Portugal, which had an effect on Brazil, the results still affecting us today.
1799: Queen Maria of Portugal went effectively nuts and reliquished her powers to her son Joao. Napoleon, meanwhile, returned from Egypt to France and launched his coup against the Directory.
1800: Napoleon campaigned in Italy. As a side project, a trifle really, he demanded, in concert with his buddy in Spain, Manuel de Godoy, that Portugal join the continental boycott of England. Portugal had been allied with England for more than half a millennium, so that really bit. France also demanded the cession of the majority of its territory. Naturally, Portugal refused.
1801: Napoleon was still in Italy, but Spain went merrily invading Portugal. Portugal was trounced, lost a bit of land to Spain, and agreed to join the anti-British "Continental System."
Portugal observed the terms of the treaty until the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which the French lost. Portugal then resumed relations with England. Napoleon was annoyed, he'd have to teach them a lesson.
In 1807 Napoleon launched the Peninsular War, sending troops into Portugal through allied Spain. There was no effective resistance. The Portuguese royal family packed up and moved to Brazil on ships provided by the British. A year later Britain invaded Portugal and kicked out the French, but meanwhile Napoleon had overthrown the Spanish monarchy and had given the throne to his brother, producing a fierce rebellion in Spain.
More backing and forthing ensued on the Iberian peninsula. By 1810 the French were out of Portugal, and by 1814 the British mostly, along with Portuguese and Spanish troops, had driven them completely out of the peninsula. Much bloodshed and destruction. Everything a mess. The Spanish colonies in America all in revolt. The Portuguese court quaking in its slippers in Brazil.
Portugal had not been in such good shape before the French meddling. Couple of centuries of mismanagement, and then there was that earthquake that levelled Lisbon in 1755. They had continued making coins through all of this turmoil, but it had been hit or miss. During the French intervention period of 1800-1810 coinage production became exceptionally spotty. A few coppers in 1800, 1801, and 1804, all scarce relative to the common coins of the late 18th century. A few gold coins from 1802 on, "common" denominations being the 400 and 6400 reis. "Large" silver 200 and 400 reis numerous dates from 1801 on, but despite their relatively low prices in the Standard Catalog, they are not so easy to find. The small silver was undated through the 1830s, who knows when they were actually struck, they're not all that common either.
The British were substantially running the country, more or less, after about 1808 or so, and things began to regularize a bit. It was not the British government though, rather, it was a bunch of merchants. A lot of laissez-faire was going on, that being the economic fashion of the time. Portuguese coins being rather scarce, as we can see today, and British coins of the time also, except for those heavy coppers that stayed home, you can imagine what kind of money they were using. Spanish colonial, same as everyone else in almost the whole world.
Am I wrong? There really doesn't seem to be much Portugal on the market for the first decade or two of the 19th century.
An interesting feature of this early 19th century coinage were the various large and thick bronze 40 reis coins. Maybe they got the idea from the British cartwheels. They are fairly common by and large, but only in low grade. The price spreads in the catalogs range from under $10 in VG to well over $100 in XF. Well, those bottom end prices are perhaps a bit old, should be higher, but on the other hand I've never actually seen one in XF. No, actually I have. On Ebay. Lovely XF, except for the extensive light corrosion pleasantly covered by the Renaissance wax.
Another interesting feature of the period was the abominable slave trade. Britain got out of the business in 1807, but look at this: there's the British governor of Portugal, and Portugal had always been a bigger slaver than Britain. So the British bowed out, leaving the Portuguese to run it all, more or less, except for the Americans of course, in a relatively small way. But who's running Portugal?
Funny thing, that.
Also notice that they really weren't doing silver crowns in Portugal, never really had. At that time no one needed to make crowns if they didn't want to. The Spanish were supplying the world. The Americans weren't making crowns either, except to demonstrate sovereignty. But they were making them in Brazil. Overstriking Spanish dollars. For facilitation of commerce.
Napoleon was gone after 1814, Europe slowly picking up its pieces, Portugal with its annoying British governor. A clamor arose for the return of the king, no, prince regent from Brazil, but it seemed he rather was enjoying himself in Rio. The situation festered. What should have happened didn't happen.
The old queen died in 1816 and prince regent Joao became king. He changed the structure of the country so that Brazil, where he was, stopped being a colony and became part of the kingdom, "just like" metropolitan Portugal. He figured that meant he didn't have to go home because he was home. Because he said so. Ah, the joys of absolute monarchy!
It also meant that Brazil could trade on its own instead of shipping everything through the homeland. Brazilian oomph had been keeping Portugal afloat for a couple of centuries. Turn down that tap, things got dry pretty quick.
For the Portuguese court things were going good in Brazil. They monkeyed with the currency to support their lifestyle, which is where those countermarked coins came from. New law says the money is now worth twice what it was yesterday, couple of weeks or months or years of confusion to be taken advantage of. There was so much more to do in Brazil! And so much more to do it with. Portuguese coins of the time may be scarce, but Brazils are not hard to find, pretty easy, in fact, some of them, and the countermarked coppers are downright common.
Another funny thing: look at the Portuguese coins of 1818-24. Back of the Portuguese arms are the Brazilian arms. One might almost think that the heraldry was implying precedence for Brazil, mightn't one? That formulation disappears with the death of king Joao in 1826. Makes sense, Brazil was independent by then.
The combined arms coins of about 1818 to 1825 are neither more nor less common than preceding and following types. They will all go higher than the catalog. A gold peca (6400 reis) of 1822 in XF sold on Ebay late July, 2007. Catalog is $550, the common year. It went for over $900.
The practice of Brazil bypassing Portugal in commerce got the Portuguese to grumbling. They asked the king to come home but he didn't want to. Meanwhile, a tide of constitutionalism was rising in Europe. It reached Spain in 1820 and quickly passed on to Portugal. Nonviolent protests of various kinds pushed the British governor out of Lisbon, and the king was asked to return from Brazil. A constitution was written, the powers of the church curbed, the press freed.
An important economic goal of the revolutionaries was more problematic. All that liberal stuff was fine and dandy maybe, but they also wanted to close down the free Brazilian trade and make everything go through Portugal again. Made sense from the metropolitan perspective. They had made Brazil after all, they needed that money, ungrateful wretches. In Brazil they didn't see it that way. They saw it more like the Americans of the late 18th century.
The royal family was on both sides, tempermentally, philosophically, economically. When the king returned to Portugal he had an understanding with his son Pedro that the boy would become king of Brazil should it come to that. Keep it all in the family, one way or another. Let the Brazilians think they were free, what difference did it make?
King Joao returned to Portugal in 1821. A few months later the revolutionary assembly abolished the kingdom of Brazil and returned it to its former colonial status. Troops were sent out from Portugal to enforce the new status. Prince Pedro was ordered back to Portugal. Over months of dithering and maneuvering, accompanied by scattered violence, Pedro gradually moved toward independence, finally culminating in a full break, recognized by king Joao in 1825, shortly before his death.
Well the succession was messed up. Older son Pedro was king of independent Brazil, the Portuguese didn't want him. Younger son Miguel had conspired with his mother against the constitution, blood had been shed, he was hiding out in Austria, the Portuguese didn't want him either. In the event, Pedro accepted the Portuguese crown, which was an immediate problem, because the Brazilian constitution forbade him from wearing two crowns. He liked Brazil better, and held the Portuguese title for only a few months of 1826, abdicating in favor of his daughter Maria, 7 years old, with brother Miguel, the conspirator, as regent. Part of the deal was that he was to marry Maria, his niece, when she became 14 in 1832. This regency does not show up on the coinage, which continued in Pedro's name through 1828.
Still with me? Complications ensued in the execution of this so-called plan. Pedro had problems in Brazil both political and economic, and Miguel continued to conspire against the consitution in favor of his absolutist dreams. The situations on both sides of the ocean deteriorated. Violence of various kinds developed. As soon as Miguel got back to Portugal in 1828 he declared himself king. More resistance. By 1832 there was a fairly big civil war going on in Portugal. Pedro, meanwhile, had abdicated the Brazilian throne and returned to the Azores, where he prepared forces to go against Miguel. While he was there he had some coins struck in Maria's name, made in England by the way. He had British help of various kinds. By 1834 he had the upper hand. Miguel was forced into exile again and Maria became queen.
By and large Pedro's coins are a bit scarcer than Joao's, and Miguel's are a bit scarcer still. Maria's are more common. You will find coppers of all of these personages, the small ones maybe in decent condition, the larger ones usually low grade. Silver coins are generally not so common, especially these days in nice grade, when the Portuguese are going after their coins. The gold of this period is pretty much not there to be found.
Yet another funny thing: Maria was crowned in 1834 but there are coins for her dated 1833. Don't know that story, no time to research.
One of the first things Maria and her people did when they got their hands on the wheel was to plan a conversion from the messy currency they had to a more rational system. Remember that for several centuries the coins had been lying, officially worth more than they said they were worth. This was done so that the coin issuers could play fiscal games when they felt like it. To interpret the practice as a sort of formalized and traditional corruption could be a tenable position. Portugal was not the only nation to do that.
But the vastly increased expenditures of the 19th century demanded a better control of the treasury, and the fashionable constitutionalism demanded some degree of accountability from the controllers. Thus the reform.
For better or worse I've cribbed a lot of my Portuguese history
from Wikipedia. It has been pretty good for me until now. The
detail has been adequate for my purposes. Random fact checking has
revealed occasional opinion but substantial accuracy. Imagine my
chagrin when I went to Wiki for the second half of the 19th century and
found essentially nothing but a bunch of titles with nothing following!
Some problem with 1834-1900? I got out my 15 year old Collier's Encyclopedia. Astoundingly, it seems that nothing of lasting significance happened in that period. They tried, but little was accomplished. Opportunities were missed, projects launched but not completed, a couple of civil wars almost happened, the country almost went bankrupt, almost occupied part of what is now Congo Democratic Republic, and so forth. It made me think of the term of one of our American presidents: Benjamin Harrison. Can't recall what happened during his tenure? That's what I mean.
The main thing was probably the economy. Portugal had lost access to Brazilian money, didn't have much going for it at home (port wine, cork), the major foreign holdings were Angola and Mozambique. The African colonies had wood and they were working on agriculture, but there was no money, it was pretty slow.
Oh, and they finally got around to abolishing slavery in 1836. But not in Brazil, where a lot of the business of Portugal still was getting done, independence notwithstanding. What exactly did that mean then, the abolition of slavery? Well, specifically, it meant that they had to start paying people in the African colonies, which meant that they had to invest. And they did. With borrowed money, a lot of it from England and France, later on from Germany. They built buildings, railroads, port facilities.
But money was consistently tight in Portugal. There was bickering, corruption, reform and pseudo-reform, all carried out in depressed circumstances. And there was bad luck too. A good king died young. That was Pedro V, who started doing interesting things but succumbed to cholera. Successor Luis was not interested in politics, thus two decades of drift as the politicians duked it out.
Maybe someone will write in to remonstrate. What about the epic conflict of the Septembrists and the Chartists? What about the Pink Map of Africa? The German plot to force national bankruptcy and seize the colonies? Or the Spanish plot to annex Portugal? Well, I would respond, what about them? None of those things came off. A lot of talk. There were also at least two civil wars that almost happened but didn't. What happens is what counts, right? Not what get talked about. Maybe later, maybe. But on the spot, at the time, I think its the actual events that draw the interest.
So, Maria II was created queen by her father, emperor of Brazil, barred by constitutional strictures from taking the Portuguese crown as well. One of the early things her constitutional government did was reform the coinage. All of the Spanish dollars in the country were supposed to be rounded up and countermarked to fix their value, a few foreign gold coins too. Then they were pulled in and melted. These countermarked 8 reales are uncommon, maybe a couple of them show up in a year. Similar countermarks of the Philippines, struck about the same time by different people, are far more common.
The reform did away with the legal fictions inherent in the Portuguese coins, the official values being higher than what was stamped on them. It was as if Portugal was joining the modern world. "Decimal" is probably the wrong way of describing the change, because there were no fractions of the reis. But the new system was certainly base 10. And there was actually continuity of denominations to some extent. 5, 10, 20, 50 reis coins had all been seen before in the lives of the users. But the new ones meant what they said.
I always like to look around at neighboring currencies and those of the major trade partners when there is a reform, to see if the reformers are doing anything to coordinate. The obvious suspects would be Spain, Britain, Brazil, maybe Mexico, maybe France. Nothing. The Portuguese reform seems to have been floated entirely on its own.
Maria's reform denominations were 5, 10, 20 reis in copper, 100, 500, and 1000 reis in silver, 2500 and 5000 reis in gold, with a single year gold 1000 reis toward the end of her reign. The copper types are common in circulated condition, silver minors generally not rare, gold types mostly obtainable. These are normal 19th century European issues, technically excellent, showing up in the normal distribution of grade ranges. Prices in the Standard Catalog for higher grades should be considered low.
Unfortunately shortlived Pedro V (reigned 1853-61) struck no copper. Silver continued Maria's denominations and added 50 and 200 reis. Gold comprised 1000, 2000, and 5000 reis. Pedro's coins are rather scarce on the ground in my experience.
Luis (1861-89), Pedro's brother, struck 3, 5, 10, and 20 reis in copper, with a resizing and modernization of the coins in 1882. They tend to be common in low grades, especially the 20 reis. High grades are typically difficult. Silver 50, 100, 200, and 500 reis can be found in decent condition, the odd specimen occasionally appearing in high grade, uncirculated rare. Gold 2000, 5000, and later 10,000 reis will appear from time to time. Typical grades will be VF-XF, uncirculated uncommon.
The next king, Carlos, well, this is interesting. Collier's Encyclopedia: "...did much to restore Portugal's international status." Wikipedia: "...vastly extravagant... wastefulness and extramarital affairs...sealed the fate of the Portuguese monarchy." Where lieth the truth? His subjects grumbled mightily to the point that he dissolved parliament and appointed a dictator to rule. After 2 years of dictatorship Carlos was assassinated (1908). That's what the Chinese call the Will of Heaven.
The coins of Carlos are copper 5, 10 and 20 reis, silver 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 reis, the 50 and 100 replaced by copper-nickel from 1900, no gold. You will occasionally run into these coins in Unc. You want to take note of the first Portuguese commemoratives: the 1898 "discovery" of India trio. Type set completely doable, dates - don't know. Probably a few toughies, especially these days, and one impossible (1900 1000 reis).
The next and last king, Manuel II, was 19 on accession. He lacked the experience and the connections to hold the monarchy together, lasted 2 years, and then was forced out by a military mutiny that became a coup d'etat.
Manuel's coins were bronze 5 reis, silver 100, 200, 500, and 1000 reis. Not rare, but there is buyer pressure, they like them in Portugal, high grades are undervalued in the SCWC.
OK, they had a messy and contentious republic starting in 1910, several dictatorships to restore order, the last on was pretty totalitarian, banning everything, rewriting history, order before development, lasted about 5 decades. Ideology aside, Portugal managed to remain formally neutral while materially aiding traditional ally Britain during World War II. None of the history was reflected in the coinage.
First thing the republicans did was replace the reis with the decimal escudo. They didn't get around to it until 1914, when they put out a silver escudo, essentially the weight of the contemporary Spanish 5 peseta coin. The coin notes the founding of the republic and is backdated to 1910. It is common.
Regular coins came out starting in 1915, various denominations in bronze, copper-nickel, and silver. The important thing to know about these republican coins is that people in Portugal collect them by date. There are substantial offerings on Ebay any day you care to look. They comprise common dates and semi-keys. A lot of them are being sold by Portuguese, many are being sold to their countrymen. I'd say even that common dates are in oversupply. You might find that there is a tendency towards overgrading with those guys, but the one I got some things from made it right when I complained.
There are also keys in the early republicans; things like the 1918 2 centavos in iron, and the 1922 5 centavos. You've noticed how impossible those wartime iron coins are in uncirculated, haven't you? The keys do not show up very often. I mean things like the 1922 20 centavos. None for sale.
A general overhaul of module and design was begun in the 1920s and continued on into the 1940s, then stablizing somewhat until the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1974. These are the girl head bronzes, lady head copper-nickels, both types replaced by the 5 shields of the national arms, and the boat silver multiple escudos, modified to copper-nickel in the 1960s. You know these coins. They show up in junk boxes, mixed packets, 3-ring binders. But there are keys amongst these otherwise common types. I managed to get one, the 1935 1 escudo, for a client. Evidently that's one of the easy keys. 2 1/2 escudos 1937, SCWC $1500.00 in Unc, no, none for sale.
Some commemoratives were struck during the dictatorship, denominations as high as 50 escudos, all easy to find. You will note "matte" versions of some of these, that they were made "on private contract." I haven't run into any of these, but more about that private contract business below.
The dictatorship was overthrown by a military coup in 1974. It put in a provisional government and took steps to grant independence to the colonies. An election in 1975 gave various kinds of leftists the upper hand. A "socialist" constitution was adopted in 1976. The country has evolved since then toward what we think of as "normal," parliamentarianism, popular representation, non-political military, that kind of good stuff. The economy has evolved as well, to the point that Portugal is considered to be "doing all right" these days.
Post-revolutionary minors are described in the Standard Catalog as being made of "nickel-brass," but in practice they act like ordinary brass, which means that they have a tendency to develop nasty black spots. On the high end they really went to town on commemoratives in the '80s, many different types in series every year in denominations up to 1000 escudos. Some were made, Isle of Man style, in copper-nickel, silver, and gold. Typically the precious versions of these coins are not on the market, and when they do show up the silvers go 2-4 times spot, gold maybe a little bit over spot. The Portuguese don't seem to care much about these coins, and neither, apparently, does anyone else. The normal metal versions are mostly common, and mostly they don't sell.
Now about those "private contract" coins. From about the 1860s the Lisbon mint was making, and sometimes contracting with other mints, to make patterns and things they called "provas," which were generally normal coins struck with new dies and stamped "PROVA." These were supposed to be presented for inspection by relevant officials, but some of them, especially from the 1950s on, were struck in quantities sufficient to become marketable, which was apparently occasionally done out the back door of the mint, as it were. There is some discussion of whether or not some of these provas were sort of made to order.
There are also "trial strikes," which typically have one good die impression and something abnormal on the other side, usually nothing, and maybe in the wrong, usually base metal. Again, some of them were made in suspiciously large quantities, could not possibly have an official purpose, must have been some kind of bootleg retailing operation by mint employees or something like that.
And another category - some miniature coins, most or all aluminum, struck in the 1970s for unknown reasons in unknown but significant quantities, generally not available these days, and not in the Standard Catalog either. But they do exist.
And the mint sets and the proof sets, not seen very often, prices tend to be high. I think they like the proof sets in Portugal. The mint sets, I don't know.
On to the euro coins. Apparently they have been making the circulation coins every year, and mint sets, and proof sets, and most of them seem not to have been listed in the Standard Catalog yet. They have also been making multiple euro commemoratives in .500 fine silver, sterling proofs, and some in gold. I have seen a couple of the .500 fine coins with real circulation on them. INCM, by the way, means Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, which is bureaucratese for the Lisbon mint. I have noticed approximately no interest in these euro commemoratives amongst the collectors.
A brief mention of tokens. As mentioned variously before, coinage production was spotty in Portugal for, well, all of its history. In any given year, or decade for that matter, they'd more likely be tight for cash than not. The lack of public accomodation would be made up by the usual expedients: foreign coins, credit, unwanted merchandise, and private issue tokens. Maybe tokens got started in the 18th century, more likely in the 19th, by the end of the 19th century they were definitely in use here and there, especially in the Azores, where there would be all kinds of supply problems on an irregular basis. Maybe the high point of token production was in the confusion of the early republican period. A cute twist was the series of porcelain tokens made in the late 1910s-20s.
Portuguese tokens are generally scarce. Some are expensive. I'm not sure if there is a catalog for them
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