Visigoths in Spain by Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
…[T]he history of the Visigothic kingdom is one long struggle between the nobility and the monarchy. The kings were supported by the clergy in their efforts to consolidate the royal power and transmit it from father to son, while the nobles strove to keep it elective, and held themselves free to depose the elected king by violence (Altamire, 187).
A GERMANIC PEOPLE WHO traced their origins to Scandinavia, the Visigoths migrated to central Europe during the chaotic fourth century, crushing the Roman legions of Emperor Valens in 378 at Adrianople (now Edirne, Turkey) and sacking Rome itself in 410 under their king Alaric (ruled 395-410). Following this migration, the Visigoths settled in southern France, but were eventually pushed into Spain by the growing power of the Franks. Ancient statistics are shaky (notoriously so), but one source estimates that by the year 600, a hundred thousand Visigoths ruled a Romanized Spanish population of several million (Collins, 241). Visigothic kings initially issued “pseudo-Imperial” tremisses (high-purity gold coins of about 1.5 grams that gradually declined to about 18 kt and 1.3 grams) bearing the image and name of the distant emperor in Constantinople.
The Visigothic royal tremisses are frankly ugly, even for medieval coins. The engraving is crude and the Latin inscriptions are often blundered. The skill of rendering a realistic portrait in metal died out during these “Dark Ages” and was not rediscovered until the Renaissance. Historians are baffled by an economy where the only circulating currency was a high-value gold coin; imagine a cash economy with nothing but $50 banknotes! Old, worn Roman bronzes filled the need for small change, and recent archaeological digs in Spanish cities have turned up crude copper tokens (marked with only a cross or monogram) that served as municipal coinage.
The Visigoths had nearly a hundred different mints, mostly small and short-lived, issuing only a handful of surviving coins. The main mints were Toletum (Toledo, the royal capital), Emerita (Merida), Hispalis (Seville) and Cordoba (Corduba).
Leovigild & Hermenegild
Leovigild came to the throne in 568. About the year 575, the king broke with tradition by inscribing his own name on his coinage. Early examples bear Leovigild’s name and title on both sides, with no mint name. On some examples, the title is INCLITUS REX (“Glorious King”). The reverse bears a stick figure derived from the winged Victory on late Roman and Byzantine coins. In 2013, a superb example brought £5,000 (over $7,900 USD) at auction, against an estimate of £1,500.
On more common types, which set a pattern for subsequent Visigothic kings, Leovigild’s long-haired facing portrait appears on both sides, while the reverse spells out the name of the mint or celebrates one of the king’s victories.
Visigoths were Christian but their national church followed the “Arian” heresy, rejecting the Catholic doctrine that the Son was co-eternal with the Father. Today these theological disputes seem hopelessly abstract and esoteric, but to medieval minds, they were sufficient cause for endless bloodshed.
In 579, Leovigild’s eldest son, Hermenegild, married Ingund, a 12-year-old Frankish princess. She refused to accept Arian beliefs, even when Leovigild’s queen, Goiswintha, had her beaten. Hermenegild soon rose in revolt against his father at Seville. Hermenegild’s coins are exceptionally rare, with only a single sale recorded in the CoinArchives Pro database, realizing over $29,000 in 2018.
Hermenegild was captured, imprisoned, and eventually executed. His younger brother Reccared became king on the death of Leovigild in 586. He reigned for 15 years, putting down a revolt by die-hard Arians and completing the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism. His crude portrait appears on both sides of his gold tremissis. On the reverse, the Latin word PIUS (“faithful”) usually appears after the name of the mint, and this became a feature on the coinage of his successors.
Reccared died a natural death in 601 (unusual for a Visigothic king) and was succeeded by his 18-year-old son, Liuva II
Liuva’s coins are scarce since he reigned for less than two years. They closely follow the Visigoths design of his father’s tremisses. Rather than waging a planned campaign against the Byzantine-held province in southern Spain, the army commander, Witteric, staged a military coup, deposing and executing Liuva in July, 603.
Witteric reigned for seven years, failing to make any headway against the Byzantines. He tried to restore the Arian church as the state religion but was humiliated when the powerful Burgundian king Theodoric II rejected a marriage alliance with his daughter. Some Catholic nobles murdered Witteric at a banquet in 610, dragging his body through the streets of Toledo and burying him without royal honors. An extremely fine example of his gold tremissis realized over $1,500 (against an estimate of $750) in a 2006 auction.
Gundemar, governor of Narbonne (the Visigothic foothold in southern France), was installed as king, restoring Catholicism as the state religion. He died naturally at Toledo in March 612, having reigned for less than two years. His coins are rare.
Described as “one of the most learned of the Visigothic kings (Collins, 75),” Sisebut (born c. 565) was chosen by the nobility to succeed Gundemar. He led successful campaigns against the Byzantines, the Franks, and various rebels. His nine-year reign was marred by fierce persecution of the Jews, although this was opposed by the Church.
He died, aged about 56, in 621 and was succeeded by a young son, Reccared II, who was murdered after two months. Sisebut’s gold coinage is common.
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Son of Reccared I, and son-in-law of Sisebut, Suintila (or Swintila, born c. 588) was a capable military leader who finally succeeded in ejecting the Byzantines from Spain. He reigned for 10 years and his coins are fairly common.
In 625 he made his son Ricimer co-ruler. This aroused the fierce resistance of the nobles, including a northern governor, Sisenand, who was aided by the Frankish king Dagobert. Suintila was deposed and exiled with his family.
Sisenand and Iudila
Sisenand ruled for about five years. His coins repeat the standard design, with the same crude long-haired portrait on both sides and the mint name on the reverse.
In 633 he defeated a revolt led by an enigmatic figure named Iudila (“little Judah”), who may have been of Jewish ancestry. Only two coins of this rebel are known: one from Merida in the collection of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in New York; the other from Eliberri (Granada).
Sisenand died, apparently naturally, at the relatively young age of 31 in Toledo.
Chintila and Tulga
The bishops then elected Chintila, an elderly noble, to the throne. He was 86 upon his election and lived only three more years. Almost nothing is known about him and his coins are scarce. When he died in 639 his son Tulga took the throne. He, in turn, was overthrown and forced to enter a monastery in 642. On many of his rare coins, his name is spelled TULGAN, an abbreviation of TULGANUS.
Chindaswinth and Recceswinth
“After the insurrection that resulted in the deposition of Tulga, Chindasvinth, an extraordinarily vigorous old man of seventy-nine years was elected king by the nobles… (Miles, 31)”
Chindaswinth (there are many variant spellings) reigned for 12 years. His coins are scarce. His long name is abbreviated on the obverse inscription, with the Greek letter theta [Θ] used for “th”. In 649, Chindaswinth proclaimed his son Recceswinth (born c. 615?) to be co-ruler, and there are rare coins of the joint reign, with Recceswinth’s name on the reverse as a monogram around the mint name.
When Chindaswinth died in 653, Recceswinth ruled alone for another 19 years – the longest reign of any Visigothic king. He changed the design of the coinage substantially, replacing the crude obverse facing portrait with an equally crude profile bust, and placing a cross on three steps on the obverse (copying the design of the prestigious contemporary Byzantine gold solidus).
Recceswinth is famous in medieval art history because his name appears on a magnificent, frequently illustrated, gold “votive crown” set with sapphires. Unearthed with a hoard of buried treasure in the 19th century, it is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid.
Recceswinth completed the codification of the laws begun by his father, and this law code provides insight into the value of coins. For example, the penalty for stealing a cowbell was two tremisses, while physical assaults were fined according to damage: five solidi (15 tremisses) for a bruise, 10 if the skin is broken, 20 for a wound extending to the bone, and a hundred solidi if a bone is broken (Scott).
When Recceswinth died on September 1, 672, nobles elected the elderly Wamba, whose reign was troubled by regional rebellions and the first Arab raids along the southern coast.
Coins from his eight-year reign are scarce. On the obverse inscription, Wamba’s short name is preceded by an abbreviated invocation: I D I N M E “In Dei Nomine” (“in the name of God”). Deposed by a palace coup (14 October 680) Wamba was exiled to a monastery, and a noble named Erwig seized the throne.
Some of Erwig’s coins have a facing bust of the king, some a profile bust, and a few rare issues have an extraordinary innovation – a crude head of Christ superimposed over a cross. Although it looks like a child’s drawing of a smiley face, the coin is the earliest numismatic depiction of Christ, years before the Byzantine emperor Justinian II placed an image of Jesus on his gold solidus (c. 692).
In 687, shortly before his death, Ervig designated his son-in-law Egica as his successor
Egica and Wittiza
On rare tremisses of his sole reign, Egica, in profile, holds a cross-scepter adorned with leaves. Around 694, Egica proclaimed his son Wittiza as co-ruler. On coins of their joint reign, their facing profiles appear on either side of a long cross, and the mint name on the reverse is written as a monogram.
When Egica died late in 702, Wittiza ruled alone for eight troubled years. His rare coins are struck in a debased alloy (12 kt or less) and feature a stick-figure profile bust.
About the year 700, a noble named Suniefred led a revolt against Egica, seizing Toledo and issuing the rarest of all Visigothic coins, with a single surviving example (a second one in a Madrid museum was lost and presumed destroyed). The spiky obverse portrait looks more like a fire hydrant than a royal bust, but this unique coin realized £120,000 ($140,000) against an estimate of £25,000 in a recent auction, apparently a record for a Visigothic coin.
Roderic and Achila II
Roderic was elected king after the death of Wittiza in 710. He is a shadowy figure, surrounded by romantic legends that grew up centuries after his death in battle against invading Moslems in 711. Less than 20 authentic coins of his brief reign are known; none have appeared at auction in recent years and there are many forgeries.
While Roderic ruled in the south, Wittiza’s son, Achila II (or Agila), held out in the north for a few years. A tremissis of Achila II from Narbonne, one of three known and the last Visigothic issue, realized over $20,000 in a recent auction.
Collecting the Visigoths
Visigothic coins are found in Spain, Portugal, and southern France (they did not circulate widely) and they commonly appear in Spanish auction catalogs. There are many 19th-century forgeries, especially of rare types; some of these are collectible in their own right. For collectors who read Spanish, the two-volume catalog by Ruth Pliego (2009) is the standard reference. The American Numismatic Society catalog by Miles (1952) is outdated but still useful. Collins (2004) is a scholarly and very readable English-language history of the period.
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 Or Liuvigild, or Leuvigild – Visigothic spelling was haphazard, as different scribes recorded whatever sounded right to them.
 Roma Numismatics E-sale 2, 2 November 2013, Lot 731. Realized $7,961 USD.
 Sincona, Auction 6, 22 May 2012, Lot 234. Realized $1,676 USD.
 Jesus Vico Auction 150, 1 March 2018, Lot 866. Realized $29,229 USD.
 In 1585 he was canonized as a martyr by Pope Sixtus V, at the request of Spanish king Philip II.
 Goldberg Auction 84, 27 January 2015, Lot 3254. Realized $875 USD.
 Goldberg Auction 63, 31 May 2011, Lot 2600. Realized $3,800 USD.
 CNG Sale 72, 14 June 2006, Lot 2242. Realized $1,570 USD.
 Elsen, Auction 111, 10 December 2011, Lot 517. Realized 1,000 euro ($1,337 USD) against an estimate of 1,250 euro.
 Goldberg Auction 84, 27 January 2015, Lot 3255. Realized $800 USD.
 Goldberg Auction 69, 29 May 2012, Lot 3647. Realized $825 USD.
 Roma Numismatics E-Sale 55, 18 April 2019, Lot 1212. Realized $1,044 USD.
 Votive crowns were not intended to be worn, but rather hung above a church altar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treasure_of_Guarrazar
 Jesus Vico, Auction 151, 7 June 2018, Lot 544. Realized 1,200 euro (about $1,338.67 USD).
 CNG Sale 61, 25 September 2002 Lot 2197. Realized $3,500 USD.
 Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 106, 9 May 2018, Lot 1113. Realized $2,490 USD.
 Roma Numismatics, Auction XI, 7 April 2016, Lot 981. Realized $2,678 USD.
 Roma Numismatics, E-Sale 2, 2 November 2013, Lot 733. Realized $4,776 USD.
 Roma Numismatics, Auction XVIII, 29 September 2019, Lot 1365.
 Jesus Vico, Auction 153, 7 March 2019, Lot 462. Realized $20,782 USD.
Altamira, Rafael. “Spain Under the Visigoths”, The Cambridge Medieval History, Volume II. New York (1913)
Bartlett, Peter and Gonzalo Cores. “The Coinage of the Visigothic King Sisebut (612-621) From the Mint of Barbi”, Gaceta Numismatica 158/159. (2005)
Castro Priego, Manuel. “Absent Coinage: Archaeological Contexts and Tremisses on the Central Iberian Peninsula in the 7th and 8th Centuries AD”, Medieval Archaeology 60 (2016)
Collins, Roger. Visigothic Spain: 409-711. Malden (MA). (2004)
Grierson, Philip and Mark Blackburn. Medieval European Coinage, Vol I: The Early Middle Ages (5th – 10th centuries). Cambridge (1986)
Grierson, Philip. Coins of Medieval Europe. London (1991)
Grierson, Philip. “Visigothic Metrology”, Numismatic Chronicle 13 (1953)
Kurt, Andrew. “Visigothic Currency in its Making and Movement: A Varying State of Circumstances”, Networks and Neighbours, Visigothic Symposium 3. (2018)
Miles, George. The Coinage of the Visigoths of Spain: Leovigild to Achila II. New York (1952)
Pliego, Ruth. “King’s Names on Visigothic Bronze Coins: A New Minimus from Ispali in the Name of Leovigild”, American Journal of Numismatics 30. (2018)
Pliego, Ruth. “The Circulation of Copper Coins in the Iberian Peninsula During the Visigothic Period: New Approaches”, Journal of Archaeological Numismatics 5/6. (2016)
Pliego, Ruth. La moneda visigoda (2 volumes). Seville (2009)
Scott, J. P. (translator). The Visigothic Code. Forum Judicum (1910)
Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Berkeley (1988)