Stacks Bowers is buying and selling all rare coins and currency

HomeAncient CoinsEmergency Money: A Short History of Siege Coins

Emergency Money: A Short History of Siege Coins

Emergency Money: A Short History

By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..

The issue of siege money is recorded on various occasions in antiquity and the Middle Ages, but its history effectively begins in the late fifteenth century, and the issue of obsidional money accompanies all the great sieges which are such a conspicuous feature of the military history of Europe under the ancien regime (Grierson, 169).

* * *

THE LATIN WORD for “siege” is obsidium, so numismatists use the term “obsidional” to describe emergency coins improvised by authorities in cities under siege. Cut off from normal monetary circulation, these towns needed to pay the troops manning the walls, as they struggled to maintain normal commercial activity. Siege coins are highly collectible pieces of the past, although they present many challenges to collectors.

The Jewish War

JUDAEA, Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel (22mm, 13.68 g, 12h). Jerusalem mint. Dated year 5 ([August] 70 CE). Omer cup;"Y[ear] 5" (date) in Hebrew above,"Shekel of Israel" in Hebrew around / Sprig of three pomegranates; "Jerusalem the holy" in Hebrew around. Meshorer 215; Kadman 45 (same obv. die as illustration); Hendin 1370 (same obv. die as illustration); Bromberg 389 (same obv. die); Shoshana I 20221 (same obv. die); Sofaer –; Spaer –. EF, lightly toned. Very rare, and among the finest known, From the David Hendin Collection. Classical Numismatic Group > Triton XIX, 5 January 2016, Lot: 306, realized: $300,000.
JUDAEA, Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel (22mm, 13.68 g, 12h). Jerusalem mint. Dated year 5 ([August] 70 CE). From the David Hendin Collection. Classical Numismatic Group, Triton XIX, 5 January 2016, Lot: 306, realized: $300,000.
One of the rarest and most coveted ancient Judaean coins was issued during the Roman siege of Jerusalem.

The “Year 5” silver shekel was produced for just four months, from April to August 70 CE; only 14 genuine examples are known. Three were found in the ruins of the fortress of Masada[1], stormed by the Romans in 74 CE. The obverse bears a chalice, surrounded by the inscription “Shekel of Israel”. Two letters–ש (shin) for “year” and ה (he) for the numeral five–abbreviate the date above the rim of the chalice. On the reverse, a branch – or possibly the staff of the High Priest of the Temple (Hendin, 310) – with three pomegranate buds is surrounded by the inscription “Jerusalem the Holy”. An example of this coin brought $300,000 USD in a 2016 New York auction[2].

Gamla was a small hilltop fort in the Golan Heights. Besieged, stormed, and demolished by the Romans early in the revolt (c. 66-67 CE), it issued crude bronze imitations[3] of the Jerusalem shekel. Seven examples are known, of which four are in private collections.

Knights of Rhodes

CRUSADERS, Grandmasters of the Order of St. John on Rhodes. Philibert de Nailac. 1396-1421. AR Gigliato (3.87 gm). Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 46, 24 June 1998, Lot: 1660realized: $375.
CRUSADERS, Grandmasters of the Order of St. John on Rhodes. Philibert de Nailac. 1396-1421. AR Gigliato (3.87 gm). Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 46, 24 June 1998, Lot: 1660
realized: $375.

Organized in Jerusalem in 1099, the Knights of St. John or “Hospitallers” was a military order of Crusaders. Driven out of the Holy Land by the Muslims, the Knights occupied the island of Rhodes in 1310[4], strongly fortifying it as their base.

In 1374, the Knights of Rhodes captured the port of Smyrna (now Izmir, Türkiye) on the mainland. In December 1402, the army of Central Asian warlord Timur (or “Tamerlane”) besieged and captured Smyrna[5]. A rare, crudely struck silver gigliato (3.87 grams) in the name of Grandmaster Philibert de Nailac (served 1396-1421) was probably struck during this siege[6].

Constantinople

Constantine XI Palaeologus AR Stavraton. Roma Numismatics Ltd, Auction XX, 29 October 2020, Lot: 761, realized: £37,000 (approx. $47,748).
Constantine XI Palaeologus AR Stavraton. Roma Numismatics Ltd, Auction XX, 29 October 2020, Lot: 761, realized: £37,000 (approx. $47,748).

By the mid-15th century, the Byzantine Empire was reduced to the city of Constantinople and a few scattered islands and fortresses. Local coinage consisted of a silver stavraton of about 6.5 grams and its fractions (half, quarter, and eighth).

The last emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus, died on the city walls resisting the final Turkish assault on May 29, 1453. For centuries, numismatists believed he issued no coins. Around 1989, a hoard of about 80 pieces turned up in Istanbul. Struck with crude dies on silver hammered out from church altar vessels, these coins were used to pay Italian mercenaries and workers desperately repairing the city walls under bombardment. The obverse bears a sketchy stick figure of Christ; the reverse is an even sketchier image of the emperor, with an inscription that translates to “Despot Constantine Palaiologos, by the Grace of God, Emperor of the Romans”. As the very “last” Byzantine issue, these sad pieces command high prices[7]. In recent auctions, the little one-eighth stavraton, weighing about 0.6 grams, has sold for $19,000 to $30,000.

Sack of Rome

Papal States. Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici). 1523-1534. AR ducato ossidionale (38 mm, 35.95 g, 2 h). VAuctions, Triskeles Sale 31, 27 March 2020, Lot: 583, realized: Unsold.
Papal States. Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici). 1523-1534. AR ducato ossidionale (38 mm, 35.95 g, 2 h). VAuctions, Triskeles Sale 31, 27 March 2020, Lot: 583, realized: Unsold.

Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Giuliano de Medici; lived 1478 – 1534)[8] came to the Papal throne at a time of crisis. The Protestant Reformation was challenging the Roman Catholic Church’s dominance across northern Europe; Ottoman Turks were invading eastern Europe; and the two most powerful Catholic rulers of the age–Charles V of Spain and Austria and Francis I of France–were in conflict, demanding that Clement choose a side. Clement chose poorly, siding with France, Venice, and his native Florence against Charles.

On May 6, 1527, Charles’ mutinous mercenary army began a savage “Sack of Rome” that many historians regard as the end of the Italian Renaissance[9]. Clement took refuge in Rome’s citadel, Castel Sant’Angelo (originally built as Hadrian’s mausoleum). The besiegers demanded an immense ransom of 400,000 ducats. The Vatican’s precious altar vessels, accumulated over centuries, were melted down and used to strike an emergency issue of large (each being about 38 mm in diameter and weighing almost 36 grams!) silver ducats. The obverse shows the Medici coat of arms, surmounted by the Papal crossed keys. The reverse bears facing busts of St. Peter and St. Paul, with the ironic inscription ALMA ROMA (“Kindly Rome”).

A cataloguer writes:

Assays show that these ducats contained high percentages of gold. Thus, it is not surprising that most were melted by speculators at the time hoping to profit from the constituent bullion, which explains their great rarity today[10].

Vienna 1529

AUSTRIA. Klippe Ducat, 1529. Vienna Mint. Ferdinand I (1521-1564). Stack's Bowers Galleries (& Ponterio), August 2018 ANA Auction, 14 August 2018, Lot: 20163realized: $3,200. 
AUSTRIA. Klippe Ducat, 1529. Vienna Mint. Ferdinand I (1521-1564). Stack’s Bowers Galleries (& Ponterio), August 2018 ANA Auction, 14 August 2018, Lot: 20163, realized: $3,200.

On August 29, 1526, at the Battle of Mohacs, the army of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman destroyed an allied force from Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, the German Empire, and Poland. Louis II–King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia–was killed, and his kingdom disintegrated.

Suleiman’s next target was Austria and he carefully prepared, assembling an enormous army, variously estimated at 120,000 to 300,000 troops. The campaign began on May 10, 1529, and immediately ran into trouble. Spring rains washed out the roads, and heavy Ottoman siege guns became so bogged down that they were abandoned. Soldiers and draft animals suffered from disease. The army that arrived before the walls of Vienna late in September was decimated. Vienna was defended by a garrison of about 20,000 including Spanish harquebusiers[11] and German pikemen[12]. Nicholas, Count of Salm[13], a 70-year-old German mercenary, commanded the defenders. He reinforced the city’s antique walls with dirt berms to absorb the Ottoman bombardment.

To pay the defenders, an extensive siege coinage of gold ducats and silver 6-kreuzer pieces was improvised by collecting precious metal from the city’s wealthy aristocrats and merchants, and clipping it into square blanks. These are often described by the German term Klippe. The obverse bears a crowned profile bust of Emperor Ferdinand I[14], the date, and the inscription TURCK BLEGERT WIEN (“Turks Besiege Vienna”). The reverse bears the royal arms of Bohemia, Lower Austria, Castile, and Hungary arranged in a cross[15].

Haarlem 1572

NETHERLANDS. HAARLEM. Siege of 1572. Obsidional Ducat, 1572. Stack's (pre-Feb 2011), Stack & Kroisos, Collections, 14 January 2008, Lot: 3078, realized: $43,000.
NETHERLANDS. HAARLEM. Siege of 1572. Obsidional Ducat, 1572. Stack’s (pre-Feb 2011), Stack & Kroisos, Collections, 14 January 2008, Lot: 3078, realized: $43,000.

The Eighty Years’ War (1566-1648), also called the Dutch Revolt, was one of the bloody and brutal “Wars of Religion” that wracked Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time, Spain ruled the Low Countries (much of modern Belgium and the Netherlands). Fiercely Catholic Hapsburg emperor Charles V and his son Philip II persecuted Dutch Protestants, who fought back with growing desperation. The town of Haarlem[16] in the province of Holland joined the Dutch Revolt against Spain on July 4, 1572. After an epic seven-month siege, the starving city surrendered. The entire population, including women and children, was massacred by the Spanish.

The rare siege coins bear the city’s coat of arms, a vertical sword surrounded by stars. A unique gold “ducat” brought $43,000 in a 2008 U.S. auction[17].

Leiden 1574

Leiden. AR Achtentwintig stuiver Klippe. Siege issue. Dated 1574. Classical Numismatic Group, Triton XI,8 January 2008, Lot: 1229, realized: $1,000.
Leiden. AR Achtentwintig stuiver Klippe. Siege issue. Dated 1574. Classical Numismatic Group, Triton XI, 8 January 2008,
Lot: 1229, realized: $1,000.

The important Dutch city of Leiden was besieged by the Spanish from May to October 1574. Facing starvation and ravaged by plague, the defenders took the desperate measure of breaking the dykes, flooding the surrounding countryside. A fortunate shift in the wind increased the water depth enough to enable a fleet of shallow draft relief ships to reach the town and lift the siege. When Prince William the Silent offered to reward the town’s heroism with tax exemption, they replied they would rather have a university, and the University of Leiden was accordingly founded in 1575.

During the siege, silver coins were issued in denominations of 28 and 14 stuivers (20 stuivers equalled one gulden). The obverse bears the Latin inscription HAEC LIBERTATIS ERGO (“This is for freedom”). On the reverse, the Dutch inscription GODT BEHOEDE LEYDEN (“God Help Leiden”) surrounds the city arms[18].

Newark

Great Britain. Newark Halfcrown, 1646. Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Auction 1202 February 2021, Lot: 1475, realized: $4,000.
Great Britain. Newark Halfcrown, 1646. Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Auction 120, 2 February 2021, Lot: 1475, realized: $4,000.

Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. It was besieged by Parliamentary forces–once in 1644 and twice in 1645–finally surrendering in May 1646 on the orders of King Charles I. To pay the garrison, Royalist aristocrats donated their silver dinner ware and drinking cups, which were hammered flat and cut into diamond-shaped blanks for half-crowns, shillings, ninepences, and sixpences[19]. On the obverse, the coins are stamped with a crown, the royal cipher (C R), and the denomination in Roman numerals. The reverse is inscribed OBS NEWARK (abbreviated from the Latin word obsidium, mentioned above), along with the date.

Newark siege coins survive in large numbers, and are popular with collectors. An example of the half-crown (or 30 pence) brought $4,000 against an estimate of $1,500 in a 2021 U.S. auction[20].

Pontefract

STUART, Siege money. Pontefract. 1648-1649. AR Shilling (32mm, 4.28 g, 12h). Type I. Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 118, Auction date: 13 September 2021,Lot number: 1383, Price realized: $4,000.
STUART, Siege money. Pontefract. 1648-1649. AR Shilling (32mm, 4.28 g, 12h). Type I. Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 118, Auction date: 13 September 2021, Lot number: 1383, Price realized: $4,000.

Pontefract castle in Yorkshire, another Royalist stronghold, was repeatedly besieged during the English Civil War (1644, 1645, and 1648)[21]. A silver shilling dated 1648 bears the cipher of King Charles I with the optimistic Latin inscription DVM SPIRO SPERO (“While I breathe, I hope”; also used as the Latin motto of the U.S. state of South Carolina). The castle gate appears on the reverse.

The determined Royalists held out even after the execution of King Charles on January 30, 1649. Eventually, a negotiated surrender called for the garrison to be executed as traitors. When the Royalists threatened a suicidal last-ditch counterattack, it was agreed that they could return home in peace.

Lille

FRANCE, Royal. Louis XIV le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), 1643–1715. 10 Sous 1708 (Bronze, 24 mm, 4.72 g, 6 h), siege of Lille by the Allies during the War of the Spanish Succession Crowned arms of Maréchal de Boufflers on crossed marshal's batons. Rev. X. S: / .PRO./ DEFENSIONE / .VRBIS. ET. / .PATRIÆ. / 1708 in six lines. Boudeau 2314. Flan fault on the reverse, otherwise, good very fine. Leu Numismatik AG, Web Auction 22, Auction date: 20 August 2022, Lot number: 845, Price realized: 35 (CHF  Approx. $36).
FRANCE, Royal. Louis XIV le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), 1643–1715. 10 Sous 1708 (Bronze, 24 mm, 4.72 g, 6 h), siege of Lille by the Allies during the War of the Spanish Succession Crowned arms of Maréchal de Boufflers on crossed marshal’s batons. Rev. X. S: / .PRO./ DEFENSIONE / .VRBIS. ET. / .PATRIÆ. / 1708 in six lines. Boudeau 2314. Flan fault on the reverse, otherwise, good very fine. Leu Numismatik AG, Web Auction 22, Auction date: 20 August 2022, Lot number: 845, Price realized: 35 (CHF  Approx. $36).

Today an industrial town on the northern border of France, Lille[22] in the 18th century was the most strategic fortress in the region of Flanders (or Flandres). The city’s defenses were designed by the famous military engineer, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707)[23] The siege of Lille consumed the 1708 campaign season during the War of the Spanish Succession[24]. Having a well-equipped mint, Lille issued extensive copper small change during the siege in denominations of 20, 10 and 5 sous[25]. The obverse bore the arms of the French commander, Marshall de Boufflers. The reverse bore the denomination, the date and a Latin motto that translates “For Defense of the City and the Fatherland”[26].

Collecting Siege Coins

A few siege coins usually appear in major numismatic auctions, especially the very popular English Civil War issues. The standard reference in English is Korchnak (2021), which can be purchased for about $85. Korchnak spent many years assembling a world-class collection of siege coins, and he gave an informative talk on the subject that can be viewed below.

 

* * *

Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada

[2] CNG Triton XIX, January 5, 2016, Lot 306. Realized $300,000 USD (estimate $200,000).

[3] CNG Triton XIX, January 5, 2016, Lot 307. Realized $21,000 USD (estimate 30,000).

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospitaller_Rhodes

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Smyrna

[6] CNG Auction 46, June 24 1998, Lot 1660. Realized $375 USD (estimate $500).

[7] Roma Numismatics Auction XX, October 29, 2020, Lot 761. Realized £37,000 (about $47,748 USD; estimate £25,000).

[8] https://coinweek.com/ancient-coins/coins-of-the-bad-popes/

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sack_of_Rome_(1527)

[10] Triskeles Auction 31, March 27, 2020, Lot 583. Unsold (estimate $18,000 USD).

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harquebusier

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsknecht

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas,_Count_of_Salm

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_I,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

[15] Stack’s ANA Auction, August 14, 2018, Lot 20163. Realized $3,200 USD (estimate $2,000-$3,000).

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Haarlem

[17] Stack’s, January 14, 2008, Lot 3078. Realized $43,000 USD (estimate $50,000-$70,000).

[18] CNG Triton XI, January 8, 2008, Lot 1229. Realized $1,000 USD (estimate $1,000).

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_money_(Newark)

[20] Goldberg Auction 120, February 2, 2021, Lot 1475. Realized $4,000 USD (estimate $1,500).

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontefract_Castle#Royalist_stronghold

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lille

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A9bastien_Le_Prestre_de_Vauban

[24] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Lille_(1708)

[25] In the early 18th century, 20 sous equalled one silver ecu.

[26] Leu Web Auction 22, August 20, 2022, Lot 845. Realized CHF 35 (about $36 USD; estimate CHF 25).

References

Bendall, Simon. “The Coinage of Constantine XI”, Revue Numismatique 33. (1991)

Grierson, Philip. Numismatics. Oxford (1975)

Hendin, David. Guide to Biblical Coins, Sixth Edition. New York (2021)

Korchnak, Lawrence C. Siege Coins of the World. Lancaster, PA (2021)

Pratt, Fletcher. The Battles That Changed History. Mineola, NY (1956)

Ryan, John Carlin. A Handbook of Papal Coins. Washington, D.C. (1989)

* * *

Mike Markowitz - CoinWeek Ancient Coin SeriesMike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

 

CoinWeek
CoinWeekhttps://coinweek.com
Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Bullion Sharks Silver

L and C COIN Specials

David Lawrence Rare Coins Auctions