Development Money

Money in the Kingdom of León

Museo-de-Len.-Len-05The fall of the Roman world implied the Western world’s return to autarkic economic practices based largely on an agricultural system, with a dearth of trade over large distances and where infrequent commercial transactions were limited to barter. The few coins in circulation in the Christian-held Iberian Peninsula issued from the Arab world or were of Carolingian provenance, brought by pilgrims and traders travelling along the Saint James’ Way.

This tendency began to change in the 11th century as a result of economic development, partially stimulated by the Saint James’ Way and its promotion by the monarchy, which affected the agricultural, artisanal and urban sectors. Population growth, too, produced an increased demand for products, leading to the emergence of fairs and markets, which in turn resulted in an increasing need for money in order to maintain the incipient commercial and mercantile economy.

Museo-de-Len.-Len-06Lack of metal was a fundamental factor in the ability to mint coins. However, the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba and the disintegration of the territories held by the different Muslim-held principalities created a change in the power structure, and it was now the Christian kingdoms which exercised pressure on the Muslim world, demanding tribute, known as the parias, which generated a surplus of gold. Whilst most of this gold was used in the construction of churches, hospices and border fortresses, or to import luxury goods, it nevertheless also played an important role in the emergence of money.

The first minting was a consequence of the availability of metal, the prestige of minting money and the existence of the Toledo mint in full working order with its artisans and master minters. Although the Laws of León (Fuero de León) of 1017 referred to the “moneta regis” or “moneta urbis”, it is believed that this reference is a later addition. Alfonso VI was the first monarch to issue money, and the first pieces were called the dirhem. Made from silver, or rather, from a silver and copper alloy (billon) given the little silver they contained, these were minted in 1085-1086 and maintained Arabic typology. After 1088, new coins, called the denier and obol, were minted from billon containing 30% silver and bore the legend ANFUS REX on one side and TOLETVO on the other.

Monasterio-de-San-Facundo-y-San-Primitivo.-Sahagiun-01The issue of money was a royal prerogative. The first cities to mint coins were Toledo, as it had a mint, León, as the royal seat, and Lugo and Santiago, as a royal concession to the Church and the “all-powerful” archbishop of Santiago, Diego Gelmírez. Later, Alfonso VI also awarded the bishop of Salamanca the right to mint coins. The circulation of money, the denier, in León grew throughout the 12th century, and minting in gold and billon became more widespread. The Kingdom of León was the first Christian kingdom in Spain to mint gold coins, anticipating the other kingdoms by a century.

Queen Urraca conceded minting rights to the monastery of the Saints Facundus and Primitivus in Sahagún. The minting of billon coins continued in the time of Alfonso VII, bearing some interesting typologies such as portraits of the monarch or depicting him as a knight, or different lions - in allusion to the Kingdom – in different postures or depicting different morphologies. This system of money, the denier coin made of billon and the maravedi coin made of gold, was maintained by Fernando II, and did not vary with the last León king, Alfonso IX, during whose reign coins made of billon were more abundant. Called “leonesas”, they depicted lions in various forms, and a portrait of the monarch, and were primarily used in local markets. Later, Alfonso X attempted to amalgamate León and Castile coinage.

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