This article is a brief look into the most interesting historical denominations of Italy, with a particular focus on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We will explore a few coins that came from Italy and had a great political and commercial significance. Some of these were adopted throughout Europe through booming Florentine, Venetian and Milanese trade. Some of them also have a distinguished artistic significance, especially for disseminating styles of portraiture.
Fiorino d’oro: the most successful gold coin of Medieval Europe
In the middle of the 13th century, the wealthy Republic of Florence issued a gold coin that would become so successful, that it was copied throughout Europe, from France to Hungary. On the obverse, the coin had a fleur-de-lis (a stylized lily flower) and the coat of arms of Florence. The reverse depicted the Florentine patron saint, John the Baptist. After the image of the fleur-de-lis, the coin was called Fiorino d’oro (gold florin). The Fiorino was the first gold coin in Central and Western Europe to play a significant commercial role since around 500 years. At that time, gold was used only in Southern Italy, Sicily and Spain, which were under Arabic influence. However, the increase of trade with the Levant eventually brought enough gold to Florence to entice minting gold coinage – first in Italy, and later all over Europe.
The Fiorino d’oro was struck from 1252 to 1523 with no major change in design or metal content standard. The weight was chosen to equal the value of one silver lira in the local money of the mid-13th century. Already in the 14th century, a hundred and fifty European states and local coin-issuing authorities made their own copies of the Fiorino. On other countries’ Fiorinos, the inscriptions were changed and local heraldic devices substituted the fleur-de-lis.
Venetian Lira: The power of the Venetian Republic
The Venetian silver Lira was one of the currencies that became popular in the Eastern Mediterranean trade due to the economic success and maritime domination of the Venetian Republic. It was in use from 1472 to 1807 in Venice, throughout Venetian Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was subdivided into 20 Soldi, each of 12 Denari. The Venetian ducat (Ducato), on the other hand, was equal to 124 Soldi, whilst the Tallero was equal to 7 Lire. The Venetian Lira was the currency of Venice until 1807, when the Lira of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy replaced it.
Silver Testone: A catalyst of Renaissance portraiture
The denomination of silver Testone was first introduced in Italy after 1470. The first Testone was commissioned in Milan by the Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1474, possibly even earlier. In scholarship, the appearance of the Testone is one of the events that signified a transition from Medieval to early modern coinage. This denomination was imitated in many European countries, starting with Louis XII’s France. These coins are also considered artistically beautiful, contributing to the development of Renaissance portraiture. The Testone is weighed between 9.5g and 10g of silver. The coins proliferated in the duchies of the north of Italy, especially around Milano.
Testoni differ according to the mint they were produced in, showcasing numerous mintmarks of cities and noble families. These coins also inspired the English Testoons and encouraged the Renaissance style of portraits of monarchs in England.
The first pope to mint Testoni was Sixtus IV, and they bore an effigy of the pope Leo X. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Testoni of the Papal States became widespread and subsequent popes had their own effigies and coats of arms depicted on these coins. The Testone was produced in the Papal States until the beginning of the 19th century.
Denaro of Aquileia: The wealth of the distinguished episcopal state
During the Roman Empire, Aquileia was a notable Roman city that had a mint. The production of coinage resumed when it became the ecclesiastical principality in the early Middle Ages known as the Patriarchate of Aquileia (1077-1420). The Patriarchate extended its political control of the area: it included the Friulian lands up to Cadore, the city of Trieste and the central parts of the Istrian peninsula. At its peak, the Patriarchate of Aquileia was one of the largest states in Italy. The Denaro, of course, derives its name from the ancient Roman denarius. In the early Middle Ages, it was Charlemagne that instituted Denaro in the Holy Roman Empire with his monetary reform and Aquilea was an ecclesiastical state of the Empire, with Denaro and Soldo as the primary currencies.
The creation of coins was entrusted to the confraternity of monetarii with concessions lasting from two to four years and the weight, quantity and alloy of the coins was specified with each concession. The minting generated significant revenue for the patriarchal coffers.
In the early 13th century, under Volchero (1204–1218) and Bertrand (1218–1251), the Patriarchate flourished economically and culturally, supported by highly developed infrastructure and trade. It is interesting that the Aquileian Patriarchs were among the first to insert their heraldic coats of arms on the coins in Italy. In 1420, Aquileia was acquired by Republic of Venice, its long-time rival.
This article is written by Sales Executive Ema Sikic.