Look at This: Hoard of Gold Coins Uncovered in Crusader Castle

By Sophie Bushwick | July 27, 2012 12:54 pm

Crusader coins

The Crusades were a time of religious conflict, when territory and castles were won with bloody battles and then quickly lost again—and with all that brouhaha, who had time to make new coins? When the Christian Knights Hospitaller buried a jug of 108 gold coins at the castle of Apollonia, a now-deserted stronghold north of modern-day Tel Aviv, they were probably hoping to preserve their hoard from the Egyptian soldiers then besieging the fortress. Although they never returned for their money, its recent discovery is telling researchers a lot about Crusader economics and raising new questions—like why the Christians used primarily gold dinars forged by the Fatimids hundreds of years earlier, rather than minting their own currency, something that would have demonstrated their wealth, power, and cultural identity. Many of the coins found in the crusader castle, oddly enough, are emblazoned with the names of Muslim sultans.

Image courtesy of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins
  • Old Geezer

    Um, maybe it was because they were engaging in conquering armies’ favorite pastimes of looting and pillaging or maybe because the locals didn’t accept American Express. Why would they mint their own coinage when there was plenty of local currency (old or new) to just grab and spend? Then again, being only 108 coins, these might have only been the souvenirs they planned to take to show the folks back home.

  • Brian Too

    All kinds of possibilities abound.

    1). It may not have belonged to Crusaders, either individually or collectively. If a Christian civilian took refuge there (i.e. a pilgrim), they would try very hard to save their valuables;
    2). It could be plunder;
    3). Gold has always been fungible;
    4). The Crusaders didn’t have terribly stable territorial holdings in the Holy Land. Minting currency there probably took a back seat to fighting, worshiping, helping pilgrims and so forth.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    It could have been very dangerous for a local to accept coins minted by those infidel invaders.

  • RJD

    Mason work in wood, not gold. So where’s the scrolls for the rest of the treasure? Relax, a bit humor, eh…

  • http://mhollis.blogspot.com/ Mark Hollis

    Up until 1500, coins were “hand pressed,” usually by an individual. It is possible that the Crusaders eschewed coin strikers in favor of armorers, though I am thinking an armorer would have had the skill, if not the specific tools.

    England regularly used Spanish coins in trade, and so did the rest of the countries who traded in the West Indies throughout the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, indeed, calling the American currency standard the Dollar was a public relations ploy to suggest that the nascent United States was fiscally as strong as Spain, then a superpower.

    Gold is gold, and the coins usefulness was based on known purity and weight. Early American settlers were known to test purity of a gold coin by biting it, to see if it was malleable and weighing it against a known weight. Crusaders were just as interested in proving that money, based on precious metals was genuine.

    While the public relations value of striking one’s own coins might be valuable, there are a few issues the Crusaders could have come up against:

    - Time. It takes a finite amount of time in not fighting and not preparing to fight to melt down metal to make coins.
    - Recognition. A Christian coin, introduced into the economy by the invader, would initially be suspect and would make purchases more difficult. The Crusaders were hardly in position to flood the Middle Eastern economy with their own specie to convince all of the true value of their currency.
    - Religious prohibition. Islam gives us incredible artwork, based on the prohibition of the “graven image,” which prevented Muslim artists and artisans from depicting forms found in nature, along with images of people and objects. These coins found in the castle of Appolonia are decorated with script, not the face of an Emir or Sultan. A Cross — even a stylized one — would be seen as a graven image, and would subject a recipient of such a coin to harsh penalties (including death) for its mere possession. Christian coinage would, thus, not circulate. The metal would be useful only as something to immediately melt down — immediately, for fear of the area being retaken by Muslims.

    I particularly like Brian’s plunder suggestion. But I think the Crusaders would have preferred to trade in local currency, which they could have melted down upon re-entering Europe.

  • http://www.chards.co.uk Lawrence Chard – Chard Coins

    An interesting sounding hoard.
    There is probably a modern parallel. If you are going on holiday to the Eurozone, you would take euros, and not pounds, because that’s what the locals prefer.
    If you captured a load of foreign money on your crusade, there would be no point melting it down or re-minting it en route, just use it as handy foreign exchange.
    If you had any left when you got back to base, or back home, then you probably would melt it and re-coin it.
    Also, in modern times, many British gold investors like to buy Krugerrands, Australian nuggets. Some of this is down to marketing or availability, but some is down to price competitiveness. For example the British Royal Mint recently issued a One Kilo Gold Proof coin for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Their price, a rip-off £60,000.
    An Australian equivalent http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawrence_chard/7314831644/ is just as nice, but priced at under £40,000!
    Which would you buy?

  • Barry Johnstone.

    That lethal combination of religion and money has been around for thousands of years, and unless that link is broken – will remain so. I believe that’s what is holding back any progress humankind can or will make!

  • Oskar

    “Many of the coins found in the crusader castle, oddly enough, are emblazoned with the names of Muslim sultans.”

    Religious war eh?

    More like economic war. :D

  • adam

    masons work with stone, not wood.

  • David North

    If it was looted and they were under siege by a greater force, they may have hidden the “incriminating evidence” that might have gotten them executed by locals.

    Fleeing to escape such a fate would also explain why they never came back for it.

  • FiOS-Dave

    I would be wary if these coins were dated 1096 BC…

  • Brian Too

    Further to my prior comments, I just wanted to elaborate on my thought process regarding the protection of personal wealth.

    A personal hoard of wealth would attract unwelcome attention from almost anyone, including Crusaders. Anyone having a stash like this would be protective and secretive about it, so long as they did not have formidable protective capability. And likely even then.

    Thus we cannot discount the possibility of Christians hiding wealth even from fellow Christians, and even from Crusaders ostensibly there to protect them.

  • floodmouse

    Loot from the medieval Holy Land wars was so much cooler than contemporary “Near East” loot. Gold is just so much more glamorous than crude oil – even if you render the oil into plastic souvenirs, instead of burning it for fuel.

  • Rick

    Crusaders there to protect Christians?

    Many don’t realize it but how do you think these armies of Christians stocked themselves on there trek through Europe to the East? Rape and pIllage my friends. These weren’t the knights in shining armor so many hollywood films depict them to be.

    Bottom-line is; they were mercenaries that wore a red cross, each and everyone of them seeking their keep and fortunes as spoils of war.

    You might really want to learn a little more about the comparisons of Crusaders like Richard compared to the Muslim leadership in the East at the time. It might amaze you who the pure-hearted were. Our history distorts the truths and why not, it’s the spoil of the “victor” to write their own history.

  • Ann

    Check out these videos and others on “You Tube” to familiarize yourself with the time of the “crusades”:

    The Crusades Crescent and the Cross. pt 1 of 2 [Full Documentary] – YouTube.flv
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ9cjWVMhb0&feature=related

    The Crusades Crescent and the Cross. pt 2 of 2 [Full Documentary] – YouTube.flv
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMBeRh9o06E&feature=relmfu

  • Brian Too

    @14. Rick,

    Uh really? You think there is not broad awareness of the giant moral and philosophical flaws of the Crusades? Flaws that rendered the entire campaign indefensible?

    What’s next? You think that Christians are going to defend the Inquisition?

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