Written by Beulah | 4th July
The Reconquista was arguably one of the most interesting periods for monetary reform and the changes that happened during this time impacted the coins we use to this very day. We've asked coin expert Pietro Anoe to tell us what happened and why this period of monetary reform was so significant.
The Reconquista began in 722 CE with the almost legendary Battle of Covadonga and ended in 1492 when the Catholic kings conquered Granada. 770 years of war between Muslim and Christian forces changed Europe forever, and the impact is arguably still being felt today. Recent studies have linked the health of the Spanish economy to how quickly certain regions were conquered by Christian rulers. Our coins expert Pietro Anoe explains why this period of history is especially interesting to coin collectors and numismatists;
“[The Reconquista] was an incredible period of confrontation, communication and mutual learning between the two Spains: the Christian and the Muslim. Three Christian states took control of the Iberian peninsula: Portugal in the Atlantic side, Aragon in the Mediterranean, and Castille controlled the huge central-northern Meseta. In 1492 a totally new political project took place: the Union of the Kingdoms of Castille and Aragon, blessed by the Pope. A new Christian nation was born and with the Americas, a new Empire was founded.”
Currency is one of the many forms of ‘soft-propaganda’ that regimes have always used to assert dominance, and in the aftermath of the Reconquista the establishment of new monetary units was a priority. Pietro explains; “From 1475 onwards the kingdom of Castille adopted the ducat with the Venetian pattern of purity (3.5g of gold 23 and 3/4 kt). But the true reform was made after the Granada conquest and the discovery of South America, in 1497 with the "Pragmatica" of Medina del Campo.”
Spanish silver coin of the King Felipe V. 1707. Coined in Segovia.
“The new coinage was based on three metals and a unit, the maravedí, which was the base of the system,” says Pietro. “This system established the following coins: a new gold coin with the two kings on obverse and the eagle on reverse and (very importantly) the new coat of arms of the kingdom, presenting both the arms of Castille and the ones of Aragon. A new silver coin, the real, which will last until 1868 with the weight of 3.43g. And the Catholic kings ordered that all the vellones [lower silver content, small coins] were retired and replaced by a new coin: the blanca.”
“The kingdom of Castille traditionally used the dobla (also called ‘castellano’) based on the Islamic dinar (double). In choosing a gold pattern, they could opt for three different kinds of coin. Aragon was using a devalued version of the florin (useful in trade with the North), while the most prestigious coin at the time was the Venetian ducat... The gold pattern of the Venetian ducat stayed in place until Charles I (the grandson of Catholic Kings) decided to switch to the French escudo (less pure and slightly lighter) to avoid other powers to take Spanish coins out of the kingdom for their high value.”
Impact and legacy
It makes a splashy headline to say that monetary reform during the Reconquista included the first virtual currency. The true legacy, however, can be seen in the wallets of U.S. citizens. Pietro: “Why is this reform so important? Short answer: the silver pattern of the 8 reales 27.4g turned into the American Dollar. Long answer: the currency (ultimately the coins) is the power, it's the way a sovereign nation exercises its power on the economy and people.”
A silver American dollar from 1794.
“The American silver mines were all controlled by the Kingdom of Spain. Spain could finance all its wars throughout Europe and their heavy reales of very high purity were suddenly the most accepted currency. This lasted throughout the 16th-19th centuries. When the American 13 colonies turned into the USA they first adopted the Spanish dollar, then struck their own on the Spanish pattern in 1794.”
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