Old World, New Ideas
Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.
A Crusade for Peace
Last month, Pope Francis traveled for the first time to the United States. The Argentinian-born Pope charmed admirers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia with his humility,social awareness, and commitment to interfaith dialogue.
The highest figure in the Catholic Church was stateside during two of the holiest days on the Jewish and Islamic calendars; Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, respectively. Call it what you will; a testament to the founding fathers, a manifestation of American exceptionalism, or just pure luck, but last month’s sharing of the stage among three of the world’s great religions was a breath of fresh air given the recently renewed hostilities in this complicated three-sided relationship.
The deepest riff in this thorny history harkens us back to the 11th-13th century crusades and the petty rivalries between medieval popes, princes, and sultans. The convolutions of this wretched period are enough to occupy the curious mind for a lifetime. In fact, some coin collectors are content doing just this.
Crusader coins are among the most challenging niches in all of numismatics. The almost-universal poor condition of surviving coins is a turnoff for most collectors, though those collectors who do push forward are usually rewarded intellectually and financially. Put simply, crusader coins are difficult, ugly, and cheap.
At the broadest level, we might put Crusader coins into two categories; Christian and Muslim. Christian crusaders from all parts of Western and Northern Europe established dozens of short-lived Crusader States (for example, the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Thessalonica), from where they struck any number of small billon and silver coins. Europe’s lack of great wealth is evident in the crude nature of its coins
The Byzantine Empire—the former eastern half of the Roman Empire—was an Orthodox Christian realm centered at Constantinople. Its wealth allowed for the circulation of an abundance of gold coins, unlike in relatively impoverished Western and Northern Europe. The breadth of Christian crusader coins is daunting. Patience, good eyes, and a Dan Brown-like ability to parse symbols should be formalized prerequisites.
The Muslim world, like the Byzantines, was also on the gold standard. Also like the Byzantines, copper rather than silver accounted for most ordinary transactions. The coins of the Muslim empires reflect their considerable wealth and technological advances. Stunning gold pieces laced with artistic Arabic script make a stunning first impression,though an expert’s eye is needed for proper attribution. Coinage of the Seljuks of Rum (“Rum” designated “Rome” in Arabic and was a reference to the growing Islamic presence in the Byzantine territory of Anatolia) or the Ayyubid Dynasty, under the famed Emperor Saladin, are both good places to start, though the opportunities to branch out are numerous.
The Christian/Muslim divide is just one port of entry into this challenging niche. Like elsewhere in numismatics, opportunities abound to collect by denomination, metal type,ruler, etc. Unique to crusader-era coins is their association with this fascinating yet deeply disturbing history. For this reason, and many more, Pope Francis’s visit to the United States carried with it a historical burden and,more importantly, hopes for a peaceful future.