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Two gold coins of Charlemagne

When King Pepin III took control of the Frisian mints of Dorestad in 755, he reasserted royal monopoly on the issuance of silver deniers bearing his monogram. This paved the way for the monetary reforms of his son and successor Charlemagne, who by giving the medieval penny its familiar form and weight, created a single coinage type which flowed freely across his vast territory, from the Spanish march to Frisia and from Brittany to present-day Germany.

Gold coinage nevertheless persisted, and despite the rarity of the Frankish prototypes, their wide circulation and their popularity with later imitators indicate that they also came to play an appreciable economic role. Most were solidi of the reign of Louis the Pious, and one must turn to Italy to find a more abundant source of gold coins of Charlemagne. I had the chance to acquire two such examples that I wanted to share along with a bit of their history. Links to their complete description are provided on the pictures below.

In 772 Desiderius, King of the Lombards, invaded the papal territories and besieged Rome. The pope, Adrian I, was forced to concede de facto rule in the papal lands to the Lombard king. As his predecessors had done in a similar situation the pope appealed for help to the king of the Franks. Charlemagne, who was at the time engaged in his first Saxon campaign, expostulated with Desiderius; but when such mild measures proved useless he led his forces across the Alps in 773. Having conquered several Lombard towns he besieged Desiderius in his capital of Pavia. During the siege he traveled to Rome where he was received by the pope with great honor. There he obtained the title of protector of the pope and of the city of Rome, and confirmed the donations given to the papacy by his father Pepin.

On his return from Rome he captured Pavia, seized Desiderius and took the title "King of the Lombards", thereby ending two hundred years of Lombard rule in northern Italy. As the new sovereign Charles did not initiate drastic reforms at once. Rather, changes were slow and gradual. He left the conquered people their laws and customs, and continued the issues of gold tremisses with the same type and fineness as the former Lombard coinage:

In 786 the entreaties of the pope and the hostile attitude of Arichis II, duke of Benevento, a son-in-law of Desiderius, called the king again into Italy. Arichis submitted without a struggle, though the basis of Frankish authority in his duchy was far from secure; soon he sought aid from Constantinople, but his plans were ended by his death in 787. Charles then appointed Arichis' son Grimoald III as duke of Benevento, who began to strike coins bearing the names of both rulers in recognition of Frankish suzerainty:

Later, when Grimoald repudiated Charlemagne's authority, Charles' name disappears from Beneventan coins and charters alike; the legends on the gold coins henceforward include a reference to the title of princeps, which Arichis had assumed on the downfall of the Lombard kingdom and which Grimoald revived. This caused Charles to send several hostile expeditions into Benevento, leading to a truce that lasted to Grimoald's death in 806.


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