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A coin for a mayor

NapNap Posts: 1,698 ✭✭✭✭✭

A Merovingian denier thought to be in the name of Ebroin, Mayor of the Palace of Neustria

The Merovingian dynasty of early medieval France is frequently remembered for the Roi fainéant, literally the "do nothing kings". The dynasty's legacy of weak monarchs, a fractured kingdom due to the tradition of dividing inheritance, duplicity, and fratricide, make the Merovingians an unfortunate footnote in history as the hapless predecessors of the great early medieval French kings- Pepin the Short and his son Charlemagne.

The Merovingians had their faults, but the negativity stems from Carolingian propaganda, as usual the truth is more nuanced, and the dynasty ruled over a significant empire in western Europe for about 300 years, from about 450-750, during some very turbulent times. Sadly, sources are limited and generally hostile. But the Merovingians went out with a whimper. They did not fall to the Huns, or the conquests of Islam, or even a rival European state. Rather the fall was internal, these monarchs were gradually replaced by a new dynasty of unrelated leaders, who initially worked behind the scenes as advisors, and ultimately became the kings themselves.

The office of "Mayor of the Palace" was the head of the king's household, and thus a very prestigious and influential position. But as time went on, it became even more powerful, and by the mid 7th century was essentially the power behind the throne. The Frankish kingdoms, of which Austrasia and Neustria were the most important, each had their own mayors. The position, once an appointment by the king or election by the nobles, became an inherited title.

Some of these mayors dreamed of more. In the 650s, Grimoald was the mayor of the palace of Austrasia. He strong-armed the Merovingian king Sigebert to adopt his (Grimoald's) son and make him his heir, disinheriting Sigebert's own son in an attempt to wrest power. However, though the Merovingian dynasty was dying, it wasn't dead quite yet. Grimoald was ultimately unsuccessful, but the blueprint was there.

One of these mayors was called Ebroin. Ebroin, mayor of the palace of Neustria, would avoid the mistakes of Grimoald. He would not try to depose the monarch. He would not attempt to make himself or family king. But in all practical sense, Ebroin was the ruler. The kings of Neustria during his time as mayor were young and purposely sidelined. Ebroin controlled all trade and movement through the country, as glumly noted by travelers. Ebroin expanded Neustria's and his own dominance over Burgundy. The Merovingian kings continued to rule, but by now were really the Roi fainéant.

Ebroin is also thought to be the first mayor to issue coins in his name. Merovingian coinage is a complex field, with a robust and varied coinage issued under many different authorities, in many locations, and of gold, silver, and base metal. There are a few rare coins in the names of kings, but most Merovingian era coins depict only the names of the moneyer and the mint. Some are uninscribed, some hopelessly blundered, others uninterpretable.

(As an aside, collecting Merovingian coins is a great challenge. Many sources are in French of course, but more challenging is that the sources are very old, and the categorization is generally by presumed mint location rather than by monarch or time period. And there are literally thousands of different varieties, types, and mints. If you have an unidentified coin, and cannot easily read the inscription, it can be a nightmare to try to figure anything out about it. And of course the coins are not cheap)

The coinage traditionally assigned to Ebroin is an inscribed silver coinage with a right facing bust on one side, with or without the moneyer's name, and a large E on the reverse, with the letters inside BRO/INO. The inscription being thus EBROINO for Ebroin. It can't be proven that Ebroin is the same Ebroin who was mayor of the palace 658-673, and 675-680/681. However, it is strongly suggested based on the find of one of these coins in the Bais treasure hoard, that it fits into this time period. Additionally, the other Ebroin coin has a second name on the obverse, presumably the moneyer. If the moneyer's name is already on the coin, then the other inscription would necessarily be the mint or the ruler. As Ebroin is not the name of a mint town, it is generally presumed to be the ruler.

Grierson and Blackburn, in Medieval European Coinage vol I, noted that two coins of Ebroin were known, one in the national collection of France and plated in Belfort (B 3460), with the name of the moneyer Rodemarus, and the second in the national collection of Germany from the Bais treasure hoard (Bais 99). This latter coin is nearly identical to mine. It is possible that this coin is only the third known coin of Ebroin. There are also similar coins which have the same large "E" or "ER" on the reverse, but without spelling out the name Ebroin. These may be attributed to the mayor as well, but it's not certain.

Interestingly, none of the other mayors of the palace issued coins, which has always injected some doubt as to the attribution of this coin. There have been dubious attributions of other coins to Charles Martel, or Pepin the Short (before he became king), but these have always been speculative, lacking appropriate inscriptions.

Eventually, the most powerful mayor, Pepin the Short, would get rid of the last Merovingian king and become king of France himself, starting the Carolingian dynasty

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