Cilician Armenia

Coins of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia

Rosie Weetch

The annexation of Greater Armenia, located on the lands between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, by the Byzantine Empire in the mid-eleventh century and the subsequent conquest of those lands by the Seljuks led to large numbers of Armenians leaving their homelands and heading west. The sought refuge in Cilicia, an area on the eastern Mediterranean coast now in Turkey, where in 1080 they established a principality that would lay the foundations of the future kingdom. From this date until 1199 there were eight successive princes that ruled over some parts of Cilicia. The last of these was Prince Leo II, who, through the support of the German emperor Henry VI, became Leo I, king of Cilicia, in 1199.[i] Very few coins were minted before Leo I’s coronation,[ii] but from his reign on millions of silver and copper were minted, and around 12,000 of these exist in museum and private collections.[iii] The Museum of the Order of St John holds 33 coins of these types.


Leo I (1199–1219)

Coin of Leo I

Coin of Leo I. LDOSJ ARM1

Leo I produced coins with a number of different obverse and reverse designs, many of which are in the collection of the Museum.[iv] Perhaps the most enigmatic of these are the so-called coronation trams. Their intriguing iconography, or the king kneeling in supplication in front of a standing figure with hands out-stretched, has led scholars to originally identify the scene as representing the anointing of the king by Christ.[v] Closer analysis of this scene, however, revealed that it should be read differently and that the standing figure is in fact intended to be the Virgin Mary.[vi] It therefore seems unlikely that these coins were made to commemorate the coronation of the king, but that they were minted over many years, and proclaim the notion that the king was already in possession of legitimate power and seeking support and protection over his kingdom from the Virgin.[vii]

Coin of Leo I

Coin of Leo I. LDOSJ ARM6

More common were the trams showing the king enthroned in a style similar to German iconography of kings, which is perhaps a nod towards the fact that Leo I was promoted from prince to king through support from the German emperor Henry VI.[viii] On the reverse of these coins are either two rampant lions flanking a standard or a single crowned lion holding a cross, perhaps a local interpretation of the Agnus Dei which was sometimes used on other crusader-era coins.[ix] Leo I also issued a large number of copper coins featuring a crowned leonine head on the obverse and the patriarchal cross on the reverse.


Hetoum I (d. 1271)

Coinof Hetuom I

Coinof Hetuom I. LDOSJ ARM17

Leo died in 1219 and had named his daughter Isabel as his heir and she was proclaimed queen. She was first married to Philip of Antioch (son of Bohemond IV) and then forcibly to Hetoum. We hear from contemporary chronicler Smbat Sparapet that:

In the year 1226 the Armenian princes … assembled and enthroned Hethum, son of Constantine, bailli of the Armenians, and also gave him [as a wife] Isabel, King Leo’s daughter. Thereafter there was peace in the House of the Armenians, and year by year they strived for the heights.

On Hetoum’s coins he acknowledges the fact that the queen was of royal lineage by showing her standing next to him, both wearing royal dress and both holding a standard cross.[x] The reverse of these show a crowned lion with a cross, a continuation of those seen on Leo I’s coins. Hetoum also issued coins that showed the king mounted on horseback holding a cross.  Hetoum’s copper coins are different to those issued by Leo I, showing a king enthroned. Hetoum I abdicated in 1269/70 and lived out the rest of his life as a monk.


Coin of Leo II

Coin of Leo II. LDOSJ ARM20

Later Reigns

When Hetoum retired his son Leo II (1269/70–89) took the throne. Leo continued to issue coins in the style of his father’s king-on-horseback series. Unlike his predecessors, King Hetoum II (1289–93) did not issue silver coins, instead minting copper and billon coins showing the influence of Latin crusader coins. The kings after Hetoum II, until the end of the Armenian kingdom in the mid-fourteenth century, largely produced coins similar in style to those that had come before, with the king on horseback proving especially popular.




Der Nersessian, S., 1962, ‘The Kingdom of Armenia’, in K. M. Setton (ed.), A History of the Crusades, vol. 2 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 630–59.

Bedoukian, P., 1966, ‘Coins of the Baronial Period of Cilician Armenia (1080–1198)’, in Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society), 12, 139–45.

Bedoukian, P., 1962, ‘Coinage of Cilician Armenia’, in Numismatic Notes and Monographs 147

Ghazarian, J. G., 2000, The Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia During the Crusades: The Integration of Cilician Armenians with the Latins, 1080–1393 (Richmond: Curzon).

Kouymjian, D., 1980, ‘The Iconography of the “Coronation” Trams of King Levon I’, in Armenian Numismatic Journal, commemorative issue, 67–74.

Metcalf, D.M., 1972, ‘Classification of the Trams of Levon I of Cilician Armenia’, in Reve Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie, vol. 118, 109–26.

[i]  For the full history of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia see: Der Nersessian 1962 and Ghazarian 2000.

[ii] Bedoukian 1966

[iii] Bedoukian 1962, 50

[iv] Bedoukian 1962, 76

[v] For example, Metcalf 1972, 110

[vi] Kouymjian 1980, 70

[vii] Kouymjian 1980, 73

[viii] Bedoukian 1962, 57

[ix] Bedoukian 1962, 59

[x] Bedoukian 1962, 50