The Mediterranean island of Cyprus, located west off the coast of Syria, was unintentionally pulled into the world of the crusaders when in 1191 it was conquered by Richard I of England during the Third Crusade as retaliation for the bad treatment of his shipwrecked fleet. Richard was quick to sell the island to the Templars, who struggled to govern the island leading to an unsuccessful Cypriot revolt in 1192. The Templars were keen to return this difficult island to Richard, who decided to sell it on to the rejected king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan. Guy founded a dynasty that would rule the island for the next three centuries, and which minted a number of different types of coins.
Before the conquest the main coin in Cyprus was a debased gold dish-shaped coin in the tradition of the coins produced after the monetary reform carried out by the emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) that was characterised by the use of several denominations of debased metal (called trachea by contemporaries) that were concave instead of flat.[i] From the beginning of Guy of Lusignan’s reign as lord of Cyprus to the end of the thirteenth century, the Lusignan dynasty struck coins imitating this style, both in terms of the distinctive cup-shaped form and the Byzantine-style imagery. On the obverse is an image of Christ enthroned. On the reverse is an image of the king holding a long cross and a globus cruciger (cross-bearing orb) and wearing Byzantine-style costume; in the earlier coins this is the chlamys, a short tunic, and on the later coins this is replaced with the highly decorative loros, a ‘scarf’ that wraps around the body. These coins proclaimed the Latin king as the rightful successor to Cyprus of the Byzantine emperors.[ii]
The smaller coins in Cyprus were, until the mid-thirteenth century, billon deniers similar to those seen in the other crusader states. The earliest of these were minted by Guy of Lusignan, they read REX GVIDO D around a crowned facing bust, and the reverse has EIERVSALEM around an image of the Holy Sepulchre. Despite their legend, these coins were minted in Cyprus. Guy’s use of the title ‘king of Jerusalem’ after he had been rejected from the position speaks to his reluctance to abandon his claim to Jerusalem.[iii]
After this early, and now rare, issue of deniers, Guy minted deniers with a gateway on the obverse with his name and title and a cross on the reverse with DE CIPRO. This type of denier continued, with a number of variations, until sometime after 1269 when they were withdrawn and reminted in a new design.[iv] This design had a cross on the obverse and a rampant lion of the reverse.
Alongside these deniers were rare copper coins. At the Museum of the Order of St John there are four of these in the collection. The design of these is interesting as they feature a three-towered gateway with the word REX placed over the top of the design rather than around the edge of the coin.
The gros grand and the gros petit
Towards the end of the thirteenth century the white bezants were replaced by a new denomination of silver: the gros grand. These coins were intended as a half bezant, and thus the smaller denomination, the gros petit, was intended as a quarter of a bezant. Originally these coins were minted at Nicosia, and from around 1310 a second mint was established at Famagusta. The image of the king on these coins does not follow the Byzantine style of the white bezants, and instead the king is now shown enthroned in a western style. Other coins show a rampant lion, the bust of the king, the king of horseback, or heraldic symbols.
During the reign of Janus (1389–1432) an emergency coinage was issued to the value of six deniers. This coin type was minted in much greater number later, by James II (1460–73).
Edbury, P. W., 2005, ‘Franks’, in A. Konnari and C. Schabel (eds.), Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191–1374 (Leiden: Brill), 63–103.
Grierson, P., 1999, Byzantine Coinage (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection).
Metcalf, D. M., 1995, Coinage of the Crusades and the Latin East in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford (London: Royal Numismatic Society and Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East).
[i] Grierson 1999, 2
[ii] Edbury, 2005, 70
[iii] Metcalf 1995, 180
[iv] Metcalf 1995, 195