Crusader Coins in Edessa
Edessa was the first, most northerly, and geographically largest of the states to be established by the crusaders, and was also the first to fall. In 1098 Baldwin of Boulogne broke away from the main crusading army who were slowly making their way across Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was headed eastwards, raiding and taking two fortresses with the help of the Armenians, when he was invited by the newly-established prince of Edessa, Toros, to become his son and heir. Baldwin made it to Edessa on 6 February 1098, but just a month later Toros was killed whilst trying to escape Armenian rioters in the city. On the following day (10 March 1098) Baldwin took over the city, becoming the first count of Edessa.
It is not clear whether Baldwin issued any coins during his reign as count of Edessa, which lasted until 1100 when he became the king of Jerusalem. It seems most likely that the first coins stuck in crusader Edessa were issued by Baldwin’s successor and cousin, Baldwin II.[i] Like the first coins produced in the neighbouring state of Antioch, the coins of Edessa are Byzantine-style copper coins. These can be divided into two series: an earlier heavy series and a later light series. The Museum of the Order of St John does not have any examples of the first heavy series coins in its collections, but has five examples of the light series. The transition to the light series happened sometime after the restoration of Baldwin II in around 1110, and may be the result of Baldwin II wishing to bring his coinage in line with that struck at Antioch.[ii]
This iconography is interesting, as it is not only unique to Edessa, but is also a clear piece of propaganda. The image is a reinvention of the obverse of one of Baldwin II’s heavy series coins, which show an armoured knight with a raised sword and shield. On the new lighter coins the shield has been replaced by a cross, so that this full-length figure stands wearing a pointed helmet and mail coat, with a sword at this right side and his left arm holding up a cross. This is the first appearance of an armed knight on crusader coinage.[iii] John Porteous has written that the use of this image of an armed knight ‘is so much what we might expect a coin of the crusades to look like that it is easy not to notice how original it is’.[iv] The style of this iconography is certainly very different from the Byzantine styles that had influenced the other Edessene coppers. The closest source of inspiration for this coin may be a series of coins minted by Roger I of Sicily, which show a knight similarly armoured but mounted on a horse,[v] suggesting that the adoption of this coin in Edessa can be attributed to Italo-Norman influence.[vi]
The symbolism behind the use of this image is intriguing. Baldwin II used these coins to portray himself as a true crusader equipped with the most iconic symbol of a knight, the sword, but also as devoted to the spiritual aims of the crusade by holding aloft a cross. It is perhaps significant that on these coins the knight’s sword is sheathed at his side, not raised ready for battle as in the earlier heavy series, and that instead he is brandishing a cross. On some of these coins this image is accompanied by an inscription that reads BAΔT ΔOINOC ΔOVΛO CTAY (Baldwin, Servant of the Cross). These copper coins were the last to be minted in Edessa before it fell out of crusader control in 1144.
An unusual coin in the Museum of the Order of St John
There is one further coin in the Museum of the Order of St John’s collection that is worthy of note in relation to the Edessa coins. This billon or silver coin is in poor condition, broken into two pieces. The obverse has a four line inscription that reads +/ BAΔΛ/ OϒIHOC/ ΔECΠO / THC (Baldwin Despot), and the reverse has a cross and in its angles the inscription reads IX- XC / NI – KA (Christ conquers). This coin is one of only two examples known, and as such it has generated some debate over when and where it was minted.[vii] Its use of the name Baldwin means that it potentially could have been minted at Edessa where the Baldwins were counts, in Jerusalem where they were kings, or in Antioch where they acted as regent or governor at times. The combination of the name Baldwin with the title despot, perhaps a Byzantine equivalent of king, may suggest it could be a coin of Jerusalem,[viii] but the language and fabric suggests this is unlikely.[ix] Metcalf originally identified this coin as coming from the Antioch mint during the period of Baldwin II’s regency (1119–26),[x] but has since argued for an Edessene origin.[xi] This argument is based on the second specimen, which appears to be over-struck on one of the Edessa armoured knight type coins.[xii]
Metcalf, D. M., 1995, Coinage of the Crusades and the Latin East in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (London: Royal Numismatic Society and the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East).
Metcalf, D. M. and Willis, P. J., 1979, ‘Crusader Coins in the Museum of the Order of St. John, at Clerkenwell’, in The Numismatic Chronicle, seventh series, vol. 19, 133–38.
Pesant, R., 1988, ‘A Coin of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, as Regent of Antioch’, in Numismatic Circular, vol. 96 no. 8, 254.
Porteous, J., 1989, ‘Crusader Coinage with Greek or Latin Inscriptions’, in K. M. Setton (ed.), A History of the Crusades, vol. 6 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 354–87.
Porteous, J., 1975, ‘The Early Coinage of the Counts of Odessa’, in The Numismatic Chronicle, vol. 15, 169–82.
[i] Metcalf 1995, 34; Porteous 1975, 375
[ii] Porteous 1989, 365
[iii] Porteous 1989, 364
[iv] Porteous 1975, 177
[v] Porteous 1975, 177
[vi] Porteous 1989, 364
[vii] Porteous 1989, 365
[viii] Metcalf 1995, 38
[ix] Porteous 1989, 366
[x] Metcalf and Willis 1979, 136, cat. 50
[xi] Metcalf 1995, 38
[xii] Pesant 1988, 245