County of Tripoli

Crusader Coins in Tripoli

Rosie Weetch

The last state to be established by the crusaders was the county of Tripoli. It was an important win for the crusaders as it was situated in a strategic location that linked the northern states of Antioch and Edessa with the southern kingdom of Jerusalem. Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the count of Toulouse, had set his sights on this region, first laying a successful siege against Tartus, and then in 1102 setting up a siege against the important port of Tripoli. Tripoli would not fall until 1109, long after Raymond’s death, when his son Bertram arrived with fresh troops. Bertram became the first count of Tripoli, and the house of Saint-Gilles ruled the county until 1187, when it passed by inheritance to Antioch, and ceased to exist under crusader control when it was captured by the Mamluks in 1289. Although legally a fief of Jerusalem, the county of Tripoli was in many ways independent, a fact that can be seen through its coinage.

The coins that were minted in Tripoli have proved a difficult series to study, largely because of the lack of hoard evidence.[i] But the broad outline of the Tripolitan series is clear. Over its 179 year history numerous different types of coins were minted that generally follow their own course of development.[ii] Until 1266 at least three different denominations were in use: gold bezants, billon deniers, and a copper coinage. From sometime after 1266 silver half-gros and gros were minted in a new style.

 

The gold bezants

Like the rulers of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, the counts of Tripoli produced imitation Islamic gold dinars.[iii] Those from the Latin kingdom were based on the dinars of the Fatimid caliph al-Amir, whereas those minted in Tripoli were based on various designs belonging to the earlier caliph al-Mustansir.

LDOSJ TRI88.

LDOSJ TRI88.

The earliest bezants minted at Tripoli are rare, and range from 98 to 87% gold,[iv] and there are none of these in the Museum of the Order of St John’s collection. All the Tripolitan gold bezants in the collection date from after the standard was reduced to around 62% gold, a reform that can also be seen in the gold coins of the Latin kingdom.

LDOSJ TRI92.

LDOSJ TRI92.

The date of this debasement of the gold coinage seems to be around the years 1187 and 1188, the time of Saladin’s conquests.[v] The first of the coins minted on the new standard were coarser than their earlier counterparts, and there are two examples of this coin type in the Museum’s collection. Then at a later date the design was modified to include the letters B and T, presumably to stand for Bohemond and Tripoli. The final coins were further changed to include a cross in the centre of the design, and there are five of these in the collection. It seems that the cross was added to the design in response to a papal letter of 1250 that banned the manufacture of pseudo-Islamic coins bearing the name of Mohammed and the number of years from his nativity.[vi]

 

The billon deniers

Star and crescent denier. LDOSJ TRI8.

Star and crescent denier. LDOSJ TRI8.

Tripoli appears to be the first of the crusader states to begin minting billon deniers in the Frankish style. These are either in the name of Bertram (1109–12), or in anonymous but in the same style so also attributed to Bertram. These coins are excessively rare, as evidenced by the fact that in the most comprehensive study of the Tripoli coinage only five examples are listed.[vii] There then appears to be a long gap between these coins and the next deniers that were minted at Tripoli, the ‘star and crescent’ deniers of Raymond II/III first struck in the late 1140s.[viii] The motif on the reverse of these coins, and the contemporary coppers (see below), consists of thin upward crescent outlined with 30–35 fine pellets below a star of eight rays interspersed with small pellets. In heraldic terms this can be understood as representing a sun and moon and is very similar to coins minted in Provence.[ix]

Star denier. LDOSJ TRI18.

Star denier. LDOSJ TRI18.

The next billon coinage to be introduced is the so-called ‘star’ deniers. The first of these to be issued are in the name of Raymond, and are likely to have been minted by Raymond III soon after his release from captivity in 1173/4.[x] These are of good quality and in a fine style. This quality is not maintained when Bohemond IV held the county of Tripoli from 1187 (and was prince of Antioch from 1201). Coins in Bohemond IV’s name are coarser and are known as ‘rough style’ deniers. It is difficult to date when Bohemond IV’s ‘star’ deniers ceased to be used, but in around 1230 a new-style ‘star’ denier was minted.

There is then a gap in the sequence at Tripoli until a revival of minting activity from around the 1260/70s with the introduction of the silver gros (see below).

 

Copper coinage

Tripoli copper. LDOSJ TRI3.

Tripoli copper. LDOSJ TRI3.

Agnus Dei copper. LDOSJ TRI6.

Agnus Dei copper. LDOSJ TRI6.

The earliest copper coins minted at Tripoli date to the first half of the twelfth century. Those with the inscriptions RAIMUNDI COMITIS/MONETA TRIPOLIS feature a cross on both sides of the coins, and were probably of Raymond II (1137–52).[xi] The other early type of copper has on its reverse the Agnus Dei (although the rendering of the lamb is such that it the coins are also known as the ‘horse and cross’ type).[xii] The inspiration for this design comes from the homeland of the house of Saint-Gilles of Tripoli, where similar coins were minted. The symbol of Agnus Dei was also adopted by the Order of St John at Saint-Gilles, as can be seen on this seal of Guilliame de Villaret, prior of Saint-Gilles in the thirteenth century.

Star and crescent copper. LDOSJ TRI14.

Star and crescent copper. LDOSJ TRI14.

Castle copper. LDOSJ TRI31

Castle copper. LDOSJ TRI31

It is after the Agnus Dei coppers that the main series of coins at Tripoli began to be minted. At around, or just before, the time that the new ‘star and crescent’ deniers (see above) were introduced a new matching form of copper coin also began to be struck.[xiii] The variation in design may suggest that they cover a longer time-span than the deniers of the same design.[xiv] These copper coins were then replaced by an issue which had a castle or fortified gateway on the obverse and a cross on the reverse. These ‘castle’ type coppers are contemporary with the ‘star’ deniers (see above) and were therefore likely to be introduced some time around 1173.[xv]

 

Silver gros

Silver half-gros. LDOSJ TRI57.

Silver half-gros. LDOSJ TRI57.

In the twenty years before the fall of Tripoli in 1289 the mints began issuing large silver gros, in exactly the same weight as the French gros tournois, which was also accompanied by an identical coin of half its weight. This was a radical departure from previous minting policy, which as we have seen mainly concerned with billon and copper issues.[xvi]

There are two types of gros from Tripoli. Type 1, which appears to have been the earlier of the two, is in the name of Bohemond and could be either Bohemond VI (1251–75) or VII (1275–87).[xvii] As per the billon deniers previously minted (see above) the obverse features a cross and reverse has an eight-pointed star, but the style of the gros is far grander and these central motifs are framed within a border of arcs and angles.

Gros of Bohemond VII. LDOSJ TRI79.

Gros of Bohemond VII. LDOSJ TRI79.

The second type clearly belongs to Bohemond VII as its legend reads: +SEPTIMVS BOEMVNDVS COMES. David Metcalf has noted the elegance of this coin’s design, which features a cross in border of twelve arcs on the obverse, and a three-towered castle also in a twelve-arced border on the reverse.[xviii] John Porteous also writes fondly of these coins, describing their design as ‘so traditional to crusader coinage and so symbolic of crusading life’ and ‘among the finest of all the coins ever struck by the Franks in Syria and Palestine’.[xix] These coins were the last to be struck in the crusader states, and they were not long in circulation until Tripoli was surrendered to the Mamluks in 1289.

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Bibliography

Malloy, A., Preston, I. and Seltman, A., 1994, Coins of the Crusader States, 1098–1291 (New York: Attic Books).

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., 1994, ‘A Hoard of Early Tripolitan Crusader Bezants’, in The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), vol. 154, 214–17.

Phillips, M., and Tyler-Smith, S., 1996, ‘A Hoard of Tripoli Gros and Half Gros and French Gros Tourneys’, in The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), vol. 156, 193–225.

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.

Sabine, C., 1980, ‘The Billon and Copper Coinage of the Crusader County of Tripoli, c. 1102–1268’ in The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), 20 (140), 71–112.


[i] Metcalf 1995, 156; Sabine 1980, 71.

[ii] Metcalf 1995, 149

[iii] Metcalf 1994, 214

[iv] Metcalf 1995, 150

[v] Malloy et al. 1994, 101–102

[vi] Metcalf 1995, 44–45

[vii] Sabine 1980, 101–102

[viii] Sabine 1980, 81

[ix] Porteous 1989, 376

[x] Sabine 1980,  87

[xi] Sabine 1980, 74–76

[xii] Sabine 1980, 78–81

[xiii] Metcalf 1995, 157

[xiv] Metcalf 1995, 163

[xv] Sabine 1980, 91

[xvi] Philips and Tyler-Smith 1995, 193

[xvii] Metcalf 1995, 153

[xviii] Metcalf 1995, 154

[xix] Porteous 1989, 387