Prince, Power and Politics: Coinage during the Reign of Tancred of Antioch

Posted September 15, 2017 11:59 am by Abigail Turner under Collections Guest blogs

Jack Hanson is an undergraduate at Queen Mary University of London. He first became interested in the Crusades during his A-levels. He decided to write this essay on the coins of Tancred, as the Museum of the Order of St John has an excellent collection. He has also been working with the Museum to catalogue their coins from Rhodes and Malta, and has written about these for the Museum’s blog

The principality of Antioch was formed after the capture of the city and surrounding areas during the First Crusade in 1098. While the first ruler of the principality was Bohemond I, it was in effect ruled by his nephew, Tancred of Hauteville (1075–1112), when Bohemond I was imprisoned (1100–3) and after his return to the West in 1104 until Tancred’s own death in 1112. The coins of Tancred demonstrate his policies as regent and his attempts to establish himself as prince, appealing to the Latin, Greek and other eastern Christians who occupied the principality. The coins’ iconography tied Tancred with St Peter, the first bishop of Antioch. The complex relations between the Byzantine Empire, and other Crusader States, are demonstrated through Tancred’s coins and reflect his policies of conquest, consolidation and attempts to enhance his own authority.

Tancred minted four different coin designs, all depicting St Peter, Christ and Tancred himself. (Examples of all four variations from across Tancred’s reign are held in the Museum of the Order of St John.) This was the first time in several hundred years that Antioch became a centre of coin production, as neither the Byzantines nor the Seljuks minted coins there. The coinage produced in this era is therefore an innovation of the crusader principality. Although the coin designs were initially very conservative, showing merely a bust of St Peter, they gradually developed into unusual and highly symbolic designs. The varying iconography suggests that there were multiple stages of coin production. Due to the nature of his rulership, nominally ruling on behalf of Bohemond, but actually exercising power as a prince in his own right, Tancred’s coins were designed to display his personal power.

The earliest coins are from the time of Bohemond’s imprisonment. At that time, the nature of rulership was still in flux in Antioch, with no established mechanism of succession. Tancred’s coin bearing the bust of St Peter is very similar to the few remaining coins of Bohemond, suggesting that this style was the first minted by Tancred. It even copied the sentiment expressed on Bohemond’s seal: “Lord, save your servant Bohemond” was emulated by Tancred in “O Lord, aid thy servant Tancred”. The direct imitation of Bohemond’s stamp of authority in Tancred’s coins suggests the latter positioned himself as Bohemond’s authentic heir. Tancred demonstrated through his coins that the regime had not changed; he was Bohemond’s legitimate successor and he would continue to provide strong and effective leadership.

The second type of Tancred’s coins depicts the image of the de-facto prince himself. A coin is a small piece of portable propaganda. Unfortunately, coins of this era are not dated, and it is necessary to rely on other inscriptions in order to estimate the time of production. However, the right to mint coins and use the ruler’s image was a fiercely guarded prerogative in the West, and it is likely that Bohemond protected this prerogative just as strongly. It is likely that Tancred only began minting the second type of coins with his own image only when Bohemond was safely back in Europe, unlikely to return to the Crusader States for a long period, if at all. This presented an opportunity for Tancred. He was now able to redesign his coins in order to have himself regarded as the legitimate ruler of Antioch. There is a noticeable shift in iconography, from a replication of Bohemond’s to the several unusual designs produced by the end of Tancred’s life. This style was not seen in the Crusader States before or since. Andrew Buck poses the question as to whether Tancred would have willingly stood aside for Bohemond II on his return, had Tancred not died in 1112. Tancred had established himself as ruler of the most powerful northerly Crusader State and there is no numismatic or diplomatic evidence of a regency. He had ruled for twelve years and had spent time consolidating his rule. The power which Tancred now effectively wielded as prince encouraged him to be more daring with his own coinage.

Nearly all of the coins minted by Tancred use the Greek language. There is no coincidence that the iconography of Christ on Tancred’s coins likewise bears a strong resemblance to Byzantine coins depicting Christ. Tancred’s use of Greek could be seen as a practical measure rather than intentional policy. He could not use any ex-Byzantine dies which already existed in Antioch, as between 800 and 1081 there was only one Byzantine mint,  which operated only in Constantinople. The use of Greek was in order to appeal to Tancred’s Greek subjects, who had recently been part of the Byzantine Empire. Large Greek and Eastern Christian communities existed in northern Antioch during this period, and the Byzantines were a recognisable source of authority. Tancred deliberately used Greek to emulate the authority of the emperor, and to restore a sense of stability and normality in the new principality.

Tancred needed to remain popular with the Latin nobility. The coin bearing the image of St Peter is the only style of Tancred’s coins which bears a Latin inscription, “Domine Salve Fac Tancredum” (O Lord, help Tancred), rather than a Greek one. This is the ‘standing’ coin depicting St Peter (type 3) with a sceptre in his hand surmounted by a cross. It is a highly unusual design. Norman coins, such as those minted in southern Italy and Sicily, did not generally depict religious figures, unlike Tancred’s heavy reliance on the iconography of Christ and St Peter. The use of St Peter, the first bishop of Antioch, would greatly appeal to the Latin residents of Antioch. It suggests a deliberate policy of using St Peter to endow legitimacy, as well as displaying piety. Tancred had developed religious iconography to suit his own political ambitions, to appeal to the crusade-inspired Latin residents of Antioch, and to enhance the image of his own piety.

In contrast to his appeal to the Greeks, Tancred appears to have paid no heed to Islamic styles of coinage. Unlike his contemporaries in the kingdom of Jerusalem, who minted pseudo-Arabic coins, Tancred did not feel the need to ingratiate himself with his Muslim subjects. There is a very definite use of only Christian iconography on the Antiochene coins. Some believe that the second type of Tancred’s coins depict him in a turban, with sword or sceptre in hand. The appearance of the ‘turban’ is not an intended part of the design as Tancred made no attempt to appeal to his Muslim subjects. Tancred’s use of various Christian images would further undermine the theory that he tried to appeal to his Muslim subjects, in the same way that he so obviously appealed to the Greeks. Tancred had no interest in appealing to the disunited Islamic world, which only posed a military threat to him, nor to his Muslim subjects who could not be part of the Christian identity of Tancred’s Antioch.

Tancred also attempted to circulate Antiochene coins bearing his name and image in the county of Edessa, the first Crusader State to the northeast of the principality of Antioch. Antioch and Edessa cooperated militarily since their establishment, yet relations between the two were often tense. The pressure between the two northern Crusader States was due to Tancred attempting to establish himself as overlord of Edessa on a number of occasions. Tancred acted as ‘regent’ for Edessa in 1104–8, and attempted to establish himself as overlord in 1109–10. He was not able to gain full control of the county. Nevertheless, during his control of the city, Tancred had the opportunity to mint coins in Edessa, as well as Antioch. Coins could be used by Tancred to establish his overlord through propaganda. The lack of Edessene coins suggests that Tancred may have deliberately circulated his own coins, bearing his name, within the county.

Tancred of Antioch used his coins to enhance the perception of his own power, and to create a strong Antiochene identity. The coins demonstrate the de-facto prince’s desire to appeal to both his Greek and Latin subjects, whilst expanding and consolidating the principality. Minting the coins was part of an ideological campaign to ensure the loyalty of those who now lived in the principality. Images of a clearly recognisable Christian government would appeal to those Christians who had recently been under Islamic rule, and to those who had fought in the First Crusade. Tancred’s rule was depicted as a return to traditional Christian rule. Furthermore, Tancred’s coins are unlike any minted by his Norman or crusader contemporaries, with some representing an attempt to mimic Byzantine coins, and others to enhance an Antiochene identity through St Peter. Tancred’s coins also show a great deal more imagination and innovation than those of Bohemond I or Roger of Salerno. His attempts to enhance his own power and find support amongst the principality appear to have worked, with the baronage loyal, and Tancred managed to make Antioch the most powerful northerly crusader state by the time of his death in 1112.





University of Birmingham, Bearers of the Cross, Material Religion in the Crusading World, 1095 – c.1300: Museum of the Order of St John, Bearers of the Cross.
1. Coin of Nikephoros Basilcius BYZ13
2. Coin of Bohemond
3. Coins of Tancred: 1st Type ANT5, 2nd Type ANT7, 3rd Type, 4th Type ANT14.
4. Byzantine Coins
5. Other images of the coins of Tancred of Antioch provided by the Museum of the Order of St John and the Bearers of the Cross project.

Rosie Weetch, Bearers of the Cross, Crusader Coins of Edessa (accessed 13/3/2017).
Copper trifollaro of Mileto, Roger I, struck c. 1098-1101, Early Norman Coinage of Southern Italy and Sicily, Department of Coins and Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (accessed 4/3/2017).
Early Norman Coinage of Southern Italy and Sicily, Department of Coins and Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, (accessed 11/3/2017).
Website: Examples of Coins Minted by the Seljuks of Rum (accessed 17/3/2017).


Primary Sources

Albert of Aachen, Historia Hierosolymitana, History of the Journey to Jerusalem, VII, Oxford Medieval Texts, 2007.
Ralph of Caen, The Gesta Tancredi, A History of the Normans on the First Crusade, Crusade Texts in Translation 12, Edited by Bernard S. Bachrach and David S. Bachrach, Ashgate Publishing, 2005.
Walter the Chancellor, Bella Antiochena, The Antiochene Wars, translation with historical notes by T.S. Asbridge and S. B. Edgington, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999.


Secondary Sources

Thomas Asbridge, The Creation of the Principality of Antioch, 1098–1130, The Boydell Press, 2000.
Thomas Asbridge, ‘William of Tyre and the First Rulers of the Latin Principality of Antioch’, in Susan B. Edgington and Helen J. Nicholson, Deeds Done Beyond the Sea: Essays on William of Tyre, Cyprus and the Military Orders, Presented to Peter Edbury, Farnham, Ashgate, 2014.
Andrew D. Buck, The Principality of Antioch and its Frontiers in the Twelfth Century, The Boydell Press, 2017.
K. Ciggaar and M. Metcalf (eds), D.M. Metcalf, ‘Six Unresolved Problems In The Monetary History of Antioch, 969–1268’, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, East and West in the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean I, Antioch from the Byzantine Reconquest Until The End of the Principality, A.A. Bredius Foundation, Peeters, 2006.
Philip Grierson, The Coins of Medieval Europe, London, Seaby, 1991.
Michael F. Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy, c.300–1450, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Andrew Jotischky, Crusading and the Crusader States, Pearson Longman, Edinburgh, 2004.
D.M. Metcalf, Coinage of the Crusades and the Latin East in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Royal Numismatic Society and the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, University of Oxford Press, London, 1983.
John Porteous, ‘The Early Coinage of the Counts of Edessa’, Numismatic Chronicle, Royal Numismatic Society, Seventh Series, Volume 15, 1975.
M. Rheinheimer, ‘Tankred und das Siegel Bobmunds’, in Schweizerische numismatische Rundschau, Volume 70, 1991.
Christopher Tyerman, God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, Allen Lane, London, 2006.

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