The Lost Morabetino of Spain - The Finest of Only 2 KnownCastile. Alfonso X (1252-1284) gold Morabetino / Maravedi (Dinar) 1302 Safar (AD 1264) AU55 NGC, Seville mint, 3.53g, 25mm, Cay-Unl., MEC VI-Unl., A-Unl. (although, strictly speaking, the morabetinos fall outside of the scope of Album's work as a Christian coinage, he does include a note after his section on the Kings of Murcia on pg. 72 that supposes this coinage to only have been minted under Alfonso VIII and Enrique I).
A completely unpublished type, this extraordinarily rare gold issue - only the second known, with the other example in inferior condition and residing in a private collection in Spain - reflects a fascinating convergence between historical significance and aesthetic beauty, displaying a remarkably crisp and well-centered strike devoid of any major weakness, though a flan-deep crack is to be noted within the inner circle running through the coin.
Unlike the majority of the Christian kingdoms in medieval Europe, Spain had long had direct exposure to the coinages of a variety of minting traditions owing largely to its conquest by the Muslims in 711. Thanks also to its close proximity to the resurgent West African gold trade of the late Middle Ages, the Christian inhabitants of Spain were much more accustomed to the use of a gold coinage than their silver-striking Eastern neighbors. Documentary evidence points to the first usage of gold dinars amongst the inhabitants of Barcelona towards the end of the 10th century, and by the second decade of the 11th , as recorded by the famous European economist Peter Spufford in his magisterial Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe, "mancusos [dinars] were to be found in the countryside, as well as in the town, in the hands of relatively ordinary people, village smiths, country priests, and the owners of insignificant allods" (pg. 167)-the Countess of Barcelona having her own dinars struck at the end of the decade.
So commonplace were dinars in coastal and southern Spain by the 12th century, when the Almohads dislodged the Amirs of Murcia in 1170, that the Christian King of Castile, Alfonso VIII, felt particularly obligated to strike his own morabetinos or maravedis (as the Almoravid dinar had come to be known by the Christians) in 1172 in Toledo. Choosing to adopt the Almoravid-based patterns of the Almohads' enemies, these morabetinos replaced specifically Islamic credos point-by-point with Christian near equivalents, substituting "Prince of the Catholics" (amir al-qatuliqin) for the traditional "Commander of the Faithful" (amir al-mu'minin), referring to the Pope as the Imam of the Christians, and recycling the same invocation of God's protection used by his Muslim forebearers: "May God protect and assist him!" (ayyidahu Allah wa nasarahu). The new coinage additionally adopted a new dating system, the era of Safar, which commenced in 38 BC, the year following Augustus' conquest of Hispania, suggesting that they were likely minted under the auspices of Toledo's Jewish bankers.
While the issuance of Alfonso's morabetinos inspired imitations across the Iberian Peninsula and served, in a sense, as the first regular Christian gold coinage in Europe since the disappearance of gold in the late 7th century-almost a full century before the introduction of the Florin in 1252-it did not inspire such widespread copies across Europe as would its Italian successors. As regards the current offering, numismatic scholarship had long considered the minting of morabetinos to have halted by the 1240s with the introduction of the dobla, Spufford suggesting that the morabetino was produced for just 50 years after the first issues of Alfonso VIII, and the authors of Medieval European Coinage, Volume 6 specifically stating that "the historical and numismatic contexts make it completely unlikely that Alfonso X would have again issued gold maravedis on the Almoravid model" (pg. 308). As revealed by further research by the experts at the Spanish auction houses Aureo & Calicó and Jesús Vico, however, contemporary documents do cite payments made in "new morabetinos," and whereas the old morabetino weighed the equivalent of 46.92 grams of silver, the new weighed only 37.188 grams and was of decreased fineness.
Besides being the only known example of this surprisingly late coinage, this piece also bears a number of key differences from the earlier issues of Alfonso VIII: this coin being struck at the old Almohad capital of Seville, taken as part of the Reconquista by Alfonso X's father Ferdinand III in 1248, rather than at the traditional mint of Toledo, where all other issues were struck; and it clearly bears a date of 1302 Safar and cites the ruler as "Alfonso, son of Ferrando" rather than "Alfonso, son of Sancho", also adding a small o after ALF on the reverse. Still minted "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, who so believeth in Him and is baptized will be saved" (bism al-ab wa'l-ibn wa'l-ruh al-quds al-ilah al-wahid man amana wa ta'ammada yakunu salim), this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is among only a handful of coinages to bear Christian dogmatic legends in fluent Arabic (the others including the taris of Sicily, the dirhams of the Crusaders, and a handful of coins minted by the Christian Bagratid rulers of Georgia under the Ilkhanids), and is certain to excite spirited bidding among connoisseurs of Spanish, medieval hammered, and Islamic coinage alike.
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