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Latin Orient Collection of Coinage

In 2007, with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, the Princeton University Numismatic Collection purchased from Theo Sarmas of London a collection of over 800 pieces issued by rulers of European origin in the lands of the former Byzantine Empire following the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Of special note are the imitations of Venetian ducats issued by Islamic and other Eastern rulers, probably the largest public collection of such material in the world.

  • In 2007, the Princeton University Numismatic Collection acquired the Latin Orient Collection of coins of medieval Greece, comprising more than eight hundred coins minted in the eastern Mediterranean following the fall of Constantinople to the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Even though the Byzantine Empire was eventually reconstituted and resumed its coinage, much of its former territory in Greece and the Aegean islands remained in the hands of descendents of the Crusaders and other Europeans, who issued coins in the traditions of their homelands. The collection was purchased with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund. While late Byzantine issues are well represented in many public collections, until now there been no specialized collection of the coins of the Greek lands of the later Middle Ages available for study in a public institution. The coins were acquired mostly from English dealers, and many can be traced back to famous collections, including that of John Slocum of Newport, Rhode Island.

    The collection is especially rich in coins minted in the eastern Mediterranean that imitate the important trade coins of Italian cities, especially those of Venice and Naples. Some of these bear the names of rulers of Greek territories; many are of uncertain origin. Among those of note with certain attribution is a silver coin of Chios minted by Martino Zaccharia in the period 1324–1329, which imitates the silver grossi of Venice. On the obverse it depicts Zaccharia standing with Saint Isidore, and has a seated image of Christ on its reverse. Zaccharia bears the title "Servant of the Emperor" in recognition of the fact that the island was given to his grandfather by the Byzantine emperor in return for protection against the Ottoman Turks.

    Chios OChios R

    Chios, Martino Zaccharia, silver grosso, 1324-1329

    Seventeen imitation ducats in the collection bear the name of the Venetian doge Andrea Dandolo of the mid-fourteenth century, the most common type, but there are also imitations in the names of five other Venetian doges, which are much rarer. A ducat of Dorino Gattilusio, Lord of Lesbos and Ainos from 1400 to 1449, has Gattilusio identified as "Duke of Myteline" kneeling in front of a saint; the reverse has a standing figure of Christ. The Gattilusio were made lords of Lesbos on the island of Myteline and Ainos in Thrace on the mainland by Byzantine emperors as a reward for their defense against the Turks. This specimen is the only known example of the coin with an M beneath the standard, apparently an identification of the island of its minting.

    Lesbos OLesbos R

    Lesbos and Ainos, Dorino Gattilusio, gold ducat, 1400-1449

    The largest part of the collection comprises issues of the rulers of mainland Greece in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, chiefly members of the Villehardouin family of Athens and the Angevin rulers of the Peloponnesus, minted on the model of the pennies of Tours in France. Of special interest among these deniers tournois are those issued by Giovanni Orsini at Arta in Epirus, Helen Angela at Karytaina, and John II Ducas Comnenus at Neopatras, as well as one of Campobasso in Italy issued by Nicholas of Monforte in the early fifteenth century.

    John Haldon, Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton, noted that "The arrival of this collection makes a really important addition to the available teaching materials at Princeton - students all too rarely have an opportunity to handle coins and to understand their uses or how they were made, their iconography, and their size and weight.  Along with our existing holdings these coins will considerably increase the opportunities open to students at all levels in this respect."  

    Professor Maria Mavroudi, also Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton, was equally enthusiastic about the new acquisition. "This is a remarkable research tool," she noted. "The period which the collection covers is generally poorly documented in the sources and little understood by scholars. Study of these coins can help scholars map out how the Eastern Mediterranean economy functioned in the course of the 13th and the 14th centuries. The collection provides an opportunity to systematically study aspects of regional economies in the Latin states of the Greek peninsula and the Aegean islands. It is also important in providing insights regarding the role of Italian trade in the Eastern Mediterranean."

    William Chester Jordan, Princeton’s  Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, said that “To call the new acquisition 'wonderful' may very well turn out to be an understatement. The acquisition of the Latin Orient collection provides a wonderful opportunity for scholars in Princeton, including some of my own graduate students, to deepen their understanding of the Middle Ages and, especially, to add to the growing body of knowledge we have of the French aristocratic families who exercised power on the Greek mainland and in the archipelago from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.”

    Princeton's Curator of Numismatics, Alan Stahl, is quite excited by the scholarly potential of the new collection. "This makes Princeton an unrivaled resource for the study of a coinage about which there are many unanswered questions," he noted. He added, "One of the former post-doctoral Fellows of the Program in Hellenic Studies is planning a return to Princeton from Oxford specifically to study this new material, and a first-year graduate student in History is going to compare the punches used on the various imitation ducats to see if she can connect those of a known origin to those still unattributed."

    Dimitri Gondicas, Executive Director of Princeton’s Program in Hellenic Studies was instrumental in securing the Latin Orient Collection for Princeton. He explained, “our support of this acquisition is part of our long-term collaboration with Firestone Library Rare Books and Special Collections, acquiring in partnership books, manuscripts, maps, literary archives, and photographs that are used in teaching and research and attract of visitors each year from around the world.”