By Alan M. Stahl
Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 55 (2001)
Introduction: “Que n’a-t-on pas e´crit sur la monnaie des empereurs latins de Constantinople?” Already in 1878, as expressed in the frustration of Gustave Schlumberger in his Numismatique de l’Orient Latin, the coinage of the Latin Empire of Constantinople from 1204 to 1261 had established itself as the great conundrum of Byzantine and Crusade numismatics. Schlumberger spelled out the main lines of the paradox: though documentary evidence indicated that the Latins did mint coins in Constantinople, there are no surviving coins that bear the names of their emperors. The solution offered by earlier scholars had been to adduce what are now called the anonymous folles as the coins of the Latin emperors, but Schlumberger regarded this attribution as speculative and cited overstrike evidence which pointed to an earlier date for those issues. He conceded the possibility that some copper coins were indeed minted by the Latin Empire, but argued that the important coinages of silver and gold were lacking because Venice had imposed its coinage on the new empire and had kept the Frankish rulers from issuing their own.
A century and a quarter after Schlumberger, we are still at about the same place in our understanding of the coinage of the Latin Empire. No coins have turned up with the names of the emperors, and the documentary evidence is unchanged. The anonymous folles have been attributed back to the tenth and eleventh centuries, and in the new volume four of the Dumbarton Oaks Catalogue it is imitations of twelfth-century billon and copper coins that are adduced as issues of the Latin emperors. The existence of Latin electrum hyperpyra, implied by a document that Schlumberger knew but did not discuss in this context, remains a question mark. The basic questions remain: What was used for money in the Latin Empire, and why did its rulers not issue coins in their own names? Can we answer both questions with the single word “Venice” as Schlumberger thought, or must we look elsewhere?