A Model of the monetary system of Medieval Europe

A Model of the monetary system of Medieval Europe

Redish, Angela (University of British Columbia) & Weber, Warren E. (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

Yale Economic History Workshop, March 30, (2011)


The history of commodity money systems is replete with denominational problems. In many instances these are complaints of an absence of small denomination coins (a ‘scarcity of small change’) but there were also occasions when there complaints of an absence of large denomination media of exchange. The complaints about the absence of small or large denomination coins reflect the very limited types of coins that circulated in commodity money systems. In medieval Europe mints typically produced only one type of coin, a silver penny stamped on both sides, weighing about 1.7 grams and being about 18 mm in diameter. Over the ensuing centuries pennies continued to be minted, but their silver content and fineness declined. Then in the early 13th century, the Italian city states began adding a second coin type, a ‘grosso’ that was very similar to Charlemagne’s penny – of high fineness, but slightly heavier, around 2 gms. Most other European mints followed suit in the mid 13th century, issuing even larger silver coins even as they continued to mint the penny. In the mid-13th century, many mints also began issuing gold coins adding further choices to the coin types.

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