What was the Spanish Gold Maravedi?
The Spanish maravedi was a type of gold coin that was the predecessor of many Spanish gold coins. Originally based from Moorish coinage, it was later adopted by various Spanish rulers as a ‘Christianized’ coin that was used as currency throughout many Spanish territories prior to the invention of the escudo and the real. Originally based after the gold dinar, the term maravedi came from an early variety of the dinar, referred to as the marabet or marabotin. Named after the Moorish peoples known as the Murabit or Almoravids (from the Arabic al-Murabitun), it was first struck by the Moorish conquerors of Cordova in circa 912 – 961. By the 11th century, its association as a currency of Islamic conquerors became well-established in Europe, and the dinar was usually referred to interchangeably as marabotin. This was not, strictly speaking, the maravedi which would later be ‘officially’ recognized in history, but simply a forerunner of the coin in both design concept and etymology.
Strictly speaking, true maravedi were actually ‘Christianized’ versions of the Moorish dinar or marabotin and was used as a currency and a unit of account in the non-Islamic areas of Spain sometime during the 12th century onwards. By circa 1157 – 1160 two Christian rulers, Ferdinand II of Leon and Alphonso VIII of Castile adopted the dinar / marabotin and redid it to become a strictly Christian coinage. Ferdinand’s attempt to ‘Christianize’ the coin involved defacing the Islamic symbolism and replacing it with Christian iconography, while Alphonso’s methods simply left the Arabic calligraphy alone and ‘redid’ the coin simply by incorporating an abbreviation of his name (‘ALF’) on the bottom part of the coins. Aside from reusing already extant examples of marabotin, both rulers also issued coins to be made in imitation of preexisting ones, with sizes and weights that varied per ruler. First made solely from gold and later referred to as the maravedi de oro, it became the official accounting unit for gold alongside the still-extant solidus unit referred to in Spanish as the sueldo. Made with .900 - .985 pure gold weighing in at roughly 3.8 grams (for Ferdinand’s version) and 4.5 – 4.8 grams (for Alphonso’s version) the gold content of the coin slowly underwent debasement, so that by the time of James I of Aragon, the coin’s gold content fell to no more than one gram.
By the 1250s, the gold content of the maravedi de oro all but fell to nothing, eliciting a remake of the coin, this time in a more ‘affordable’ metal – silver. All maravedis thereafter were largely made from silver, although some rulers would mint gold ones in limited quantities on occasion. With the accounting unit of Spain’s currency being composed of gold (the maravedi [formerly], and the sueldo), silver (the dinero, copied from the Arabic silver dinar) and billon (referred to as vellon in Spanish), the true nature of the maravedi became very obscure and confusing. By the 13th century, the term maravedi was not only used to refer to a coin of gold and silver, but was also used to refer to a coin made from vellon (billon) alloy minted during the time of Alphonso X.
To make matters more confusing, the term was also used to refer to – firstly: a specific type of coin (suffixed by de or, de plata, or de vellones) to refer to the type of coin (gold, silver, or billon); secondly, the general reference for any type of coin used within the realm, the word becoming (by the time) synonymous with money; and lastly, a unit of account. Later, the maravedi gold coin would be replaced by another type of gold coinage – the ducado (similar to the Venetian ducato) as an attempt to quell the confusion resulting from monetary monikers and discordant equivalent values. This reform was heralded by the declaration of the Ordinance of Medina del Campo under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain on the 2nd of June, 1497.
A final reform of the Spanish coinage was fulfilled when Charles I ascended the throne and replaced the ducado with the escudo, which became the standard gold coin of Spain beginning in 1537. The maravedi as a type of coinage was forever abolished, although it remained as a unit of account (becoming the smallest unit of account in Spanish currency, until its eventual discontinuation as a money of account in 1847. Examples of gold maravedi are extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors and investors alike, although earlier examples are more sought after by investors than the later, debased ones; with very few extant examples available for the general market today, as gold maravedi are usually sold via discreet and often high-end channels.
Gold Maravedi - References:
Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012
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