blog History for Fantasy Writers: Money

Discussion in 'Research' started by Black Dragon, Apr 15, 2018.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    skip.knox submitted a new blog post:

    History for Fantasy Writers: Money
    by E.L. Skip Knox

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    Medieval money can be divided into two distinctly different types: the kind that existed and the kind that didn't.

    Real money was currency, specifically coins of various qualities and weights. The other kind was called "money of account." This was purely an accounting unit, used for large-scale transactions and never turned into a physical object. When you read about a silver mark in the Middle Ages, do not picture a coin. No such coin existed before modern times.

    Currency

    By far the most common coin throughout the Middle Ages was the silver penny, known in Latin as the denarius. The word was preserved in the Romance languages as the denier in French, the dinero in Spanish, denari in Italian, and denar in Hungarian. The Germanic languages had their own term: pfennige in German, penningen in Dutch, and pence or penny in English. The coin was typically quite small. Now that you know the term and the coin, you understand why pence in English is abbreviated with a lower-case d, as in: £5 3s 5d. The "s" is for shillings.

    In the 13th century a larger coin came into existence, known in English as a groat (groschen, gros, gros tournois). The word...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
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  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    And don’t forget how all that dragon’s gold can disrupt the econmy of a country or two, heh heh. We used to have lots of fun with this sort of stuff when running gaming campaigns.

    Shaved coins do make a reference in my book 2, you’ll be happy to know, heh heh.
     
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Thanks. I hope you found it useful.
     
  4. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Lore Master

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    When we speak of debased currency, we can also include adding lead (whether done by counterfeiters or governments), which can give the coins a reddish tinge over time. I have that in my notes for an upcoming book...that I will get to...someday.
     
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  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Good point. The temptation to debase the currency was almost overwhelming for rulers. They would just call in coinage then re-mint with a lower silver content, and presto! more money! This is fairly well documented for 15th century Burgundy. The temptation was especially strong in wartime, when rulers were strapped for cash.
     
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Debasing is a good short-term plan, but certainly one a smart ruler isn't going to use too often lest the reputation of their currency suffer.

    Another interesting point is that minted coins (with a solid reputation) carry a premium over the value of the base metal. So, a pound in silver coins could well be worth 1.25 pounds of silver bullion. Premiums varied, of course, and it's been years since I studied this much, but good fun to think on when developing an economy.
     
  7. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    Hello Skip!

    Thank you for yet another excellent article about Medieval life. I always learn new things thanks to you, and your style is very clear and educational. You explain everything without complications, and on top of that your sense of humor adds a very nice touch!

    I did not know that the burrs around the edges of coins were invented as a defense against clipping. It's also great to know that Kings and other figures in power always tried to create standards for the coins, and yet the prices of things continued to be very fluid in those times. I love to confirm that silver was the most common component of coins, and that as Fantasy writers we are correct to have it as part of our worlds.

    I have a considerable number of pure silver coins, as part of my personal savings.

    A good way to know if silver coins are pure silver for real or not, is to make them collide against each other. Pure silver creates a very distinctive and unique sound when that happens, so I guess that this type of test could be described in a Fantasy novel set in a Medieval-like world.

    All of my Fantasy worlds use metal coins as their currency, with silver as the most important component.

    My Aylar worlds are especially fond of metal-based economic systems. Bronze coins are the most common type, and even though gold coins exist as well the most valuable metal for Aylars is silver. They are very skillful in determining whether a coin is pure gold or pure silver or not, based on sound tests and how the coin weight feels in the hand, not to mention that they also employ various chemical tests.

    I have a suggestion for a future article of yours:

    What were Medieval toys like? What would wealthy children play with, in contrast with those of lower classes? Medieval childhood in general is not well-known to many of us, so exploring that subject could result in a very interesting article.
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Thanks for the comments!

    Back in the day, shopkeepers would bounce a coin off the countertop to hear the ring. You're quite right about that. A moneychanger, btw, had to be very well informed about the bewildering variety of coins that circulated. I know moneychangers are there in the Middle Ages; not so sure about 19thc.

    Medieval childhood is definitely on my list. My go-to for that is Barbara Hanawalt. She'll be cited in the article.
     
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  9. Malik

    Malik Scribal Lord

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    Great stuff, Skip.

    The New Magic (coming in September) centers around a revolution striving to simultaneously secure the realm's biggest silver mine, the mint, and a vault of uncirculated coins in the bowels of a castle, all of which would force the crown to capitulate with little actual combat. A few scenes detail the coin striking operation. I think you'll enjoy it.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Coolness. I'm looking forward to it.

    I reckon if the coins are in the bowels, then they haven't been circulated. ;-)
     
  11. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    Love the article. Thanks Skip.
    I think the Dinar is older and more widely traded than that. I think it was a coin stamped by the Roman Empire, but maybe before, as during the time of the Talmud, ~2000 yrs. ago, it was in regular circulation in Babylon (outside of Roman control), Persia, Jerusalem and other places.
    The Talmud also discusses that coins with pictures of kings and emperors who were dead or out of favor were worth less, and that the more worn a coin was, the less it was worth. Was this still true in Medieval Europe?
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I think the Talmud is newer than that. Circa 500 AD for the compilation--interestingly, not too far distant from when the Bible was finally standardized. Anyway, about 1500 years ago. That the denarius was in Bablyon and Persia around 500AD isn't surprising; it dates back to the Second Punic War.

    I don't know of any examples of a coin being worth less based on the picture of the king. There were two more important factors in play. One was the precious metal content. That was determined by various tests to determine the actual silver (or gold) content of a coin--they were rarely pure. Then there was the actual purchasing power--how many loaves of bread that silver penny bought you would depend on a variety of factors including the harvest that year. Prices varied in elasticity; always have.

    There was a third factor, which was the stated ratios between coins. So many pennies to a ducat, and so on. There we have stated, arbitrary value, and maybe that's what was being referenced in the Talmudic writings, because that's something a later ruler could come along and monkey with. And you know rulers can be such monkeys!
     
  13. pmmg

    pmmg Shadow Lord

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    Very nice article Skip. Currency is one of those things I just cant seem to settle on in my own story. The number if times I have done google searches on currency to find information like this is significant. I am sure I will come back to this on many times.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Thanks, pmmg. You are very welcome to ask me specific questions, should you have any. I don't pretend to be an expert on this, but socio-economic urban history was my research field, so I do know a bit.
     
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