The ducat // was a gold or silver coin used as a trade coin in Europe from the later medieval centuries until as late as the 20th century. Many types of ducats had various metallic content and purchasing power throughout the period. The gold ducat of Venice gained wide international acceptance, like the medieval Byzantine hyperpyron and the Florentine florin, or the modern British pound sterling and the United States dollar.
|Silver ducat of Roger II of Sicily|
|+IC XC RC IN ÆTRN, nimbate bust of Christ facing, holding Gospels||R•R SLS, King Roger and, R•DX•AP, Duke Roger (son of Roger) standing facing, holding long cross between them; AN R X along staff of cross.|
|AG: scyphate ducalis or ducatum|
The first issue of this type of coin is thought to have been under king Roger II of Sicily, who was also the Duke of Apulia and who, in 1140, coined ducats bearing the figure of Christ and the inscription, Sit tibi, Christe, datus, quem tu regis iste ducatus meaning "O Christ, let this duchy, which you rule, be dedicated to you."
Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice, whose title means duke, introduced a silver ducat whose types are related to the ducats of Roger II. Later gold ducats of Venice, however, became so important that the name ducat was associated exclusively with them and the silver coins came to be called grossi.
Gold ducat of Venice
The Venetian business model of the 13th century was importing goods from the East and selling them at a profit north of the Alps. They paid for these goods with Byzantine gold coins but when the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos backed a rebellion called the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, he debased the hyperpyron. This was just one more in a series of debasements of the hyperpyron and the Great Council of Venice responded with its own coin of pure gold in 1284.
Both Florence and Genoa had introduced gold coins in 1252 and the florin of Florence had become the standard European gold coin. Venice modeled the size and weight of their ducat on the florin, with a slight increase in weight due to differences in the two cities’ weight systems. The Venetian ducat contained 3.545 grams of 99.47% fine gold, the highest purity medieval metallurgy could produce.
|Gold ducat of doge Michele Steno of Venice|
|Saint Mark standing giving gonfalone to the kneeling doge. S(anctus) M(arcus) VENET(I) DVX MICAEL STEN||Christ standing among stars in oval frame. SIT T[ibi] XPE (Christe) DAT[us] Q[uem] T[u] REGIS ISTE DVCAT[us]|
|AV, 21 mm; 3.50 g|
Gold ducat types derive from silver ducat types, which were ultimately Byzantine. The obverse shows the Doge of Venice kneeling before St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Saint Mark holds the gospel, which is his usual attribute, and presents a gonfalone to the doge. The legend on the left identifies the saint as S M VENET, i.e. Saint Mark of Venice, and the legend on the right identifies the doge, with his title DVX in the field. On the reverse, Christ stands among a field of stars in an oval frame. The reverse legend is the same as on Roger II’s ducats.
Succeeding doges of Venice continued striking ducats, changing only their name on the obverse. During the 15th century, the value of the ducat in terms of silver money was stable at 124 Venetian soldi, i.e. schillings. The term ducat became identified with this amount of silver money as well as the gold coin. Conflict between England and Spain in 1567, however, increased the price of gold and upset this equivalence. At this point, the coin was called the ducato de zecca, i.e. ducat of the mint, which was shortened to zecchino and corrupted to sequin. Leonardo Loredan extended the coinage with a half ducat and subsequent doges added a quarter, and various multiples up to 105 ducats. All of these coins continued to use the designs and weight standards of the original 1284 ducat. Even after dates became a common feature of western coinage, Venice struck ducats without them until Napoleon ended the Venetian Republic in 1797.
Imitations of the ducat of Venice
When the Roman Senate introduced gold coinage either the florin or the ducat could have provided an advantageous model to imitate, but the Florentines who controlled the Senate’s finances ensured that their city’s coin was not copied. Instead, the Roman coin showed a senator kneeling before St. Peter on the obverse and Christ amid stars in oval frame on the reverse in direct imitation of the Venetian ducat. The Popes subsequently changed these designs, but continued to strike ducats of the same weight and size into the 16th century.
Most imitations of the Venetian ducat were made in the Levant, where Venice spent more money than it received. The Knights of Saint John struck ducats with grand master Dieudonné de Gozon, 1346-1353, kneeling before Saint John on the obverse and an angel seated on the Sepulcher of Christ on the reverse. Subsequent Grand masters, however, found it expedient to copy the Venetian types more exactly, first at Rhodes and then on Malta. Genoese traders went farther. They struck ducats at Chios that could be distinguished from the Venetian originals only by their workmanship. These debased ducats were problematic for Venice, which valued its money's reputation for purity. The rarity of ducats that Genoese traders struck at Mytilene, Phocaea, and Pera suggests that Venetians melted those they encountered.
In Western Europe, Venice was an active trader but they sold more than they bought so their coins were less used than the florin. After Henckels assassinated Amadeus Aba in 1311, Charles I of Hungary began a gold coinage exploiting ores of Aba's ancient gold mines. His son, Louis I of Hungary changed the designs by replacing the standing figure of Saint John from the florin with a standing figure of Saint Ladislaus and later changing the lily of Florence to his coat of arms, but he maintained the purity of the gold. In the 15th century, a distinction was made between pure gold florins and debased imitations of the florin by calling the pure coins ducats and the debased coins gulden or goldgulden. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V recognized this distinction in 1524 when he made ducats of the Venetian standard valid money in the Empire with a value 39% higher than the gulden. His younger brother and eventual successor, Ferdinand I, brought this system to Hungary in 1526, when he inherited its throne. The still-pure gold coins of Hungary were henceforth called ducats. Their purity made the Hungarian ducat acceptable throughout Europe. Even the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland left records of the ones his king used for gambling.
Hungary continued to strike ducats with 3.5 grams of 98.6% fine gold. Unlike the unchanging designs of the ducats in Venice, the coat of arms on the reverse of the ducats of Hungary was frequently modified to reflect changed circumstances. In 1470, Matthias Corvinus replaced the coat of arms by a Madonna. Hungary struck ducats until 1915, even under Austrian rule. These were used as trade coins and several of the later dates have been restruck.
Ducats of the Netherlands
The Dutch Revolt gave its seven northern provinces control of their coinage. The collapse of the government of Francis of Anjou in 1583, however, left them without a constitutional ruler to name on those coins. They fell back on the longstanding regional tradition of imitating well accepted foreign coins. In this case they avoided political complications by copying obsolete coins. The gold coins Ferdinand and Isabella issued to the standards of the ducat were widely copied and called ducats. They also imitated the Hungarian ducat and those coins had more influence on the subsequent coinage of the United Provinces. Since the Netherlands became a dominant international trader, the influence of these ducats was global.
At first, ducats of Hungarian type struck in the Netherlands had a standing figure on the obverse with the crown and battle axe that St. Ladislaus carried on the Hungarian prototype, but naming him with a different legend. Like the original, but not contemporary, Hungarian ducats, the reverse had a shield, which now showed the coat of arms of the issuing province. These types evolved into a standing knight holding a sword and seven arrows representing the seven provinces in the union. The legend, CONCORDIA RES PAR CRES, says by concord small things increase. It also named the province that issued the coin. The reverse had a tablet inscribed: MO OR DI PROVIN FOEDER BELG AD LEG IMP, gold money of the federated provinces of Belgium in accordance with the law of the realm. In the Napoleonic period, the Batavian Republic and Louis Bonaparte continued to strike ducats with these designs. Since Napoleon’s defeat, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has continued to issue them as trade and bullion coins.
Spread of the ducat
During the 15th century, international traders in Western Europe shifted from the florin to the ducat as their preferred currency. As rulers reformed their currencies, they most frequently used the ducat as a model. The Mamluk ashrafi, the Ottoman altun, and the Castilian ducat are examples. Coinage reforms of The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian initiated coinage of gold ducats in Austria in 1511. Austria continued to strike ducats until 1915, and has continued to restrike the last of them, including some four ducat coins illustrated here. Nevertheless, bullion for Spain's American colonies allowed the Spanish dollar to supersede the ducat as the dominant currency of world trade.
Around 1913, the gold ducat was worth the equivalent of "nine shillings and four pence sterling, or somewhat more than two dollars. The silver ducat is of about half this value." Even now some national mints produce batches of ducats made after old patterns as bullion gold and banks sell these coins to private investors or collectors.
- Austria. The Austrian Mint still mints single and four-ducats, both dated 1915.
- Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines minted their own version of the Venetian silver ducat, called the basilikon.
- Czech Republic still mints gold replicas (1,4,40 and one hundred ducats)
- Germany and the Holy Roman Empire; many cities, states and principalities before 1871.
- Hungary. The Hungarian mint still mints commemorative coins with 2, 3, 4 and 6-ducats quality.
- Netherlands still issues golden and silver ducats having the same weight, composite and design when they were first minted in 1586.
- Poland (the historical Red złoty)
- Russia imitated Dutch ducats due to their popularity. Also issued small quantities of Russian design.
- Kingdom of Serbia
- Spain, all through its domains, including Flanders, the Kingdom of Napoli and the Americas.
- Switzerland. Before the Swiss unification, the Swiss also minted ducats, the most well known of which are the Zurich ducats.
- Kingdom of Yugoslavia
- Between 1631 and 1648, during the Thirty Years’ War, Erfurt was occupied by Swedish forces, thus the effigy of Queen Christina appears on the 1645 Erfurt 10 Ducat (Portugaloser). There are seven gold coins known to exist bearing the effigy of Queen Christina: a unique 1649 five ducat, and six 1645 10 ducat specimen.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty
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