Florin and ducat
With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the influx of gold into Western Europe greatly decreased. The minting of gold coins did not stop, but their circulation was so meager, and the price was so high that they were practically useless in trade.
European money circulation relied entirely on silver. However, by the middle of the 13th century, trade in Italy had grown so much that merchants had to deal with huge masses of silver, and their storage and transportation turned into a serious difficulty. At the same time, thanks to the eastern trade, Italian merchants had a relatively large amount of gold. The only difficulty was that the richest Italian cities were dependent on the Holy Roman Empire
, whose authorities did not want to share with them the monopoly on minting coins.
However, in 1250, as a result of another uprising, Florence ceased to obey the emperor. Already in 1252, the florin began to be minted there – the first massive European gold coin since the time of the solid Constantine the Great.
The florin contained about 3.5 grams of almost chemically pure gold and replaced the silver lira (this is a measure of weight – the Italian pound, about 329 grams). In 1284, Venice began to mint its own gold coin, modeled on the florin.
The name ducat (“ducal coin” or “doge’s coin”) was assigned to it. Florins spread throughout Europe mainly through loans that Florentine bankers (the Scali, Bardic, Peruzzi, and from the 15th century Medici families) provided to European aristocrats and kings, and ducats through Venetian trade in the Mediterranean. As a result, the north of Europe, when minting their money, was guided more by the Florentine coin, and the south and the Middle East — rather by the Venetian, although in essence there was no difference between them.
During the 14th century, in Germany and the Netherlands, guilders (from gulden – “golden”) began to be minted on the model of the florin, and English and Hungarian imitations of the florin even retained the same name (the name of the modern Hungarian currency, the forint, also goes back to it). In the Ottoman Empire, which was the largest trading partner of Venice, in the 15th century they began to mint sultana – an imitation of the ducat.
The issue of Florentine florins ceased in the 16th century, and the Venetian ducat lasted until 1797, when Napoleon destroyed the Venetian Republic. The most impressive thing about the history of the ducat is that at the end of the 18th century it had the same gold content and the same appearance as when it appeared in the 13th century. It was not shaken by any economic and political upheavals of these five turbulent centuries, and it was against it, as an indisputable standard, that the rates of other currencies of Europe and the Mediterranean were measured. Thus, it can be argued that the Venetian ducat was the most stable currency in world history.
When in 1498 the Europeans, represented by Vasco da Gama, opened a direct sea route to India, they counted on profitable trade, but found that they had nothing to offer eastern merchants. Europe was then the backyard of the world economy and did not produce anything that would interest the Indians.
Around the same time, the Spanish conquistadors conquered Mexico and Peru. By the middle of the 16th century, on the territory of present-day Bolivia, they discovered several huge silver deposits, including the famous Potosi, or Cerro Rico (“Rich Mountain”), almost entirely composed of silver ore. Silver was in constant demand in the East, and it was silver that flowed there from the West in exchange for silk and spices.
At the mints built right next to the mines, the Spaniards minted pesos (Spanish: pesos de echo, literally “peso-eight”: 1 peso was changed to 8 realis) – large silver coins modeled on the German thaler (weight – 28-29 grams, purity – about 80%).
From the New World, the pesos dispersed around the world in two huge streams: the first – across the Atlantic Ocean to Seville and from there throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as to India along the path paved by Vasco da Gama; the second – across the Pacific Ocean to China and the islands of the Malay Archipelago. On the second route, Manila in the Philippines, founded by the Spaniards in 1571, became the main transit point – from that moment on, silver flows circled the entire globe and trade became in the full sense of the word global.
By the end of the 16th century, the Spanish pesos-octal, minted in Mexico and Peru, had become the most common silver coin in the world. They paid with them everywhere – from Jamaica to Java and from Arkhangelsk to the Cape of Good Hope. It was the first truly global currency. It held this status until the end of the 18th century.
The coin had many names in different languages. For example, in English it was called either piece of eight (a literal translation of the phrase peso de echo, that is, “a piece of eight [reals]”), or a dollar (distorted “thaler”); in Chinese – shuangzhu (“two pillars”, according to the image of the Pillars of Hercules on the Spanish coat of arms, which was minted on a coin); in Italian – piastre (in translation – “tile”, “bar [silver]”). From this last name comes the most popular Russian name for the peso-octagon – piastres.