The first coins of Vytautas

Monetary    Studies
Volume VIII   No. 3  September 2004
Research    Papers

Eduardas Remecas

The article deals with the coins of the Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania the obverse of which features a rider and the reverse – double, the so-called Gediminian columns. The article also discusses the coins close to this type – GDL territorial coins with double columns on the one side and a lion or two leopards on the other.

The seven coins described in the article bearing a rider and double columns portray a concrete overlord, Vytautas. Such coins could only be struck by an overlord of state. Vytautas came to power in the GDL in 1392, yet he was just a vicegerent of Jogaila’s at the time. On 11 March 1401, in the Acts of Vilnius ands Radom, the self-dependence of the GDL was approved and Vytautas was officially recognised as grand duke. Vytautas was entitled to ruling the GDL self-dependently until death. The appearance of the coins with a rider and double columns could have been inspired by namely this event. Vytautas could already show his position openly. We are unable to say whether these coins were originally designated just for propaganda but the small amount of the coins we are aware of today suggests they were struck for a very short period of time. Supposedly, the coins with a rider on the obverse and double columns on the reverse could only be struck between the spring of 1401 and the war of 1402.

The dies for all the seven coins were produced by one and the same master, yet all the coins known were struck using different dies. Below the rider, all the coins bear a trefoil, which, in heraldry, is the symbol of the lily, and above the rider, near his head, a quadri-foil is featured, obviously, symbolising a cross (except in one coin). So Vytautas, as in his earlier coins, took over the picturing of a cross (to show his and the state’s confessional position) and started picturing a lily, the symbol of overlord, at the same time.

The average size of the coins is 12 mm and their average weight is about 0.23–0.25 g. The coins were made of silver not lower than 14 lot. In striking the coins it was orientated towards the Czech groat, so the coins made up the 10th part of the groat. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to call these coins denari.

The GDL territorial coins could not be struck before 1401, when Vytautas was officially recognised as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. This shows in the insignia of the self-dependent overlord, a lily, used in all the coins. The very small amounts of these coins known show their propagandistic nature. After 1401, the most acute problem in Vytautas’ eastern policy was only the control over Smolensk land, which separated from the GDL in 1401. Thus the striking of the territorial coins should only be linked to the latter town.

It might be that on the eve of the rebellion which took place in the autumn of 1401 Vytautas struck the coins with his personal insignia, columns on the obverse and a lion on the reverse, to strengthen his position in Smolensk. This conclusion would be in no conflict to the fact that both the denari that were struck in 1401–1402 in Vilnius and the coins featuring a lion are very similar in appearance and the dies for them could have been produced by one and the same master. After the rebellion Yuri Sviatoslavovich, who overtook power, could possibly proceed with striking coins for a short while but bearing his personal insignia instead of those of Vytautas and leaving the same lion on the reverse. In the spring of 1404 Smolensk was definitively incorporated into the GDL. To confirm his victory, Vytautas minted coins once again in Smolensk. In them, we again see Vytautas’ personal insignia – columns on the obverse and two leopards on the reverse. Whether the latter were just a copy of the coins of the duchy of Holstein or meant the GDL’s Russian lands and Smolensk still remains to find out. However, it raises almost no doubts that the master of the coins arrived from a town that belonged to the Hansa merchant guild and he could not bypass the German Order with which peace was established in May 1404. Consequently, we can conclude that these coins were struck in ca. 1404–1405. By average weights (about 0.45 g), the territorial coins equalled the half-dengas of the Russian duchies. These were designated for the market of the Russian duchies, possibly specifically for the duchy of Moscow (for trade and propaganda).
Full article in Lithuanian language


Source of information: Bank of Lithuania.
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