Throughout the Frankish rule in Cyprus, the currency of the island consisted of the coins minted by the authority of the Lusignan kings. These coins are distinct by their types and legends where the name and the title of the king are accompanied by the phrase de Cipro or Cypri.
Guy de Lusignan introduced in the numismatic system of Cyprus the denier, which had been widely circulated in the 12th century in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The electrum cup-shaped third of hyperpyron, known as the “white bezant of Cyprus”, remained the island’s standard coin and its basic numismatic unit for the next 100 years. One bezant equaled 48 deniers. Henry II (1285-1306) replaced the white bezant with a large coin of almost pure silver, modelled on the gros tournois of France. The Cypriot gros was worth half a bezant of 24 deniers. The gros and its denomination, the gros-petit became the standard currency of Cyprus and remained so until the end of the period.
The Lusignan kings controlled the minting and the circulation in the island while foreign coins were not permitted to circulate. The control of the minting offered not only a financial profit but it was a mean of political power and prestige.
Coinage was mainly used for tax payments, for the expenditure of the king and his court, and in the trade transactions both inland and overseas.
Guy de Lusignan to Hugh IV (1192-1359)
The rule of the Lusignans in Cyprus commenced in the spring of 1192 when the banished king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan (1192-1194) purchased the island from Richard the Lionheart. After the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, many knights and townsmen lost their properties and possessions, and they joined Arab-speaking Christians who immigrated to Cyprus from the Levant after de Lusignan purchased the island; many of these Christians also settled in Cyprus subsequent to the arrival of Aimery, de Lusignan’s successor. Guy de Lusignan was made Lord of Cyprus – he was never actually crowned king of the island (Metcalf 1998, 80; CLC 1, 2-3). His acquisition of Cyprus proved to be a valuable investment: the Lusignan dynasty enjoyed great wealth and prosperity on the island, as opposed to the Cypriots who lived under their rule (Metcalf 1995, 247-248).
Cyprus soon came under the dominion of a western-styled monarchy established and supported by the French aristocracy, and the Frankish ruling class replaced the Byzantine ruling class, settling in fiefs throughout the island. The monarchy instituted the same laws (the assizes) and customs that had been in place in the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Edbury 1998, 35). The High Court assizes governed relations between the ruler and the feudal lords, while the Lower Court assizes governed relations among townsmen.
Neophytos the Recluse, who lived in the 12th century, chronicled the medieval history of Cyprus, as did Leontios Machairas and Georgios Voustronios (George Boustronios), who both penned representative accounts, in Greek-Cypriot dialect, of life under Frankish rule. Machairas, a member of a Cypriot family that held high posts in the Lusignan administration, wrote "Account of the Sweet Land of Cyprus" , an account of Cyprus during his lifetime, 1360-1432, which includes brief mentions of earlier periods in the island’s history. In the second half of the 15th century, Georges Boustronios’s "A Setting Fourth of the Chronicle of Cyprus", Beginning with the Year 1456 after Christ, detailed the reign of the last Lusignan king, James II of Cyprus (also known as Jacques II le Bâtard de Lusignan and the Bastard) and the last days of his kingdom, in 1489.
The capture of Cyprus by Richard the Richard the Lionheart and its transfer to Guy de Lusignan brought many changes to the coinage of Cyprus. Throughout the entire Frankish period, the coinage of Cyprus was under strict control, and only the issues of the royal mint were permitted to circulate; foreign currencies were not accepted on the island, and any foreign coins that reached Cyprus were melted down and used for the minting of official coinage (Metcalf 1998, 82). The inflow of foreign coins into Cyprus was a significant source of metal for the island’s mints.
On arriving in Cyprus, Guy de Lusignan introduced the denier, which had been widely circulated in the 12th century in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in the County of Tripoli and throughout the Principality of Antioch. The island’s new numismatic system included the deniers, while the cup-shaped third of hyperpyron, known as the “white bezant of Cyprus”, remained the island’s standard coin and its basic numismatic unit for the next 100 years (CLC 1, 9). The denier was made of a silver-bronze alloy with a low silver content; one bezant equaled 48 deniers. Even though the white bezants ceased to be minted and issued during the 14th century, they remained in use on the island as a unit of account.
The iconography of the bezant preserved many of the elements of its Byzantine iteration. Jesus Christ appeared on the obverse of the coin, while the reigning Lusignan king, arrayed in Byzantine ceremonial attire, appeared on the reverse (Metcalf 1998, 80). Guy de Lusignan also issued bronze coins inscribed with his title from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, REX GVIDO DE JERVSALEM. Most of these issues were found in Cyprus, and were perhaps the first coins minted on the island during this period. In the following years, until 1267, there were no important developments in Cypriot coinage.
King Hugh III (1267-1284) issued deniers and bezants; he replaced the Latin inscriptions on the deniers of his predecessors with French inscriptions and restored the title “King of Jerusalem” to these coins. The deniers of Hugh III depicted a crowned rampant lion, which replaced the castle gate on the reverse of the deniers of his predecessors. The striking of deniers continued throughout the reign of Henry II (1285-1324), usually following the type of the rampant lion (CLC 1, 19-22). These deniers were used in everyday transactions; the discovery of these coins in various locations throughout Cyprus indicates where they were used and provides important information regarding the circulation of coinage on the island and complements the information gathered by numismatists from various hoards (Metcalf 1997, 84).
Also during the reign of Henry II, a new coin was introduced, the gros, in large silver content, following a similar reform in France, where King Louis introduced the gros tournois (Metcalf 1998, 81); this shift from gold to silver standard is seen throughout the Mediterranean during this era. Circa 1291, the silver basilikon replaced the gold hyperpyron in the Byzantine Empire; soon thereafter, Italian merchants preferred to contract their transactions in the Eastern Mediterranean in silver coins (CLC 1, 130).
The Cypriot gros had the value of half a bezant and equaled 24 billon deniers. The gros and its denomination, the gros-petit (half the value of the gros, 12 billon deniers), became the official coin of Cyprus and remained in circulation until the conclusion of Frankish rule. The obverse of the gros depicts the king of Cyprus, crowned and seated on a high-backed throne, holding a sceptre in his right hand and a globus cruciger (a sphere topped with a cross) in his left hand; the reverse depicts the Lion of Cyprus.
Amaury, brother of Henry II and Prince of Tyre, usurped the throne of Cyprus from 1306 to 1310. Amaury initially issued coins that bore both his name and his brother’s name; beginning in 1310, he inscribed his coins with his name alone. Amaury’s coins, considered the most beautiful of the Lusignan issues (CLC 2, 8-9), depict heraldic images, rather than a portrait of the king. The obverse of Amaury’s coins bears the Lion of Cyprus, stamped within concentric circles, while the reverse bears a coat of arms with the Cross of Jerusalem and the Lusignan emblem. Henry II regained power in 1310 and resumed striking silver gros in his name, although these gros followed a lighter weight standard than those issued prior to the usurpation of Amaury. The obverse of these coins features the king seated on a low-backed throne, while the reverse features the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which the Lusignans claimed long after they had lost the Levant to Saladin (Metcalf 1998, 82). According to tradition, the coronation of the Lusignans as kings of Cyprus took place in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Nicosia; they later crowned themselves kings of Jerusalem in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta. Hugh IV succeeded his uncle, Henry II, and he ruled Cyprus from 1324 until 1359, a time of great wealth and prosperity in Cyprus. Beginning in 1291, after the fall of Acre, the Crusaders lost their possessions in Syria, and many Christian refugees landed at Famagusta. According to some coin iconography and literary sources, there was a mint in operation in Famagusta during this period, in addition to the mint in Nicosia; in 1343, according to his own notes, a merchant from Barcelona visited Famagusta and sold silver coins to an agent of the mint (CLC 2, 3-5).
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Cyprus found itself at the crossroads of numerous maritime trade routes, and Famagusta, the commercial nexus between the East and the West, developed into the busiest and wealthiest port in the Mediterranean. The island also exported a tremendous amount of cotton, sugar and wine, and money flowed in abundance to Cyprus. According to some sources, travelers to Famagusta during the first half of the 14th century were quite impressed by the city’s wealth (Edbury 1998, 40-41).
During the greater part of the 14th century, numismatic transactions played a decisive role in the Cyprus economy. The king’s expenses, and those of his court, were paid by coins minted on the island; these coins were also used for the payment of taxes, and for domestic and external trade (CLC 1, 1).
Peter I to John II (1359-1458)
Peter I, the most daring and militaristic of the Lusignan kings, succeeded his father, Hugh IV, in 1359. Peter ruled Cyprus for ten years, and the coins minted on the island during his reign reflect his personality. These coins depict Peter holding an unsheathed sword, rather than a sceptre, a reference to the Chivalric Order of the Sword, which Peter founded during his reign in order to recapture the Holy Land (Metcalf 1998, 82). Peter and his successor, Peter II, issued a series of gros and gros-petit of lighter weight in Korykos, in Cilicia, or in Antalya while it was under the control of the Kingdom of Cyprus, from 1361 to 1373 (CLC 2, 17).
It is estimated that millions of coins were struck during this era (Metcalf 1998, 82). Large numbers of the gros and gros-petit issued by Henry II, Hugh IV, Peter I and Peter II (1369-1382) have been saved in hoards, which have enabled a systematic die study and the formation of a statistical list of the quantities of coins issued by the Cyprus mints. There are a number of written sources which complement the information retrieved from these hoards, including the archives of St. Sophia in Nicosia for the years 1195 to 1383 (La Monte 1929), the commercial notebook of Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, "La pratica della mercatura", which refers to trade conducted in Famagusta during this period (Evans 1936), and the books of account of the 1367 Limassol Diocese (Richard 1962; Metcalf 1995, 262-268).
Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, Cyprus maintained an economic partnership with a number of Italian cities, especially Genoa. In 1218, Alice of Cyprus (Alix de Champagne), mother of the underage King Henry I, conferred on the Genoese special economic and trade privileges, in order to defend and secure the interests of the Lusignan dynasty against the claims of Frederick II Hohenstaufen. As a result of the agreement, Cyprus became part of the Genoese commercial empire until 1372, when the arrangement ended with the coronation of Peter II, the young son of Peter I, in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta, which prompted the Genoese to invade and sack the city (Metcalf 1998, 83). The Genoese captured Famagusta and demanded an incredible recompense from the Lusignans (Metcalf 1995, 260). The Kingdom’s payment to the Genoese drained its coffers and was a disaster for the economy. The devaluation of the island’s currency soon followed; after the Genoese captured Famagusta, eight gros equalled one Venetian ducat, whereas 7.5 gros had equalled one ducat prior to the invasion.
The Genoese issued billon deniers in Famagusta, which they put into circulation alongside the Cypriot coins in use in the city at this time, the silver gros and the deniers, or carzia (CLC 3, 151-152). Although the Genoese monopolized the maritime trade of Cyprus in the 13th and 14th centuries and gained complete control of Famagusta after 1372, no Genoese gold or silver coins have been found on the island.
The coins of James I (1382-1398) and those of Janus (1398-1432) were issued in two mints, in Nicosia and, most likely, in Sigouri, where James I built his castle along the route between Famagusta and Nicosia (CLC 3, 32-33, 44-45).
Following his 1403 agreement with the Genoese and his failed attempt to recapture Famagusta in 1404, Janus faced intense economic pressure, and he issued the copper sizin in order to finance his continued kingship (CLC 3, 122-123). The Mameluk invasions, beginning in 1420, crippled the economy of Cyprus, as successive waves of Mameluks from Egypt plundered the island. The Mameluks captured Janus in 1426 and held him in Cairo until 1428, when he was ransomed for an enormous sum. John II (1432-1458) minted more gros than his predecessors. His coins featured the same iconography as earlier gros, with some slight stylistic changes (Metcalf 1998, 83).
Charlotte to Catherine Cornaro (1458-1489)
After the death of John II, a battle for his throne commenced between Charlotte (1458-1459), daughter of John II and Helena Palaeologina, and James, the illegitimate son of John II. Charlotte took the throne for a brief period, but James prevailed and confined Charlotte and her husband, Louis, Duke of Savoy, in the castle of Kyrenia until 1461, when they fled to Rome and James was crowned James II (1461-1473). While in exile, until their deaths, Charlotte and Louis continued to claim the throne of Cyprus.
Charlotte issued coins during one of her few regnal years; her coins depicted a crowned coat of arms, rather than her portrait (CLC 3, 83). She and Louis also issued numerous silver gros.
James II incurred huge expenses during his battle for succession with Charlotte, and he issued sizins as Janus had done, in order to maintain his kingship, and his sizins, remained in circulation with the gros throughout his rule (CLC 3, 123-124). The gros of James II followed a new numismatic type; these impressive coins depicted the king on horseback, his sword drawn, in honour of his recapture of Famagusta from the Genoese in January 1464. The design of his gros petit which featured his portrait in profile, was influenced by Renaissance portraiture, which had taken hold in Europe (CLC 3, 99,157); these coins are extremely rare today. James also issued a limited amount of carzia , bronze coins of small value which were minted again during the period of Venetian rule.
After James II expelled the Genoese from Famagusta, the Venetians sought to secure their interests in Cyprus. James II was amenable to Venetian influence, and in 1467 he proclaimed himself “son of Venice”. In 1468 he married Catherine Cornaro, the daughter of a prominent Venetian family and a declared daughter of the Serenissima (the Venetian Republic), which gave Venice rights to Cyprus after his death in 1473. Catherine took the throne of Cyprus in 1473, while pregnant, and she reigned jointly with her infant son, James III, after his birth that year.
In 1473 the Catalans staged a coup in Cyprus (Hill III, 665-665), and the Venetians placed the island under their complete control. The Republic dispatched two advisors and a military commander to Catherine, who remained on the throne, but the Kingdom of Cyprus was now under the administration of the Republic of Venice (Hill III, 706-707). James III died in 1474, and Catherine remained sole queen until 1489, when she transferred her titles to the Republic of Venice and relinquished control of Cyprus, which became a colony of the Republic.
Between 1473 and 1474, Catherine issued coins in her own name and in the name of James III. Catherine also issued coins in her name alone; these coins were the final issues of the Frankish kingdom of Cyprus.