American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

The Medieval West


Throughout early Medieval Europe, coins were not as important as they had been during the Roman period. The Germanic people, who had conquered the western part of the Roman Empire, valued coins primarily by their bullion value. Coin production was low, and barter was a common form of exchange.

In about 755, the Frankish King Pepin the Short (751-768) introduced a hammered silver coin called a denier, or penny in English, the prime European coin. Such silver coins were used to pay for troops or to buy luxury goods.

In about the late 12th century, Europe had again established a trading network and system of coinage. The discovery of new mines in central Europe and the installation of banking houses further accelerated monetary development. Wealthy cities in northern Italy introduced large silver and gold coins, which facilitated exchange with many of their trading partners.