Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The right to coin money being a sovereign prerogative, there can be no papal coins of earlier date than that of the temporal power of the popes. Nevertheless, there are coins of Pope Zacharias (741-52), of Gregory III (Ficoroni, "Museo Kircheriano"), and, possibly, of Gregory II (715-741). There is no doubt that these pieces, two of which are of silver, are true coins, and not merely a species of medals, like those which were distributed as "presbyterium" at the coronation of the popes since the time of Valentine (827). Their stamp resembles that of the Byzantine and Merovingian coins of the seventh and eighth centuries, and their square shape is also found in Byzantine pieces. Those that bear the inscription GREII PAPE — SCI PTR (Gregorii Papæ — Sancti Petri) cannot be attributed to Pope Gregory IV (827-44), because of the peculiarity of minting. The existence of these coins, while the popes yet recognized the Byzantine domination, is explained by Hartmann (Das Königreich Italien, Vol. III), who believes that, in the eighth century, the popes received from the emperors the attributes of "Præfectus Urbis". Under the empire, coins that were struck in the provinces bore the name of some local magistrate, and those coins of Gregory and of Zacharias are simply imperial Byzantine pieces, bearing the name of the first civil magistrate of the City of Rome. There are no coins of Stephen III or of Paul I, who reigned when the Duchy of Rome was already independent of the Eastern Empire; the first true papal coins are those of Adrian I, from whose time until the reign of John XIV (984) the popes coined money at Rome.

There is no pontifical money of a date between the last-named year and 1305; this is explained, in part, by the fact that the Senate of Rome, which sought to replace the papacy in the temporal government of the city, took over the mint in 1143. On the other hand, Prince Alberic had already coined money in his own name. The coins of the Senate of Rome usually bear the inscription "ROMA CAPUT MUNDI", or, S. P. Q. R., or both, with or without emblems. In 1188 the mint was restored to the pope ( Clement III ), with the agreement, however, that half of its profits should be assigned to the sindaco , or mayor. The Senate, meanwhile, continued to coin money, and there is no reference, on the coins of that time to the papal authority. In the thirteenth century the Sindaco caused his own name to be stamped upon the coins, and, consequently, we have coins of Brancaleone, of Charles I of Anjou, of Francesco Anguillara, viceroy of Robert of Naples, etc.; so, also, did King Ladislao. Cola di Rienzi, during his brief tribunate, likewise struck coins, with the inscription: N. TRIBUN. AUGUST.: ROMA CAPU. MU. Papal coins reappeared with the removal of the pontifical Court to Avignon, although there exists a single coin that is referred to Benedict XI (1303-4), with the legend COITAT. VENASIN; as, however, this pope never resided in Venaissin, which had belonged to the Holy See since 1274, the coin should be referred to Benedict XII. There are coins of all the popes from John XXII to Pius IX.

The popes, and also the Senate when it coined money, appear to have used the imperial mint of Rome, which was on the slope of the Campidoglio, not far from the Arch of Septimius Severus ; but, in the fifteenth century, the mint was near the bank of Santo Spirito. Finally, in 1665, Alexander VII moved it to the rear of the apse of St. Peter's, where it is at present. Bernini invented for it a machine to do the work more rapidly, and Francesco Girardini furnished a very sensitive balance; so that the mint of Rome was technically the most perfect one of those times. In 1845 Pius IX equipped it with the most modern appliances. The administration of the mint was at first entrusted to the cardinal camerlengo ; direct supervision, however, was exercised by the senate, from the time at least when that body took possession of the mint, until the reign of Martin V. The sindaco and the conservators of the Camera Capitolina appointed the masters of the mint, while the minting was witnessed by the heads of the guild of goldsmiths and silversmiths. In 1322 John XXII created the office of treasurer for the mint of Avignon, and its incumbent, little by little, made himself independent of the camerlengo. Later, the office of prelate president of the mint was created. According to Lunadori (Relaz. della Corte di Roma, 1646), the establishments for the coining of money were in charge of a congregation of cardinals.

Rome was not the only city of the Pontifical States that had a mint: prior to the year 1000, there existed at Ravenna the former imperial mint, which was ceded in 996 to Archbishop Gerberto by Gregory V ; there were mints also at Spoleto and at Benevento, former residences of Lombard dukes. The Archbishop of Ravenna, who was a feudatory of the emperor rather than of the pope, coined money as long as his temporal power over that city and its territory lasted. The mint of the Emperor Henry VI was established at Bologna in 1194, and nearly all of the coins struck there bear the motto BONONIA DOCET, or BONONIA MATER STUDIORUM. The baiocchi of Bologna were called bolognini , while the gold bolognino was equivalent to a gold sequin. The lira , also a Bolognese coin, was worth 20 bolognini. These coins were struck in the name of the commune; it is only from the time when Bologna was recovered by the Holy See, under Clement VI, that Bolognese coins may be regarded as papal.

Other cities had mints because they were the capitals of principalities subject to the Holy See , or in virtue of a privilege granted them by some prince; and when these feudal states fell to the Holy See, they retained the mints as papal establishments. This was so in the case of Camerino (from Leo X to Paul III ), Urbino, Pesaro and Gubbio (under Julius II, Leo X , and Clement XI ), Ferrara (from Clement VIII ), Parma and Piacenza (from Julius II to Paul III ). There were other cities to which the popes granted a mint for limited periods of time, as Ancona (from Sixtus IV to Pius VI ), Aquila (1486, when that city rebelled against Ferdinand I of Naples and gave its allegiance to Innocent VIII ; its coins, which are very rare, bear the inscription AQUILANA LIBERTAS), Ascoli (from Martin V to Pius VI ), Avignon (from Clement V on), Carpentras (under Clement VIII ), Venaissin (from Boniface VIII ), Fabriano (under Leo X ), Fano (from Innocent VIII to Clement VIII ), Fermo (from Boniface IX, 1390, to Leo X ), The Marches (from Boniface IX to Gregory XIII ), Macerata (from Boniface IX to Gregory XIV ), Modena (under Leo X and Clement VII ), Montalto (under Sixtus V ), Orvieto (under Julius II ), the "Patrimony" (from Benedict XI to Benedict XII ), Perugia (from Julius II to Julius III ), Ravenna (from Leo X to Paul III , and under Benedict XIV ), Recanati (under Nicholas V ), Reggio (from Julius II to Adrian VI ), Spoleto (under Paul II ), Duchy of Spoleto, PROVINCIÆ DUCATUS (under Paul V ), Viterbo (under Urban VI and Sixtus IV ). Pius VI, being obliged to coin a great deal of copper money, gave the minting of it to a great many cities of the Patrimony, of Umbria, and of the Marches, which, together with those already named, continued to strike these coins ; among them were Civitavecchia, Gubbio, Matelica, Ronciglione (the coins of 1799 showing the burning of this city are famous), Terni, and Tivoli. Pius VII suppressed all the mints except those of Rome and of Bologna.

As far back as 1370 there were coins struck during the vacancies of the Holy See, by authority of the cardinal camerlengo, who, after the fifteenth century at least, caused his name and his coat of arms to be stamped on the reverse of the coin, the obverse bearing the words "SEDE VACANTE" and the date, surrounding the crossed keys surmounted by the pavilion. All papal coins, with rare exceptions, bear the name of the pope, preceded (until the time of Paul II ) by a Greek cross, and nearly all of the more ancient ones bear, either on the obverse or on the reverse, the words S. PETRUS, and some of them, the words S. PAULUS also. From Leo III to the Ottos, the coins bear the name of the emperor as well as that of the pope. After the sixteenth century the coat of arms of the pope alone frequently appears on pontifical coins. There are also found images of the Saviour, or of saints, symbolical figures of men or of animals, the keys (which appear for the first time on the coins of Benevento ), etc. From the sixteenth century to the eighteenth, Biblical or moral phrases are added, in allusion to the saint or to the symbol that is stamped upon the coin, as, for example, MONSTRA TE ESSE MATREM, SPES NOSTRA, SUB TUUM PRÆSIDIUM, TOTA PULCERA, SUPRA FIRMAM PETRAM, DA RECTA SAPERE (during the Conclave ), UBI THESAURUS IBI COR, CRESCENTEM SEQUITUR CURA PECUNIAM, HILAREM DATOREM DILIGIT DEUS, PRO PRETIO ANIMÆ, FERRO NOCENTIUS AURUM, IN SUDORE VULTUS, CONSERVATÆ PEREUNT, TOLLE ET PROIICE, etc. Sometimes allusion is made to an historical event, as the acquisition of Ferrara, or the deliverance of Vienna (1683), or to some concession of the pope to his subjects, or to a jubilee. From the time of Clement X the coins struck at Rome bear a minute representation of the coat of arms of the prelate in charge of the mint, a custom that obtained until 1817. The only instance of a cardinal camerlengo stamping his coat of arms on the coins during the lifetime of the pope is that of Cardinal Armellini, under Adrian VI, in the case of four grossi .

The mints outside of Rome stamped the coins with the arms of their respective cities, or with those of the cardinal legate, of the vice-legate, or of the governor; thus, Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1612 struck coins at Avignon with his own name and arms, omitting the name of the pope, an example that was followed a year later by the pro-legate Cardinal Filonardi. The city very often placed the image of its patron saint on its coins. The date came to be stamped on coins that were struck during the vacancies of the Holy See, occasionally at first, and later as a rule; it rarely appears on other coins before 1550; the practice became general in the seventeenth century, the year of the Christian era or that of the pontificate being used; and Gregory XVI established it by law, as also the requirement that each coin should bear upon it an expression of its value. At Bologna as early as the seventeenth century, the value of gold or silver coins was usually indicated with the figures 20, 40, 80, etc., i.e. so many bolognini or baiocchi; at Rome, in the eighteenth century, nearly all the copper coins bore an indication of their value. The rim of papal coins rarely bore an inscription; at most, the monogram of the city in which the coin was struck was stamped upon it. From the sixteenth century, the engravers, also, put their ciphers on the coins ; among these engravers may be named Benvenuto Cellini, Francesco Raibolini, called il Francia (Bologna), the four Hamerani, Giulio Romano (trident), Cavaliere Lucenti, Andrea Perpenti, etc. Until the time of Pius VI, the dies for the mint remained the property of the engravers.

The Byzantine monetary system is followed in the papal coinage until the reign of Leo III, after which the system of the Frankish Empire obtains. John XXII adopted the Florentine system, and coined gold forms; the weight of this coin, however, varied from 22 carats to 30, until Gregory XI reduced it to the original 24 carats; but deterioration came again, and then there were two kinds of florins, the papal florin, which maintained the old weight, and the florin di Camera , the two being in the ratio of 69 papal florins = 100 florins di Camera = 1 gold pound = 10 carlini . The ducat was coined in the papal mint from the year 1432; it was a coin of Venetian origin that circulated with the florin, which, in 1531, was succeeded by the scudo , a piece of French origin that remained the monetary unit of the Pontifical States. At the same time, there appeared the zecchino . The ancient papal florin was equal to 2 scudi and 11 baiocchi (1 baiocco = 0.01 scudi); one ducat was equal to one scudo and 9 baiocchi. The scudo also underwent fluctuations, in the market and in its weight: the so called scudo delle stampe (1595) was worth 184·2 baiocchi, that is, a little less than 2 scudi. Benedict XIII re-established the good quality of the alloy, but under Pius VI it again deteriorated. In 1835 Gregory XVI regulated the monetary system of the Pontifical States, establishing the scudo as the unit, and dividing it into 100 baiocchi, while the baiocco was divided into 5 quattrini (the quattrino, until 1591, had been equal to ¼ of a baiocco). The scudo was coined both in gold and in silver; there were pieces of 10 scudi, called Gregorine; and pieces of 5 scudi, and of 2½ scudi were also coined. The scudo of the eighteenth century was equal to l·65 scudi of Pius VII, which last was adopted by Gregory XVI ; the zecchino was worth 2·2 scudi. The scudo is equal to 5·3 lire in the monetary system of the Latin Union. The fractional silver coins were the half scudo, and the giulio , called also paolo , which was equal to 0·1 seudi. The latter coin was created by Julius II in order to put the carlini of Charles of Anjou out of circulation, these coins being of bad alloy. There were pieces of 2 giulii that were called papetti , at Rome, and lire at Bologna, a name that was later given to them officially. A grosso , introduced in 1736, was equal to half a giulio (25 baiocchi); there were also the mezzogrosso , and the testone = 30 giulii. The copper coins were the baiocco or soldo (which was called bolognino, at Bologna) and the 2 baiocchi piece. The name baiocco is derived from that of the city of Bayeux.

Other coins that were used at various times in the Pontifical States were the baiocchella = 1 baiocco, a copper piece with a silver surface, and therefore smaller than the copper baiocco; there were coins made of the two metals of the values, respectively, of 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 16 baiocchi; the copper madonnina (Bologna) = 5 baiocchi; the sampietrino ( Pius VI ) = 2½ baiocchi; the paludella was a soldo, made of an alloy of copper and silver, established by Pius VI as a more easily portable specie with which to pay the workmen of the Pontine Marshes; the sesino = 0·4 of a baiocco = 2 quattrini; the leonina ( Leo XII ) = 4·4 Gregorian scudi; the doblone = 2 old scudi = 3·3 scudi of the nineteenth century; there were dobloni of the relative values of 4, 8, and 16 scudi; the doppio was worth a little less than the doblone, that is, 3·21 scudi of the nineteenth Century; at Bologna there were also coined scudi of 80 baiocchi, and half-scudi of 40 baiocchi; the gabella was a Bolognese coin, equivalent to a carlino or giulio; the gabellone was equivalent to 26 bolognini (baiocchi); the franco , in the fifteenth century, was worth 12 baiocchi at Bologna, but only 10 baiocchi at Rome ; the alberetti was a two-baiocco piece that was coined by the Roman Republic (1798-99).

No official collection of the papal coins was made before the time of Benedict XIV, who acquired from Cardinal Passionei the valuable collection of Scilla which was enriched later by other acquisitions; in 1809, however, it was taken to Paris, and was never recovered. In the nineteenth century the Holy See obtained possession of the fine collection of Belli, begun in the previous century by Luigi Tommasini, and this collection became the basis of the Numismatic Cabinet, which is under the direction of the prefect of the Vatican Library and has a special custodian. Since the loss of the temporal power, the pope has not coined money; each year, however, he strikes the customary medal for the feast of Saint Peter, which is given to cardinals and to the employees of the Roman Curia.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 18th, 2014 Image

St. Rufus
December 18: Rufus and Zosimus were citizens of Antioch (or perhaps Philippi) ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter