Circulation of 16th century coins in the current territory of Lithuania

Monetary Studies
Volume VI No2 June 2002
Research Papers

Eduardas Remecas

On the basis of materials on coin hoards, single coin findings and scanty written sources, the article attempts to reconstruct the circulation of coins in the current territory of Lithuania in the 16th century and possible coin issues in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Coin circulation in the State of Poland and Lithuania was dominated by local money throughout the 16th century. Coins minted at the Mint of Vilnius were used most often in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Mint of Vilnius started functioning in 1495. Until the death of Alexander (1506), approximately 15–20 million half-groats might have been minted in it. The appearance of half-groats (from Gothic to Renaissance) might have been changed in around 1503. The appearance of denarii was probably changed at the same time. The amount of denarii minted might have amounted to around 45–50 million units.

Under the reign of Sigismund the Elder (1506–1548), approximately 25 to 30 million half-groats and 3 to 4 million groats were minted at the Mint of Vilnius. Coins of Poland, Prussia and Silesia, and the Czech Prague groats minted as far back as the early 15th century circulated in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania along with the coins minted at the Mint of Vilnius. Polish coins comprised the largest part of these coins. In the composition of coin hoards of Lithuania Polish half-groats of Alexander comprise around 15% of half-groats of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the reign of the same ruler. Half-groats of John Albrecht comprise the same percentage. Polish half-groats of Sigismund the Elder (1507–1511) comprise around 18% of the amount of half-groats of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the reign of this ruler. Prussian coins minted in 1517–1548 prevailed among groats. Half-groats minted in 1517–1528 in the town of Svidnica in Silesia were also abundant in circulation in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The amounts of the Svidnica half-groats comprise 17.2% on average, compared to the Polish half-groats of John Albrecht, Alexander and Sigismund the Elder taken jointly. On the current Northern Lithuania, coins of the Order of Livonia, shillings minted in the 4th and 5th decades of the 16th century are found in large quantities.

In the middle of the 16th century, under the reign of Sigismund Augustus (1548–1572), Poland stopped minting Polish coins. Only town mints were functioning. Principal issue of coins by Sigismund Augustus was performed in the Mint of Vilnius. Among the coins of this period, half-groats minted for the longest time in the Mint of Vilnius (1545–1565) are found most often in Lithuania. 50 to 60 millions of these coins were minted. A similar quantity of denarii was also minted (around 55–65 millions). A large quantity of two-denarii was minted too (more than 10 millions). It may be guessed that their total issue could amount to approximately 30 million. In addition to abundantly minted coins of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, notable amounts of foreign coins also circulated throughout the State of Poland and Lithuania under the reign of Sigismund Augustus. Within this period, the Svidnica half-groats and Prussian groats were most often found in circulation among the coins of foreign states. Groats by Friedrich II (1521–1547) of the Silesian Duchy of Liegnitz–Brieg also circulated in small amounts in Lithuania. The smallest coins denarii minted in very small amounts in free towns and Prussia were also found.

During the times of Stephan Bathory (1579–1586) and Sigismund III Vasa (1578–1632) the circulation was dominated by shillings and three-groats. In the times of Stephan Bathory three-groats of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Riga were most often found in circulation and these mints possibly minted very similar amounts of three-groats (around 46% of the total amount). Coins of the Mint of Vilnius circulated most often among shillings, while Riga shillings comprised only one tenth of the amount (they probably comprised a similar amount in the total issue of Stephan Bathory shillings as well). In the times of Sigismund III Vasa, the situation changed and three-groats of Polish mints prevailed in the circulation. The largest issue of shillings was performed by the Mint of Riga (its issue comprised approximately 80% of total shillings minted at that time). The Mint of Vilnius that functioned shorter than during the reign of Stephan Bathory reduced the issue of shillings by 20 times.

Apart from local coins, circulation of coins from the Duchy of Courland (mostly two-denarii minted in 1578–1579 at the Mint of Gotard Kettler) played a very importan role at the end of the 16th century. Hungarian denarii, shillings of the free town of Riga (1562–1581), Swedish half-ores and the coins of German lands should also be noted.

Beside low and average value coins, high value coins – ducats were also found in circulation in the 16th century. During the whole 16th century, the main exporter of ducats was Hungary and only at the turn of the century ducats of the United Provinces of Netherlands started to prevail in circulation.

Full article in Lithuanian language

Source of information: Bank of Lithuania.

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