The “Solidus Mancus”

CAROLINGIANS. Uncertain king. Late 8th-9th century. AV Solidus Mancusus (19mm, 4.02 g, 8h). Imitating Abbasid issue of caliph al-Mansur. Uncertain (northern Italian?) mint. Dated AH 158 (AD 774/5). Kalima in three lines; Second Symbol in outer margin / Continuation of Kalima in three lines; mint formula and AH date in outer margin. Ilisch Group IV; MEC I, p. 330; cf. Album 212. Good VF.

The solidus mancusus, or mancus, was a term used in early medieval Europe to denote a gold coin, a weight of gold, or a unit of account of thirty silver pence. Distinguishing among these three meanings can be extremely difficult, as is evidenced by a request in the will of the Anglo-Saxon king Eadred, which states that “two-thousand mancuses be taken and minted into mancuses.” Even the origin of the word is in doubt. One possible source is the late Latin word for “defective” (mancus), possibly a reference to the base gold coins circulating in northern Europe during the mid-eighth century AD. However, accounts of contemporary payments in mancuses occurring in north-eastern Italy refer specifically to payment in Islamic gold dinars. Consequently, mancus more likely derives from the Arabic word for “struck” (manqush).

In northern Europe and Italy during the early eighth century AD, the silver denier was the medium of exchange. The last regular gold coinage in use in those areas had been the tremisses of either the Visigothic or Merovingian kings, or the Byzantine issues struck at Italian mints. With the renewal of long-distance transactions requiring the use of large sums, gold coinage was reintroduced in the form of Islamic dinars. Already an accepted form of gold currency, these dinars were copied by northern Italian mints in order to facilitate their burgeoning trading enterprises. Soon other areas of northern Europe began to strike similar imitations, so that between the ninth and eleventh centuries the mancus became the standard gold coinage used in Western Europe. In some areas, such as Britain and Carolingian Francia, the mancus would employ local designs, reflecting a specific and special reason for issuing this denomination. Most, however, were careful copies of Abbasid dinars, even down to the AH date. The precise significance for the copying of this particular type remains uncertain. What is clear, though, is that by the late eighth century, northern Italy and Europe were poised to re-establish an international trade with the rest of the Mediterranean, something which had almost disappeared with the collapse of Roman power in the fifth century AD.