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In the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
, the term bezant (
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the Latin spok ...
''besant'', from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...
''bizantius aureus'') was used in
Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical r ...

Western Europe
to describe several
gold coin A gold coin is a coin that is made mostly or entirely of gold. Most gold coins minted since 1800 are 90–92% gold (22 fineness#Karat, karat), while most of today's gold bullion coins are pure gold, such as the Britannia (coin), Britannia, Canad ...
s of the east, all derived ultimately from the Roman ''solidus''. The word itself comes from the Greek
Byzantion Byzantium () or Byzantion ( grc-gre, Βυζάντιον) was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is o ...
, ancient name of
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (), Tsargrad (), Qustantiniya (), Basileuousa ("Queen of Cities"), Megalopolis ("the Great City"), Πό ...

Constantinople
, the capital of the
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn ...

Byzantine Empire
. The original "bezants" were the gold coins produced by the government of the
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn ...

Byzantine Empire
, first the ''
nomisma ''Nomisma'' ( el, νόμισμα) was the ancient Greek word for "money" and is derived from Law, nomos (νόμος) "anything assigned, a usage, custom, law, ordinance".The King James Version New Testament Greek Lexicon; Strong's Number:3546 T ...
'' and from the 11th century the ''
hyperpyronThe ''hyperpyron'' ( ''nómisma hypérpyron'') was a Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Mi ...
''. Later, the term was used to cover the
gold dinar The gold dinar ( ar, ﺩﻳﻨﺎﺭ ذهبي) is an Islamic medieval gold coin first issued in AH 77 (696–697 CE) by Caliph A caliphate ( ar, خِلَافَة, ) is an Islamic state {{Infobox war faction , name ...
s produced by Islamic governments. In turn, the gold coins minted in the
Kingdom of Jerusalem The Kingdom of Jerusalem ( la, Regnum Hierosolymitanum; fro, Roiaume de Jherusalem; Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middl ...
and
County of Tripoli The County of Tripoli (1102–1289) was the last of the Crusader states The Crusader States, also known as Outremer, were four Roman Catholic realms in the Middle East that lasted from 1098 to 1291. These were created by the leaders ...
were termed "Saracen bezants", since they were modelled on the gold dinar. A completely different
electrum Brooch with a griffin protome, from the necropolis of Kameiros, Rhodes, (Louvre">Kameiros.html" ;"title="protome, from the necropolis of Kameiros">protome, from the necropolis of Kameiros, Rhodes, (Louvre) Electrum is a naturally occurri ...

electrum
coin based on Byzantine ''
trachea The trachea, also known as the windpipe, is a cartilaginous Cartilage (cartilaginous tissue) is a resilient and smooth elastic tissue, rubber-like padding that covers and protects the ends of long bone A bone is a Stiffness, rigid tissue ...
'' was minted in the
Kingdom of Cyprus The Kingdom of Cyprus (french: Royaume de Chypre, la, Regnum Cypri) existed between 1192 and 1489. It was ruled by the French House of Lusignan The House of Lusignan ( ; ) was a royal house of French origin, which at various times ruled sev ...

Kingdom of Cyprus
and called the "white bezant". The term "bezant" in reference to coins is common in sources from the 10th through 13th centuries. Thereafter, it is mainly employed as a
money of account In economics, unit of account is one of the Money#Functions, money functions. Economics Unit of account in economics allows a somewhat meaningful interpretation of prices, costs, and profits, so that an entity can monitor its own performance. It a ...
and in literary and heraldic contexts.


Medieval history

Gold coins were rarely minted in early medieval Western Europe, up until the later 13th century;
silver Silver is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical ele ...

silver
and
bronze Bronze is an alloy An alloy is an admixture of metal A metal (from Ancient Greek, Greek μέταλλον ''métallon'', "mine, quarry, metal") is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appear ...

bronze
were the metals of choice for money. Gold coins were almost continually produced by the Byzantines and medieval Arabs. These circulated in Western European trade in smallish numbers, originating from the coinage mints of the Eastern Mediterranean. In Western Europe, the gold coins of
Byzantine currency Byzantine currency, money used in the Eastern Roman Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc- ...
were highly prized. These gold coins were commonly called bezants. The first "bezants" were the Byzantine ''solidi'' coins; later, the name was applied to the ''hyperpyra'', which replaced the ''solidi'' in Constantinople in the late 11th century. The name ''hyperpyron'' was used by the late medieval Greeks, while the name bezant was used by the late medieval Latin merchants for the same coin. The Italians also used the name ''perpero'' or ''pipero'' for the same coin (an abridgement of the name ''hyperpyron''). Medievally from the 12th century onward (if not earlier), the Western European term bezant also meant the
gold dinar The gold dinar ( ar, ﺩﻳﻨﺎﺭ ذهبي) is an Islamic medieval gold coin first issued in AH 77 (696–697 CE) by Caliph A caliphate ( ar, خِلَافَة, ) is an Islamic state {{Infobox war faction , name ...
coins minted by Islamic governments. The Islamic coins were originally modelled on the Byzantine ''solidus'' during the early years after the onset of Islam. The term bezant was used in the late medieval
Republic of Venice The Republic of Venice ( it, Repubblica di Venezia; vec, Repùblega de Venèsia) or Venetian Republic ( it, Repubblica Veneta; vec, Repùblega Vèneta), traditionally known as La Serenissima ( en, Most Serene Republic Most Serene Republic ( ...
to refer to the Egyptian gold dinar.
Marco Polo Marco Polo (, , ; September 15, 1254January 8, 1324) was a merchant, explorer, and writer who travelled through Asia along the between 1271 and 1295. His travels are recorded in ' (also known as ''Book of the Marvels of the World '' and '' ...

Marco Polo
used the term bezant in the account of his travels to East Asia when describing the currencies of the
Yuan Empire The Yuan dynasty (), officially the Great Yuan (; xng, , , literally "Great Yuan State"), was a successor state Successor is someone who, or something which succeeds or comes after (see success and succession) Film and TV * ''The Succ ...
around the year 1300.; Cordier, Henri. ''The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition''. Third edition (1903), revised and updated by Henri Cordier. Plain Label Books. p. 1226-27. () An Italian merchant's handbook dated about 1340, ''
Pratica della mercatura The ''Practica della mercatura'' (Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** ...
'' by Pegolotti, used the term ''bisant'' for coins of North Africa (including Tunis and Tripoli), Cyprus, Armenia and Tabriz (in today's northwestern Iran), whereas it used the term ''perpero'' / ''pipero'' for the Byzantine bizant. Although usually the medieval "bezant" was a gold coin, medieval Latin texts have also silver coin bezants. The silver bezants were often called "white bezants".Bezant @ ''The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Difussion of Useful Knowledge''
Volume 4, year 1835. Occasionally in Latin they were called "
miliaresion The ''miliaresion'' ( el, μιλιαρήσιον, from la, miliarensis), is a name used for two types of Byzantine Empire, Byzantine silver coins. In its most usual sense, it refers to the themed flat silver coin struck between the 8th and 11th C ...
bezants" / " miliarense bezants". Like the gold bezants, the silver bezants by definition were issuances by the Byzantine government or by an Arabic government, and not by a Latin government, and the usage of the term was confined to the Latin West.


Bezants in heraldry

In
heraldry Heraldry () is a discipline relating to the design, display and study of armorial bearings (known as armory), as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology Vexillology () is the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flag A fla ...
, a
roundel A roundel is a circular disc used as a symbol. The term is used in heraldry, but also commonly used to refer to a type of national insignia used on military aircraft, generally circular in shape and usually comprising concentric rings of differe ...
of a gold colour is referred to as a ''bezant'', in reference to the coin. Like many
heraldic charges In heraldry, a charge is any emblem or device occupying the field (heraldry), field of an ''Escutcheon (heraldry), escutcheon'' (shield). That may be a geometric design (sometimes called an ''ordinary (heraldry), ordinary'') or a symbolic repres ...
, the ''bezant'' originated during the crusading era, when Western European knights first came into contact with Byzantine gold coins, and were perhaps struck with their fine quality and purity. During the
Fourth Crusade The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was a Roman Catholic Church, Latin Christian armed expedition called by Pope Innocent III. The stated intent of the expedition was to recapture the Islam, Muslim-controlled city of Jerusalem, by first defeating th ...
the city of
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth (), Tsargrad (), Qustantiniya (), Basileuousa ("Queen of Cities"), Megalopolis ("the Great City"), Πό ...

Constantinople
was sacked by Western forces. During this sacking of the richest city of Europe, the gold ''bezant'' would have been very much in evidence, many of the knights no doubt having helped themselves very liberally to the booty. This event took place at the very dawn of the widespread adoption of arms by the knightly class, and thus it may have been an obvious symbol for many returned crusaders to use in their new arms. When arms are strewn with bezants, the term '' bezantée'' or ''bezanty'' is used.


References

{{reflist, 30em Coins Gold coins Coins of the Byzantine Empire Heraldic charges