To understand the monetary system of the Italian City-States you first need to understand these facts:
- There was no single point of production, but multiple mints (zecce) in each city state.
- There was no paper currency, only coins.
- Each coin had a value based on the precious metal it contained.
- The obverse and reverse imprints were used to simplify identification, but the coins were always weighed.
- In addition to using money, barter and trade were also widely used in business transactions.
In general there were three types of silver coins: Lira, Soldo, and Denaro which come from the Roman system of libra, solidus, and denarius.
- Lira was the coin of highest value 1 lira = 20 soldi = 240 denari
- Soldo was the intermediate coin, 1 soldo = 12 denari. Soldi were introduced from mints towards the end of the 12th century.
- Denari was the coin of least value and was made of a mixure of about 1/3 silver (argento) and 2/3 copper (rame).
- In Venice circa 1332 1 grosso = 4 soldini = 48 dinarii
Money in the time of Leonardo da Vinci (1450-1519)
By the time of Leonardo da Vinci the soldo had the same value as Shakespeare’s penny. The coins that da Vinci mentions are as follows (with their rough value soldi which have 0.5 grams of silver):
- ducat (120 soldi)
- florin (120 soldi)
- scudo (110 soldi)
- grossoni (40 soldi)
- lire (20 soldi)
- carlino (4-8 soldi)
- soldo (1 soldi)
- dinari (0.083 soldi)
Besides the aforementioned coins, in the second half of the 13th century gold coins began circulation. The ducat was the gold coin of Venice, just as the florin was the gold coin of Florence. Both had 3.5 grams of gold and were accepted all over Europe. Ducats and florins were approximately $26 in current money while a lire was about $4. You might get anywhere between 4 – 7 lire for a ducat or a florin, depending on the going rate between silver and gold. Below are front and reverse photos of the Venetian ducato of Doge Michele Steno circa 1400 (l) and the Florin or fiorino of 1347 (r).
Leonardo da Vinci generally got paid in ducats and florins. His income varied but during his career he made 50 to 100 ducats a year (about a painting a year). At the end of his life Leonardo worked for the king of France who paid him 400 ducats a year. Compare that to Michelangelo Buonarroti, who got between 200 to 450 ducats for his sculptures.
Also consider varying values based on socioeconomic class. One ducat was spending money for Leonardo, but for one of his students it was 10 days pay.
In 1499, just before the fall of Milan, Leonardo had 600 ducats in the bank. In his will he gave his brother 400 ducats.
Some prices (in soldi) for items from his notebooks:
- 225 a braccia of velvet
- 140 bed
- 140 ring
- 120 to bury someone – bier, gravediggers, priests, the works
- 100 lined doublet
- 45 crockery
- 40 cloak
- 40 jerkin (up to 120)
- 40 pair of hose (up to 120)
- 30 for canvas
- 23 a braccia of cloth (for a shirt)
- 22 gardener
- 21 sword and knife
- 20 anise comfits
- 20 cap
- 20 glasses
- 20 lock
- 18 for paper
- 16 for gravediggers to bury someone
- 13 shirt
- 13 jasper ring
- 11 sparkling stone
- 11 what a student of his could make in a day
- 11 to the barber
- 6 have your fortune told
- 5 pair of shoes (up to 14)
- 4 a dozen laces
- 3 rent a room for a day
- 3 a melon
- 1 a salad
The word for mint, zecca, is from the Arabic sikka.
The process of minting was simple, a flan of metal was prepared for the proper weight of the desired coin and then placed between two cones/hammers (coni/martelli) which were carved in reverse. The metal was struck with a sharp blow from both cones and then weighed to determine if any significant degree of metal was lost during striking.
Mints were places of busy activity, each part of the process having it’s own importance. The first step was melting the metal (A), then it was hammered to bring it to the proper width (B), then blanks were cut (C), then the coin was struck (D). The mint manager or “gestore della zecca” (E) had to swear to the accuracy of his coins.
The coins were given names by people based on the symbols they carried. The “pegione” or pigeon was due to the eagle on one side, the “testone” or big head was called thus because one side of the coin depicted the head of the reigning lord, the “scudo” or shield was called for the same reasons.
Now that we have covered an introduction to money, let’s discuss how much things cost (see table).
Wages: Officers and engineers per month – 8/12 lire, Master carpenter per day – 17 soldi (see table). Work and wages followed seasonal and durational patterns.
|Bushel of Wheat (Frumento 18 kg)||–||25||9|
|Bushel of Chestnuts (Castagne e marroni 18 kg )||–||18||–|
|Mutton 100 lbs (Carne di montone 76 kg)||–||172/173||–|
|Veal 100 lbs (Carne di vitello)||–||166/170||–|
|Pork 100 lbs (Carne di maiale)||–||152||–|
|Goat head (Capretto al capo)||–||21||6|
|Pair of Chickens (Pollo al paio)||–||10/12||–|
|Eggs 100 (Uova al centinaio)||–||20/21||–|
|Bushel of Peas (Piselli per staio)||–||23||–|
|Onions (Cipolle 381 kg.)||–||26||–|
|Bushel of Walnuts (Noci per staio)||–||14||7|
|Melons (Meloni 381 kg.)||–||18||–|
|Salted Eel per pound (Anguille salate alla libbra)||–||3,6||–|
|Parmesan Cheese by the pound (Formaggio parmigiano alla libbra)||–||4||–|
|Wine by the Barrel (Vino 40 gallons)||3||–||–|
|Oil by the jar (Olio 28.86 kg.)||–||113||10|
|Salt by the bushel (Sale)||–||108/120||–|
|Firewood (Legna da ardere)||8||5||–|
|Wool (Panno di lana 4 braccia = 2.34 meters)||–||27/43||5/10|
|Pair of Shoes (Scarpe basse al paio)||–||13||–|
|Technical – Tecnici (es. officiali, ingegneri) al mese||8/12||–||–|
|Master Carpenter – Maestro di legname -(falegname) al giorno||–||15/18||–|
|Master of the Trowel – Maestro di cazzuola al giorno||–||15/18||–|
|Stonecutter – Maestro di scalpello al giorno||–||15/18||–|
|Layer? of roofs – Copritore di tetti al giorno||–||15/18||–|
|Laborers – Laboratores (manovali) al giorno||–||4/6||–|
|Miller – Mugnaio al giorno||–||10/14||–|
|? – Ortolano al giorno||–||6||–|
|Mower – Falciatore al giorno||–||7/10||–|
|Weaver – Tessitore al giorno||–||20||–|
|Shoemaker – Calzolaio|
MISURE e PESI (Lengths and Weights)
A Lombard mile (miglio Lombardo) = 1784.81 meters. This equaled 3000 braccia or 683.5 trabucchi.
Il Braccio (arm) was equal to 0.595 meters in Milan. Il braccio di seta was the same.
Il piede (foot) equaled 0.435 meters or 43 centimeters, also 12 ounces, and 12 inches. Il trebuchet equaled 2.61 meters.
A zitata = 2 trabucchi (trebuchets) = 12 piedi = 144 once.
One ounce or oncia = 27 grams. Libbra sottile = 327 gr and a peso sottile = 3.26 gr. Rubbo = 8.17 kg. Quintale = 32.67 kg. Fascio = 76.25 kg.
Il Fiorino e il quattrino: La politica monetaria a Firenze nel 1300 by Carlo Maria Cipolla
Money in 16th-century Florence by Carlo Cipolla at https://books.google.com/books?id=pwAggVfd73sC&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Money in Leonardo’s Time from https://abagond.wordpress.com/2007/05/10/money-in-leonardos-time/
Money in Medieval Italy from the series “Monete e popoli in Italia nell’eta di mezzo” by Silvana de Caro of Banca d’Italia