The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Appendix K. — Values of certain Moneys, Weights, and Measures, occurring in this Book.

French Money.

The LIVRE TOURNOIS of the period may be taken, on the mean of five valuations cited in a footnote at p. 87 of vol. i., as equal in modern silver value to . . . 18.04 francs.

Say English money . . . 14s. 3.8d.

The LIVRE PARISIS was worth one-fourth more than the Tournois,1 and therefore equivalent in silver value to . . . 22.55 francs.

Say English money . . . 17s. 10.8d.

(Gold being then to silver in relative value about 12:1 instead of about 15:1 as now, one-fourth has to be added to the values based on silver in equations with the gold coin of the period, and one-fifth to be deducted in values based on gold value. By oversight, in vol. i. p. 87, I took 16:1 as the present gold value, and so exaggerated the value of the livre Tournois as compared with gold.)

M. Natalis de Wailly, in his recent fine edition of Joinville, determines the valuation of these livres, in the reign of St. Lewis, by taking a mean between a value calculated on the present value of silver, and a value calculated on the present value of gold,2 and his result is:

LIVRE TOURNOIS = 20.26 francs.


Though there is something arbitrary in this mode of valuation, it is, perhaps, on the whole the best; and its result is extremedy handy for the memory (as somebody has pointed out) for we thus have

One LIVRE TOURNOIS = One Napoleon.

“ “ PARISIS = One Sovereign.

Venetian Money.

The MARK of Silver all over Europe may be taken fairly at 2l. 4s. of our money in modern value; the Venetian mark being a fraction more, and the marks of England, Germany and France fractions less.3

The Venice GOLD DUCAT or ZECCHIN, first coined in accordance with a Law of 31st October 1283, was, in our gold value, worth . . . 11.82 francs.4 or English . . . 9s. 4.284d.

The Zecchin when first coined was fixed as equivalent to 18 grossi, and on this calculation the GROSSO should be a little less than 5d. sterling.5 But from what follows it looks as if there must have been another grosso, perhaps only of account, which was only 3/4 of the former, therefore equivalent to 3–3/4d. only. This would be a clue to difficulties which I do not find dealt with by anybody in a precise or thorough manner; but I can find no evidence for it.

Accounts were kept at Venice not in ducats and grossi, but in Lire, of which there were several denominations, viz.:

1. LIRA DEI GROSSI, called in Latin Documents Libra denariorum Venetorum grosorum.6 Like every Lira or Pound, this consisted of 20 soldi, and each soldo of 12 denari or deniers.7 In this case the Lira was equivalent to 10 golden ducats; and its Denier, as the name implies, was the Grosso. The Grosso therefore here was 1/240 of 10 ducats or 1/24 of a ducat, instead of 1/18.

2. LIRA AI GROSSI (L. den. Ven. ad grossos). This by decree of 2nd June, 1285, went two to the ducat. In fact it is the soldo of the preceding Lira, and as such the Grosso was, as we have just seen, its denier; which is perhaps the reason of the name.

3. LIRA DEI PICCOLI (L. den. Ven. parvulorum). The ducat is alleged to have been at first equal to three of these Lire (Romanin, I. 321); but the calculations of Marino Sanudo (1300–1320) in the Secreta Fidelium Crucis show that he reckons the Ducat equivalent to 3.2 lire of piccoli.8

In estimating these Lire in modern English money, on the basis of their relation to the ducat, we must reduce the apparent value by 1/5. We then have:

1. LIRA DEI GROSSI equivalent to nearly 3l. 15s. 0d. (therefore exceeding by nearly 10s. the value of the Pound sterling of the period, or Lira di Sterlini, as it was called in the appropriate Italian phrase).9

2. LIRA AI GROSSI . . . 3s. 9d.

3. LIRA DEI PICCOLI . . . 2s. 4d.

The TORNESE or TORNESEL at Venice was, according to Romanin (III. 343) = 4 Venice deniers: and if these are the deniers of the Lira ai Grossi, the coin would be worth a little less than 3/4d., and nearly the equivalent of the denier Tournois, from which it took its name.10

* * * * *

The term BEZANT is used by Polo always (I believe) as it is by Joinville, by Marino Sanudo, and by Pegolotti, for the Egyptian gold dínár, the intrinsic value of which varied somewhat, but can scarcely be taken at less than 10s. 6d. or 11s. (See Cathay, pp. 440–441; and see also J. As. sér. VI. tom. xi. pp. 506–507.) The exchange of Venice money for the Bezant or Dinar in the Levant varied a good deal (as is shown by examples in the passage in Cathay just cited), but is always in these examples a large fraction (1/6 up to 1/3) more than the Zecchin. Hence, when Joinville gives the equation of St. Lewis’s ransom as 1,000,000 bezants or 500,000 livres, I should have supposed these to be livres Parisis rather than Tournois, as M. de Wailly prefers.

There were a variety of coins of lower value in the Levant called Bezants,11 but these do not occur in our Book.

* * * * *

The Venice SAGGIO, a weight for precious substances was 1/6 of an ounce, corresponding to the weight of the Roman gold solidus, from which was originally derived the Arab MISKÁL And Polo appears to use saggio habitually as the equivalent of Miskál. His POIS or PESO, applied to gold and silver, seems to have the same sense, and is indeed a literal translation of Miskál. (See vol. ii. p. 41.)

* * * * *

For measures Polo uses the palm rather than the foot. I do not find a value of the Venice palm, but over Italy that measure varies from 9–1/2 inches to something over 10. The Genoa Palm is stated at 9.725 inches.

Jal (Archéologie Nav. I. 271) cites the following Table of Old Venice Measures of Length.

4 fingers = 1 handbreadth.
4 handbreadths = 1 foot.
5 feet = 1 pace.
1000 paces = 1 mile.
4 miles = 1 league.

1 See (Dupré de St. Maur) Essai sur les Monnoies, &c. Paris, 1746, p. xv; and Douet d’Arcq, pp. 5, 15, &c.

2 He takes the silver value of the gros Tournois (the sol of the system) at 0.8924 fr., whence the Livre = 17.849 fr. And the gold value of the golden Agnel, which passed for 12–1/2 sols Tournois, is 14.1743 fr. Whence the Livre = 22.6789 fr. Mean = 20.2639 fr.

3 The Mark was 2/3 of a pound. The English POUND STERLING of the period was in silver value = 3l. 5s. 2d. Hence the MARK = 2l. 3s. 5.44d. The Cologne Mark, according to Pegolotti, was the same, and the Venice Mark of silver was = 1 English Tower Mark + 3–1/2 sterlings (i.e. pence of the period), = therefore to 2l. 4s. 4.84d. The French Mark of Silver, according to Dupré de St. Maur, was about 3 Livres, presumably Tournois, and therefore 2l. 2s. 11–1/2d.

4 Cibrario, Pol. Ec. del Med. Evo. III. 228. The GOLD FLORIN of Florence was worth a fraction more = 9s. 4.85d.

Sign. Desimoni, of Genoa, obligingly points out that the changed relation of Gold ducat and silver grosso was due to a general rise in price of gold between 1284 and 1302, shown by notices of other Italian mints which raise the equation of the gold florin in the same ratio, viz. from 9 sols tournois to 12.

5 For 1/18 of the florin will be 6.23d., and deducting 1/6, as pointed out above, we have 4.99d. as the value of the grosso.

I have a note that the grosso contained 42–88/144 Venice grains of pure silver. If the Venice grain be the same as the old Milan grain (.051 grammes) this will give exactly the same value of 5d.

6 Also called, according to Romanin, Lira d’imprestidi. See Introd. Essay in vol. i. p. 66.

7 It is not too universally known to be worth noting that our £. s. d. represents Livres, sois, deniers.

8 He also states the grosso to have been worth 32 piccoli, which

is consistent with this and the two preceding statements. For at 3.2 lire to the ducat the latter would = 768 piccoli, and 1/24 of this = 32 piccoli. Pegolotti also assigns 24 grossi to the ducat (p. 151).

The tendency of these Lire, as of pounds generally, was to degenerate in value. In Uzzano (1440) we find the Ducat equivalent to 100 soldi, i.e. to 5 lire.

Everybody seems to be tickled at the notion that the Scotch Pound or Livre was only 20 Pence. Nobody finds it funny that the French or Italian Pound is only 20 halfpence, or less!

9 Uzzano in Delia Decima, IV. 124.

10 According to Galliccioli (II. 53) piccoli (probably in the vague sense of small copper coin) were called in the Levant [Greek: tornésia].

11 Thus in the document containing the autograph of King Hayton, presented at p. 13 of Introductory Essay, the King gives with his daughter, “Damoiselle Femie,” a dowry of 25,000 besans sarrazinas, and in payment 4 of his own bezants staurats (presumably so called from bearing a cross) are to count as one Saracen Bezant. (Cod. Diplomat. del S. Mil. Ord. Gerosolim. I. 134.)

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