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During the medieval era gold was one of the most coveted metals in Europe. Kings, nobles, and knights would all fight for possession of this metal. We often see pictures of medieval crowns that are covered in gold. However, where did all of this gold come from?
Generally speaking the gold of medieval Europe came from 3 places. First, much of the gold that circulated around medieval Europe came from the ancient Romans. Second, through merchants in medieval Spain a significant amount of gold from Mali would make its way to medieval Europe. Third, within medieval Europe there were some large gold mines in modern Hungary.
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Without further ado, here are the 3 places where medieval gold came from.
A Large Percentage Of Medieval Europe’s Gold Supply Was Left Over From The Roman Empire
The first place where medieval Europe got its gold was from the ruins of the Roman Empire which fell in the 5th century.
The Romans loved gold. It was considered a prized metal for its beauty and mailability. As such the Roman elite would wear gold jewelry and the Roman emperor would mint gold coins in his image.
The population of Rome during the Empire was massive. There was a near constant need for more gold to prevent inflation of the Roman coinage. Once the Roman Empire fell much of the gold of Rome would be seized by the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms of northern Europe.
The Romans themselves would go on large military expeditions just to seize gold. The largest gold hoard ever seized by the Romans happened in 107 BC when Rome captured around 100,000 pounds of gold after the Battle of Burdigaia.
One of the most famous examples of Roman gold being acquired by medieval Europe can be seen in the mythical crown of Charlemagne. This crown was created for the King of France sometime around the 8th century and was reportedly forged from Roman gold.
Across medieval Europe Roman Gold would be seized and distributed into the kingdoms of the middle ages. As such much of the gold of medieval Europe came from the fall of the Roman Empire.
However, this was not the only place where European medieval gold came from.
Merchants In Medieval Spain Would Introduce Mali Gold Into Medieval Europe
The second place where medieval Europe got its gold was from Spanish merchants interacting with the trade networks in Northern Africa.
Al-Andalus was the most powerful medieval kingdom in Europe for nearly 300 years. This Muslim kingdom dominated nearly all of modern Spain and was by far one of the most wealthy kingdoms in Europe.
This wealth came from both the gold left over by the Visagothic Rulers, who inherited it from Rome, and also from Spain trading with the Mali Empire in Africa.
The Medieval Mali Empire dominated western Africa in the modern countries of Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Guinea. This section of the world was extremely rich in metal resources and gold was a massive export for the Mali Empire.
Unfortunately we do not know much of the Mali Empire as only a handful of sources survive but legend states that the ninth mansa/king of the Mali Empire was so rich that he collapsed the gold market on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 with his gold handouts.
Back in Spain Al-Andalus was known to be one of the most powerful and wealthy kingdoms in medieval Europe. This was because of the large trade routes that the Spanish merchants had developed across the known world. It was through Muslim Spain that Mali Gold was introduced into the northern kingdoms of Medieval Europe.
As such the second place where medieval Europe got its gold was from the Mali Empire through Al-Andalus Spain. For nearly 700 years the merchants of Al-Andalus would bring in gold to medieval Europe. To this day we are still finding golden artifacts from this time period.
Medieval Europe Would Mine Gold In The Mountains Of Modern Hungary
The third place where medieval Europe would get their gold was in mines in modern Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. Here the water table was low and the mountains contained large amounts of mineral reserves.
The above image is of Telkibánya, a village in modern Hungary. This village was at one point one of the most prosperous gold mining towns in medieval Europe. The red stars mark reported medieval mines that you can still go down into.
These mines specialized in mining gold for medieval Europe and the inhabitants of the town only did one job, mining. This was common across the mountains of eastern Europe to have towns dedicated to mining metals.
Towards the end of the medieval era these towns in eastern Europe would account for an estimated 25-30% of the total gold mined during the medieval era in Europe.
If you lived in these towns during the tail end of the medieval era you would have most likely worked underground hand mining gold and other metals. The mines you worked in were cramped and often would flood. This was not a safe working environment by today’s standards.
However, towards the end of the medieval era Europe would start to mine its own gold in large quantities in eastern Europe.
There you have it; the 3 places where medieval gold came from.
Gold was prized in medieval Europe for its color and shine. Many monarchs and kings would seek to capture as much gold as possible and even start minting coins in their image. This was rare as currency had largely shifted to bronze or silver coins but it still did happen on occasion.
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