Ottoman Kuruş and currency control

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Through Ellen nye and David yoon for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……

In August 2018, as a country of Turkey faced with a monetary crisis, its president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on people to convert their dollars or euros into Turkish lira. The Turkish lira had fallen nearly 50% against the dollar in the past 12 months, and many Turks were converting their savings to dollars or euros, fearing further losses. Erdoğan implored them not to hoard Western currencies, comparing it to a new war of independence.

A curious piece in the American Numismatic Society (ANS) collection speaks of an earlier era of currency competition in Turkey and across the Middle East. Long before contemporary concerns about “dollarization,” foreign coins poured into the world. Ottoman Empire, a vast kingdom that controlled the region for over six hundred years. By the 17th century, Ottoman currencies were almost dormant as trade across the empire relied instead on imported foreign coins, many of which were minted on American silver. Among these pieces, the Dutch lion dollar (leeuwendaalder) proved to be particularly popular, often minted especially for the Ottoman market and imported in large quantities.

But the supremacy of the dollar lion in Ottoman commerce was about to be called into question.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683 (map by Chamoz).

In 1688, after the tension of the war on three fronts against the Holy Roman Empire and its allies, the Ottoman state embarked on a series of ambitious monetary reforms. Payments for more than a year of service were owed to his overdue soldiers. In Anatolia, a famine had reduced the population to eating roots and nut shells. The Ottoman state hoped that its currency reforms would produce much needed income. Ottoman coins introduced attractive new copper coins first produced by mechanized minting which resulted in high seigniorage. This initiative was then followed in 1697 by an even more daring project: a ban pronounced by the Sultan Mustafa II (ruled from 1695 to 1703) on the circulation of all foreign coins, the very coins upon which most of the Ottoman economy depended. All foreign coins in circulation were to be brought to the Ottoman workshops where they would either be melted down or simply crushed.

Sir Paul Rycaut, a contemporary English merchant, described the event:

What the other sultans did not do, [Sultan Mustafa II] had the ambition to accomplish; that is, under his own name all gold and silver coins must pass, into his empire. . . I cannot say that all of the gold and silver in the Turkish Dominions was brought to the Mint to be newly minted, but it is certainly reported that a large portion was.

Posthumous portrait of Mustafa II in armor by Abdülcelil Celebi Levni (Louvre Museum).

These pieces were the first examples of the kuruş, the Ottoman coin that was to found the Ottoman economy for much of the 18th century.

During the four hundred years preceding the introduction of kuruş, the akçe had served as the main monetary unit. But the akce had been degraded so often that it was too small for general use. Along with the kuruş, the Ottoman state issued a full range of silver currencies. The kuruş system succeeded in becoming the main unit of account and medium of exchange in the Ottoman Empire of the 18th century. Some European coins continued to circulate despite Mustafa II’s ban, but they never again occupied the central role they once played in the Ottoman economy.

A piece from the ANS collection bears witness to this pivotal moment in Ottoman monetary history. At first glance, it is simply a kuruş from the reign of Sultan Mustafa II wearing the tuğra, the stylized name of the sultan used to express his majesty. On closer inspection, however, above the tuğra and along the edge, Latin letters are visible. These letters identify it as a Dutch lion dollar, and more specifically the California on the obverse identifies it as a lion dollar from the city of Campen. On the reverse, the numbers “48” indicate that the dollar lion was minted in 1648. This coin was then one of the many dollar lions which would have circulated through the Ottoman Empire. Its minting date of 1648 also gives an idea of ​​the varied nature of the Ottoman monetary environment, with coins nearly 50 years old or even older still in circulation.

Silver Kurus of Mustafa II, overprinted on a 1648 Campen lion dollar (ANS 1997.65.2502, from the “Jem Sultan” collection, gift of Olivia G. Lincoln).

Lion silver dollar from Campen dated 1648, compare with the overprinted coin (ANS 1997.65.2503, from the “Jem Sultan” collection, gift of Olivia G. Lincoln).

It is difficult to overstate the audacity of Mustafa II’s plan to revolutionize the Ottoman monetary system. The overloaded kuruş conveys the vision of a vast empire united under a single currency stamped with the name of the sultan. The creation of the new kuruş not only provided much-needed funds and simplified tax collection by centering the economy under an Ottoman coin at a time when European Atlantic empires often struggled with heterogeneous supplies of currency. foreign. It should also be seen as a declaration of asserted Ottoman sovereignty.

In the traditions of Islamic royalty, minting coins was a fundamental duty of a ruler. As these coins passed from hand to hand, they represented the power of the Sultan. In the 16th century, the historian Mustafa Ali in his treaty of 1581 Council of Sultans (Nushatü’s-selatin) affirmed the importance of coinage as a marker of sovereignty:

Without feet they climb the steps, without handles they travel, wandering from hand to hand. Speechless, they testify to the overwhelming power of the sovereign, ignorant they speak of his superior power.

Against this background, the overloaded kuruş tells a powerful story: how an empire awash in European coins took the emblems of foreign powers and turned them into a symbol of Ottoman power at a time that was too often seen as a period of Ottoman rule. decline. At the beginning of modern times, as in modern Erdoğan Turkey, the competition between currencies had both pragmatic and political issues.

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