1. The damaged bronze box contained coins and a Late Medieval enamelled green and white wedding pendant.

Coining it in Burgundy

An INRAP (French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research) team carrying out an excavation in the centre of Dijon, near the former Saint-Bénigne Abbey, have found a hoard of 34 gold and silver coins, dating back to the second half of the 15th century. The village of Saint-Bénigne was gradually absorbed by the expanding city of Dijon and, by the 12th century, it stood completely within its walls.

The coins were found in a stone house, dating from the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century. They were stored in a small bronze box (damaged by 20th-century construction work) that had probably been buried under the floor near a wall. The modest 'treasure' consists of 10 gold and 24 silver coins, and an enamelled (white and green) gold pendant. A number of the coins that were stuck together were sent to a specialist laboratory (CREAM Vienne) to be separated and cleaned.

All were minted in the second half of the 15th century in different Italian principalities (eg. Milan, Papal States, Ferrara, Venice) and the Holy Roman Empire states (Brabant, Duchy of Savoy, Palatinate). None of the coins are from Burgundy and only one is French – from the reign of King Louis XI. The oldest is a gold Brabant coin issued between 1432 and 1467; the most recent is a gold coin of Innocent VIII, who was pope from 1484 to 1492. The silver Milanese testons of the House of Sforza from the mid-15th-century are the most numerous.

2. In the box were 10 gold and 24 silver coins, some rare, all in good condition.

The coins are of great numismatic value because some are extremely rare, and the majority of them are in good condition and seem to have hardly been circulated. They also provide a gallery of portraits of the great princes of the late Middle Ages, and the iconography is personalised, especially in the images of the Italian princes, and uses a combination of styles, from the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance. The coins are heavy and of high quality, as if to stress the power of the lords who intended to issue them as standard currencies. The hoard also provides valuable information on trade in Burgundy at the end of the 15th century.

The coins were minted in regions that either played a major role in European trade at the time, or that were connected in some way with Burgundy (such as Brabant, Northern Italy etc). They also throw light on the social status of their owner(s) who probably belonged to the lower levels of the aristocracy or wealthy bourgeoise, and saved these coins over 15 years or so. The pendant is a typical Late Medieval wedding medallion, that can be seen in numerous portraits of the time. The monograms 'D' and 'V' are linked by a gold cord, and the jewel probably also featured a hanging pearl.

So this handful of coins reflects the history of its time at the end of the 15th century in Dijon: with the fall of Charles the Bold, the anexation of the Duchy of Burgundy to the kingdom of France, the French army entering Dijon and the first rumblings of the Italian Wars just beyond the Alps.


Nicole Benazeth