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Gold Portuguese and Portugalöser in Hanseatic Europe

PART VII − Portugalöser coinage in the kingdom of Sweden-Finland 1585-1586
A new definition of Portugalöser − Portugaleser − Portugalös − Portugaly

By Antonio Trigueiros

This article has been published 2013 in the Portuguese Journal of Numismatics - MOEDA JOURNAL.

In the first article of this series we discussed the Portugalöser minted by the city of Hamburg since 1553-1560, the first in a long line of gold coins with the value and weight of 10 ducats (35 g, gold .989 fine) issued by several states in Northern Europe during the second half of the sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth century.

As the big gold coins from the city of Hamburg became known, appreciated and admired in the Hanseatic trade, new Portugalösers were being minted in various cities and states from a wide area of influence along the main trading routes (see map), whose description in regional groupings was already published in previous issues of this journal, and shall continue for several more.


However, we must draw the reader's attention to the fact that these new gold Portugalösers, mainly minted in Denmark and in Germany, did not copy the model of the original gold Portuguez of Portugal, but the model of the Portugalöser from Hamburg, with its characteristic identifying legend on the obverse, "Nach Portugalis Schrot und Korn" (According to the fine alloy and weight of the coin of Portugal"), encircling the city arms, and on the reverse a more or less stylized cross of the Portuguese Order of Christ (afterwards named the "Cross of Portugal").

Later on and during the whole seventeenth century and extending throughout the following, the increasing popularity of the 10-ducats denomination, very convenient in trade dealings, led to a large adherence in European issues, not only to this value, but also in submultiples (2½ and 5 ducats) and multiples (20 and 40 ducats). In most cases, however, these coins no longer show the traditional numismatic engravings related to the Portugalösers from Hamburg, but heraldic types of each issue state or city.

Max Bahrfeldt definition of Portugalöser - It is understandable, therefore, that it was necessary to establish the numismatic definition of Portugalöser (in Germany), Portugaleser (in Denmark), Portugalös (in Sweden) and Portugaly (in Poland), by including, preferably, that lineage of European gold coins of various denominations expressed in ducats, which bears on their engravings the representation of the cross of the Military Order of Christ and / or the legend identifying its relationship with the celebrated 10-ducat gold coins of Portugal.

This was the doctrine expressed in 1917 by the German numismatist Max Bahrfeldt, whose point of view we share since the beginning of our numismatic studies:

"Man hat sich übrigens daran gewöhnt, in den Münzverzeichnissen alle großen Goldmünzen, auch die Goldabschläge von Talern usw. mit dem Namen Portugalöser zu belegen, wenn sie auf das Gewicht von 10 Dukaten ausgebracht sind. Aber das ist, streng genommen, nicht richtig. Als Portugalöser im eigentlichen Sinne sind nur jene Stücke anzusehen, die das Kreuz (des Christusordens) und die erwähnte Aufschrift tragen (Nach Portugalis Schrot und Korn)"

"It has become customary in the numismatic directories, assign all large gold coins, or gold talers, with the name of Portugalöser when they have the weight corresponding to the value of 10 ducats. But this is not correct, strictly speaking. Because Portugalöser as such should only be considered as those coins that bear the cross (of the Portuguese Order of Christ) and the inscription mentioned (Nach Portugalis Schrot und Korn)"

It is my understanding that the scope of this definition must be broadened, mainly to include the Swedish example. In fact, beyond those obvious cases (cross of Portugal and legend Nach Portugalis), there are some special ones, such as the Swedish Portugalös and the Polish-Lithuanian Portugaly (including the issues by the Hanseatic city of Riga), in which the name Portugalöser was given to 10-ducats coins, either by the royal order for their manufacture (as in Sweden), or by very clear contemporary documental references that mention that name.

In order to broaden the scope of Bahrfeldt's first definition, including the two exceptions mentioned, we deem it necessary, first, to extend our own horizons and try to see a global perspective of the Portugalöser coinage in Northern Europe, ordered chronologically and geographically, as shown below, published here in a world premiere.

Portugalöser - A Coinage Chronology

In bold are indicated the state/city mintages that I have already published articles in Moeda Journal. In regular type are those still pending publication, and between brackets are those issues that I have doubts to catalogue as Portugalösers:

1553/1560-1582: Hamburg, city arms and the cross of Christ

1562-1568: Poland-Lithuania (Vilnius), Sigismund II Augustus, bust and arms

1570: Brandenburg, elector-duke Joachim II, arms and the cross of Christ

1584: Denmark, essay Portugaleser, Frederick II and Sofia

1585/1586: Sweden, John III, Portugalös, bust and arms

1584/1587/1590: Brandenburg, elector-duke John George, bust and the cross of Christ

1586: Poland, Riga city, Stephen Batory, bust and arms

1580-1590: Magdeburg, city arms and the cross of Christ

1587/1590: Saxony, elector-duke Christian I, bust and the cross of Christ

1587-1622: Poland-Lithuania and Riga city, Sigismund III Vasa, bust and arms

1587-1632: Poland, kingdom, Sigismund III Vasa, bust and arms

1591-1593: Denmark, Christian IV, arms and the cross of Christ

1593-1606: Diocese of Lubeck, Duke John Adolphus, arms and the cross of Christ

1605/1611-1613: Brandenburg, elector-dukes, busts and the cross of Christ

1606/1610/1614: Saxony, elector-duke Christian II, bust and the cross of Christ

1606-1620: Hamburg, city arms and the Madonna

(1606-1620: Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus and Charles IX, Stockholm, busts and arms)

1607: Diocese of Lubeck, duke John Frederick, bust and cross of the diocese

1611: Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp, duke John Adolphus, arms and the cross of Christ

1629: Denmark, Frederick III, heart and the cross of Christ

(1632-1648: Erfurt (Thuringia, Germany), kings of Sweden, bust and arms)

1635-1692: Hamburg, Madonna and the cross of Christ

1640: Deventer the Netherlands, city arms and the cross of Christ

1642: Zwolle, the Netherlands, city arms and the cross of Christ

1643-1649 (?): Lüneburg, city arms and the cross of Christ

1644: Sweden, Baltic States, Riga city, Queen Christina, bust and arms

(1645: Sweden, Baltic States, Queen Christina, bust and arms)

(1650: Sweden, Duchy of Bremen-Verden, Queen Christina, bust and arms)

1676-1678: Hamburg, restrikes of the original type, but as medal

1653/1685-1689: Bank of Hamburg, medals, continuing for over 200 years

1675: Hamburg, Insurances and Admiralty, medals, continuing for over 200 years

The above chronological ordering shows an immediate new discovery: the second oldest European Portugalöser is not the 1570 Brandenburg, a magnificent copy of the Hamburg type (illustrated in the previous issue of the Journal), but the 1562 Lithuania, which starts a long series of gold 10-ducats coins issued by the Baltic States and Poland, extending from after the Thirty Years' War and the conquests of Sweden, until 1650.

None of these Polish-Lithuanian coins illustrate the cross of the Order of Christ or any engraved reference to the name of Portugal. Nevertheless, they are recognized by the name of Portugalösers, a designation that fits perfectly in their time and in their geographic area of ??the hanseatic trade routes.

Sweden - There are documented records showing that in 1585 King John III Vasa ordered the minting of "Portugalöser", stated as such in the original document, which has entered the Swedish numismatic nomenclature as "Portugalös". Because of this clear evidence, I have decided to include the 1585-86 issues as Portugalösers, despite the fact that they do not show the traditional iconography.

My perspective is different regarding the 5- and 10-ducats coins struck on behalf of the Swedish kings in Stockholm between 1606 and 1620, as in the Swedish possessions in Northern Germany (Erfurt, Elbing, Bremen-Verden) and in the Baltic States between 1632 and 1650. It seems that there is no evidence in the coeval sources and literature that allows us to catalog those gold coins as Portugalösers, as sometimes they continue to be referred to in coin catalogs.

With one exception, which we will open for the city of Riga under Swedish rule (Queen Christina's mintage of 1644), given its important status as Hanseatic city.

Poland-Lithuania - As for the kingdom of Poland-duchy of Lithuania, with a long series of gold coins, the situation seems complicated and only a deep study of the Polish original sources will reveal whether we are dealing with true Portugalösers in name or just with regular pieces of 10-gold ducats, like so many dozens and dozens that later on were minted throughout the Holy Roman Empire and its neighbors, until the late eighteenth century.

PART VII − Portugalöser coinage in the kingdom of Sweden-Finland, 1585-1586

The Kingdom of Sweden-Finland and its Baltic States

Modern Sweden comes from the Kalmar Union in 1397, when Queen Margaret I of Denmark made a personal union of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. However, the succeeding Danish sovereigns were unable to control the Swedish nobility. For long periods the real power was exercised by rulers chosen by the Swedish parliament. An attempt to break the Swedish resistance forcibly degenerated into a massacre of nobles at Stockholm, ordered in 1520 by King Christian II of Denmark. The result was a general uprising of the Swedish nobility, led by an influential noble from the house of Vasa, Gustav Eriksson, who in June 1523 was elected as king of Sweden, since then known as Gustav I Vasa (1496-1523-1560), the "Father of the Nation."

The reconstruction of the entire bureaucratic and administrative structure of the new state was a task that Gustav accomplished with great success, centralizing power and governmental assuming as an autocratic ruler. The appointment of the catholic archbishop for the new kingdom of Sweden, as suggested by the king to the Pope, received a firm opposition from the Roman Curia, which insisted on the appointment of Danish bishop. In 1531, Gustav I decreed the break with the Roman Catholic Church and instituted the Lutheran reform in the kingdom.

In the years that followed, Sweden would be the great palatine of Protestantism in Europe, participating in the Thirty Years' War alongside the German Protestant princes with great military success. Between 1630 and 1721, Sweden was the most powerful state of Northern Europe, its empire in the Baltic extended from Finland by Karelia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania to the city of Riga (annexed in 1621), with dependencies across Northern Germany and Western Pomerania.

Most of the conquered territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were lost by 1721 and Finland became a dependency of the Russian Empire in 1809. The last war in which Sweden was directly involved was in 1814, when it forced Norway to accept a personal union which lasted until 1905. Since then, Sweden has adopted a foreign policy of non-alignment in peacetime and neutrality in wartime (which is why, they say, it would not be part of the Euro area).

The circulation of gold coins in Sweden - In the fourteenth century the Swedish cities were strongly influenced by the German merchants of the Hanseatic League, particularly active in the city of Visby on the west coast of the island of Gotland, in direct connection with Hamburg and Riga.

As in neighboring Denmark, the gold coins that circulated on the trade routes over the Baltic were the rosenoble, or noble of England (weight 7.69 g, value 4 silver dalers), the angelot or angel of England (weight 5.06 g, value 2.25 silver daler); the crona or crown of France (weight 3.38 g, value 1.25 silver daler); the hungarian gulden or ducat (weight 3.50 g, value 1.5 silver daler); the double ducat (weight 6.91 g, value 3 daler silver), the rhine gulden (weight 3.27 g, value 1 silver daler) and finally the Portugalöser, from Portugal and from Hamburg (weight 35.00 g, value 15 silver daler). The reference unit was the daler (weight 25.6 g of silver).

As a country rich in copper and silver, Sweden only belatedly coined gold, since 1568-1573 during the reign of Eric XIV, in the form of hungarian gulden (ungersk gyllen, but with a weight of 4,212 g, much higher than the international currency with the same name) and golden crown (krongyllen). Coinage with denominations in ducats began only in 1654, in the reign of Charles X Gustav.

As a particular case, the minting of gold in Sweden was ordered from and delivered directly to the king, not going through official records, being destined for private uses, as gifts, royal purchases, political bribes or payment of mercenaries. Nevertheless, it is quite significant that in 1585, King John III Vasa has ordered the minting of "Portugalösers", with the weight of gold worth 10 and 20 ducats.

It is also interesting to verify the sequence of so close dates, in Denmark and in Sweden: - in 1584, Frederick II of Denmark ordered essay strikes of the most current gold coins, to be offered to his beloved wife Sofie; - in 1585-1586, John III of neighbor Sweden followed the same pattern. However, its use was quite different, as we shall see.

The reign of John III Gustavsson Vasa of Sweden-Finland (1568-1592)

John III Vasa was born in Östergötland in 1537, second son of Gustav I Vasa and his second wife Margaret. At 19 years of age received the duchy of Finland and moved to Turku, where he created a princely court. He was the Swedish Ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England, between 1559 and 1560, having been highly praised for his knowledge of English. After his father's death, his half-brother ascended the throne as Eric XIV and the misunderstandings between them soon began. Against the wishes of the new king, John married Princess Catherine, daughter of King Sigismund I Jagellon of Poland in 1562 and for that reason became the owner of several castles in Livornia. King Erik regarded his conduct as a rebellion, accused him of treason and condemned him to death. The Turku castle was besieged and conquered by the king's troops, John and his family was imprisoned in 1563, only to be released when the king was deposed in 1568 by manifest insanity.

Elected king by the Swedish parliament, John III fought successfully against Denmark in the Seven Years' War in Scandinavia (ended in 1570) and against the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, having conquered in 1581 the castle of Narva, in Livornia (now Estonia), a city that since then it would become a center of international trade in the Baltic. In the same year he assumed the title of Grand Prince of Finland, who has since then became part of the kingdom of Sweden.

John III was a person of a good education, an enthusiastic patron of arts and architecture (it seems he liked to build castles), could speak German, English, Italian and Polish, as well as the Latin as universal language. The influence of the Polish queen and his sympathy for the Catholic cause caused serious problems with the Protestant Swedish nobility. From this marriage was born prince Sigismund (1566-1632), later to be elected king of Poland-Lithuania in 1587 as Sigismund III Vasa, and largely because of this election, the two sole gold coins that were named Portugalöser appears in Swedish history.

John III had personal mottos like "God Protector Noster" (God is our protector - Psalms 37:20); "Benefaciendo Neminem Timemus" (doing the good we do not fear anyone - Proverbs 20:28), "Misericordia et Veritas Custodiunt Regern ... "(The compassion and truth preserve the king ... - Proverbs 20:28), that are engraved in his coins. He died in 1618 and his tomb stands in the cathedral of Uppsala.

SUE TYPE 1 − John III Vasa, undated Portugalös, 1585-86 (10 and 20 ducats). Stockholm Mint. Bust on the obverse, royal arms on the reverse. Master Gillis Coyet the Elder (without monetary mark)

Obv: (rosette) IOHANNES • 3 • D • G • SWEC * ORVM • GOTOR(um) • VAN(dalorum) • • RX (John III by the Grace of God, King of the Swedes, Goths and Vandals), within an arc of inner circle, between grainy and smooth bordures. At the center, the bust in armor, half body to the right, crowned and with long bear, holding the orb in his left hand and wielding the sword on the right shoulder. The outer circle contained the 23 heraldic shields of the provinces of the kingdom of Sweden-Finland.

Rev: (leaf) MISERICORD(ia): ET + VERIT(a)S: CVSTOD(ium): REG(em): ET + ROBOR (atur) + CLEM(entia) + THRON(us) + EIVS (Compassion and truth preserve the king, for his kindness he gives firmness to the throne) / / BENE (leaf) FACIENDO (leaf) NEMINEM (leaf) TIMEMVS (Doing good we do not fear anyone) // DEVS (leaf) PROTEC - TOR (leaf) NOSTER (God is our Protector), in three concentric arcs between enclosures smooth and grainy. At the center, the royal arms of the house of Vasa, heart-shaped shield, crowned (interrupting legend), the field quartered by a cross of Saint Eric: quarters 1 and 4 − three golden crowns placed two above one (modern Sweden); quarters 2 and 3 − a crowned golden lion standing left on a field of three silvered wavy bars (old Sweden), the whole superimposed by the escutcheon of the Vasa, a sheaf of wheat on a bended tricolor field.

Due to the fire that destroyed the Royal Archives of Sweden in 1597, there is a lack of documentary knowledge concerning Swedish coinage until the late sixteenth century. More recently, a startling new development took place, when new evidence was discovered while studying documents on the buying and selling of Swedish copper that brought appended information about the gold coinage of 1585-86.

Revealed in 1961 by historian Birgitta Odén (see bibliography), and recently completed by the renowned numismatist Bengt Hemmingsson, the documents investigated allowed us to understand the history behind the two Swedish Portugalös, as donative coins of King John III Vasa and how they were used to expedite the election of his son Sigismund? to the throne of Poland in 1587.

In the summer of 1585 (June 20), John III ordered the purchase of good Hungarian gold, which should be obtained from the sale of copper, in Stockholm and Lübeck. And from the royal instructions given to his Copper Steward, turned out that this exchanged gold should be delivered to the Royal Mint in Stockholm, where the following coins would be minted (as written in the original document): "Portugalöser, dubbel rosenobler och efter eljest annet gull mynt sound Vi Dar om varde givandes besked" (Portugalöser, double rosenoble and other gold coins that I will state later), according to the following weights and gold fineness: - Portugalöser, 35.05 g, gold 979/1000 fine; - double rosenoble, 15.02 g, gold 979/1000 fine. [1]

Four batches of gold coins were acquired from several other sales of copper, melted down between June 1585 and September 1586, producing the following Swedish coins:

1st batch − 452 hungarian gulden, acquired in Stockholm in June 1585. Produced 45 Portugalöser with an individual cost of 18 öre and 13½ penningen. The new coins were given to the king and stored in his private safe. It is not known for what use they were intended.

2nd batch − 347 ½ rosenobles, 175 double ducats and 1166 angelots, acquired in Lübeck in May 1586. Produced 641 Swedish double rosenoble (see note below), with an individual cost of 12 öre. The coins were personally delivered to the king in September 1586.

3rd batch − Held at the same time as the previous one. 48 angels of England produced after melting, 3 Portugalöser and 9 Swedish double rosenoble. Its individual cost was 16 öre per Portugalöser and 12 öre for each one of the others.

In this particular case their destiny is known, from the documents of the king's secretary. The coins were given to a famous professor at the University of Rostock, Dr. David Chytraeus and son, Johannes Frederus, both known humanists and theologians, as a reward for their support in influencing the Swedish church to adopt a positive attitude towards the religious policy of the monarch.

4th batch − From another document found in the books of the Treasury Archives, it is known that Master Gillis Coyet received on January 4, 1586, a portion of gold, 400 hungarian gulden that produced 20 Portugalösers and 46 Swedish double rosenobles, which - as indicated in the document - should be delivered to the Prince Sigismund.

In all probability, these gold coins, along with many other silver dalers also coined at the same time, served to help Sigismund's election to the Polish throne. And here's how, from Sweden, Portugalösers arrived in Poland where that prince will be Sigismund III Vasa, who would mint them in large numbers and varieties.

In total, records show that 68 Portugalösers of 10-ducats were minted in those two years. As for the double Portugalösers of 20-ducats, of which a single copy has survived, there are no records. It is estimated that they were manufactured at the same occasion, and used for very special royal gifts.

Looking at this unique Portugalös of 1585-86, it seems that Master Gillis Coyet, being ordered to coin Portugalösers, wanted to adapt the characteristic style of Hamburg coinage to the Swedish reality. On the obverse, the royal bust replaced the city arms, while maintaining the portrait in the center of two concentric arcs, the outer one now filled with the Swedish provincial escutcheons, the inner one with the royal titles. On the reverse, three concentric arcs, bearing the royal mottos, involve the royal arms of the Vasa dinasty, a quite unique feature designed to promote the goodness and kindness of the Swedish king.

Note − Some Swedish and international catalogs say that one Portugalös was equivalent to four Rosenobles, thus listing in this series of 1585-86 a third coin as ½ Portugalös with a weight of 15.30 to 15.70 g, which is too low a weight for a half Portugalös (17,5 g). As the study of the historian Birgitta Odén concluded, that coin is in fact a double rosenoble and should not be part of this series of Swedish Portugalös (Friedberg no. 4)


This article about the very remarkable Swedish Portugalös of king John III Vasa coincided with the auction of the grand collection of Julius Hagander (1925-2009), carried out since 2011 by the German firm Rudolf Künker that produced four magnificent and profusely illustrated and documented catalogues, in Swedish and German. It was based on these catalogs that I began to understand some of the elaborated coins of Sweden and its possessions in the Baltic and northern Germany.

After contacting the Swedish Numismatic Association (Svenska Numismatiska Föreningen - valuable support was received from its Chairman, Mr. Jan-Olof Björk, who not only listed the most suitable numismatic bibliography for me to study, but put me in contact with the editor Magnus Wijk, another expert numismatist, who stoically endured my many questions, always answering, commenting and directing.

It was through these two fellow numismatists from Sweden that I learned about the important study published in 1961 by historian Birgitta Odén, revealing the royal instructions for the mintage of Portugalösers in Stockholm, a fact that was previously unknown.

For Jan-Olof Björk and Magnus Wijk, my sincere thanks.

Bibliography - Part VII

AHLSTRÖM, B. - ALMER, Y. - HEMMINGSSON, B. Sveriges mynt 1521-1977 (Coins of Sweden). Stockholm: 1976.

BRENNER, Elias. Thesaurus Nummorum Sueo-Gothicorum (Swedish Numismatic Treasures). Holmiae (Stockholm): 1731, p. 91, plate II, nr. 3.

EDVINSSON, R. - Jacobson, T. - Waldenström, D. "Historical Monetary and Financial Statistics for Sweden: Exchange rates, prices, and wages, 1277-2008." Sveriges Riksbank: Stockholm, 2010 Accessed January 2013

FRIEDBERG, Arthur and Ira S. Gold Coins of the World from Ancient times to the Present. The Coin and Currency Institute: Clifton, NJ 2009, 8th edition

KÜNKER - Catalogs of auctions "Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co. KG, Osnabrück" nr. 185 (17 March 2011), 196 (28 September 2011), 208 (15 March 2012) and 219 (30 October 2012), from the famous collection Hagander, Schweden und seine Besitzungen (Sweden and its possessions) - Die Sammlung Julius Hagander. In the third volume was auctioned king John III Portugalös (Lot 7009, sold for 65,000 euros.

ODÉN, Birgitta. "Johan III: s Gåvomynt I Guld" (The gold gift coins of King John III). The Nordic Numismatic Unions Yearbook: 1961, pp. 77-83 (copy courtesy of Swedish Numismatic Association)

UNIVERSITET UPPSALA (Uppsala University, Coin Cabinet). Coins and photographs on-line. Accessed on 20 February, 2013.

Area of influence of gold Portugalösers in Northern Europe

To the North, from Hamburg to the Jutland peninsula, Denmark and Sweden - to the East throughout Northern Germany and the coasts of the Baltic Sea, Poland and Lithuania, reaching the borders of the Russian Empire - to the West, from the trading cities of the Netherlands; - and to South, along the trade roads of the Elbe river, to the heart of Bohemia.

Coin gallery


         1560 Hamburg

         1562 Lithuania

         1570 Electoral Brandenburg

         1580 Magdeburg

         1584 Denmark

         1586 Riga Poland

         1587 Electoral Brandenburg

         1591 Denmark

         1593-1606 Dioceses Lübeck

         1610 Electoral Saxony

         1622 Poland

         1635 Hamburg

         1643 Luneburg

         1676 Hamburg

         Künker obj 219. Portugalös 1585-86. Weight 35,0 g

         Künker obj 28. Double Rosenoble 1585-86. Weight 15,19 g

         Elias Brenner double Rosenoble

         Elias Brenner Portugalös




[1] According to information from the editor Magnus Wijk, who gave me knowledge of the studies carried out by Bengt Hemmingsson, a prominent Swedish numismatist that continued Birgitta Odén's researches.

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