Money in the Levant

  • Ralph Davis


It is not practicable to give a full account here of the complicated currency arrangements which served the eighteenth-century Levant,1 but the salient features are fairly simple. The unit of account used by foreign merchants in the Levant (except in Egypt) was the dollar. In principle this was a Turkish piastre containing six drachms of silver; but this piastre, first issued in 1690, was based on the European dollar, and was itself produced only in small quantities. The effective unit of all business, therefore, was the European dollar; the Dutch rix-dollar or a debased copy of it, called the lion dollar in the Turkish dominions after the Lion of Zealand which appeared on its face. It was a massive silver coin, about the size of the English crown piece. Lion dollars had first come into Turkey in large quantities after 1669; they became popular and widely acceptable there, so that presently various princely mints in Germany and Italy began to manufacture imitations specially for export to Turkey, lowering the silver content to make the job worth while. The lion dollar weighed nine drachms, but the debased specimens which circulated in the eighteenth century contained just over six drachms of silver.1


Exchange Rate Eighteenth Century Silver Content Cash Balance Cash Transaction 
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  1. 1.
    R. Mantran, Istanbul dans la Seconde Moitè du XVIIe Siècle (Paris, 1962), pp. 238–47.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    E. Hatton, The Merchants’ Magazine (1726), describing the value of Dutch coins, lists ‘The Zealand or common Dollar, 3/-; The Specie Dollar 5/-’.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See also L. Dermigny, ‘Circuits de l’Argent et Milieux d’Affaires au XVIIIe Siècle’ (Rev. Hist., 1954, ccxii, 270–7).Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    ‘The greater part of the goods with which Cyprus furnished the Europeans is paid for with ready money, or bills of exchange. The bills of exchange negotiated in the island of Cyprus are for the most part drawn upon Constantinople. This business is generally transacted with the governor.’ (Mariti, Travels through Cyprus, Syria and Palestine (1791).) Mariti was in Cyprus in 1761–6.Google Scholar

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© Ralph Davis 1967

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  • Ralph Davis

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