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A History of Gold - The Middle Ages

Although the 1000 years marking the end of the ancient world (from about 40-1400 AD) were not too outstanding with respect to all things gold, this precious metal continued to make an impact and to figure prominently in the hallmarks of this era.

Gold-mining activities ceased with the fall of the Roman Empire. But gold mining was resumed in the 6th century by the Byzantine Empire, in Central Europe and France. In 788, Charlemagne defeated the Avars in battle and plundered their vast quantities of gold. These riches made it possible for him to take control of much of Western Europe.

In the second half of the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote of his travels to the Far East, and in particular mentioned the Malay Peninsula where "gold is so plentiful that no one who did not see it could believe it." In 1284, Venice introduced the gold Ducat. The Ducat became, and remained the most popular coin in the world for over 500 years. This was mostly because it was easy to mint, and packed a great deal of value in one relatively small coin. Several cities and small states in Europe—mostly Eastern Europe—issued multiple, single and fractional ducats. The standard of coin was adopted in Hungary, and for a long time all foreign coins bore the name Ongri, Venetian for "Hungarian", where world trade in this period was concentrated.

In the same year (1284), Great Britain issued its first major gold coin—the Florin, which was actually a copy of a coin issued in Florence. The Florin was followed by the Noble, the Angel, the Crown, and the Guinea. In 1377, Great Britain shifted to a monetary system based on gold and silver.