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« Tuna 4 / 2019

On a Byzantine Princess and Russian Gold

According to the Tallinn sources, at least 122 Russian nobles passed through the hands of Tallinn’s and Gdansk’s citizens in the summer/autumn of 1473. There is one single Russian gold coin, which imitates the English nobles of the time, that is preserved and kept in the collections of the State Hermitage. Such gold pieces, called korabelniks, were issued for special occasions in medieval and early modern Russia – among others, for the weddings of dukes and for diplomatic purposes.

Just a year before, in the autumn of 1472, Ivan III married Zoe (Sofia) Palaiologina. The Russian diplomatic mission abroad was led by the Russian-Italian mint master Ivan Frjazin, alias Gian Volpe. We may have the heraldic signs of both the groom (the unicorn) and the bride (the double-birds) on the korabelnik. The coin was most probably designed by Ivan Frjazin and taken by Russian deputies to Romein in order to present gifts to foreign authorities.

The Russian legation returned via Lübeck, Tallinn, Tartu, Pskov, Novgorod and other Russian centres to Moscow. It was only during the visit of the legation that the citizens of Tallinn could obtain such a large amount of Russian nobles. Taking into account the fact that the Russians were able to leave at least 122 gold pieces in Tallinn, the total output of korabelniks must have been much larger. Even as late as 1482, 12 Russian nobles were taken from a Lübeck burgher, Hans Kerckrinck, in Visby. One cannot even rule out that these coins formed a considerable part of 250 and 800 korabelniks correspondingly, presented by the citizens of Novgorod and Pskov to Ivan III in 1478. The term korabelnik was most frequent in the last quarter of the 15th century and thus may initially have been used mainly for the Russians’ own imitations of nobles.