The Maravedí: Coins for the People

Room 29, showcases 8 and 9 Eight-maravedí coin of Philip III. Burgos, 1604. Billon. Pulse para ampliar Eight-maravedí coin of Philip III. Burgos, 1604. Billon.

In the 16th century, the maravedí was reborn as a billon coin of little value, the lowest denomination in the Castilian system. While gold and silver currency circled the globe, the only coins that most ordinary people saw in their lifetime were made of billon; as a result, this humble currency reflects the real social climate far better than precious metals.

In fact, maravedís were at the heart of the severe crises of the late 16th and 17th century. The state shifted the burden of Habsburg Castile's economic and financial problems onto their users, depreciating the coins’ purity and forcing citizens to take them to the mints to be marked with a higher face value after paying a fee. And even though a piece of four could become a piece of eight, the cost of products rose at the same pace, so these manoeuvres only succeeded in creating tremendous social unrest that did not disappear until the 18th century.

In 1716, the Bourbon reforms introduced monetary unification. The Castilian system was imposed on all the monarchy’s territories, and the old coins of the medieval Spanish kingdoms disappeared. From that point until the mid-19th century, the maravedí was the currency of small everyday living expenses and people with limited means.