The Real: The Return of Silver

Room 27, showcase 10 Real of Peter I of Castile. Seville, 1350–1369. Silver. Pulse para ampliar Real of Peter I of Castile. Seville, 1350–1369. Silver.

The demand for larger denominations in Christian Europe also led to the creation of valuable coins made of silver, a precious metal that became increasingly necessary for facilitating payments and transactions of certain importance.

Thus, in the course of the 13th century new silver coins appeared, often with names derived from the Latin grossus (thick), in contrast to the thin billon pieces. These included the gros of Navarre, the croat of Barcelona and other coins of various European states, among them the crowns of Castile and Aragon.

The term real (“royal”) was originally used to distinguish coins minted by kings from other local, episcopal or noble issues. And the iconography of these new silver pieces was indeed “royal”, usually featuring the monarch’s bust and titles and the arms of his kingdom. One remarkable exception is the real of Peter I of Castile (1350–1369), on which the power of the king—who spent most of his reign dealing with civil conflicts that required large amounts of money—was conveyed by a symbol: his crowned initial.

Introduced on the peninsula after the year 1300, the real had a very long life. It eventually became the base unit of the Spanish silver system and remained in use until 1864.