obverse and reverse of a copper alloy coin with black and white sketch of imagery above
Italian Sesino

This artifact is one of a kind in the Jamestown collection: it is the only coin found on the site from Italy. Although the markings are difficult to see, the coin has a cross with pellets on the obverse side, surrounding by the letters MARIN GRIMAN DVX.VENE (meaning “Marino Grimani Doge of Venice”). The reverse side depicts a winged lion of St. Mark with the letters SANCTVS MARCUS VENET (“Saint Mark of Venice”).

While this coin is not imprinted with a date, the first clue to its manufacturing time period is the name and title of Marino Grimani, Doge of Venice. The Doge was an elected official who became the most senior official for the Republic of Venice. The position was first officially established in 726, and existed until Napoleon conquered the city in the 18th century. Unique coins bearing symbolism representing the city, religious figures, or occasionally the doge himself were minted during each doge’s time in office. This practice therefore provides the date range during which this coin was made: Marino Grimani’s period of service between April 26th 1595 and December 25th 1605.

Venetian coins were used in trade on the European continent. Perhaps that is how this coin fell into the hands of a colonist who later arrived at Jamestown. However, it is also possible that it was the result of religious upheaval. Marino Grimani limited the power of the papacy in Venice, which ultimately led the pope to issue a papal interdict on Venice in 1606 excommunicating the entire city’s population. This action led some Venetians, including artisans like beadmakers, to emigrate and seek religious freedom elsewhere. It is possible that this coin was brought to the European market in the pocket of a Venetian moving away from their homeland and seeking a different life.