Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

A Nazgul

(By Anato Finnstark—I very much like the misty effect of the rider)

is prowling the Shire, asking about “Baggins”.

 He has made the mistake not only of trying to get information out of Farmer Maggot, but of trying to bribe him, when told that he’s in the wrong part of the Shire:

“ ‘Baggins has left,’ he answered in a whisper.  ‘He is coming.  He is not far away.  I wish to find him.  If he passes will you tell me?  I will come back with gold.’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 4, “A Short Cut to Mushrooms”)

Although Maggot rejects that offer of gold, I found it interesting.  Where will he go to obtain such gold?  And what gold will it be?

Unfortunately, there is no answer in the text to either question.  If he’s not simply lying (who would trust a Nazgul?), he is on horseback, not on one of those dragon/pterodactyl mounts the Nazgul are fond of.

A trip back to Mordor for cash would take too long, then, when he’s in hot pursuit of Frodo.  This would suggest, if he is telling the truth, that he has a local source.  It will later become clear that Saruman has agents in the Shire, so perhaps Sauron does, too?

As to the second question, the Nazgul says, “gold”, so I presume he means not ingots,

but coins of some sort.

But the question then arises, what kind of coins might these be?

Coins are mentioned a few times in The Lord of the Rings, including the price of Bill, the pony—“twelve silver pennies” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”)—but I’m not aware that these coins are ever described in any detail—and whose coins are they and where do they come from? 

Because all such information is lacking, I imagine that the Nazgul, if telling the truth, has, somewhere, a sack of coins from Mordor itself—gold coins, at that.  Western Mordor, at least the part we see in Sam and Frodo’s travels, seems utterly barren,

but Sauron has armies to feed and the myriad horses and mules and oxen needed to carry such armies beyond his gates, and that food and those beasts have to come from somewhere.  Even if we presume that much can be produced from green lands beyond the Sea of Nurnen, Sauron has allies farther south in Harad, suggesting that he has commerce of some sort with them and, as we know from those twelve silver pennies, Middle-earth appears not to be based upon a barter-system.

So what would such coins look like?

The earliest Western coins came from Lydia in western Asian Minor in the 7th century BC and carried on the obverse (the front) the images of bulls and lions.

Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II, seems to have been the first to put his own profile on a coin,

but that appears to have set a precedent for later rulers, with Julius Caesar being perhaps the first Roman to stamp his profile on his currency.

(This is rather an ironic coin, showing Caesar on the obverse and describing him as “dictatore perpetuo”—“being dictator for life”, a position he held for only a couple of months before he was murdered.)

You’ll notice that Caesar, like Philip before him, doesn’t wear an elaborate crown of some sort, like Darius on this early Persian coin,

but, instead, has only a simple wreath (not so modest, in fact, since, because it was used in sporting events, it could suggest that Philip—and Caesar after him—was a champion at being a ruler).  When the Carolingians began their own currency, in the later years of the 8th century AD in what we might think of as “France+”, they adopted a Roman model and so here’s their greatest ruler, Charlemagne (748-814 AD), looking more like a Roman emperor than a Germanic king, which is exactly what he intended.

This is, by the way, a silver denarius—a silver penny, just like those paid to Bill Ferny–and it’s just packed with information.  First, of course, is the portrait itself, with the ruler in profile (a tradition still in force on coins today), wreath of office firmly on his head.  And, because virtually no one would ever see Charlemagne himself, there’s his name, in a kind of Germanic Latin spelling, “Karolus”.  (Karl/Carl was his actual name.  What we use is a kind of name + title—Charl-le-magne—Charles le Magne, “Charles the Great”, which dates from a later time.)  Beyond his name are two important abbreviations:  IMP “emperor” and AUG “augustus”.   When Pope Leo III had crowned Charlemagne in Rome on Christmas Day, 800 AD,

(This is from the 14th-century Grandes Chroniques de France, so the artist had no idea of the wreath, when it came to an accurate depiction of imperial headgear.)

he named him Imperator Romanorum, “Emperor of the Romans”, which, in fact, implied that Charlemagne was the successor to the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine VI, whom the Western world thought of as the “Roman emperor”, being the ruler of the surviving half of the old Roman empire.  Charlemagne never controlled that eastern empire, but it was a grand claim and Charlemagne was a grand (and very successful) ruler.  To Imperator, Charlemagne added Augustus, the most famous of Roman emperors (63 BC-14 AD),

and (according to Augustus himself), the restorer of Rome to former glories, implying that he, Charlemagne, was the new Augustus.  We might think that Charlemagne is also making a reference to the period after Diocletian (c.244-311 AD)

had divided the original Roman empire into two halves, each ruled by a co-emperor called an “Augustus”, suggesting that he is the actual monarch of the western half of the empire, even while claiming to be the emperor of the eastern half.  (The “M” under Charlemagne’s profile, by the way, stands for one of the government’s mints, that at Mainz.)

With such bold claims on the obverse, we see a different picture on the reverse (the back).  Here is depicted, it is now thought, the aediculum, the “little building” which the emperor Constantine had built over what he believed to be the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem (c.326 AD) and, around it are placed the words religio xristiana, “Christian religion”.  Many of the peoples at the edges of Charlemagne’s empire were still worshippers of other, older gods and one of the goals of his imperial expansion was to expand Christianity, as well.  Depending upon your position, then, this might be a reassurance that Charlemagne was a firm supporter of your faith, or, should you be an older believer, that things were going to change under his rule.

With all of that behind us, what can we see as one of the Nazgul’s promised gold coins?

Let’s begin with a blank.

As we’ve seen, it’s a long tradition to place one’s kingly profile on the obverse, but what is Sauron’s profile?  As originally one of the Maiar (under the name Mairon), Sauron had no permanent form, being a spirit who could put on forms as needed, which Sauron did, over time.  After his defeat and loss of the Ring at the end of the Second Age, however, he doesn’t seem to have re-embodied himself as, for example, Gandalf and Saruman did, instead choosing a kind of symbolic form, which suggested eternal (menacing) vigilance, like Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984

This image then turns up everywhere his subjects go, from shields

to graffiti on public monuments.

(At the Cross-roads, by Ted Nasmith–one of my favorite Tolkien artists, especially because he often chooses to illustrate scenes no one else has–and with a real sense of place.)

So, imagine that the obverse has, at its center, the Lidless Eye.

Coins like Charlemagne’s and Caesar’s and even Philip’s include the ruler’s name:   Karolus, Caesar, though Philip’s name has a genitive—possessive—ending, “Of Philip”.  We might assume that that simply means that the coin is his, but we might also see a more ambiguous message:   everything behind this coin—the metal mine, the mint, the power to control such things–all belongs to him—and maybe that’s true even of the holder of the coin, as well.

But Caesar is called “dictator for life” and Charlemagne “emperor” and “augustus”—what should Sauron’s title be? 

When the heralds of Gondor summon him at the Morannon, he is referred to as “the Lord of the Black Land” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”), which seems a little meek.  When the Mouth of Sauron arrives for a parley, he refers to him as “Sauron the Great”, which is I’m sure how Sauron refers to himself, so this would give us two possibilities.  Around the Eye it might read:  SAURON LORD OF THE BLACK LAND or SAURON THE GREAT.

Philip gives his name in his native Greek and Caesar naturally uses his native tongue, Latin, for his inscription.  Although Charlemagne spells his name, as I’ve noted, somewhat Germanically, using a K for a Latin C (not surprising—his Frankish ancestors were Germanic tribesmen who invaded northern France—hence the name “France”), his inscription is an imitation of a Roman imperial coin, with his titles in Latin inscriptional shorthand.  In what language would the inscription on Sauron’s coin be in?  If he wanted it to be read in contemporary Middle-earth, we might think he would use the common tongue, written out in Tengwar.

If he wanted to suggest something more powerful—and mysterious?—he might use Tengwar, but the words might be in the Black Speech, rather like the inscription on the Ring.

With the eye and one of those two labels on the obverse, what would be on the reverse?

The center of Sauron’s power—his capital—is the Barad-dur, the Black Tower, so I could easily see it represented there, with no inscription, simply a single figure of menace (in John Howell’s image).

As always, thanks for reading and

So, replaying the scene where the Nazgul tries to tempt Farmer Maggot, perhaps we can see the Nazgul, rather than promising a future reward, tossing one such coin to land at the Farmer’s feet, hissing, “And more to come, if you will tell me.”

Stay well,

Remember that all that glisters is not gold,

And know that, as ever, there’s




If you would like to read more about Middle-earth and currency, please see the postings for 19 April (“Spare Change?”) and 26 April (“Hoarders”), 2017.