Siege coin of Mantova, 1799


Χάλκινο soldo της Μάντουας (νόμισμα πολιορκίας), 1799

April 1796. Napoleon Bonaparte, then a rather unknown French general, invades North Italy in charge of an army of scruffy and tattered soldiers. After a month Milan was occupied and in less than two Mantova (Mantua) was laid under siege. Following a series of stunning victories (Lodi, Arcola, Rivoli) over the Austrians, Mantova surrendered on February 2, 1797. In less than a year from the time Bonaparte had launched his campaign, the French advanced into Austrian lands (within 100 miles of Vienna). With the Treaty of Campo Formio (17 October) the young Corsican largely imposed his will, reshaping the map of Europe.
Napoleon’s unfortunate Egyptian expedition in 1798-1799 eventually led to the War of the Second Coalition and the renewal of the hostilities in Italy. This time an Austrian army cut off Mantova (April-July 1799), which was defended by a Franco-Polish force.
While Mantova was besieged by the Austrians, necessity money was issued by the French defenders in the form of cast bronze coins, so that they could meet their needs during the dire straits they were facing. On the obverse are depicted the symbols of the Republic: between two laurel-branches a bundle of fasces, including an axe, with the cap of Liberty on top of it; legend: ASSEDIO DI MANTOVA (Siege of Mantua). Below appears the revolutionary date: A 7 R (=”7th Republican year”, i.e. 1799). On the reverse is stated the denomination: “One soldo of Milan”. Two more issues were minted in billon, coins of 10 soldi and 5 soldi. It was only the first siege coin series of the Napoleonic Wars. In any case, the desperate measures of the defenders could not make a difference in the long run and after 72 days of blockade and 20 days of siege the guard capitulated on July 30, 1799.
As usual Bonaparte’s reaction was decisive. After becoming First Consul with a successful coup (November 1799), he prepared for war and in May 1800 he crossed the Alps. By crushing his opponents at the Battle of Marengo (June 1800) Napoleon was again triumphant. With the Treaty of Lunéville (February 1801) Mantova was attached to the Cisalpine Republic, a client state of France. It was not going to last though…Siege coin of Mantova, 1799


Leave a Reply