Collection Inspiration: Battles

Posted on 11/21/2023

Banknotes often showcase historical conflicts, and this month, we're focusing on epic battles that helped shape our world.

History is riddled with conflict. Humanity has been at war with itself since antiquity, whether for territory, freedom or a difference in ideals. Many countries commemorate important battles in various ways, including depicting them on currency. This month’s Collection Inspiration focuses on banknotes that put a spotlight on some of the world’s most historic conflicts.

Ten Notes Featuring Battles

The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah – November 16-19, 636

The early Arab conquests were in full swing in 636. The Rashidun army engaged the reigning Sasanian Empire at Qadisiyyah, a historical city located in what today is called Iraq, about 100 miles south of Baghdad. During the battle, the Sasanian military leader died under uncertain circumstances, which led to the army’s collapse. The decisive victory for the Arabs paved the way for the complete defeat within 15 years of the Sasanian Empire, which had for centuries vied with the Byzantine Empire for power in the Middle East. A depiction of the battle is shown on the front of this Iraq, Central Bank 1986 / AH1406 25 Dinars.

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The Battle of Lepanto – October 7, 1571

The Battle of Lepanto was a naval conflict that took place between several Catholic nations and the Ottoman Empire. The battle was fought entirely on the water and marked the first major victory for the Spaniards against the Ottoman forces. Additionally, The Battle of Lepanto marked the last major engagement in the Western world to be fought almost entirely using rowing vessels. Several ships are featured on the back of this Spain 1940 ND (1945) 500 Pesetas note.

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The Invasion of Algiers – July 1775

At a time when a beleaguered Spain was eager to show it could protect its possessions around the world, King Charles III sent forces towards Algiers in an amphibious assault. Unfortunately for the Spaniards, the attack was flawed in almost every way — their ships ended up stranded at the landing point, with most of their guns and cannons stuck in the wet sand. When the Spanish forces assaulted the Algerian forces anyway, they walked into a trap set by the opposing army and suffered massive casualties. The Algeria, Banque d’Algerie 1992 (ND 1996) 100 Dinars pictured below depicts the battle, with Algerian soldiers on the front. The back features an Algerian war vessel.

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The Battle of Jersey – January 6, 1781

The Battle of Jersey was the final attempt that the French made to take the British-ruled island of Jersey, which lies just a few miles off France’s northern coast. They wanted control of the British island to remove the threat that the British posed to French and American shipping during the American Revolutionary War. The conflict did not end in France's favor — they were quickly overwhelmed, and the remaining soldiers were either captured or surrendered. During the battle, a French sniper fatally wounded the British commander, Major Peirson. The Death of Major Peirson, an oil painting inspired by the battle, is featured on the back of this Jersey, States of Jersey ND (1976-88) £1 note.

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The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro – May 3-5, 1811

During the Peninsular War in the early 1800s, Napoleon sought to exert French control over Spain and Portugal. British Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley (later made the Duke of Wellington) fought with his Portuguese allies to oppose the French forces. At the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (on the Spanish-Portuguese border), Wellesley successfully blocked the French’s attempts to take the city of Almeida. The victory was stunning to the French army, which suffered a massive blow to morale and strength. The Duke of Wellington’s portrait is featured in front of a battle scene on the back of this Great Britain, Bank of England ND (1980-87) £5 note.

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The Battle of Rancagua – October 1-2, 1814

Also known as the Disaster of Rancagua, this conflict marked the beginning of the Spanish Reconquista of Chile. During the Chilean War of Independence, the Chilean patriots began a revolt against the Spanish monarchy and occupied the city to get closer to the Chilean capital of Santiago. In response, the Spanish Royalists sent an elite group of soldiers to surround the city. After a brutal engagement, the Royalists set fire to the town to quickly end the fighting. The battle is depicted on the back of this Chile, Banco Central ND (1967-76) 10,000 Escudos note. Captain General Bernardo O’Higgins, who led the Chilean resistance, is pictured on the front.

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The Battle of Ayacucho – December 9, 1824

The Spanish Royalists had control of most of the south of Peru and several other key locations across South and Central America in the early 19th century. However, in 1820, a political upheaval and a revolt against King Ferdinand VII in Spain kept key assistance from reaching his Royalist supporters in Latin America. The Peruvian patriots took advantage of the situation to make progress in their revolution. Antonio Jose de Sucre commanded a force against Royalists at Pampa de Ayacucho in central Peru. The decisive defeat of the Royalists paved the way for independence of Latin American countries, which is why the battle and Sucre are shown on the Venezuela, Banco Central 1995 2,000 Bolivares.

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The Battle of La Trinidad – November 11, 1827

After Spanish control over Central America ended in the early 1820s, it was succeeded by the Federal Republic of Central America, a short-lived entity that includes what today are the nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. The Salvadoran president of the Federal Republic of Central America attempted to replace the Honduran government by force. The front of the Honduras, Banco Central 1953-54 5 Lempiras below shows Jose Francisco Morazan Quesada, a Honduran who successfully defeated this move at The Battle of La Trinidad, which is shown on the back.

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The Battle of Vuelta de Obligado – November 20, 1845

The Battle of Vuelta de Obligado was a naval conflict between the allied French and British forces against the Argentine Confederation. France and Great Britain were unhappy with the Argentine Confederation for setting up a taxed trade route in Buenos Aires that required all traders to pass through the Confederation’s custom house and pay taxes. This set up the conflict, which took place on the river between two fleets of warships. Though the Anglo-French fleet was victorious, their losses were too heavy to justify continuing trade up the river. The outcome is still celebrated in Argentina today, having become a national holiday in 2010. The front of this Argentina, Banco Central ND (1999-2003) 20 Pesos shows Juan Manuel de Rosa, the leader of the Argentine Confederation at the time, while the back shows the battle.

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The Battle of Warsaw – August 12-15, 1920

The Polish-Soviet War was raging during 1920, with the Polish army fighting to preserve their newly regained independence after World War I, while the Soviet Union pushed to recover the territories that Russia had lost under the treaty with Germany during the war (Poland being one of them). Despite being on its heels, the Polish army fiercely defended its capital of Warsaw, inflicting heavy casualties on Russian forces. The defeat crippled the Red Army and several follow-up battles secured Poland’s independence. The Poland, National Bank 2020 20 Zlotych commemorative note shows Poland’s victory on the back, with the Polish flag flying in the background.

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If these banknotes featuring historical battles inspired you, check out our other Collection Inspiration columns for more collecting ideas. Also, be sure to follow PMG on Facebook, on Instagram and on Twitter for other articles and interesting notes posted daily.

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