Tag Archives: hoards

The Lifetime in Circulation of Visigothic Coins

Individual coins are not very informative, but when significant numbers of coins and their find contexts can be compared, they can tell us a lot about the people who used them. Coin hoards are one of the more important sources of information for numismatists, although they can be tricky to interpret. One topic that hoards can shed some light on is how long coins remained in circulation, a question that is critical for understanding how people used coins and how many coins were in circulation for them to use.

The economy of the Visigothic kingdom in early medieval Spain, Portugal, and France (late fifth to early eighth centuries) is poorly documented in textual sources, so archaeological evidence (including coin finds) is essential. There was a substantial gold coinage, clearly under royal regulation from the late sixth to early eighth centuries, but how these coins were used within the economy remains a matter of debate. Looking at the relative ages of the coins found together in hoards is one clue.

This coin of Sisenand (631–636) was one of the latest coins included in the La Capilla hoard, which was buried in the mid-630s. It shows hardly any wear from circulation. ANS 2016.29.86.
This coin of Sisenand (631–636) was one of the latest coins included in the La Capilla hoard, which was buried in the mid-630s. It shows hardly any wear from circulation. ANS 2016.29.86.

Coin hoards can be formed in many ways. They may contain a group of coins representing what was in circulation at the time. However, they may reflect some unrepresentative selection process, such as a packet of newly minted coins just paid out by the government, or a group of better-quality coins picked from circulation to be saved. Thus, it is important to look at the structure of hoards before leaping to conclusions.

As it happens, most Visigothic coin hoards show a profile suggesting that they were drawn from general circulation. Normally the coins span a range of twenty or thirty years, but the majority of them come from the two reigns closest to the closing of the hoard, with the numbers from earlier reigns diminishing rapidly. Sometimes a hoard contains an outlier or two, older coins that somehow re-entered circulation, much like the occasional wheat-ear cent or buffalo nickel that turns up in circulation in the United States today. But overall, the statistical pattern is quite consistent.

From this evidence, we can conclude that Visigothic coins circulated for a limited span of time, perhaps around ten years on average, with most coins having left circulation before they were twenty years old. However, coins seem mostly to have left circulation gradually, perhaps to be melted down for other uses or for striking new coins; there is only evidence for one wholesale withdrawal and replacement of coins. Near the beginning of the Visigothic regal coinage, in the early 580s, it appears that all earlier coins were removed from circulation as part of a reform of coinage standards.

There was one other significant coinage reform during the period in question, around the early 650s. No withdrawal of coinage at that time is visible in the evidence, but unfortunately there is no hoard from the 660s, when it would have been most visible. The evidence does make clear, however, that the continual reductions in weight and fineness that were occurring at most other times were not associated with large-scale withdrawal and replacement of coins.

A tendency for older coins with higher gold content to be removed from circulation, as predicted by Gresham’s Law, is likely to be an important contributing reason for the relatively short lifespan of Visigothic coins, but it is also clear that coins of significantly different fineness could and did circulate together.

This coin of Reccared I (586–601) may be the oldest known coin from the La Capilla hoard. It contained about 20% more gold than the latest coins in the hoard, those of Sisenand (631–636). However, it has only limited wear from circulation, suggesting that it was not in active use most of the time during the four decades or so between minting and burial. ANS 2015.48.46.
This coin of Reccared I (586–601) may be the oldest known coin from the La Capilla hoard. It contained about 20% more gold than the latest coins in the hoard, those of Sisenand (631–636). However, it has only limited wear from circulation, suggesting that it was not in active use most of the time during the four decades or so between minting and burial. ANS 2015.48.46.

In summary, a brief look at one aspect of Visigothic coin hoards has told us some very useful things about the monetary system. The hoards show that coins could circulate for decades, even as standards of weight and fineness changed, unless there was a complete replacement of the coinage. However, they also show that coins had a relatively short lifetime in circulation, compared to some coinages in other times and places. Most likely older coins were frequently picked out of circulation and melted down due to their higher gold content, keeping the circulating population relatively young.

List of hoards with 20 or more recorded Visigothic regal coins, with median (50th percentile) and 95th percentile dates:

  • Mérida (20 coins, ca. 582?): all 20 coins from Leovigild, Cross-on-Steps series (ca. 581–584?).
  • La Capilla (ca. 1000 coins of which 765 recorded, ca. 631–636): median Suinthila (621–631), 95th percentile Sisebut (610–ca. 620).
  • Vega Baja de Toledo (31 coins, ca. 636–639): median Sisenand (631–636), 95th percentile Suinthila (621–631).
  • Córdoba (46 coins, ca. 642): median Chintila (636–639), 95th percentile Suinthila (621–631).
  • La Grassa (ca. 800 coins of which 175 recorded, ca. 653): median Tulga (639–642), 95th percentile Sisebut (610–ca. 620).
  • Zaragoza (35 coins, ca. 695–702): median Egica sole reign (687–ca. 695), 95th percentile Reccesuinth (653–672).
  • Abusejo (111 coins, ca. 702–710): median Egica and Wittiza (ca. 695–702), 95th percentile Wamba (672–680).

Also, note the very large Fuentes de Andalucia hoard (ca. 4000 coins, ca. 625), which was not recorded, but a large majority of the coins were apparently from Suinthila (621–631) and Sisebut (610–ca. 620). For more details on these hoards, see R. Pliego, La moneda visigoda (Seville: University of Seville, 2009), ch. 9.

Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria

duyrat-book-jacket

The American Numismatic Society is proud to announce the publication of Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria, by Frédérique Duyrat. Syria has been the theater of one of the most barbarous wars of the last centuries, characterized by war crimes and persecution of civilians. Beyond the human aspect of this conflict, one of the distinctive features of the war in Syria has been the treatment of cultural heritage. It takes two different forms. The most obvious is the systematic destruction of historical artifacts and remains by ISIS, dubbed “cultural cleansing” by UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. There is a second aspect to the “cultural strategy” of ISIS. This group is completely different from all the preceding forms of international terrorist organizations since it is only marginally dependent on foreign funding and has accumulated an impressive war chest. The traffic of antiquities has, among other activities, become an essential resource for the group. The income represented by looting and illegal traffic of antiquities has been estimated at around $200 million per year, and may represent the second largest source of income for ISIS. Moreover, the chaos caused by this multiparty war is beneficial to different groups of looters, whatever the cause they defend.

It is extremely difficult to identify objects that come from looting. If they have never been catalogued by a museum or in archaeological records, they have no established provenance. The sand or earth remaining on those artifacts is often the only sign of a recent archaeological discovery. Coins are even more difficult to trace to their source. Mass-produced in large numbers and often circulating over wide areas, they have an intrinsic value when struck in precious metal, as well as an artistic and historical interest. Moreover, they can be easily found with basic metal detectors. Official alerts regarding the looting of coins are extremely rare, although coins are often found in illegal commerce, or in military raids. If the recently publicized documents photographed by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology are authentic, it is noticeable that the licenses for looting granted by ISIS to individuals cover “collecting antiquities and buried money.” Moreover, the looters’ interest in numismatics has been emphasized by the discovery, in June 2015, of an ISIS cache containing weapons and a book with articles on numismatics. As noted by Ute Wartenberg, it is an academic book probably stolen from a museum library, and it contains useful numismatic overviews on coinage issued in Syria from the fifth century BCE to Byzantine times.

In such a context, the role of the historian of antiquity is particularly crucial: to gather all that can allow us to reconstitute this endangered past, to interpret the artifacts, to make them available for future generations in a future time of peace when people will be able to rediscover their roots. But how can numismatics be involved in such an important mission? Coins are tiny, scattered, and they require highly specialized skills to be interpreted. Even studied with care, they remain difficult to understand as a whole. One of the reasons why coins are such a difficult source is their number: issued in the millions, lost or hoarded in the tens of thousands, they form an ocean in which the non-specialist feels lost. To study the coinages of an entire region is a way to approach coins as a single source. Moreover, to study ancient Syria through this particular source sheds light on new aspects of the past of a region currently devastated by war. This is what author Frédérique Duyrat has done in Wealth and Warfare. The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria.

This book assembles for the first time the evidence for coin finds in the region of ancient Syria from the 5th to the 1st century BCE. A full catalogue of all known coin hoards and published excavation finds serves as the basis for an explanation of monetary behavior in an area extending over parts of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Turkey. In seven chapters of analysis, Duyrat establishes the limits of what we can learn from coin circulation, to compare the data from commerce to the data from legal excavations, to try to understand the chronological evolution of coin circulation and how much political events or warfare affect it, and to evaluate what coin finds tell us of the wealth and poverty of the people who assembled them. One chapter is devoted to how the contemporary history of the countries within the scope of this study has influenced the documentation. This book determines more precisely than ever what circulated in the ancient Near East and can provide the patterns by which to evaluate the loss suffered by the cultural heritage of this region.

About the author: Frédérique Duyrat is director of the Department of Coins, Medals, and Antiques of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and is associated to the research team Orient et Méditerranée—Mondes sémitiques (University Paris–Sorbonne) and the Ecole doctorale Archéologie of the University Paris I–Panthéon Sorbonne. She has written and edited more than 50 books and articles on the coinage, history and archaeology of ancient Syria and Phoenicia.

Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria

Numismatic Studies 34, ISSN 0517-404-x

ISBN 978-0-89722-346-1

Hardcover, 600 pages, b/w figures, tables

Wealth and Warfare is available for purchase through the ANS’s book distribution partner Casemate Academic/Oxbow Books. ANS Members qualify for a member discount and should write to Andrew Reinhard, ANS Director of Publications,  for the online discount code.

American Journal of Numismatics 26 (2014)

ajn26cover

The 26th volume of the American Journal of Numismatics is now in print. Subscribers should have already received their copies, but they are also available for purchase by individuals and libraries.

ANS, 1944.100.10426
ANS, 1944.100.10426

The first essay by Jonathan Kagan, “Notes on the Coinage of Mende,” examines the numismatic legacy of this important Greek city on the Chalcidic peninsula. Kagan’s piece ends with a consideration of the iconography of the bird found on many of the coins. Although traditionally described as a crow, some possible alternatives are proposed.

ANS, 1951.116.271
ANS, 1951.116.271

Evangeline Markou, Andreas Charalambous, and Vasiliki Kassianidou next offer a detailed chemical analysis of classical age Cypriot gold coins. The data derived from using an Innov-x Delta Engery-Dispersive XRF analyzer (pXRF) on 48 gold coins showed that the percentage of gold varied between 88.4% and 99.7%, which leads them to some interesting conclusions about the economic history of ancient Cyprus.

In “The Last Seleucids in Phoenicia: Juggling Civic and Royal Identity,” Panagiotis P. Iossif proposes that Phoenician cities were not as autonomous within the Seleucid kingdom as previously thought and suggests that coinage issued in this period was a form of annual tax payment to their Hellenistic rulers.

ANS, 1944.100.43617
ANS, 1944.100.43617

Elizabeth Wolfram Thill‘s contribution examines an innovative coin type that appeared during Trajan’ reign (AD 98-117). The article details fourteen new types of group scenes, i.e. ones that feature multi-figure action, and emphasizes how this reflected a connection between the emperor and the ‘common man.’ The relationship between the coins and monumental reliefs is also considered, and Thill suggests that it indicates that there was a remarkably integrated artistic climate during this period.

ANS, 1982.2.1
ANS, 1982.2.1

A die study of silver coinage of Cilician Aegeae during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-38) by Florian Haymann shows that it was much more abundant than has been supposed, and leads him to argue that this was a kind of imperial beneficium by Hadrian, who took a special interest in the region.

Articles by Jack Nurpetlian and Dario Calomino also look at different aspects of coinage in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Working with limited data, Nurpetlian was able to construct a useful die link diagram and employs statistical analysis to offer insights into the production of silver tetradrachms under Caracalla (AD 213-217), primarily minted in Damascus. Calomino’s contribution is a fascinating study of bilingual (Latin and Greek) coins of Severus Alexander (AD 222-235).

ANS, 1944.100.38256
ANS, 1944.100.38256

Saúl Roll-Vélez’s detailed analysis of antoniniani (left) issued immediately prior to and during the Diocletian reform of the coinage that began in AD 293 corrects some problems in the relevant RIC volume. Roll-Vélez argues that the CONCORDIA MILITVM antoniniani might have been minted as forerunners of the reform and reflected the larger drive towards standardization.

Daniela Williams and Antonino Crisà each provide studies of coin hoards; one found in Rome’s historical port of Ostia and the other unearthed near Palermo. Williams details a set of fifty-one bronze coins found dated to the mid-fourth century while Crisà focuses on the 1869 discovery of a terracotta vase full of silver coins near Cerda, of which forty-nine were recovered. Both articles bring a wealth of archival material to bear in contextualizing and understanding the respective coins in question.

Michael Fedorov’s contribution to the volume looks at early mediaeval Chachian coins and offers a new classification schema for the tamgha type.

Last but not least, François de Callataÿ answers a question that we have all been wondering about: “How poor are current bibliometrics in the humanities?” Naturally taking numismatic literature as his point of departure, Callataÿ shows how existing search engines and digital indexes fail to capture much of what has been and is being produced by numismatic scholars. The article points to both the massive amount of numismatic research being published and some of the attendant problems in getting that material properly indexed by the powers that be.

books copy

The review articles by ANS curators Gilles Bransbourg and David Hendin focus on Le monnayage de Maxence (2013) by Vincent Drost and Gold Coin and Small Change: Monetary Circulation in Fifth– Seventh Century Byzantine Palestine (2012) by Gabriela Bijocsky.

Again, the AJN 26 is available to order on the website, or you can call Catherine DiTuri to place your order at 212-571-4470, ext. 117. The list price is $75; ANS members may purchase it for $52.50.

386 pp, 62 pls | ISSN: 1053-8356 | ISBN: 978-0-89722-336-2