Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Money in Classical Antiquity

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Sitta von Reden, Money in Classical Antiquity. Key Themes in Ancient History. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

This wide-ranging work attempts to survey the whole of ancient money—emphatically not just coinage, for we have moved well beyond Finley’s idea that cash constituted money in the ancient world (quoted here, p. 9 and 92). In seven chapters of unequal coverage, the author leads up to an epilogue on “monetary culture.”

Monetization is generally taken as an indicator of acculturation; as a consequence its definition is as important as our ability to describe a “monetized” culture. von Reden expands the definition by arguing from the inclusion of bullion, jewelry etc. in early coin hoards that these objects had monetary function as well, and that monetization would have expanded with or without the invention of coinage. This is almost certainly true of bullion, not necessarily so for other objects.

Ch. 2 turns to cases, particularly that of Athens. Here the pivotal role of Solon—not in coinage, but in monetization— is highlighted. It is argued that the abolition of debt-bondage, and its replacement by contractual tenancy, promoted the use of coin; and that monetization was furthered by an increase in output (though not a “massive” one as at p. 39) after the success in the Persian Wars, and again after ca. 450 at the height of the Athenian empire. Certainly there is plenty of evidence for the use of coin (some described on p. 41) in the late fifth century.

The second case is that of Egypt which, as is well known, had no coinage of its own before Alexander.

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