Category Archives: numismatics

Name in Print XXXI: those aren’t folles

I owe apologies for sporadic blogging again; it’s been a difficult couple of weeks, is all I can say, and also that forthcoming posts need photographs I haven’t yet processed. But we’re getting there, and to start with here’s the post I realised that I hadn’t written in the last post, announcing my almost-most-recent publication. This is one of those insider stories, kind of. You may remember I gave a paper in China looking at the Emperor Anastasius’s reform of the Roman-or-Byzantine base-metal coinage and suggesting that it was not in fact a popular move at the time? If, for some reason, you’ve actually read that, which bearing in mind that the official version is in Chinese with English footnotes might, I grant you, be difficult—there is an English text online here—you’ll know that there’s a kind of throwaway section near the end suggesting that the reform coins of 40-nummi which we usually call folles probably weren’t called that at the time.1

Copper-alloy 40-nummi coin of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople in 498-512, Birmingham, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, B0036

Copper-alloy 40-nummi coin of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople in 498-512, Birmingham, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, B0036

So that was as far as I had intended to take that. Every time I write something numismatic I think it will be the last thing, and then someone asks me for another paper and I can’t refuse them for some reason. This time the reason was that there was being constructed a volume of articles in honour of Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, one of the most important numismatists in Catalonia and someone whose work I helped see into English back when I worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum.2 After presenting that work in Catalonia, I met Jaume Boada, who nowadays edits the journal of the Societat Catalana d’Estudis Numismàtics, Acta Numismàtica, which En Miquel started and was therefore the best place to publish essays in his honour, and Jaume very kindly thought I should be in it. That happened in mid-2021, and I thought that he was right and I should. But the only thing I even possibly had was the idea that folles weren’t called folles.

Cover of Acta Numismàtica 52 (2022), Homenatge al Dr. Miquel Crusafont

Cover of Acta Numismàtica Vol. 52, Homenatge al Dr. Miquel Crusafont (Barcelona 2022),

For some reason I was worried this wouldn’t make much of an article. By the time I’d worked it up, however, it had become almost 9,000 words, with a table and stuff, and had meant not just quite a lot of reading of really bad metrology (A. H. M. Jones was indubitably a brilliant historian – but never ever trust his sums!3) but also doing that thing that we can now do to perform an end-run on almost all older scholarship, that is, electronic search of digital corpora, which led me into having to handle both Greek and papyri, sometimes together, neither of which are things in which I have any real training. If this all worked out, it’s only because of the work of Roger Bagnall and because of two incomparable databases, and the Perseus Digital Library Word Study Tool, which have allowed me to mobilise the brains of others to patch what I don’t know in a way that scholars of twenty years ago just couldn’t have done.4 Even so I’ve already found one mistake, which I can only hope doesn’t get perpetuated, and rested part of my argument on an old article by Michael Hendy which I have subsequently learned is now considered not to be right, a rare thing for Hendy.5 But for all that, I think I might still be right, overall. So what does it say?

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Follis or follaron? The name of the Byzantine coin of 40 nummi" in Acta numismàtica Vol. 52 (Barcelona 2022), pp. 225–248

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Follis or follaron? The name of the Byzantine coin of 40 nummi" in Acta numismàtica Vol. 52 (Barcelona 2022), pp. 225–248

Well, here’s the abstract I sent in:

The standard term for a Byzantine base-metal coin is follis, but this word is older than the coins that numismatists so name, meaning especially a bagged amount of currency, a usage which overlapped with the coins. This article shows that when the first such coins were introduced, in the reform of Anastasius I in 498 CE, contemporaries in fact called them follares, not folleis. The article sets out the evidence for this, and disarms apparent evidence for the term follis as meaning coins. It concludes that numismatists and curators should probably abandon the term follis for coins before at least the reign of Justin II (565-85 CE).

World-changing? Perhaps not. But the people it was meant for liked it and that’s what counts. Of course, none of them are normally concerned with Byzantine coinage, and in that respect this was an odd place to put the article.6 But I wouldn’t have written it if these people hadn’t asked! So maybe by mentioning it here I can start getting the word out more widely. I haven’t actually put it online, which I realise doesn’t help, but for those that need it I can probably find a file to send you…

1. 加莱特乔纳森, ‘拜占庭帝国的市场交易与阿纳斯塔修斯一世的货币改革’, transl. 张 月, in 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (北京 2021), pp. 266–276 at pp. 275-276.

2. Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: The Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013).

3. And specifically the sums in A. H. M. Jones, “The Origin and Early History of the Follis” in Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 49 (London 1959), pp. 34–38, where for example over pp. 36-38 he had to found a sum on the premise that pork prices in Rome were the same in 363 and 452 (p. 36) despite the fact that he admitted massive inflation over the period (p. 37) and documented prices twice as high in Egypt in between (p. 38), and I’m afraid it’s almost all like that.

4. The Bagnall work specifically Roger S. Bagnall, Currency and Inflation in Fourth Century Egypt, Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists Supplement 5 (Chico CA 1985), found online here, a really helpful little book.

5. That being Michael F. Hendy, “On the Administrative Basis of the Byzantine Coinage c. 400-c. 900 and the Reforms of Heraclius” in University of Birmingham Historical Journal Vol. 12 (Birmingham 1970), pp. 129–154, which I now find overthrown by work such as Andrei Gandila, “Free Market, Black Market or No Market? Money and Annona in the Northeastern Balkans (Sixth to Seventh Century)” in Journal of Late Antiquity Vol. 14 (Baltimore MD 2021), pp. 294–334, not someone I carelessly gainsay! Neither was Hendy, of course, but as we have seen even Homer could nod.

6. Citation for you: Jonathan Jarrett, “Follis or follaron? The name of the Byzantine coin of 40 nummi” in Acta numismàtica Vol. 52 (Barcelona 2022), pp. 225–248.

Stock Take VII: research I can’t do

The industrial relations situation between university employers and employees in the UK is getting increasingly surreal. On Friday, with more strikes called for next week, they were paused because progress in the negotiations had got to a point where some goodwill gesture was required. But because ACAS is involved, these negotiations are confidential. Now part of the University and Colleges Union regards this as capitulation with nothing concrete gained and is protesting against the Union leadership. Presumably at this point I am teaching on Tuesday, but it’s not clear. Meanwhile, I wrote most of this on Thursday, while quite angry, and then thought I’d better defang it after I’d slept, and the result is what you have below.

Between 2007 and 2009, when this blog was very young and had not succeeded in its then-primary purpose of helping me land an academic job, I did occasional reflexive posts on my academic progress and projects, I guess in order to help me understand where I should be focusing my efforts. I think I would now tell that version of myself that I needed to focus on my actual applications and being positive about everything, but some sort of sense that I’m due another evaluation has been settling on me over the last little while, I suppose since the pandemic, when my employers first told us to stop research and focus on what really mattered, i. e. teaching. They never did rescind that instruction, I should say, but it has come up again during the current industrial dispute. Since this runs along with the threat of 100% pay deduction until the teaching has happened as well, despite the progress towards a settlement at national level, it’s clear where we have got to, and that’s here:

Not, I should say, that it seems as if many people in charge have seen that film. So I wondered, in the light of all this, how my research goals have fared and are faring since I started this job, since as you know it hasn’t all worked out. At first, I thought that the best way to do this would be first to see what had happened with the stuff in the last Stock Take post. Now, as it happens, firstly, that post was private, so you can’t see it; and secondly, most of the stuff in there on which I was seriously working came out in 2011-2013, and then a few more fell out in 2019-2021 because I used them to bargain passing my probation. But it didn’t seem worth going through that when they were all reported here. I also looked at my research goals file, which I hadn’t opened since 2019. The sad thing there is that, while I could now add new plans to it, and change some priorities maybe, nothing can be deleted; nothing in there has moved at all since then. And then I looked at what else has come out since 2011 which was not part of any of these plans, and found it to be two book chapters in Catalan, a book review, two numismatic conference papers (one in Chinese) and a numismatic article that I haven’t even mentioned here (must fix that!), all round roughly the same topic, and a collaborative historiographical article, plus one more book chapter currently in press. And I thought, I don’t need to list all these for you again and what would the interest be anyway?

So instead, I thought I would just take the projects which are in some sense on public record, because they have appeared in my sidebar here as things I am actually working on, and just say when they started, what state they’re in and what if any hope of publication they have, because this time, I’m not taking stock of what I ought to be working on; I’m taking stock of what I can’t. This is the stuff there’s no hope of me giving the world until the silly situation the UK academy has got itself into is at least partially resolved. It’s not going to make any minister cry, but it upsets me somewhat. So this is a vent; please forgive, and something more palatable will follow.

In setting this up, of course, even I have to admit that my plans are never completely realistic, and there is stuff in this list I probably haven’t even tried to work on since first mentioning it or presenting it. So I’ve divided this into two categories, and they express how I accept or don’t that unrealism…

Not My Fault (I Would If I Could)

  • Agent of Change: Count Borrell II of Barcelona (945-993) and his Times: well, you’ve heard this story, and this is still my official first priority; but there isn’t any more of it actually written than there was in 2017, there are a lot of documents still to process, as well as the reading which might get it past the reviewers…;
  • “Aizó of Ausona: the identity of the rebel of Roda de Ter, 826”, first written as a blog post in 2009, already, but first properly researched and written up 2014, sent out 2015 and flat-rejected, my first time ever; I still think it’s basically sound, though, so it has had some peer feedback and minor revisions since then but not the final edit to make it ready for somewhere else; it basically exists, and was last revised January 2021, but now needs my new knowledge about the supposed Jewish garrison of Osona built in too;
  • “Critical diplomatic: a tool for analysing medieval societies”, ultimately derived from the first chapter of my thesis of 2005, presented 2009 and sent out in that form, came back wanting major revisions which I then wasn’t equipped to do but now might be, the how-to-use charters several people have asked me to point them to but which doesn’t exist in English;
  • De Administrandis Marcis: The 10th-Century Frontier with Islam seen from Barcelona and Byzantium”, given as a conference paper in 2015, bound for the first Rethinking the Medieval Frontier volume if that ever occurs but ready to go in and of itself, after some minor updates probably;
  • “Documents that Shouldn’t Survive: Preservation from before the Archive in Catalonia and Elsewhere”, first presented as a Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic paper way back when, in 2007 I think, but not used for the resulting volume on the basis that I was only allowed one chapter (which was, I admit, the longest); revised 2011, since then I have been reading for it now and then, mostly of course the volume of which it might also have been part, and did a skeleton redraft in late 2021, but would have to read a bit more to make it go now; probably my second most practical to resuscitate;
  • “Heartland and Frontier from the Perspective of the Banu Qasi, 825-929”, my second Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, presented 2016, basically complete, may actually now have a home to go to and of course I can’t do anything to send it there;
  • “Keeping it in the Family? Consanguineous Marriage and the Counts of Barcelona, Reviewed”, arisen out of work on Agent of Change above, more or less a critical review of the early medieval part of Martin Aurell, Les noces du comte : mariage et pouvoir en Catalogne (785-1213), Série histoire ancienne et médiévale 32 (Paris 1995); needs more reading to make it clearer why it needs doing for anyone other than me, and hasn’t been brought together as a piece rather than as bits of a chapter about something else, but I’d still like to;
  • Miles or militia: war-service and castle-guard in tenth-century Catalonia”, first presented 2014; sent out as a probation requirement in 2017, and accepted but subject to revisions it’s never been possible to carry out the research for; this one is very much "not my fault";
  • “Our Men on the March: middle-men and the negotiation of central power in three early medieval contexts”, 2017 Rethinking the Medieval Frontier paper, bound for the second of those volumes if that ever happens, which is at least some distance off for now;
  • “Pictlands: rethinking the composition of the Pictish polity”: based in some sense on this blog-post, exists only as outline notes, and not something I’ve worked on properly for decades, but so much exciting new stuff has been happening in the field lately that I have been reading some of it, in my spare time (really), which makes it the only one of these obviously likely to emerge just now…;1
  • “The ‘Heathrow Hoard’: an emblematic case of antiquities trafficking”, as described here, something I would like to do more with but which derives ultimately from work by someone else whose cooperation I would ideally have and can’t get; exists as their work plus a catalogue by me that really needs checking against the collection, currently impossible.

My Fault (I Haven’t Even Tried)

  • All that Glitters: the Byzantine solidus 307-1092: much blogged here, but not much advanced since then; it would ideally be both an article and a book/catalogue, but it means either coordinating six people or doing it rogue and so far I haven’t mustered strength or permission to do either;
  • “Arabic-named communities in ninth- and tenth-century Asturias and León, at court and at home”, whose story was told here long ago and which hasn’t changed;
  • “Brokedown palaces or Torres dels Moros? Finding the fisc in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, a paper given in summer 2013 and not touched since then;
  • Churchmen and the Church in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010, a sort of holding title for a possible book based on the various papers I gave in 2013 about Montpeità and its priests, filled out with my other thoughts about monastery foundation and church structures in this area as a kind of partner to my first book; I haven’t done anything with this since May 2015;
  • “Identity of Authority in pre-Catalonia around the end of the Carolingian succession”: to be honest, this is a more of a project folder than an actual work, though I would like to do something under this title at some point, perhaps as a book conclusion;
  • “Legends in their own Lifetime? The late Carolingians and Catalonia”, presentation version of “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion” as mentioned last post, presented 2008, sent out 2010 and has sat ever since that experience bar some updates in 2014; hard to blame anyone else for this;
  • “Neo-Goths, Mozarabs and Kings: chronicles versus charters in tenth-century León”, basically the same as “Arabic-named communities” above;
  • “The Carolingian Succession to the Visigothic Fisc on the Spanish March”, although presented in 2010 also more of a project than a paper and not one I’ve been pursuing.

And so at the end of that, what do we conclude? Well, to me it looks as if, though some things I’d like to do have just been stopped for a long time, I was still generating new work till 2017 or so, still able to generate conference papers on new topics until about 2018, and in numismatics until 2019 somehow, and then everything bogged down and hasn’t got better. I’ve managed to finish a few things already in process, and I can carry on doing that if pressed, but I’m not making more.

It also, of course, looks as ever as if I think I am working on far too many things at once and feel as if I am working on none. But it is frustrating, to have this many things one would like to say, and to find one’s mouth stopped by other duties too far to say them as anything other than Internet asides. I don’t see how even the current crisis can solve this problem of the university sector; but I do wonder how anyone else is still managing.

1. The most obvious things that have changed the picture here is the work of the Northern Picts Project, whose work is mostly collected in Gordon Noble & Nicholas Evans (edd.), The King in the North: The Pictish Realms of Fortriu and Ce. Collected Essays Written as Part of the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts Project (Edinburgh 2019), but there’s also Alice E. Blackwell (ed.), Scotland in Early Medieval Europe (Leiden 2019) and quite a few monographs, none of which as far as I can tell from abstracts and descriptions say what I want to say, but I will have to, you know, check.

For Some of the Gold in China

In November 2019, somehow, despite being in the middle of teaching and just before going on strike, that continuous impoverishing recreation we academics keep having to have, I managed to do something I probably now won’t do again for a long time, which was, go to China. For much of 2018 and 2019, as you’ll have been picking up, I had been making friends in Chinese academic circles, where I am known if at all as a specialist in Byzantine coinage, and as I have distantly mentioned because of its proceedings coming out, at about this point one of these friends got me and m’colleague Dr Rebecca Darley onto the bill of a conference at the National Museum of China, in Běijīng, called “Coinage and Empire: the Influence and Changes of Coins in the International Perspectives”. The timing wasn’t great; but it seemed like the sort of opportunity I shouldn’t turn down. Now, the world has changed, in oh so many ways and so on, but since this is where the backlog has reached and since I still did it, it should be recounted.*

Now, you may remember from my first conference trip to China that I was very impressed by the country and the academic provision, especially but not just of tea. Of course I was meant to be impressed; the relevant international centre of a high-ranking but provincial university was keen to make a good show to its foreign visitors, and I appreciated it. The National Museum of China did the whole conference thing equally grandly, and it was still pretty international (a speaker from Japan, one from Russia, one from France and three from the UK), but on this occasion I’m not sure we foreigners were the audience for the showing-off so much as some of the things being shown off, and the actual conference was much more of a Chinese affair than the previous one had been. This manifested itself in several ways. Firstly, we didn’t get an English-language programme; instead, Dr Helen Wang of the British Museum sent round a scratch translation of it to the other foreigners attending a few days before we departed, for which we were suitably grateful. Likewise, at the conference itself, there was not so much of the translated summaries after papers that had been managed on the previous occasion; instead, we were stationed next to one of those aforesaid friends each and they gave us sotto voce explanations of what was going on, which varied considerably in depth along with their own interest (“Oh, you don’t care about this, it’s Ming”, and so on). And lastly, the fashion of the day was to use slides simply to put up a text of one’s paper as one gave it, which in hànzì you can just about do as you talk because of how dense they are semantically. This all combined with the jetlag to mean that I had between a sketchy idea and no idea at all of what some of the papers were about. Some of the speakers, to whom I was extremely grateful, had used their slides to give a précis in English of their Chinese paper, but it wasn’t very many. So this account is what I could get out of all that, minus what sense I now can’t make of my notes and less the memory loss of three years plus. But there was still some interesting stuff being said. This is how it broke down, in translation anyway.

13th November 2019

The Reasons for the Formation of the Two Different Coinages in the East and the West, and the Impact on their Social, Economic and Financial Development

  • Huang Xiquan, “Seeing Power Struggles over Land in Coins”, in Chinese, of which all I could parse was that he was at one point reading the characters off the early ‘spade’ money;
  • He Ping, “King Jing of Zhou’s Casting of Large Coins and Chinese Coin-Issuing Principles and Systems”, in Chinese, of which all I got was that in 124 BC Chinese authorities (presumably the Han) took the new step of issuing a multiple coin for the first time and the economy crashed because of it;
  • Georges Depeyrot, “The Question of Metal in Europe”, in English
  • Wang Liyan, “Evolution of Gold in Ancient Chinese Monetary Systems and its Structure”, in Chinese
  • Zhou Weirong, “Response”, in Chinese
  • So obviously the ones I could engage with here were the papers by Professor Depeyrot and Dr Wang. The former was a determined attempt to read all of European economic history until not far short of the present day as being determined by availability of bullion. It was entertaining, but my notes are covered in quarrelsome asterisks where he said, for example, that coinage paid to barbarians was often converted to jewellery leaving them short of money, that there was no silver available in Western Europe between the 7th and 13th centuries (which would have been news to the miners of Melle and Harz, I imagine!), that the Huns and Mongols supplied silver to the West instead, and that gold arrived in China from Japan rather than from the West meaning that we have no documentation of it. He also appeared to think that the United Kingdom still runs on a gold standard. For all these reasons, I couldn’t really accept the thesis as presented. I learnt more from Professor Wang, who informed us that although pretty much all Chinese coinage has pretty much always been base-metal, actually the Qin, Han, Tang, Song, Ming and Qing all made occasional use of gold currency units, varying from small ‘pots’ known as ‘horse-foot money’ and simple ingots and bars through gold cash to leaves. It was all special-purpose money, and I would love to have heard more about what those purposes were, but even gathering that this stuff existed was a start.

3 gold horse-hoof ingots on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

3 gold horse-hoof ingots on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, but excavated from the tomb of Marquis Haihun in Nanchang, Jiangxi, and lent by the Jiangxi Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

I couldn’t gather what the title of the second session was, but this was it…

  • Zhou Weirong, “The Influence of Silk Road Trade on China’s Currency Structure and System”, in Chinese, which pointed out the rather rarer instances of silver coinage or bullion units in Chinese monetary history, but out of which I got little else;
  • Wang Yongsheng, “The Relationship between Kings and Currency, as seen in Xi Xia Coins”, in Chinese, where I got nothing; my notes aren’t even sure that this was actually the paper which got delivered;
  • Zhou Xiang, “On Dachao Tongbao Coins”, in Chinese, and of which all I got was the way in which Mongol rule brought Islamic patterns of coinage, including die-struck silver ones with square frames like Ayyubid ones, to China for some purposes—and again, I wish I could say what purposes;
  • Wang Jijie, “On 50-liang Silver Ingots of Tianqi Year 1 and Grain Taxes in the Ming Dynasty”, in Chinese and presumably, from the title, a quite closely-focused argument, but I’m afraid that all my notes record is that I was impressed by the ingots;
  • Zhang Anhaq, “On the Prohibition of Coins in Shunzhi Year 3”, in very fast Chinese with no real help from visuals, so sorry, I know no more;
  • He Ping, “Response”, in Chinese
Qing-Dynasty 50-liang silver ingot

Qing-Dynasty 50-liang silver ingot, image from LiveAuctioneers (linked through) so presumably now in private hands

The Track of Coin Exchanges among the Countries and the Influence of Chinese Currency on Other Country’s Currency

  • Lan Rixu, “The Evolution and Characteristics of Silk Road Coins”, in Chinese, of which I have no notes;
  • Yang Juping, “The Century’s Research on Lead Cakes with Foreign Inscriptions”, in Chinese
  • Rebecca Darley, “A Third Way? Currency Production in India from Antiquity to the Middle Ages in a Global Context”, in English;
  • Li Xiaojia & Lin Ying, “On Changes in the Crowns on Sasanian Coins”, in Chinese, explaining the fact that each Sasanian shah of Iran was denoted on his (or indeed her) coins by a different crown, and that sometimes there was even a kind of reign reset with a new crown for the reigning shah;
  • Lin Ying, “Response”, in Chinese
  • Here, as you can tell, the papers I can say anything about are Professor Yang’s and Rebecca’s, I mean Dr Darley’s. Professor Yang was dealing with a certain peculiar type of round lead ingot stamped with characters identifying them as belonging to the Han Wudi Emperor, but also others which have been read as Bactrian, Parthian and several other languages by various Western scholars. Yang pointed out that Chinese scholars have always been pretty clear that they are Chinese as well, meaning roughly ’28 Mansions’ which has Zodiacal significance, and now there have been silver ones found with a different Chinese inscription as well, so whatever they are it probably started in China; thankyou very much. Even though I was following this largely from slides it was still an entertaining slam-dunk of a paper. Rebecca, meanwhile, was posing a third way of ancient peoples having ‘done’ coinage between the Western precious-metal and the East Asian fiat currency tax systems, in the form of the silver punch-mark coins of the South Asian Mauryan Empire of the 5th to 1st centuries BC. Their immense variation within broad characteristics – flat bits of metal, usually rectangular, marked with up to four punched symbols and a load of extra use marks, which carried on being used and imitated long after their initiating empire had collapsed – she argued were a non-state, socially-negotiated, ‘discursive’ coinage system which she likened to early English pennies or Viking arm-rings. This paper, sadly, wasn’t in the proceedings, but I hope it comes out eventually.

Karshapana of Pushyamitra Sunga struck at Vidisha in 185–149 BCE,

Punch-marked karshapana of Pushyamitra Sunga struck at Vidisha in 185–149 BCE, photo by Jean-Michael Moullec, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Then there was a tea-break, and straight back to more of the same session!

  • The first paper in this session wasn’t either of the two that had been on the translated programme I had, and all I can tell you about it is that it was about exhibiting money. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could have, because the next paper was…
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “‘He will ruin many from among the people’: market exchange in the Byzantine Empire and the reform of Emperor Anastasius I”, which you have heard about, so I won’t go on about here as well; then
  • Cao Guangsheng, “Sogdian Coins and New Perspectives on the Exchange and Integration of East and West Cultures in the Han to Tang Period”, in Chinese, informing us that the Central Asian Sogdian peoples imitated pretty much every coinage that reached them in their own issues but that this included Chinese cash, which even wound up being cast with local mint-marks from other systems on them;
  • Zhao Xiaoming, “Looking at the Differences between East and West Coinages to See Connections between Money and Economy”, in Chinese, between the which and mounting jetlag I got nothing from this, sorry;
  • Guo Yunyan, “Gold Money-Like Plaques on the Silk Road”, distinguishing as Guo does three levels of use of Byzantine-style money on the Silk Routes, actual Byzantine coins, close imitations and one-sided foil ‘plaques’ or ‘bracteates’, the question this raises being whether they all counted as, or were being used as, coins, or something else?1
  • And then there was a further paper at the end not on the original program, and I got nothing from that either I’m afraid…

Gold bracteate imitation of a Byzantine solidus made in Central Asia during or after the fifth century CE

Gold bracteate imitation of a Byzantine solidus made in Central Asia during or after the fifth century CE, BactriaNumis Z-156956, now in private hands

By the next day I was doing a bit better, but my notes suggest that the problem was not just jetlag, alas, as there were still many papers I didn’t get much of.

Theme 4

  • Li Xiuying, “On the Sasanian Coins in the Shouzhou Museum”, in Chinese, and overrunning, but they do indeed have some Sasanian and indeed Arab-Sasanian coins in that there museum;
  • Li Shuhui, “On Cotton Money in the Western Regions”, in Chinese, of which I wish I could say I had got anything as it sounds interesting, but sadly I did not;
  • Li Xiao, “History of Greek-Indian Relations – Focussing on the Bilingual Coins”, in Chinese but with helpful slides and more or less a history of Indo-Greek and Bactrian coins, on which I have scatty notes that probably don’t serve you better than a good work on the subject;2
  • Li Xiaoping, “Questions Relating to Money in Foreign Trade during the Yuan Dynasty”, in Chinese, on which my notes, do with this what you can, read, “Lots of pay of goods and ingots but no help for banking”;
  • Wang Xianguo, “China’s Early Silver Money and the Formation of the Silver Liang System”, in Chinese, on which I have nothing;
  • Wang Yongsheng, “Response”

And finally!


  • Li Qiang, “Eastward Journey of Byzantine Gold Coins – Textual and Archaeological Evidence”, in Chinese but with helpful slides and of course on a topic familiar to me;
  • Qi Xiaoyan, “From China to Central Asia: Sogdian Imitations of Kaiyuan Tongbao Coins”, in Chinese, hitting roughly the same points as Cao Guangsheng the previous day, though my notes don’t suggest I had any memory of that… ;
  • Huang Wei, “Foreign Trade in the Ming Dynasty and Silver Money”, in Chinese; “Oh, you don’t care about this, it’s Ming”…;
  • Liu Zhentang, “Seeing Western Power in Ancient Coin Power”, in Chinese, and I have no idea, sorry;
  • Shi Jilong, “Developments in Banknote Printing and Distribution”, in Chinese but actually as much about paper-making technology as anything else, interesting;
  • Helen Wang, “Displaying Money of the World at the British Museum”, in English with a Chinese introduction, giving a very short history of the British Museum’s coin collections, saying what the display philosophy relating to coins now is (which is, they’re in all galleries) and explaining the development of the Money Gallery itself;3
  • Tong Chunyan, “The Concept of the Exhibition ‘Money and Kingship: Influences and Changes from a World Perspective”, in Chinese, and I’m sorry, nothing;
  • Huo Hiongwei, “Closing Remarks”, in Chinese.
  • I confess that by the time this finished, I was ready to stop the effort to show some kind of understanding of that which I really was not understanding. I do have quite thick notes on Li Qiang’s paper, however, which took a broader view of the imitation of Byzantine gold coins in areas eastwards of the Empire than had some others. It was actually quite a widespread phenomenon, covering India to Mongolia with at least something on most major landmasses between, imitating rulers from Theodosius II to Tiberius III so over four centuries with the end coming at different times in different areas. He had lots of broad detail about location, as well, making it clear where this was literally marginal behavior (certainly in China, along the northern frontiers or where the Great Wall is) or just occasional (like Mongolia, where almost all of the known specimens are out of one particular tomb). The interesting thing, however, is that while most of what people have found is gold, the Sogdian and Chinese texts both suggest there should have been much more silver and talk about that as if it was currency. In this respect the texts and the archaeology don’t agree and the non-genuine coins seem to have been more integrated into currency systems than the real ones, but Byzantium still obviously had a cachet that made its coins worth imitating or owning.

This paper, frustratingly, is not in the conference proceedings either, as far as I can tell, possibly because Qiang had already published a version of it a little while before; but then, if it had been there, it’s not as if I could read it!4 But for now, it’s not a bad place to wrap up the conference report.
Now, when proceedings were over and lunch was served, we began to go our separate ways but part of this experience was a tour around the National Museum itself, an eye-opening experience. My overall recollection is that repeatedly, I looked at something and thought, ‘oh, it’s a bit like that Western thing that probably does the same job’ and then found that the Chinese specimen was about half a millennium older; it was difficult not to leave with the impression that everything happened or developed in China first. Of course it’s a national museum, that is surely the point; but they did have the material with which to do it…

Obverse of a Yuan stele bearing Pan Di, "Pronunciation and Meaning of the Stone Drums (shiguwen Yinxun)", from 1339 CE

One side of a Yuan stele bearing the inscription of a treatise by Pan Di whose title translates as ‘Pronunciation and Meaning of the Stone Drums (shiguwen Yinxun)’, from 1339 CE. I just love that this is epigraphy about understanding epigraphy. Photograph by Rebecca Darley, as apparently I just plain forgot to take my camera on this trip!

The next day, we got taken to another museum by one of the archaeologists who had been present at the conference, who between his own efforts and those of an English-speaking student of his was able to give us a fascinating account of some of the Silk Road sites he had dug at, and where we were wistfully sure we would never be able to go, the kind of frontier cities Owen Lattimore had written about in a fargone time before…5
Reverse of a Yuan stele bearing Pan Di, "Pronunciation and Meaning of the Stone Drums (shiguwen Yinxun)", from 1339 CE

Reverse of the same stele, image again by Rebecca Darley.

The last thing we did, in the afternoon of that free day, was visit the Forbidden City. We wandered round it marvelling till chucking-out time, slowly finding our way and understanding bits of how an empire could be ruled from here and also how, if you never took your people outside its walls, it couldn’t, and how completely isolated the lives of the last Qing emperors must have been here. Of course, again, I am not blind to the fact that access to this space was opened up by a revolution whose basis included the alleged unfitness of this ancien régime to govern any more, and that the curation of the site has only that purpose; but it is therefore a pretty powerful thing that what was once actually a forbidden city is now a public space (subject to search, scan and a reasonably hefty admission price anyway). I now feel very lucky to have seen it, since I can’t imagine what circumstances would now take me back there – and I do wish I had some photographs – but it was a good and remarkably peaceful way to conclude a manic trip across the world and back to talk about coins.

* It may not be fashionable to have friends in China any more, but on this score my guidance has been, since it happened to me, a conversation with a Russian colleague who had only just made it to a conference because of trouble over getting a visa. Embarrassed as I so often am by the Home Office’s obstacles to academic visitors to the country, I began apologising for Britain and he stopped me with a hand on my arm, and said, as I remember it: “Please. You understand that we Russians know that there is a difference between the government of a country and its people.” I still felt obliged to assure him I hadn’t voted for the lot in office, but his assurance has stayed with me as a model.

1. Guo’s work is more widely available in English than many a Chinese scholar’s, and you could consult whichever you can get of Guo Yunyan, “Bracteates with Byzantine coin patterns along the Silk Road” in Fabio Guidetti and Katherine Meinecke (edd.), A Globalised Visual Culture? Towards a Geography of Late Antique Art (Oxford 2020), pp. 341–356, or Guo Yunyan, “Classification of Byzantine Gold Coins and Imitations Found in China” in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 207–240, though her classification goes all the way back to Guo Yunyan, “A General Overview of Byzantine Coins & Their Imitations Found in China” in Eirene: Studia graeca et latina Vol. 41 (Praha 2005), pp. 87–116, whole issue online here.

2. This is not my area of expertise, but at the moment the most obvious Western starting point I know for these coinages is A. Cunningham, Coins of Alexander’s Successors in the East (Bactria, Ariana & India) (Chicago IL 1969), which I found online here.

3. The BM regarded the Money Gallery as a sufficiently big project that they published a volume about making it: see John Orna-Ornstein (ed.), Development and evaluation of the HSBC Money Gallery at the British Museum, British Museum Occasional Papers 140 (London 2001).

4. 李强, “拜占庭金币东方之旅” in 光明日报 (14 August 2017), p. 14.

5. Things like Owen Lattimore, “A Ruined Nestorian City in Inner Mongolia” in The Geographical Journal Vol. 84 (London 1934), pp. 481-497, DOI: 10.2307/1785929, reprinted in Owen Lattimore, Studies in Frontier History: Collected Papers, 1928 – 1958 (London 1962), online here, pp. 221–240; but the most amazing of these I have found so far is actually M. Aurel Stein, Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan: Personal Narrative of a Journey of Archæological & Geographical Exploration in Chinese Turkestan (London 1903), online here.


Links like it’s 2009

This week has piled up into the weekend rather and I can’t put the time into a blogpost that I managed with the previous two. But the last post arose out of a random thing I found on the Internet, and I remember when this used to be the primary matter of the blogosphere (back when we still called it that). You could have not just whole posts, but entire blogs, whose sole purpose was to communicate the locations of things elsewhere on the Internet to your readers. (And to be fair, the two I used to rely on most, Anglo-Saxon Archaeology and Archaeology in Europe are still out there and posting and looking useful.) So let’s this week go back to those halcyon days: I’ve been piling up random links against such a moment since December 2019, it seems, so I’m ready!

Firstly, here’s something some friends of mine in faraway places did in a closer one, which as you might guess involves coins.
Next, this seems to be what, in 2009, we would still have been calling a macro generator, but it has been sourced with quite a lot of medieval manuscript images. Now, given how some archives protect their image rights, it’s surprising that any have contributed to this, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? Is this a good way to publicise the Middle Ages and your archive, or a bad one?
Then, this news story almost got a post of its own, because it made me quite cross at the time I saw it: it seemed to me to ignore some basic requirements of the form of land transactions and the fact that Latin is an Indo-European language and so, yes, shares some root words with Sanskrit. Moreover, I was pretty sure the researchers in question knew these things and were therefore selling old rope to the national newspapers to drum up press for their project. But, on the other hand, I personally would love to do a project comparing European and Indian charters, and they put a book of essays resulting from the project out for free download here, so an alternative view is that I should shut my trap and admire the scholarship and the salesmanship…
This story caught me personally in a different way, because only a year earlier I’d been to the relevant place (as the blog will soon enough record) and of course hadn’t seen the amazing prehistoric deer carving. No-one modern had at that point, indeed, and that turns out from the article to be because to find it you have to be the kind of person who slides into subterranean Neolithic tombs at night with a torch just to have a look. But give him his due, he found and reported it…
I would have had even less chance of making this discovery, given it was fairly deep in a German river-bed, but still, it’s always pretty cool to find a medieval ship.
This one, on the other hand, when it came up in September this year, I almost wished they hadn’t discovered, as when I found the story I’d just written the Ardnamurchan boat burial that we discussed here ages ago into a lecture I was giving that week as the only mainland British viking boat burial. Still technically true, I guess, but now it looks as if it wasn’t a one-off, and I am agog to see more when they actually are able to dig the others.
Then lastly, one always loves a story that looks bats enough that even the reporters want to stress scholarly disagreement, doesn’t one? And bats turns out to be an operative word, because we’re talking Maya rulers playing their equivalent of lawn tennis with the cremated remains of their predecessors. This struck me as being far enough off the map of the humanly probable that I went looking and wasn’t at all surprised to find that the webpage had already been taken down. But that turned out to be a mean suspicion, as it had just moved on its host website as it came off the front page. You need to read Spanish to see what the actual proponents think; but as the original news story has as its subtitle, “Not all scholars are convinced by the claims”…

That must do you for today but I hope at least one of them is entertainment enough!

Visiting the dead king at Driffield

We edge towards the end of the backed-up blog material from 2019 by now, which is something of an achievement given where we’ve been, but just now we’re still there and one of the things I was doing in later 2019 was constructing a review of a book for Northern History, a journal that’s edited from my institution and to whose review editor’s plea I’m thus physically vulnerable. It was one of those things I was only just fitted to review, namely this:

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867 (British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641, Oxford, 2018).

Cover of Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian landscape and economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 641 (Oxford 2018).

Of the book as a whole, you can see the actual review, which came out almost immediately after I’d submitted it, in volume 56 over pages 162-165, and here I’ll just say that it was such a work as I couldn’t review properly without begging for more words, which is why that runs over four pages.1 But there were loads of interesting things in there, and this post is about one of them, an analysis of the early medieval coin finds from Driffield in North Yorkshire where I don’t think Abramson quite goes all the way to the end of his logical thread.

Abramson’s method in the book is to characterise sites by their coins profile as compared to the profile of their other material culture. The statistical interpretation he does with this is one of the reasons my review was so long, but Abramson is a man full of curiosity and he tries to resolve individual cases where possible as well as fit things into a bigger pattern. And Driffield is one of a couple of sites which have a particular profile, sites with a known élite status, not very much recovered material culture to match that, and not very many coins but of those coins a surprising proportion either rare or foreign.2 In Driffield’s case the élite status derives from it having been a royal vill of the Northumbrian kings, especially King Aldfrith (685-704 CE), who was there when he died and may be buried in the church there, although the most recent excavator thinks we may not actually have found the vill.3 This implies that what we are actually seeing is the material culture profile of the church site around which the later village coalesced.

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary's Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period

Reused tombstone in the exterior wall of Saint Mary’s Little Driffield, perhaps Viking-period; photo by Robert Andrews via Historic England, linked through. I was after a photograph of the memorial to King Aldfrith inside the church but the only one I can find firmly states its copyright

So, in coin terms, that profile includes at least eleven foreign coins, and while most of those are Low Countries sceattas that got all over England, some are southern English, which is less usual, and one is a Lombard tremissis, unusual both for being Italian and gold, not a thing anyone commonly lost in the Yorkshire Wolds. Moreover, several of the local ones are types with fantastic animals on the reverse, occurring by themselves or of what Abramson calls ‘unusual style’, or both, as if they were being selected for the site somehow.4 Overall, the sample of coins at Driffield has well over the average level of rarities.

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield

Lombard pseudo-imperial tremissis in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius, perhaps struck at Pavia 582-602, MEC 301-04, found at Driffield; Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape, p. 45 fig. 6

So what’s the explanation? As close as Abramson gets is to say, with suitable caution:

“With all the caveats and constraints on interpretation, that this location is so rich in rare coinage, implies that Driffield was a site of special, not merely economic, significance, as would be expected for the final resting place of Aldfrith.”5

Now, to that my initial reaction was, “Would it? He’s not a saint or anything. Considered holier than most kings, yes, but that’s partly because he had the good luck to be around when Bede was and to have been hauled from the monastery at Iona to replace a man Bede deplored (Aldfrith’s half-brother Ecgfrith).6 But he wasn’t a monk, though he may have been a scholar. And besides, have we any sign at all that any Northumbrian king other than Oswald was culted after his death?”

St Alkmund's Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund's Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museum

St Alkmund’s Sarcophagus, from St Alkmund’s Duffield, Derby, now in Derby Museums; the image is copyright to Derby Museums but use is allowed

But then I remembered this, dear reader, as you also may do if you go back far enough on this blog. What this is fairly solid evidence of the cult after death of a Northumbrian ruler, King Ealhmund; it’s just that because we suspect that cult was set up deliberately by a king of Mercia for political reasons about 150 years later than this, it doesn’t necessarily spring to mind as a comparison. But also, I then remembered, after Aldfrith died the kingdom of Northumbria was riven by civil war, succession struggles and then eventually Vikings (one of whose victims, King Edmund of East Anglia, struck one of the southern coins that has turned up at Driffield, really very late for a Northumbrian site).7 In general, dark times followed him. Was it in fact not possible that at least some people might have looked back to the scholarly Adlfrith as the last Good King?

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Obverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria, struck 685-704 CE, found at Driffield, EMC 2006.0119

Reverse of the same coin, with one of the aforesaid fantastic beasts on it

That seems, anyway, to be what Abramson is implying by that last statement quoted: that the weird coins here are actually the consequence of numerous visits to Aldfrith’s grave. If that’s right, though, there are two further implications to be teased out, which I’m not able to do fully here but which seem at least worth indicating. Firstly, this all kind of does mean Aldfrith was being considered as a saint, in the simplest sense of being a soul in Heaven; not much point making an offering at the grave of someone whose ultimate destination means they can’t help you…8 But secondly, the fact that especially rare coins seem to have been selected for this probably needs thinking about. To someone who has the whole picture of the coinage, the implication is almost that so did its average user, that we would have here a bunch of historical collectors who, having saved this unusual specimen from the usual pell-mell of circulation, thought it a fitting gift to the royal maybe-saint. This, when actually set out, seems a bit unlikely, you may agree.

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

Silver penny struck perhaps at London 730-65 CE, from the Beowulf Collection, CNG sale 76 lot 1848

But why are those coins so rare? Is it not perhaps easier to read the logic the other way round and say: this is the kind of thing those coins were struck for, they’re rare because they were small-issue, special-purpose coinages that didn’t ordinarily circulate. There are more than a few issues, in this sceatta period of multifariously issued small silver penny coinages, which seem to have some connection with the Church; they have helpful indications like having an named archbishop on the reverse (one of which was found at Driffield) or the legend Monita scorum, as you see above, which we take to be what we’d normally spell and expand as moneta s(an)c(t)orum, ‘money of the saints’. But as our esteemed commentator Rory Naismith, who has studied these coinages, has observed, they are also rare, and they don’t seem to have had much connection with actual church sites.9 He concludes that they’re not evidence for the church as a major driver of the coinage in this period, and I think he’s right.

After this, though, I find myself wondering if their existence instead forms part of a larger pattern of special-issue coinages whose purpose would have been to be used as offerings to holy or significant sites. Should we even see the Church as competing, with its few issues, for space in an iconographic tradition happier with fantastic beasties? Odder suggestions have been made about the art of these coinages!10 But for now I have gone far enough, I think, and probably too far by many standards, so I’ll stop here.

1. Jonathan Jarrett, ‘TONY ABRAMSON, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575–867, BAR British Series 841 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. £59.00 xxi + 207 pp., inc. 161 figures, 13 graphs and 10 plates, plus 2 databases and 20 datasets online, ISBN 9781407316536)’ in Northern History Vol. 56 (Abingdon 2019), pp. 162–165, DOI: 10.1080/0078172X.2019.1678288.

2. Tony Abramson, Coinage in the Northumbrian Landscape and Economy, c. 575-c. 867, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 641 (Oxford 2018), pp. 141-142 and pp. 145-146 figs 118-124; the other site of this type is Garton-on-the-Wolds, covered p. 142 and pp. 146-147 figs 125-128.

3. Chris Loveluck, “The Development of the Anglo-Saxon Landscape, Economy and Society ‘on Driffield’, East Yorkshire, 400‒750 AD” in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 9 (Oxford 1996), pp. 25-48, cited by Abramson, Coinage, p. 141, as ‘Lovelock’ passim though with the author spelt correctly in the Bibliography. Aldfrith’s burial somewhere here is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however: I find it in Michael Swanton (transl./ed.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London 1996), E sub anno 705 (p. 41), though the location detail is not in the A Manuscript (cf. p. 40).

4. I should add at this point that one of the great things about this book is that his datasets are all freely available online, so you can if you like click this and get all his files in a ZIP, and find the coins yourself. I was in a hurry this time so didn’t, but I had a good prowl round in the review and the claimed information was always there.

5. Abramson, Coinage, p. 142.

6. For the messy background here see Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London 1990), pp. 79-86.

7. Ibid., pp. 86-98.

8. If this makes early medieval piety seem uncomfortably transactional, immerse yourself in either or both of Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 2nd edn (Malden MA 2003), pp. 145-165, or Julia M. H. Smith, “Relics: An Evolving Tradition in Latin Christianity” in Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein (eds), Saints and Sacred Matter: The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond (Washington DC 2015), pp. 41–60, online here, for more fully textured takes on the spirituality of the age as it involved saints.

9. Rory Naismith, “Money of the Saints: Church and Coinage in Early Anglo-Saxon England” in Tony Abramson (ed.), Studies in Early Medieval Coinage 3: Sifting the Evidence (London 2014), pp. 68–121.

10. I think specifically of Anna Gannon, The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage, Sixth to Eighth Centuries (Oxford, 2003), but it should be said that she reads most of these coinages as one way or another referring to Christian imagery, so by some lights her interpretations are less weird than mine just now.

A sixth-century Swedish mass murder mystery

Yesterday and today, dear readers, I have been and am on strike again, because in short none of the promises that were made to stop me and my comrades striking last time have in the end been fulfilled, so we have had to come out again to try and get across that this will keep happening if the people in charge don’t in fact deliver some kind of reasonable attention to their staff’s problems. Indeed, it is not just keeping happening, it is escalating! Last time there were sixty-odd universities; today, and tomorrow and next Wednesday, every university in the UK has picket lines up, we are all out, and not just the academics but also the other two staff unions; the whole show is stopped. Admittedly, so is every school in Scotland, so we’re struggling for attention a bit; but it’s all the same disease, public-sector workers being asked to do more than we can for less than we used to be paid and much less than we deserve for the work we put in. So today that work stops, and you get an extra blog post.

Reconstruction of fifth-century Sandby Borg, Öland, from ‘Viking Murder Mystery’, PAL in Ancient Mysteries (4, London, 15 Dec. 2021) (25 Nov. 2022)

Reconstruction of fifth-century Sandby Borg, Öland, from ‘Viking Murder Mystery’, in Ancient Mysteries, Series 4, episode 2 (London, 15 Dec. 2021), on freeview here

So this is all based on a bit less knowledge than I’d like, and some of that is my own unwillingness to find out more, which I’ll explain. But you might just remember that in November 2019, still a few months before the pandemic deluge, I briefly posted that I was going to be on television. That did happen, in the USA on the Smithsonian Channel, and much much later it seems that it did also come out in the UK on Channel 5, though no-one warned me so I couldn’t tell you. I’m still not sure when it was screened here – IMDB and Channel 5’s own site disagree – and I’ve no idea how many people saw it; all those I dealt with at the relevant company, who were all pleasures to work with, seem to have gone and I can’t get answers from the new ones. The previous incumbents did at least early on send me a video link, but I confess I haven’t ever dared look at it in case I came across like a buffoon (or worse, perhaps, a ‘boffin’), and the link is in my University e-mail which, because of the digital picket, I’m not opening. So I don’t know how much I was in it or what selection of what I said they used. A couple of people have mentioned seeing me on TV, and that must be this, but they couldn’t remember anything much about it, which doesn’t bode well… But I can tell you what it was all about, and that is a story worth telling.

Our location, then, is a place on the Swedish island of Öland, a place called Sandby borg, and the date is, well, that’s a question but let’s say after 425 and before 600 CE, and we can narrow it down in a moment. Sandby borg was not really known about until 2011, when it was first dug by a small Swedish archæological team, and what they found proved quite surprising.1 The place had been a fortress settlement, and whatever it was defending against, it had failed: the place had been breached and ruined, and there were slaughtered bodies aplenty. Some, even, had apparently been placed deliberately across the thresholds of houses before the dwellings were torched. But what had not happened was looting; though smashed, scattered and what-have-you, the material treasures of the site, weapons, ordinary belongings, metalwork, had been left where they fell, and then fires set. And then, apparently, the attackers left and no-one ever came back to it again. It’s really something like the murder and burial of a place. It disappeared under the sands and was left as it had been left at the point of the sack, until found again in “our times”.2

Drone photo of archaeological digging under way at Sandby Borg

Drone photo of the dig under way, from the team’s Facebook site, linked through

Now, you may imagine that at that point the archæologists involved realised that they were sitting on something hot, and the press got involved and so, at some remove or other, did a company called Blink Films who, among many other things, do or did content for series about historical mysteries. Most of what they do is more esoteric, shall we say, than this, but when you have actual mystery any publicity may be good publicity, I guess, and so Blink Films picked this up and went looking for experts. And, because among the finds left to lie unstolen at the site were two Roman solidi of Emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-55), or so it seemed (more on this in a moment), one of the experts they needed was a numismatist, and they found me. So I agreed to be involved, and roped in the Barber Institute, where the now-Curator Dr Maria Vrij very kindly let me and a film crew back into my old workplace and we got out some more such solidi and I tried to sound like an expert about how the ones at Sandby borg might have come there and what it meant that they had.

Gold coin and jewellery uncovered in the Sandby Borg archaeological dig

I did have pictures of the coins, but I seem to have filed them somewhere ‘safe’; instead, here is one of them, and I think it’s the imitation, in its state of discovery (or a plausible reconstruction thereof), again from the team’s Facebook site

Now, at that point I’d had about four days to read up, and that during term, so I did not know all I wanted. But I had already learnt that, firstly, late Roman coins are not uncommon finds north of the Baltic, or indeed in the northern lands beyond the Empire in general, and that they are usually explained as payment for military service, brought home by the successful soldiery.3 I’d also learned, however, that apparently this set up a sufficient demand for such gold coin in at least what’s now Sweden that it became worth making your own, because a good part of the ones which we have are imitations.4 Whether that means that there were was a circulating economy of gold coin in Scandinavia this early, or that people outside the Empire were hiring Geats as soldiers and paying them in knock-off coin when the real stuff ran short, I didn’t have time to consider; but I could say that the likely context of these coins was military service, probably under Rome, and that one of the two finds here was probably an imitation, and I got to wave real ones at the camera and talk about the differences I saw and I hope, I hope, that that’s what’s in the programme. I think I also offered a theory about what had happened to the fort, but at this remove I can’t remember what I knew and what I only found out later, so can’t safely guess what that theory would have been. I can tell you what it is now, though.

Gold solidus of Emperor Valentinian III struck at Ravenna 425-455 CE, Barber Institute of Fine Arts LR0540

Both sides of a real gold solidus of Emperor Valentinian III struck at Ravenna 426-430 CE, Barber Institute of Fine Arts LR0540

The important difference between what I knew then and what I came to know, you see, is a book by one Joan Fagerlie called Late Roman and Byzantine Solidi Found in Sweden and Denmark.5 I had started it, I had it with me and I think that’s where I had the idea of imitations from, but at point of filming I’d had no time to do more than open it and check some lists. It was sufficiently interesting, though, that I read all through it and realised that whatever I’d said on camera probably wasn’t wrong but could have been a lot better, because actually Sandby borg, both in its having these coins and in its untimely murder, turns out to have been part of a bigger phenomenon and it’s all, as my inner hippy still sometimes says, pretty heavy, man.6 These are the things I learned from Fagerlie and the other reading I also did:

  1. This coin flow was a long-term affair; even when Fagerlie was writing there were nearly 800 known coins (and of course there are now more), and their dates of issue ranged from 395 to about 600 CE, Theodosius I to Maurice, but with a very sharp falling-off after Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565). After that, indeed, Scandinavia was more or less the same as the rest of Western Europe, which basically stopped seeing imperial coinage in the troubled reigns of Phocas and Heraclius.7 But before that, it had something specific going on.
  2. Fagerlie then did a bunch of very clever deductions from the 726 of the 800-odd coins she had been able to look at. First she observed that the coins largely came from Constantinople, but also from some western mints, suggesting a flow from both halves of the Empire, and secondly she thought that it began under Emperor Leo I (r. 457-474), with anything earlier being stuff picked up from circulation (including lots of Valentinian III). And she noted that this period of maximum flow, from around 461 to about 550, pretty much coincides with when the Ostrogoths were a military quantity in the Roman Empire and then their own, but kind of not their own, kingdom of Italy. So the first clever deduction was that somehow the Ostrogoths were feeding this coin, which they perhaps obtained in tribute or salaries from the Empire, northwards, and that seems hard to dismiss.
  3. Secondly, she worked on distribution and die-links, that is, sets of coins which were struck using the same dies. This corpus is actually busy with die-links, which can only easily be explained by the coins involved having got to the north almost direct from the mint; they must have been shipped, received, paid out again and transported (apparently not through Italy but the Balkans and points north, scatters of incidental finds along the route suggest) and finally redistributed almost without being mixed with anything else. That’s interesting in itself, and tends to confirm the idea that these were state payments of some kind. Furthermore, the die-links start with the coins of Leo I, which also tends to confirm that that was a threshold of some kind and that earlier coin only came there from his time onwards. But this also lets one do something quite serious with distribution, because when you find coins with die-links that are a bit scattered, in this situation you can reasonably hypothesize that they arrived together. But where? And that’s where our stories recombine.
  4. You see, the die-links and distribution together, as Fagerlie saw it, paint a clear pattern of successive, single points of distribution into Scandinavia. The last, where the flow of coinage petered out in the 560s, was Gotland, now more famous for hoards of Islamic silver coin but apparently starting early; but the previous one, up till about 480, was Öland. And everywhere else which was getting these coins, including another island focus, Bornholm in Denmark, which has lots too, was getting them from one then the other of those islands.

Now, there is a lot here, and it’s all known just from the coins, which may explain why I’ve seen so little use of this corpus in more conventional histories. The Ostrogoths were, at least in the sixth century, apparently prone to claiming ancestry in Scandinavia: Jordanes’s Getica, which he wrote around 550 in Constantinople alongside a history of the Romans in order to prove that the two peoples had equally honourable and ancient backgrounds, claims to have this from an earlier history by Cassiodorus which no-one but him seems ever to have seen, and he only for three days; but it doesn’t matter where he had the idea from, it was there to be had.8 Now, these coins obviously don’t prove anything about a deep Gothic prehistory in Sweden; but they do show pretty sharply that there was by the sixth century a strong connection between the political entity of ‘Ostrogoth’ and the place that was by then being claimed as their homeland. And we really don’t know what that connection was, just that it was worth a lot of gold. Military service is a possible, even a likely answer to that question, but only a hypothesis even so.

Jordanes, ‘De origine actibusque Getarum (Fragment)’, Parchment, 1 f., ca. 14.5 x 18.5, Parchment leaf (Fulda, ca 830) (Lausanne, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Ms 398) (, fo 1r

One of the oldest (fragmentary) texts of Jordanes, Lausanne, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Ms 398, fo. 1r, which was probably written at Fulda around 830, itself raising questions I can’t look at here; licensed under CC BY-NC via e-Codices, linked through and here

Secondly, the other end of the connection must have been something quite specific, or perhaps someone quite specific, because apparently the peoples of these islands were the Ostrogoths’ sole agents in the area, and that must have put them in quite a powerful position, since apparently everyone else was having to come to them for this imperial gold coin which was getting everywhere around southern Scandinavia, but getting there only from Öland and then Gotland. There’s a power structure there about which we just know almost nothing, but which is required to explain the coin finds.

Now, there is one more part of this context I’ve not yet mentioned, which is that Sandby borg is not alone in its sudden destruction. In fact, pretty much every coastal fortification of this early period in either Öland or Gotland which has been investigated met a messy end, and even when Fagerlie wrote it was recognised, largely because of the coin find threshold indeed, that this must have happened in the late fifth century in Öland and in the middle-to-late-sixth for Gotland, presumably in some associated fashion each time. The latter of these waves of destruction has been tentatively explained, when at all, in terms of the takeover of the people from whom Sweden takes its name, the Svear, chasing out the Gotlanders from a previously dominant position in eastern Scandinavia, and one could therefore guess at the former wave being how the Gotlanders got that position in the first place, apparently at the expense of the Ölanders.9 In both cases, while I might not now want to endorse these pseudo-legendary peoples’ existence, it’s tempting to see that stranglehold the populations of the two islands apparently had on imperial prestige goods as being too much for their power-hungry dependents to stomach, and episodes like Sandby borg the messy and unpleasant result.

Archaeological investigation under way at Sandby Borg

The investigation under way at Sandby Borg, again from their Facebook site

So at this point, had we learned anything from the Sandby borg dig? If I’d already done my reading when I did that excited piece-to-camera in summer 2019 in the dark of the Barber’s coin room, would I have been saying confidently that this happened all the time, wasn’t unusual, in fact wasn’t even the only such coin find in Sandby or the most important one even if the actual borg hadn’t been found before, and that it told us nothing new? I don’t think so, because firstly, in terms of coin finds the finds here seem to say something different from the hoards; they were both early, separate and one’s an imitation. If Fagerlie was right then they should have arrived here maybe forty years after they were struck; and maybe they did, but I wonder if what we see here is actually the type of place these coins were going all over Scandinavia, perhaps heirlooms from service with a foreign army that it was worth having because it marked you as member of a kind of élite; and if I’m being properly fanciful, maybe the reason they stayed here was because for some reason Sandby borg’s defence included two very old soldiers who, in the end, lost their last battle, but whose status was recognised in death in so far as they got to keep their coin-badges. There have been hoards of Fagerlie’s types found nearby; but these two didn’t get hoarded, they stayed with their owners, and that might be important.

And then secondly, of course, there’s the macabre picture of how one of these settlements, apparently a casualty in a much bigger war, was not just destroyed but almost ritually ended, bodies across thresholds, buildings literally closed by the dead, and everything left where it had fallen, forever, never again to be visited. Or at least that was the plan, it seems. And that’s telling us about something more than a commercial power-grab; it’s telling us something about what that power meant and how it was explained, and if some day we figure that out properly, this site will be part of the explanation. But until then, it may remain at least mostly mystery, even though we apparently know more than many people think about the times in which the mystery was set.

1. The academic publication of these finds, until the full report at least, is Clara Alfsdotter, Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay & Helena Victor, “A Moment Frozen in Time: evidence of a late fifth-century massacre at Sandby borg” in Antiquity Vol. 92 no. 362 (London 2018), pp. 421–436, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2018.21.

2. Andrew Curry, “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480” in Archaeology (Boston MA March/April 2016), online here; “The Sandby borg massacre: Life and death in a 5th-century ringfort” in Current World Archaeology (London 25th July 2019), online here.

3. For the data see Arkadiusz Dymowski, “Roman Imperial Hoards of Denarii from the European Barbaricum” in Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology Vol. 7 Supplement 1 (Bucharest 2020), pp. 193–243; for some interpretation see Svante Fischer and Fernando López Sánchez, “Subsidies for the Roman West? The flow of Constantinopolitan solidi to the Western Empire and Barbaricum” in Opuscula: Annual of the Swedish Institutes at Athens and Rome Vol. 9 (Rome 2016), pp. 249–269.

4. See n. 5 below.

5. Joan M. Fagerlie, Late Roman and Byzantine Solidi Found in Sweden and Denmark, Numismatic Notes and Monographs 157 (New York City NY 1967).

6. Those that know me may be wanting at this point to suggest that the hippy is not in fact inner, and I who am currently sitting in a stripy woollen jumper that would fit in fine on the pampas and listening to Os Mutantes’s debut album would, I admit, have few arguments against that position. But it is pretty heavy, all the same.
7. See Cécile Morrisson, “Byzantine Coins in Early Medieval Britain: a Byzantinist’s assessment” in Rory Naismith, Elina Screen and Martin Allen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn (London 2014), pp. 207–242.

8. If you want to read it, the oldest translation is helpfully online, as Jordanes, “The Origin and Deeds of the Goths”, transl. Charles Christopher Mierow in Texts for Ancient History Courses, 22nd April 1997, online here; for (competing) study of him and his project, try Lieve van Hoof and Peter van Nuffelen, “The Historiography of Crisis: Jordanes, Cassiodorus and Justinian in mid-sixth-century Constantinople” in Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 107 (London 2017), pp. 275–300, DOI: 10.1017/S0075435817000284 or Robert Kasperski, “Jordanes versus Procopius of Caesarea: Considerations Concerning a Certain Historiographic Debate on How to Solve ‘the Problem of the Goths'” in Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies Vol. 49 (Berkeley CA 2018), pp. 1–23, DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.5.116872. For the kind of work which you’d think would love this stuff, but doesn’t use it, see Herwig Wolfram, “Origo et religio: Ethnic traditions and literature in early medieval texts” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 3 (Oxford 1994), pp. 19–38, reprinted in Thomas F. X. Noble (ed.), From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Rewriting Histories 22 (London 2006), pp. 70–90; but against it, see Walter Goffart, “Does the Distant Past Impinge on the Invasion Age Germans?” in Andrew Gillett (ed.), On Barbarian Identity: critical approaches to ethnicity in the early Middle Ages (Turnhout 2002), pp. 21–37, also reprinted Noble, From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, pp. 91–109.

9. For the wider background see Bjørn Myhre, “The Iron Age” in Knut Helle (ed.), The Cambridge History of Scandinavia, volume I: Prehistory to 1250 (Cambridge 2003), pp. 60–93; the end of the Gotland system is passed through on p. 84, but for specifics I had to go back to Alfsdotter, Papmehl-Dufay & Victor, “A Moment Frozen in Time”.

The conference before the storm: Leeds International Medieval Congress, 2019

Looking back on the last pre-Covid International Medieval Congress seems like a different world by now, even though we’ve but recently had the 2022 one, where, ironically or not, I caught my first dose of Covid. I guess that, because of that and because of the big push towards online hybrid participation that the pandemic gave us, it’s clear already that we’re never going back to quite the same experience of a campus full of medievalists meeting and interacting, but will now live with the sense, firstly, that that may be dangerous as well as desirable and that some people just aren’t going to be able to take part, and secondly that a lot of the action is in fact happening off-stage, in the ether.1 So this was the end of an era, or the last stop before a change of trains, or some other metaphor. And, to be honest, because of that, before picking up my notes on it I would have said I remembered very little of what happened at the 2019 Congress, as opposed to any other year since the IMC moved to the Central campus. I didn’t organise anything myself, is all I would have told you this morning, and on inspection that is completely untrue: Rethinking the Medieval Frontier ran for a full day, with people speaking from two continents about places from the Canaries to Kashmir. So as it transpires, I was there (obviously) and was pretty busy (nearly as obviously) and learnt a good few things (thankfully), and it was actually an impressively international and intersectional gathering that had all kinds of promise for the future threaded through it, and it still seems worth writing a report on it. It’s just that the future took a different turn… Because these reports are always huge, however, and not necessarily of interest to all (certainly not throughout), I’ll do what has become my practice and give you the running order of my conference experience, and then put actual commentary below a cut and let you decide (the few of you reading on the actual site rather than in your e-mail, anyway) how much further you care to go.

Monday 1st July 2019

119. Materialities at Birkbeck, I: between mind and matter in medieval monetary policy

  • Rebecca Darley, “Discourses on Absence, or Kalabhra and Vakataka Monetary Policy in Early Medieval Southern India”
  • Chris Budleigh, “Surplus and Scarcity: the contested relationship between monetary supply and aristocratic land management in Comnenian Byzantium”
  • Sidin Sunny, “The Lighter Dirham: power relationships in medieval Spanish society and tendencies in coin fineness and debasement.”

240. The Use and Construction of Place, Space, and Materiality in Late Antiquity

334. Seas and Floods in the Islamic West

  • Andrew Marsham, “Nile Flood Levels and Egyptian Revolts in the Early Medieval Period”
  • Xavier Ballestín, “Ships, Seafarers, Sails and Bows: a source approach to marine networks and coastal settlement in the Western Mediterranean basin on the eve of the rabaḍ uprising in Córdoba, 202 AH/818 AD”
  • Maribel Fierro, “Sea in the Life Narratives of Andalusi Scholars and Saints”

Tuesday 2nd July

530. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier 2018, I: Iberian Spaces

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Ends of Empire: Two Island Frontiers between Byzantium and Islam”
  • Stacey Murrell, “Centering the Marginal: concubines on Castilian frontiers, c. 1050-1350
  • Sandra Schieweck, “Iberian Border Regimes: the case of Castile and Navarre in the late Middle Ages”

630. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, 2018, II: Administration and Control

  • Luca Zavagno, “‘The Byzantine Liquid Frontiers’, or How to Administer Insular and Coastal Peripheral Spaces and Stop Worrying About It”
  • Davor Salihović, “The Distribution of Bordering in Late Medieval Hungary”

730. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier 2018, III: between religions

  • Roberta Denaro, “Far from the Corrupting City: building the frontier as a stage for martyrdom and asceticism, 8th-10th centuries”
  • Turaç Hakalmaz, “‘Islandness’ of a Coastal Kingdom: the case of Cilician Armenia”
  • Aniket Tathagata Chettry, “Exploring the Complexities of a Brahmanical Frontier in Bengal”

830. Rethinking the Medieval Frontier 2018, IV: dealing with power on the frontier

  • Jakub Kabala, “Claiming Authority over the Edge of the World: Frontier Strategies in Salzburg, c. 870″
  • Zeynep Aydoğan, “Conquest and Territoriality in the Late Medieval Anatolian Frontiers”
  • Andreas Obenaus, “To Whom Might/Do They Belong? Claims to Newly-Discovered Atlantic Islands in the Late Medieval Period”

Wednesday 3rd July 2019

1048. Forging Memory: false documents and historical consciousness in the Middle Ages, I

  • Graham Barrett, “Charters, Forgeries, and the Diplomatic of Salvation in Medieval Iberia”
  • Daria Safranova, “Using and Detecting Forged Charters in Northern Iberia, c. 900-1100″
  • Levi Roach, “True Lies: Leo of Vercelli, Arduin of Ivrea, and the Struggle for Piedmont”

1140. Byzantine Materialities, II: Ephemera and Iconoclasm

  • Rachel Banes, “You Can’t Write That Here! Mapping Religious and Secular Graffiti in Asia Minor, c. 300-700 CE”
  • Daniel K. Reynolds, “Images, Icons and Apologetic: Christian Iconoclasm in Early Islamic Palestine”
  • Leslie Brubaker, “Dancing in the Streets: the ephemera of Byzantine processions”

1252. Transport, Traders, and Trade Routes in Early Medieval Europe

  • Ewa Magdalena Charowska, “Dugout Builders: the trademark of the Sclaveni in the 6th and 7th Centuries”
  • Daniel Melleno, “From Strangers to Neighbors: Franks and Vikings in the late 9th century”
  • Thomas Freudenhammer, “Rafica: early medieval caravan trade between the West Frankish kingdom and al-Andalus”
  • Victor Farías Zurita, “Response”

1340. Byzantine Materialities, IV: workshops, trade and manuscripts

  • Shaun Tougher, “Macedonian Materialities: the Menologion of Basil II”
  • Chris Wickham, “Materialities of Middle Byzantine Exchange in the Aegean”
  • Flavia Vanni, “Men at work: stucco workshops on Mount Athos”

Thursday 4th July 2019

1509. Gold, Coins and Power in the Early Middle Ages

  • Marco Cristini, “The War of the Coins: Numismatic Evidence for the Gothic War”
  • Nicholas Rogers, “Angels and the King’s Evil: projections of royal authority”
  • Vera Kemper, “‘All that glitters is not gold’: heroes and material wealth”

1652. The Monetary System and Currency in Eurasia in the Pre-Modern Era, II: money and its circulation in British Isles and Scandinavia

  • Yuta Uchikawa, “Commerce and Coin Circulation around the Irish Sea in the 9th and 10th Centuries”
  • Hiroko Yanagawa, “The Irish-Sea Imitations and their Circulation during the Middle Ages”
  • Kenji Nishioka, “The Use of Money in Scotland during the 12th and 13th Centuries”
  • Takahiro Narikawa, “Church and the Money Circulation in High Medieval Norway”

1738. Materialities and Religion in Medieval Armenia and Byzantium

  • Katherine New, “The Representations of Material Objects in Medieval Culture: statue or doll in Byzantine mythography”
  • Carmen Morais Puche, “Medieval Byzantine Coinage in Patrimonio Nacional: image, materiality and religions”

Continue reading

Name in Print XXX: the other parcel from China

A short bonus post for the celebratory weekend, celebrating, well, me again I’m afraid, plus ça change… You remember a few posts ago I wrote about receiving a fairly unexpected Chinese translation of one of my conference papers in the post? If you do remember, one of the reasons it was unexpected was that while I heard nothing about its progress into print, I had heard lots about the progress of another conference paper I’d given in China some time before, in a story I have already told. Well, a few weeks ago that one also arrived with me.

Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021)

Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021)

Although it’s not as much of a shock as the previous one was, this too has wound up looking rather different from what I’d expected. The original plan was for the papers we’d all presented in Changchun to emerge as a special issue of the Journal of Ancient Civilizations which is edited in the Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations that had hosted us.

Covers of Cover of Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity. Papers Read at the International Conference in Changchun, China, 23‒26 June 2017, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021) and Journal of Ancient Civilizations 32/1 (Changchun 2017)

The same volume next to vol. 32/1 of the Journal of Ancient Civilizations, like large child with small parent

The actual year of appearance, however, was originally to be 2020, which unhappily coincided with that pandemic of which you may have heard tell, and of course that fell on China first. So everything there became difficult, and not just for that reason. In any case, the perpetual shuffling of this special issue was messing up the journal timetable, it was also a lot more material than they usually publish in an issue, and there is also a series of supplements to the journal. So, at some point very late on in the process, it became clear to me that that is what would be happening with ours, that the covers would be red and cloth not blue and paper, and this is what I now have.

Opening page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74

Opening page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Günther, Qiang, Lin and Sode, Constantinople to Chang’an, pp. 31–74

Now, this doesn’t necessarily make the paper more accessible; the book is more expensive than the journal would be and even if your library has a subscription to the JAC – which some do, don’t be like that nowthey probably don’t get the supplements. And yet I do want people to be getting hold of this, because the paper I wrote I wrote fully intending it to be nothing less than an up-to-date, thought-provoking, student-accessible and copiously-illustrated guide to what happened to coinage in the various zones of the Roman Empire over the period about 400 to 700 CE which I could set to my own students (and you could set to yours!). It checks in on the coinage at the turn of the years 400, 500, 600 and 700, observes changes descriptively, and then addresses major issues like continuity and imitation, and there are seventy-odd illustrations, for which I laid out an entire year’s research expenses, in order to create the for-now-definitive one-stop article-length introduction to coinage in the late and post-Roman worlds. Mad, they called me, mad, I who have created numismatics! And so on. But dammit, it is rather good.1

Figures 49–60 of Jonathan Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation" in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying & Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74 at pp. 70–71

Figures 49–60 of Jarrett, "Coinage in the Western World", pp. 70–71

So, if this sounds like a thing you would want to read, or to make others read that you might educate them, and you have an institutional budget to support you, please try and get hold of the book; I am far from the only interesting thing in there, especially if you care about Byzantine (or Sasanian) coinage out of place, and IHAC does good work, including supporting foreign scholars and encouraging East-West dialogue, in an area of China far from Beijing or Shanghai.2 If you just have spare cash and like well-made books of interesting content, consider buying it too maybe, because the country which invented paper does make pretty nice books (and this is one). But if you don’t have the money and feel you might still benefit from my dubious expertise here, you can also find the article in a reduced-quality version on my page, with IHAC’s permission, so do feel free to enjoy that instead (or as well!). I’m pretty pleased with it and hope you will be too.

1. Full citation, as per, is Jonathan Jarrett, “Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation” in Sven Günther, Li Qiang, Lin Ying and Claudia Sode (edd.), From Constantinople to Chang’an: Byzantine Gold Coins in the World of Late Antiquity, Supplements to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations 8 (Changchun 2021), pp. 31–74. Of that, a slightly frightening pp. 52-61 is bibliography and pp. 62-74 are figures, so it’s not as frightening a read as that makes it sound. I owe tremendous thanks to many people for making images available, but especially Maria Vrij at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, whence came most of them, and to the British Museum, CGB Monnaies, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Harvard College and Ruth Pliego for not charging for their images.

2. Admittedly, right now I admit I can’t find any way that you can buy it, but hopefully that situation will ease and if people want it I can try and find out how that can be done in present circumstances; leave a comment or send me mail and I’ll do what I can. Meanwhile, other tempting highlights might be Pagona Papadopoulou, “The Gold of the Emperor: Imitations of Byzantine Gold Coins in the Mediterranean (5th-7th Centuries), pp. 1–30, Rebecca Darley, “Byzantine Gold Coins and Peninsular India’s Late Antiquity”, pp. 135–169, Li Qiang, “Trends and Dynamics in the Study of Byzantine Coins and their Imitations Unearthed in China: 2007‒2017”, pp. 193‒206, Guo Yunyan, “Classification of Byzantine Gold Coins and Imitations Found in China”, pp. 207‒240, Lkhagvasuren Erdenebold, “East-West Relations and Nomads: a Short Introduction to the Tomb of Shoroon Bumbagar, Bayannuur Soum, Mongolia”, pp. 241–257 for those Sasanian finds, or Brigitte Borell, “Coins from Western Lands Found in Southeast Asia”, pp. 277–314.

Name in Print XXVIII: a large parcel from China

Although for the most part I enjoy the distance this blog usually occupies from the present, which means that I have a good safe perspective on what I cover, it is occasionally awkward to be detailing things that happened to me years ago, as for example when something that is immediately worth reporting comes about from earlier events I haven’t yet reported. Such a one is this, a paper that resulted from my second trip to China. So far I have been to China twice and each time, though it wasn’t my explicit plan, it’s resulted in a publication: the conference at Changchun on which I reported has made up a supplement to the Journal of Ancient Civilizations and I will eventually report on a conference I went to the next year in Beijing, entitled ‘The Influence and Change of Coins from an International Perspective’. The convenors of that conference asked me for a text of my paper, which I sent, and then just got on with it. The editors of the JAC, meanwhile were in frequent touch about the lengthy progress of the volume to press, and finally, a little while ago, let me know that it existed both digitally and in print, enclosing copies of the former and promising copies of the latter, which were to be shipped any day. Meanwhile, I was assured by one of these same people that the other conference was also in press, but since I’d heard nothing from the actual editors, seen no proofs and so on, when I received a large parcel from China with an ISBN prominently printed on the packaging, I fairly naturally assumed it was the JAC supplement, perhaps in more copies than I’d been expecting. But in fact it was the other one.

Cover of 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (Beijing 2021)

Cover of 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (Beijing 2021)

It is an extremely handsome and heavy volume, and after spending some time with Google Translate I’m fairly sure it contains not quite all the papers presented and another eleven that weren’t. But the extra ones fill up range very usefully. If you read Chinese – and I don’t, though I have a few words of the language such as a foreigner can learn by online tuition – this is actually a pretty good review of most aspects of currency as it has been known in China and its neighbours up till at least the Ming era. Almost everything in it is by Chinese scholars, or at least scholars with Chinese-viable names in Chinese institutions. The four foreigners involved come from Azerbaijan (1), France (1) and the United Kingdom (2), and 1 of those 2 is me, explaining what I think about the coin reform by which Emperor Anastasius I brought in marked-denomination multiple-value copper coins to end the reliance of market transactions in the Roman-or-Byzantine Empire on notionally-slightly-silver coins of such tiny effective value that they had to be used in bagged-up bundles valued by weight. What I think is, very summarily, that this was an unpopular measure that probably inserted a fiduciary currency into a system that still notionally ran on bullion value, and it was not intended to make market transacting easier, as some scholars seem to believe, but to make paying the army, or rather the army’s paying for things, easier, at the cost mostly of the poorest in the empire.

Title page of 乔纳森加莱特, ‘拜占庭帝国的市场交易与阿纳斯塔修斯一世的货币改革’, in 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (北京 2021), pp. 266–276

Title page of 乔纳森加莱特, ‘拜占庭帝国的市场交易与阿纳斯塔修斯一世的货币改革’, in 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (北京 2021), pp. 266–276

Now, I’d say that if you want to know more you can read the paper, but if you look at that quickly you will see that the text is in Chinese, so even if you can, I can’t.1 I didn’t know that was going to happen, though apparently I have one Zhāng Yuè to thank for it and such bits as I’ve run through Google suggest that I have been pretty clearly understood. If you look closer, though, you will see that the footnotes remain in English, which was apparently the policy for all the foreigners. I guess that they thought that so much of it was non-Chinese citations that there was no point rendering the discursive content into Chinese around it. But as it is, I do wonder how many people in the world can read all of it, and consequently I have put the English-language draft up on my publications webpage here, in case anyone should be interested.2

Nonetheless, I’m delighted by it. At this point, Chinese scholars have a reason to think of me as one of the current thinkers about early Byzantine coinage. I probably don’t deserve that renown but even to have it undeserving among a catalogue of Chinese luminaries of numismatics is pretty cool.

1. So, citation as it appears on the page is 乔纳森 加莱特, “拜占庭帝国的市场交易与阿纳斯塔修斯一世的货币改革”, transl. 张 月 in 王春法 (ed.), 货币与王朝: 国际视野下钱币的影响与改变 (北京 2021), pp. 266–276. If, like me, you can do something in Pinyin but not in Hanze, then it’s Qiáonàsēn Jiā Láitè, “Bàizhàntíng dìguó de shìchǎng jiāoyì yǔ ā nà sī tǎ xiū sī yīshì de huòbì gǎigé’, and in English that would be Jonathan Jarrett, “Market exchange in the Byzantine Empire and the currency reforms of Anastasius I”.

2. The draft bears the original title, “‘He will ruin many from among the people’: market exchange in the Byzantine Empire and the reform of Emperor Anastasius I.”


A really good way to display coins (in Ankara)

This must be a short post today, as I’m trying to write something substantial about the UK’s higher education situation that will then appear here, but happily there is something short I did want to share with you all. Those who’ve been following this blog and my career for a while will remember that I have done some time in museums’ coin collections, and mounted an exhibition or two. As a result, I’ve come up against – and even published on – the two perennial problems of the numismatic curator, to wit, firstly our most common piece of feedback, “they’re very small, aren’t they?” and secondly, the fact that coins have two faces and in a normal exhibition case you can only show one. My usual solution has been photographic enlargements that include the face that’s downwards in the case, but there are certainly more effective – and expensive – ways to do it.1 There is also the problem that you can’t usually display very much of a coin collection without saturating everyone’s interest well beyond any normal point. And, as a result of the British Academy Writing Workshops I mentioned three posts back taking me to Ankara, I saw a new solution to all these problems (new at least to me) and was quite impressed.

On the second of those trips, having run through some of the major tourist destinations already, we found ourselves outside an establishment called the Erimtan Arkeoloji ve Sanat Müzesi (Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum) and went in to have a look. That link above will take you to the photos of someone else who did that thing, for I took none apparently, but they’re worth a look not just for the space but because of the coin displays. The collection is actually stored, at least in part, in the museum hall itself, in vertical glass panels mounted on runners. If you pull one out at a time, you can see the coins from both sides, from pretty much as close as you could get handling them. The lighting is also such that you can actually see details without the other objects in the display hall suffering from exposure. It’s brilliant, and must have cost a bomb. But then, almost everything that’s in here turns out to have been one person’s collection, and the buildings themselves are leased from the Turkish government, so I’m guessing that money is a problem they (at least then) faced less than some other museums do. Still: if I ever find myself advising a museum with a numismatic collection they want to store and display in a safe and useful fashion for the foreseeable future, I’ll have this in mind!

1. Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: care and use. A Guide to Best Practice by the COINS Project (Cambridge 2009), pp. 19-24.