Byzantine Coins in Central Europe between the 5th and 10th Century M. Wołoszyn (ed.) MORAVIA MAGNA.

Seria Polona, vol. III Kraków 2009, p. 449-471.



Abstract. Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border. The author discusses the presence of early Byzantine bronze coins in the territories north of the Lower Danube border and attempts to explain the relations between the Empire and the populations outside the border which led to the arrival of bronze coins in the area between the rivers Tisza and Dniester. Previous interpretations pointing to intense economic relations are challenged and instead the author proposes a different approach, showing that different regions outside the border followed distinct patterns. It is suggested that except for the area close to the Danube there did not exist a true monetary circulation and the face value of coins was insignificant. Instead, coins were used for their intrinsic value, being melted to produce bronze objects such as fibulae. It is argued that the high presence of folles in “Barbaricum” and the scarcity of small denominations, along with the large number of molds and associated objects used to produce bronze items are important arguments in favor of this interpretation. The author draws a comparison between the Lower Danube provinces and “Barbaricum” and concludes that the presence of coins outside the border paralleled the evolution of coin flow in the Byzantine provinces. Based on this fact it is argued that political and military developments in “Barbaricum”, heretofore considered as having the main impact on the coin flow, are mostly irrelevant, as internal mechanisms in the provinces regulated the arrival of coins in “Barbaricum”. Without offering any final pronouncements, the study aims to draw the line between the two characteristics, face value and bullion value, in the territories beyond the Danube border. Introduction The presence of early Byzantine coins in “Barbaricum” continues to be a largely undeveloped area of study for numismatists and historians working on the early Middle Ages. Recently, the symposium held in Krakow brought together a number of scholars from Western, Central, and Eastern Europe in an attempt to shed some light on this still obscure phenomenon. One conclusion drawn after this meeting was that different regions, from the Rhine to the Dniester, have their own particularities in terms of early Byzantine coin finds, but also common features. The explanation is neither simple nor definitive. Doubtlessly many particularities can be ascribed to political developments in the territories outside the border. However, if political issues could be related to the presence of gold or silver coins in “Avaria”, for instance (Somogyi 1997), copper coin finds outside the Empire should be considered a much more complex phenomenon combining political, economic, cultural and even religious factors. The Early Byzantine coin finds from the “Barbaricum” stretching north and east of the Danube border (Fig. 1-2) should be approached at two distinct levels, corresponding to their intrinsic value: precious and base metal issues (Fig. 3-7)1. As mentioned, the presence of gold or silver coins in these territories is


Figs. No. 3-7 are placed at the end of the paper.


Andrei Gândilă

Fig. 1. Stray finds and hoards of Byzantine bronze coins in “Barbaricum” and in the Lower Danube provinces and the distribution of bronze objects, molds, crucibles, and ladles in “Barbaricum” (6th-7th c.).

generally ascribed to political payments sent from Constantinople to appease certain tribal warlords or to secure the Empire’s border. Once the subsidies crossed the Danube, they were redistributed by the warlord to his tribal military elite. Mercenary payments, looting, and prisoner ransom are also among the accepted hypotheses for the presence of gold and silver coins in the territory beyond the border2. Unfortunately these finds tell us little about the populations living outside the Empire and even less about the inner developments of those societies. The present study focuses on the second level represented by the copper coinage used in small market transactions in the border provinces, without being subject to any kind of political payments outside the border. The study of copper coin finds permits a closer insight into the economic and cultural relations between the Empire and the northern populations. The question in the title “Face value or bullion value?” is the key to understanding the presence of copper issues outside the Empire’s boundaries. Before proclaiming the existence of a monetary economy based on a more or less intense and continuous coin circulation it


The scattered distribution of gold specimens, usually single finds, substantiates these hypotheses, cf. Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2002.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


Fig. 2. The distribution of lower denominations in “Barbaricum” (6th-7th c.).

should be established whether the use of coins for exchange purposes was necessary in “Barbaricum”. Often this issue was equated with a discussion of the internal development of the societies outside the Danube border and whether they were able to embrace a monetary economy. The main question should not be “were they capable” but “was it necessary” for these populations to engage in a monetary economy. Did their economic needs require the existence of trade based on the use of bronze coins or was the natural economy sufficient? The structure of coin finds, where a substantial number of specimens is available, can only be understood in relation with the trends in the monetary circulation of the neighboring Lower Danube provinces. A large number of finds and a variety of denominations similar to a provincial pattern of circulation is usually a good indicator of an incipient monetary economy. However, although the copper coin represented only a tiny fraction of a solidus, we should not overlook the intrinsic value of the metal as raw material for a number of items used in daily life (pins, fibulae, bracelets, crosses etc.)3. The bullion value of these issues should not be ignored especially in the case when most of the finds are comprised of folles. Many bronze objects discussed in the following pages were produced locally and the need for a constant supply of metal could be partly


For a previous discussion see Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2002, 182.


Andrei Gândilă

covered by melting down coins. This study does not attempt to ascribe the use of coins to certain ethnic groups, as it is rather epiphenomenal to the questions posed here. Potential Byzantine traders would have certainly engaged in monetary exchanges regardless of the ethnic groups if it was economically profitable for both parties. However, a discussion of the evolution of material culture in this area is necessary to establish whether coins were used for their face value or as raw material for bronze objects. The structure and distribution of coin finds It is perhaps useful at this point to attempt a cursory review of the 6th-7th century coin finds in “Barbaricum” and of the political context often forcibly held as the main catalyst in the influx of coins across the river and, conversely, the main reason for the decrease in or lack of coin finds in this area. The monetary reform of Anastasius meant the beginning of a new stage in the monetary economy of the Empire and also the moment when coins started to arrive once again in the territories north of the Danube. This does not automatically imply that Roman life was re-established (Toropu 1976; Olteanu 1997), that somehow the reappearance of coins testifies to a growing prosperity and tighter relations with the Empire (Bîrzu 1980; Preda 1975; Barnea 1991). It might only imply that after the virtual collapse of the monetary system during the fifth century and after the effects of the Hunnic shock began to dissipate, the financial reform of Anastasius had a rather quick effect in the areas beyond the border. Such a quick response, if substantiated, would be important for understanding the larger framework of the relations between the early Byzantine provinces and the “Barbaricum” stretching north of the Danube during the second half of the fifth century. If the relations were completely broken until the reign of Anastasius, then we should expect a later arrival of his coins (e.g. during the reign of Justin or Justinian), assuming a longer process of transition. This process might have already begun during the second half of the fifth century although the numismatic evidence cannot be very helpful in this respect, with the exception of a few gold specimens found in Wallachia and Moldavia (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001; 2004a) and a bronze coin of Zeno (Moisil 2002). The minimi of Marcian and Zeno found at Drobeta and Romula on the Danube’s left bank are certainly significant indicators of this process (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2002), but they cannot warrant the existence of the same situation further afield. At the same time, one should not forget that older, fourth century coins, found in great numbers in “Barbaricum” might have still been in use (Moisil 2002). Older coins as early as the Hellenistic age were still circulating in the empire according to the evidence provided by hoards (Morrisson, Popović, Ivanisević 2006). Therefore, the hypothesis of a quick arrival of coins immediately after the reform of Anastasius is far from being ascertained. It is too often ignored that coins of Anastasius could have arrived north of the river possibly as late as the seventh century4. Although coins issued by Anastasius are reported at Gherla (judeţul Cluj) in Transylvania (Butnariu 1986, 219) or Zaim in Bessarabia (Corman 1998, 158), quite far from the border, we should not rush to the conclusion that at the beginning of the sixth century fruitful and mutually profitable relations had been established between the Empire and the northern populations. Most likely the only specimens with a high degree of probability of arriving in these territories before 518 are the small module issues dated 498-512, which, theoretically, were soon withdrawn from circulation after the reform of 5125. Very few such coins have been reported in “Barbaricum” although the find from Bârlad (judeţul Vaslui) is certainly worth mentioning (Oberländer-Târnoveanu, Popuşoi 1992, 228). Early postreform coins are scarce among finds in the Lower Danubian provinces as well. Only approximately 15% of the total number of coins from Anastasius found in Scythia can be dated to the first interval, 498-512 (Gândilă 2005; 2008), with the Balkans being one of the best supplied regions of the Empire in this respect (Metcalf 1969). Along these lines it would be unwarranted to link the small number of specimens in “Barbaricum” with the attacks of the Bulgars in 499 and 502. An overview of the coin finds of Anastasius shows an interesting cluster of coins in Southern Moldavia on both sides of the river Prut (Stoljarik 1993) which should be considered for future discussions of the developments undergone north of the Danube Delta early in the sixth century.

Coin hoards in the Balkans certainly testify to this fact, cf. Morrisson, Popović, Ivanisević 2006; see also Curta 2001, 238, n. 18 for a similar discussion. 5 Morrisson, Popović, Ivanisević 2006. Out of 36 hoards containing well dated coins of Anastasius only 7 have small module specimens.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


Most often the period Anastasius I-Justinian I is seen as a time of gradual and continuous increase in coin finds and prosperity in the Lower Danube provinces and consequently in the northern “Barbaricum”. Procopius’ De Aedeficis and modern scholarship have extolled the works of Justinian and presented the reign of Justin I as a preamble to the “age of Justinian” (Vasiliev 1950). Once we move beyond this pre-defined scheme and attempt to analyze the numismatic evidence it becomes clear that a peak is in fact reached during the reign of Justin I, both in the Empire and in “Barbaricum”, while the first decade of his nephew’s reign is a decline in the volume of coins arrived in the area (Gândilă 2008)6. A few specimens issued during the short joint reign of Justin I and Justinian I (April-August 527) were found north of the Danube, at Oţeleni (judeţul Iaşi; cf. Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001, 316) and Ghindeni (judeţul Dolj; cf. Butnariu 1986, 219) and could be important for understanding the rythm of the coin flow, if indeed they arrived in the respective locations closely after they were issued. Unfortunatelly very few publications provide information about the coins’ state of preservation, which would be crucial in reaching a conclusion in this respect. Heavily worn specimens found in “barbaricum” had certainly circulated intensively on provincial markets and consequently the date of their issue becomes irrelevant for building any historical framework around their presence in “barbaricum”. The fluctuations in coin finds during the early years of Justinian’s reign were most often ascribed to the military breakdown after the death of Chilbudios in 533 (Poenaru-Bordea, Ocheşeanu, Popescu 1997), a hypothesis, however, impossible to substantiate given the fact that it is a widely spread phenomenon throughout the Empire (Gândilă, forthcoming). During the first decade after the monetary reform of 538 coins arrived in greater numbers in “Barbaricum”. The heavy follis introduced by Justinian seem to have been very appealing to the communities outside the Empire, a phenomenon discussed in the next section. The sharp decline that followed in the second half of his reign has multiple causes and should not be considered a peculiarity of the Danube area. The prodigal expenses on the stupendous plan of reclaiming the former Western provinces along with the internal demographic and economic crisis caused by the great plague brought about a disruption of the monetary system and a growing inflation. Along these lines, the issue of the settlement of early Slavic groups in the Wallachian plain (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a) or in Banat (Comşa 1974) is irrelevant because it was not the potential change in the ethnic structure that triggered the downfall in coin supply. Moreover, a higher peak in coin finds is reached during the reign of Justin II. An increase in coin finds, however, can be noticed in the area lying north of the Danube Delta where the Antae, who were allies of the Empire, were supposedly settled and were offered the fortress of Turris for defensive purposes (Madgearu 1992; 2005). The often cited paragraph from Procopius (De bello Gothico, III, 14.6) stating that after the death of Chilbudios the Danube was easy to cross by barbarians is hardly of any use as it is difficult to determine the precise effects of the subsequent invasions in the following decades on the territories outside the border7. If raids of pillage and plunder were launched from camps located north of the Danube then, on the contrary, we should expect to find a larger number of coins, copper but especially gold8, which is not the case according to the current information (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2002). In the whole region between the rivers Tisza and Dniester the number of finds decreases after 550, a period which coincides with a shift in the coin production of the Eastern mints, Constantinople, Nicomedia, and Cyzicus which provide the bulk of the finds both in “Barbaricum” and the Danubian provinces (Fig. 6). The production of folles and half-folles decreased in favor of decanummia, a rare denomination in “Barbaricum” and a precious clue for answering the main question regarding the use of bronze coins in “Barbaricum”. Justin II took several inflationist measures decreasing the value of the follis in relation to the gold solidus which consequently increased the number of issues struck to meet the economic and military demands. Based on this fact it is interesting to note the uneven distribution of coin finds with a quite significant number of coins from Oltenia – 113 (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2003) and very few specimens from Muntenia –


V. Butnariu (1986, 205) had observed the fact that the distribution of finds on the map during the reign of Justin I covers a wider area than the early coins of his successor but did not follow the argument any further. 7 For a chronologic list of the raiding activity in the Balkans see Curta 2001, 116-7 (Table 4). 8 In general terms the number of gold coins in Wallachia is very reduced compared to the neighboring territories of Pannonia and the areas west and north of the Black Sea, to the west, cf. Somogyi 1997; see also Smedley 1988.


Andrei Gândilă

12 (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a) and Moldavia – 18 (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001). Although the finds from Oltenia and Banat have always been more numerous due to the presence of the Byzantine bridgeheads, there is an unprecedented difference during the reign of Justin II. This situation was associated with the settlement of Slavic groups in the Wallachian plain and the disruption of the relations between the communities forming the Ciurel culture and the Empire (Comşa 1975; Dolinescu-Ferche 1984). The demographic boom and an increase in the number of settlements followed by changes in the material culture would point to the arrival of new groups (Curta 2001). The decrease in coin finds could also be ascribed to the insecurity in the area in the late 570s when the Avars led a successful campaign against the Sclavenes of Dauritas, settled in eastern Wallachia and southern Moldavia (Chiriac 1993). The short reign of Tiberius II is characterized by his ambitious attempt to lift the value of the copper coin to its Justinianic level but also by the devastating raids of the Slavs prolonging during the first years of his successor, Maurice Tiberius (Whitby 1988, 88). Only three coins from Tiberius II are so far recorded among the finds from Muntenia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. Again, Oltenia provides a larger batch due to the presence of the Roman bridge-heads Sucidava and Drobeta, which still played an important strategic function on the left bank of the Danube (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2003; Butnariu 1986). Nevertheless, in Banat there is a marked discontinuity in coin finds after Sirmium was lost to the Avars; very few coins are recorded during the reign of Maurice and his successor and it appears that the region was almost completely under the rule of the Avars. This does not appear to be the case in the Wallachian Plain. The Avar Khaganate considered the territory of present Wallachia as part of the territories under its direct control (Curta 2001), but this seems to be an ideological claim rather than a fact, considering that more than once the Avars and the Romans had the common goal of defeating the Slavs in Wallachia (Madgearu 1997b, 22). The relations between the Lower Danube provinces and the populations in “Barbaricum” were seriously hindered by the military events unfolding in the area. The attacks of the Avars and Slavs between 584 and 586 affected the western sector of the Danube limes on the line Aquae (Janković 1981, 213) – Bononia (Ivanov 2003) – Ratiaria (1984) – Appiaria (Ivanov 2003) – Durostorum (Velkov 1988). It is hard to say if the presence of the Slavs led by Dauritas in the Wallachian plain had a negative effect on the arrival of coins in the area, as only seven copper coin finds are reported, five of which issued after 586 during the short period of peace at the Danube border (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a). Nevertheless, there is still an important number of coins from Oltenia and Moldavia until the mid 590s when the coin supply was drastically diminished. As a matter of fact there is only one late specimen, dated 599-600, found at Bacău in Moldavia (Butnariu 1986). The reduction of coin finds from the reign of Maurice was interpreted as a result of the arrival of new slavic groups (Preda 1972, 1975) with disregard to the fact that coins from this period are also scarce in the Danube provinces (Gândilă 2005). The reduction in coin supply in the Danube area is a direct result of the reduction in mint output at Constantinople and is less connected to a Slavic presence north of the river (Gândilă, forthcoming). More than twenty years of almost continuous warfare at the Danube culminated with the rebellion of Phocas in 602. However, recent scholarship has refuted the theory of the total collapse of the limes in 602 (Barnea 1991; Madgearu 1997b; Curta 2001; Damian 2004). The numismatic evidence points to the same conclusion. There are only 13 recorded finds but well distributed on the map in each historical province between the rivers Tisza and Dniester. An even larger number of coins found in this territory are dated to the first six years of Heraclius’ reign and might show that the Empire was still influent and surpassed the difficult moments at the beginning of the century (Velter 2002; Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001; 2003; 2004a). However, shortly after 610 the coin circulation ends in all the major urban centers of the Lower Danubian provinces: Novae 611/2 (Dimitrov 1998), Dionyssopolis 613/4 (Dimitrov 1995), Bizone 613/4 (Iordanov 1982), Capidava 612/3 (Gândilă 2007), Ibida 612/3 (Vertan, Custurea 1998), Histria 613/4 (Nubar 1960), Halmyris 613/4 (Poenaru-Bordea 2003), Aegyssus 613/4 (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 1980), Argamum 613/4 (Iacob, PoenaruBordea 2000), Tomis 613/4 (Isvoranu, Poenaru-Bordea 2003), Acres 613/4 (Parušev 1991), Varna 613/4 (Lazarenko 2003), Axiopolis 614/5 (Poenaru-Bordea, Ocheşeanu 1986), Ulmetum 614/5 (Mitrea 1966), Sacidava 615/6 (Vertan, Custurea, Talmaţchi 1999), Tărnovo 616/7 (Dochev 2002), although at least at Durostorum, Callatis, and Tomis a small number of coins arrived after this date (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 1996; Poenaru-Bordea, Ocheşeanu, Popescu 1998; Isvoranu, Poenaru-Bordea 2003). This is the period when coin finds are no longer recorded in “Barbaricum”, a situation which will last for a few decades. The powerful

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


offensive initiated by the Slavs and Avars after 616 with its climax during the siege of Constantinople in 626, marked the retreat of the Byzantine administration from the Lower Danube after a few decades of insecurity, followed by a diminution of its influence north of the Danube (Madgearu 1997b). An interesting situation occurs in Banat, where after two decades of virtual lack of any significant finds coins reappear in higher numbers than the usual statistical level of this territory during the sixth century. Late and rare copper coins dated 616-624 were found in the area along with a significant number of silver and gold issues (OberländerTârnoveanu 2003). If the latter can be ascribed to political payments, the presence of copper coins is harder to explain, although it has been suggested that Roman prisoners of war could have brought these coins (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2003). I believe this solution to be less probable as it does not explain the lack of such finds in other parts of “Avaria”, unless we accept the idea that Roman prisoners were kept or “colonized” only at the border. Three copper coins of Constans II and two issued by Tiberius III are the only finds recorded for the remainder of the seventh century. The latter two, found at Drobeta (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2003) and Berezeni (judeţul Vaslui; cf. Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001) are important for our understanding of the relations of power after the arrival of Asparuh. These two finds seem to testify that the empire did not completely lose its influence in “Barbaricum”, maintained especially with its superior fleet (Damian 2004). The presence of western mints in “Barbaricum” as well as on the Black Sea coast (Gândilă 2008) is an important argument in this respect. The follis from Berezeni was minted in Ravenna while a follis of Constans II from Novaci (judeţul Ilfov) came from Carthage (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a). The hoard found at Obârşeni (judeţul Vaslui) also included two half-folles from Carthage and another two from the reign of Heraclius along with six dodecanummia from Alexandria issued by the same emperor (Dimian 1957). Face value or bullion value? After this cursory review of the early Byzantine coin finds in “Barbaricum” we can attempt to explain the presence of copper coins outside the Danube border. First and foremost we need to establish the source of the coin supply in “Barbaricum”. The map testifies to the unevenness in the distribution of copper coin finds in the area under discussion. Around 550 coins and 12 hoards have been found in 277 different locations (Butnariu 1986; Stoljarik 1993; Velter 2002; Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2001; 2003; 2004a; 2004b; Kropotkin 2006). Most of the finding places are located along the Danube within 100 kilometers from the river, from the Iron Gates to the area north of the Danube Delta. The geographical features of the whole area, almost engulfed by the Danube to the south and the Carpathian mountains to the north, ensured the strategic prerequisites for a direct control by the empire by creating a buffer zone north of the river. Danube itself was only a theoretical border (Curta 2002; Madgearu 2005), useful in times of conflict as a natural barrier, but not limiting the Empire in its expansion northwards when its military and economic stability permitted such a policy, as it was the case in the fourth century when Constantine the Great reclaimed parts of this territory (Curta 2005). However, the relative density of finding places on the map should not automatically lead to the conclusion that a monetary economy was a reality of the communities living in the northern territories. Several authors use the phrases “coin circulation” and “intensive trade” to describe the presence of coins in Wallachia and Moldavia ignoring the fact that a monetary economy presupposes the analysis of other social and economic phenomena which should concur for the existence of a true monetary economy (Preda 1975; Teodor 1981; Dolinescu-Ferche 1984; Stoljarik 1993; Olteanu 1997; Madgearu 1997b; Corman 1998; Stratulat Lăcrămioara 2002)9. I also feel that only a comparative framework with the finds in the Lower Danubian provinces can provide a correct approach of this phenomenon. Although the publication of early Byzantine coin finds in Bulgaria is far from being up-to-date one can still count a total of approximately 6000 coins found in 176 different locations in the provinces Moesia Prima, Dacia Ripensis, Moesia Secunda and especially Scythia. Without any sophisticated calculations it becomes clear that the average number of coins per finding place is quite unbalanced in the two studied regions: about 35 coins in the provinces and 2 coins in “Barbaricum”.


For a similar criticism see Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004b, 347.


Andrei Gândilă

Apart from the common understanding of surviving finds as small fractions of the circulating mass in ancient times, it is nevertheless inappropriate to substantiate the theory of a monetary economy in “Barbaricum” based on so few specimens scattered on such a large geographical area, four times the size of the imperial provinces adjacent to the Danube. It should also be stressed at this point that the monetary economy is usually a characteristic of urban settings and to a lesser extent of rural areas, and here as well only through connections with neighboring towns. Or in the territories north of the Danube urban life was non-existent, if we disregard the few Byzantine bridge-heads on the left bank (Madgearu 2005). The graphs provided at the end of this essay ascertain the fact that the structure of coin finds in “Barbaricum” follows in detail, albeit at a smaller scale, the trend in the coin circulation of the Lower Danube provinces. Peaks and falls in coin supply are shared by the two regions throughout the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century and in both cases the presence of coins diminishes dramatically after 615 (Fig. 3-4). The same mints supplied the territories north and south of the river following the same evolution from the preponderance of Constantinople early in the sixth century to the diversification of mints during the reign of Justinian. Based on these arguments I think it is safe to conclude that most of the coins found in “Barbaricum” originated in the circulating milieu of the provinces Moesia Prima, Moesia Secunda, Dacia Ripensis, and Scythia. Against the commonly held interpretations it can be argued that the evolution of coin flow north of the river was less related to political and military developments in “Barbaricum”; the fact that most of the finds originate in the aforementioned provinces indicates that the presence of coins in “Barbaricum” depended primarily on the situation south of the Danube. Having established the source of supply we now move to the discussion of the main routes of distribution. The map clearly shows that coin finds cluster along the major rivers, Olt, Mures, Argeş, Prut, Dniester, which were important routes of communication and trade10. Another characteristic is the great density of finds in the territory west of the river Olt11. We should keep in mind that the unbalanced distribution of coin finds in favor of the region west of river Olt is also due to the different evolution of the territories north of the Danube after the province of Dacia was created by Trajan at the beginning of the second century (Opreanu 1998). Wallachia and Moldavia were never part of the Roman Empire although the great influence of the Roman culture and civilization is undeniable (Teodor 1997; Teodor 2005). The Empire was directly interested in establishing a direct control in the territories of its former province and the ambitious project initiated by Constantine the Great regained momentum in the sixth century once the turmoil of the fifth century had passed and the economic and military power of the Empire was reestablished. The control was insured through the bridge-heads maintained on the left bank of the Danube, most important being Sucidava and Drobeta, entertaining an urban life comparable to their counterparts on the other side of the river, at the scale of a peripheral region. It is precisely in these locations where we can assume the existence of a small scale monetary economy12. The urban centers were probably sustaining a local exchange system based on small scale transactions involving copper coins within the network of settlements in Oltenia and Banat. The strategic importance of maintaining the control of a sizeable region north of the border should not be underestimated. The presence of a Romanized Christian population13 with a long tradition of contact with the Empire could have proven valuable in time of conflict as a source of recruiting, labor force, and supplies for the army. Regional interests, however, should not be linked only to the presence of a Romanic population. The author of the Stategikon asserts that the descendants of the Romans were not always ready to sustain


This seems to be a widely spread phenomenon; Byzantine coins cluster on major river valleys in Kievian Rus’, on the Bug and Dniepr rivers, cf. Kropotkin 2006, map 3, and Stoljarik 1993, map 2; in Austria and Slovakia on the Danube and its tributaries cf. Menghin 1985, map 28, and Fusek 1994, map 4; in Bohemia on the Elbe, cf. Militký 2008; in Poland on the Vistula, cf. Wołoszyn 2005, map 1; in Eastern Germany on the Oder, cf. Biermann, Dalitz, Heussner 1999, map 3; Western Germany on the Rhine, cf. Drauschke 2008; in France on major river valleys cf. Lafaurie, Pilet-Lemière 2005. 11 Around 50% of the total number of coins were found west of the river Olt. 12 G. Williams offers a similar interpretation for early Byzantine coins in post-Roman Britain, cf. Williams 2006, 159. See also the discussion by T.S.N Moorhead who argues that a monetary economy continued in the first half of the fifth century in areas where there was little AngloSaxon control, cf. Moorhead 2006, 108. 13 For the distribution of Christian objects in “Barbaricum” see Curta 2002, Fig. 5-9. 14 According to the author of the Strategikon some Romans living north of the Danube “have given in to the times, forget their own people, and prefer to gain the good will of the enemy” ( cf. Strategikon , XI.4.31, p. 124). For a discussion of this particular passage see Madgearu 1997a, 119-121.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


the imperial efforts in the area14. The Empire’s policy in “Barbaricum” was certainly not based on brotherly sentiments towards the Romanic population but on a pragmatic attitude guided by political expediency. The scarcity of gold coins among the finds in this region, until the reign of Heraclius when gold and silver issues appear especially in Banat, shows that the region was not used as a base for raids of plunder and neither was it necessary for the Empire to send subsidies or “bribes” in the form of gold solidi as the population, especially west of the river Olt, was integrated in the religious and perhaps administrative system of the Empire (Barnea 1991; Curta 2002; Madgearu 2005). It is difficult to envisage a similar situation in the rest of the territory between the rivers Tisza and Dniester. Although cultures of Roman tradition following the remains of the former Sîntana de Mureş – Chernjachov cultural horizon have been identified by archaeologists in Transylvania (Bratei culture; cf. Zaharia 1971; Horedt 1975), Wallachia (Ciurel Culture; cf. Dolinescu-Ferche 1984; Teodor 2004), and Moldavia to the Dniester (Botoşana-Hansca culture; cf. Teodor 1984; Corman 1998) they were not the only recipients of Byzantine coins arriving in the area15, and, in fact, few can be placed in a certain archaeological context16. The crux of the matter is to establish what exactly these populations had to offer in exchange for coins. As many of the potential items that could attract traders from the Byzantine provinces were perishable and thus cannot be traced in the archaeological record, we can only identify potential trading commodities based on the natural resources in the region: especially salt, but also honey, cattle, possibly furs and skins. Both the Empire and the political powers in “Barbaricum”, the Gepids and later the Avars and Slavs, needed supplies for the numerous military campaigns underwent north of the Danube and the literary sources, most important Michael the Syrian and the author of the Strategikon mention the importance of securing food supplies for the army (Horedt 1975; Curta 2001, 188). The trade route on the river Dniester, where a significant number of coins have been found, could be linked with the major trade route coming from the Baltic and also with the territories north of the Black Sea. The numerous finds along the rivers Jiu, Olt, and Argeş were important routes leading to the salt resources in Transylvania (Horedt 1975). Even if this interpretation is correct and traders south of the Danube were genuinely interested in certain products from “Barbaricum” we are not even near demonstrating that copper coins were used in the transaction for their face value. In order to do that we must first bring arguments in favor of the hypothesis that the communities in “Barbaricum” were using the coins for their monetary designation, that they were interested in accepting the fiduciary nature of the Byzantine bronze coin (Morrisson 1979) and a market with a range of prices connected to the Empire. It should be stressed that a coin circulation does not presuppose only a vertical bilateral relation Empire – “Barbaricum” but also a horizontal one between communities and settlements in “Barbaricum”, which is hard to imagine with the current knowledge. An important number of imports, especially amphorae but also small objects, have been reported north of the Danube (Toropu 1976; Olteanu 1997; Teodor 1981; 1997; Curta 2001). One can formulate the hypothesis that different imports were purchased with cash by communities in “Barbaricum”. This premise presupposes that an important number of coins were already in the possession of those communities and we should now turn the tables and make another logical assumption, namely that Byzantine traders themselves used coins to pay for commodities purchased from “Barbaricum”. This logical sequence raises certain questions. First, the populations in “Barbaricum” had to accept and trust an exchange system based on a conventional value set by a centralized economic system in which they did not officially participate. They would accept to provide commodities in exchange for objects (coins) less valuable considering the inner value of the metal and instead they would have to put their faith in the fiduciary nature of the coins, hoping to return them in a similar fashion, in exchange for imports from the Byzantine provinces. Let us make a final assumption that the scenario presented above was possible and that constant economic relations between the empire and the “Barbaricum” insured the necessary confidence in the fiduciary nature of the exchange. Why would these communities need to risk anything by engaging in a monetary-based exchange with an unstable coin as the 6th

15 16

For a recent overview of the archaeological finds in Transylvania see Harhoiu 2003; for Wallachia see E. Teodor 2005. Two folles of Justinian were found at Botoşana, cf. Teodor 1984, 31, 37. Five coins from the same emperor were unearthed during archaeological excavations in the area of Bucharest, cf. Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a, 336. Two folles from Justinian I and Justin II, respectively were found in Bessarabia during the excavation of the sites Alcedar-Odaia and Lopatna, cf. Corman 1998, 98.


Andrei Gândilă

century Byzantine follis when the barter trade would suffice for a small-scale exchange of goods between the two regions? Finally, we return to the rarity of coins in sixth century settlements in Wallachia and Moldavia; as only 9 coins have been found during archaeological excavations, meaning less than 2% of the total number of finds in “Barbaricum”, it is hard to substantiate the existence of a monetary economy. I have mentioned the parallel evolution of the regions on both sides of the Danube in terms of the structure of finds during the entire time span under discussion. The only point of divergence is the structure of denominations (Fig. 7). While in the Lower Danube provinces there is a certain balance between the four main denominations – follis, half-follis, decanummium, and pentanummium – in “Barbaricum” above 65% of the finds are folles (Fig. 5). Moreover, the big coins introduced by Justinian seem to have been very popular north of the Danube as the follis covers more than 70% of the finds from this emperor. Decanummia and pentanummia are rare finds in “Barbaricum”, only 5% of the entire batch. The map presenting the distribution of lower denominations, fractions of the follis, shows that most finds are located close to the Danube, especially the few recorded decanummia and pentanummia (Fig. 2). The small change is the vehicle of a true monetary economy as evinced by the finds in major urban centers of the empire (Gândilă, forthcoming). The preponderance of heavy specimens is an important argument in favor of the hypothesis that such communities valued coins for their intrinsic value. Archaeological monographs drawing on a rich literature on sixth-to-seventh century settlements provide evidence for a rather large array of bronze objects (mostly brooches17 but also crosses, buckles, pins, bracelets, rings, earrings, buttons) and even more significant, the existence of molds (Fig. 1)18 and workshops pointing to a local production of bronze items (Preda 1967; Teodorescu 1972; Comşa 1975; Bejan 1976; Teodor 1981; 1997; Barnea 1991; Dănilă 1983; Corman 1998; Madgearu 1997b; Velter 2002; Postică 2007; Curta 2006). Obviously such items would have required an important quantity of bronze19 and although we might assume that old Roman bronze objects were melted down for reuse20 (Postică 2007), early Byzantine coins remained a more constant and reliable source of metal21. The sunken-featured dwelling No. 20 excavated at Botoşana provided one of the rare occasions when coins were found in a clear archaeological context. This case is even more revealing as the follis of Justinian was found in the same context with a crucible and a ladle used to pour the metal (Teodor 1984, 36-7)22. Finally, the hoard found at Horgeşti (judeţul Bacău) is an epitome of the structure and role played by early Byzantine bronze coins in “Barbaricum”: in a bronze container (c. 1. 3kg) were placed 52 folles, 5 half-folles (c. 650 g), a bronze chain (c. 250 g), and broken pieces from a bronze sheet (Căpitanu 1971; Buzdugan 1974)23. After the “age of bronze” came to an end at the beginning of the seventh century, an “age of silver” took its place (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2002), and some of the coins, this time hexagramma, were probably used to produce jewelry such as the widely spread earrings with star-shaped pendants. The hoard found at


For the distribution of brooches in the Lower Danube area see Curta 2001, 237. Fig. 1 clearly shows that the region west of the river Olt follows a different pattern as most of the molds and the associated items used to produce small objects of bronze were found outside this area, in Wallachia, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bessarabia. 19 For the copper resources in Transylvania see Rusu 1975, Fig. 4. 20 Older bronze items were also reused in the Balkan provinces, as evinced by the large deposit of bronze objects found at Stara Zagora in Bulgaria cf. Cholakov, Ilieva 2005. 21 Analyses of metal composition of Byzantine coins and bronze artifacts cannot provide definitive answers, as most of the objects as well as the coins are made of alloys, cf. Grierson 1965; Butler, Metcalf 1967; Padfield 1972; Cooper 2000, and therefore the coins themselves are hard to trace in the composition of bronze items. However, K. Dąbrowski (1980, 238-9) has analyzed a few dozens bow fibulae and concluded that the metal composition matched the one observed on Roman coins (1st-3rd c.). 22 Another interesting association of artifacts was found in a dwelling at Ipoteşti (judeţul Olt) where parts of a bronze sheet were found along with a first century bronze coin from Nerva, cf. Roman, Ferche 1978. Two hypotheses can be formulated in this case: either the coin, with a comparable weight of a sixth century follis, was reaccepted in circulation, or the coin was going to be used as raw material. 23 The hoard from Horgeşti contains a Moneta Militaris Imitativa, MIB 68, Tiberius II Constantine, type Constantinople, small module (9.45 g). The original publication (Buzdugan 1974), prior to the catalog of W. Hahn 1975, described the coin as a var. of Tiberius II, based on the standard catalogues available (BMC; DOC). However, the coin was confusingly described as regnal year 7 (581/2 sic!), although the illustration (Buzdugan 1974, plate II, No. 8) shows quite clearly an year 2, which the author obviously could not explain for an issue of Tiberius II whose coins as sole ruler began to be dated with year 4. Even more, the real diameter of the coin is less than 28mm as described by Buzdugan, if we compare it to a follis on the same line on the plate (No. 9) also described as measuring 28mm. The correct attribution of the coin, unnoticed by later publications (Butnariu 1986; Curta 1996; Morrisson, Popović, Ivanisević 2006) is Moneta Militaris Imitativa. Its presence north of the Danube raises interesting issues related to the circulation of coins and possibly the movement of soldiers and mercenaries recruited from “Barbaricum”. Further attempts to research coins from older publications might present us with a larger number of specimens of Moneta Militaris Imitativa and contribute to our better understanding of their role at the Lower Danube.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


Priseaca (judeţul Olt) is a relevant example in this respect: coins and earrings were found together in a handmade ceramic pot (Mitrea 1975). The potential use of coins and other silver objects as raw material for jewelry is known in central and northern Europe, from hoards such as the ones found at Zemiansky Vrbovok in Slovakia (Radoměrský 1953) and Gudme in Denmark (Vang Petersen 1994). I deliberately left aside a thorough discussion of coin hoards because it does not seem very clear whether they were amassed in “Barbaricum”, brought from the southern provinces, or from more distant regions of the empire. The aforementioned hoard from Obârşeni included issues from Carthage and Alexandria which probably came as a sealed group from the West24. Other hoards were found close to the Danube, most of which outside any archaeological context, having a structure very similar to the provincial pattern, which seems to suggests an origin outside “Barbaricum” (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a). A separate group of hoards is represented by the ones found at Râncăciov (judeţul Argeş) and Troianul (judeţul Teleorman; cf. Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2004a), which include Roman denarii and Late Roman coppers. Analogies can be found in the Czech Republic where several such hoards were found, having the appearance of small collections of old coins, some including silver issues and late Roman coppers (Militký 2005). The central question – face value or bullion value – maintains its relevance as we progress farther away, in the Upper Danube area, Moravia, the Baltic region, and as far as Britain. Several contributors to this volume show that copper finds are reported there as well and I suggest that the concept of a monetary circulation should be employed with great caution. Many such coins were probably brought by travelers, missionaries, mercenaries, traders and left for different reasons, including but not limited to souvenirs, curiosities, “Christian” amulets, objects of prestige, or simply bronze items. Conclusions The presence of early Byzantine bronze coins in “Barbaricum” is one of the most intriguing and unwieldy issues of this historical period and was often employed as an ideological tool used to assert the high level of development of autochthonous ethnic groups in relation with the newcomers25. The coins found north of the Danube were interpreted as a natural protraction of the provincial monetary economy with disregard to the obvious differences and problems raised by such an approach. The coin circulation in the Danubian provinces is itself largely restricted to urban centers and fortified places hosting border garrisons (Gândilă 2008), while the rural economy is only superficially connected to the coin circulation (Oberländer-Târnoveanu 2005). The Roman bridge-heads north of the Danube sustained a small scale monetary economy in their area of influence in Oltenia and the Iron Gates of the Danube, until the first decades of the seventh century. The communities in the Wallachian Plain, Transylvania, and Moldavia to the river Dniester, regardless of their ethnic composition, constantly received bronze coins throughout the period in exchange for goods and services rendered to the Empire. Many of these coins were probably used as raw material for the production of bronze items and some were perhaps kept as personal belongings or objects of prestige. The movement of coins was most probably unidirectional, from the Empire to “Barbaricum” as it is hard to believe that the coins ever returned to the Empire in the form of payments for imports. Regardless of their final designation, the presence of bronze coins in “Barbaricum” during the early Byzantine period remains important for our understanding of the politic, economic, and cultural phenomena developed through the continuous contact between the Empire and the populations outside the border.


The hoard of Hrozova in Moravia is particularly interesting: it is comprised of four issues of Carthage, including a bronze of Zeugitana (241-136 BC), which certainly came as a homogeneous group from North Africa, cf. Militký 2005, 286. 25 Copper coins were found in Slavic, Longobardic, and Frankish archaeological contexts in Slovakia, Poland, Austria, and Germany, (fn. 10) and in Avaric contexts in the lower Mureş basin. The presence of bronze coins is clearly not exclusively connected to the existence of a Romanic community. The automatic association of coins with the Romanic population was based on the time-honored belief that the “migrating” peoples were underdeveloped and could not possibly understand “civilized” mechanisms, cf. Niculescu 2002.


Andrei Gândilă

Fig. 3. Number of coins per year of reign – Anastasius I-Justinian II.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


Fig. 4. Number of coins per reigns/periods.


Andrei Gândilă

Fig. 5. Mints (CON = Constantinople; NIC = Nicomedia; CYZ = Cyzicus; ANT = Antioch; TES = Thessalonica) and denominations (M = follis; K = half-follis; IS = 16 nummia; I = decanummium; E = pentanummium) in “Barbaricum” and the Lower Danube provinces, c. 498-616.

Face value or bullion value? Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Lower Danube Border


Fig. 6. The comparative dynamics of mints in “Barbaricum” and the Lower Danube provinces.


Andrei Gândilă

Fig. 7. The comparative dynamics of denominations in “Barbaricum” and the Lower Danube provinces.

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Adress of the Author: Andrei Gândilă M. A. University of Florida Department of History 025 Keene-Flint Hall Gainesville, FL 32611 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA e-mail:

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