09.01.05, Morrisson, et al, Les trésors

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Pagona Papadopoulou

The Medieval Review baj9928.0901.005


Morrisson, Cécile, Vladislav Popović, Vujadin Ivanišević. Les trésors monétaires byzantins des Balkans et d'Asie Mineure (491-713). Réalités byzantines 13.. Paris: Lethielleux, 2006. Pp. 454. ISBN: 978-2-283-60465-6.

Reviewed by:
Pagona Papadopoulou
Princeton University

Les trésors monétaires byzantins des Balkans et d'Asie Mineure (491-713) is the result of a collaboration between Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian and Serbian numismatists under the direction of Cécile Morrisson, Vladislav Popović and, following the untimely death of the latter, Vujadin Ivanišević. It provides an inventory of the Byzantine coin hoards from the Balkans and Asia Minor, deposited between 491 and 713é a troubled period that saw the fall of the Danubian limes, the settling of the Slavs in the Balkans and the progressive demonetarization of the empire that eventually led to the famous "grande brèche." The catalogue comprises 376 coin hoards composed of 8915 coins of which 2212 are gold, 188 silver and 6515 copper.

The book opens with a preface by Morrisson who traces the history of the project, the methods used, the challenges encountered and the parameters of the undertaking (5-12). Next comes an obituary for Vladislav Popović by Noël Duval reprinted from Antiquité Tardive (13-25). The main text consists of three parts: part one is composed of seven chapters providing historical background and commentaries on the hoards; part two constitutes the hoard inventory; and part three provides tables and indexes.

Chapters one and two, by Vujadin Ivanišević, offer an introduction to the geography (33-35) and administrative history (37-40) of the Balkans, respectively. It is with the third chapter however that the reader begins to realize that the authors have not limited themselves to producing a hoard catalogue "instrument de travail à la disposition de tous," as they modestly state (73), but went further, offering five chapters of commentaries and conclusions drawn from this vast set of data. Chapter three, written by Morrisson and Ivanišević, is an exemplary study of the monetary production and circulation in the 6th-7th centuries considered in light of the coin hoards of this era (41-73). Since the coin issues of the period can be precisely dated, the authors are able to trace closely the variations in the volume of gold and bronze coin production, thus substituting for an extremely time-consuming die study. Silver coins are not considered because they are relatively rare. As far as gold is concerned, although the predominance of the products of Constantinople in the Balkans did not allow any comparisons concerning the volume of production in different mints, the study demonstrates the preponderance of the solidus over its fractions, the general rarity, or even absolute absence--after 613--of the light weight solidi, as well as the effects of military campaigns, territorial losses and the plague of 542 on the production of gold coins. More precise conclusions are drawn for the bronze coins, although they relate mainly to the two denominations of higher value that were usually hoarded, the follis and the half follis. On the basis of the available material the authors present the production of the different mints and their respective production volume for each reign. Particularly interesting is the case of the mint of Thessalonica: after a long period of sporadic and modest production it experiences a true explosion under Justin II, only to return soon afterwards--under Maurice--to the previous pattern of production. The first phenomenon is to be connected with the military need for small denominations in the 570s, whereas the subsequent recession is characteristic of the continuous pressure exercised by the Avars and the Sklavens. The text concerning monetary production is accompanied by a series of useful color graphs clearly illustrating the observed variations.

The study of the monetary circulation is equally well illustrated, with forty graphs and a map. On the basis of the catalogued coin hoards, complemented sometimes by the evidence of single finds, the authors present the monetary supply of different regions for each reign, as well as the distribution patterns for the gold and bronze coins. In addition to observations concerning the relationship between monetary circulation and historical events, the authors insist on the influence exercised by the administrative organization on the diffusion of coins and trace the progressive recession in monetization that seems to occur earlier in certain areas. Here, too, the mint of Thessalonica appears to be of particular interest since the presence--although limited--of its products in Anemourion, Sardes and the shipwreck of Yass Ada evinces monetary circulation through commercial channels, reinforced by the mechanisms of the Quaestura exercitus.

In chapter four, Ivanišević uses the evidence of hoards and historical sources in order to reconstruct the successive waves and routes of invasions in the Balkans (75-85), thus opposing Florin Curta's recent theory, in which he tends to attribute the hoarding of this period to inflation rather than to the insecurity created by the invasions. In the next chapter, I. Touratsoglou analyzes the 7th century coin hoards from the Aegean and their connection with the Slav, Avar, Arab and Persian attacks in the region (95-104). He interprets the large hoards of gold coins and jewelry from Lesbos (Kratigos in Mytilene and Drakopa Polychnitos), as well as those from eastern Thrace (Akalan and Çatalca), as the reserves of rich individuals escaping the Persian and Avar attacks, respectively. In chapter six, Pascal Culerrier comments on the hoards from Asia Minor (96-110) a practically thankless task because of the extremely limited, purely bibliographical documentation. The lack of data from Asia Minor is evident throughout the book and underlines once more the need for more publications on the numismatic material from this area. The authors certainly cannot be held responsible for this fact, but their decision to limit the bibliography to purely Western publications (e.g., Bates, Foss) is disappointing: with the exception of Türk Arkeoloji Dergisi for the material from Aphrodisias, there is no reference to Turkish archaeological journals, such as Belleten, Kaz Sonuçlar Toplants, where one could possibly find unknown numismatic material. Finally, in chapter seven, J. Youroukova discusses the hoards of Sadovec and their deposit date (111-112).

The hoard catalogue, which provides the basis for the commentaries of chapters one to seven, forms the second section of the book (113-430). The hoards are presented in geographical order, not by modern states, as was initially planned, but by Byzantine dioceses and provinces according to the Synekdemos of Hierokles, in order to make clear the influence of the administrative factor on monetary circulation. Every hoard has a number under which it can be located in a colored fold-out map (Carte II) and every other map in the text. Besides the place and date of discovery, every entry also contains the following: conditions of discovery, the current location of the hoard, a brief description of its composition, the latest coin and a proposed date for its deposit. Although the organization of the material according to the Byzantine administrative system is illuminating, citation of the equivalent modern states would have helped orient the reader. The catalogue also offers a series of corrections concerning the dating, the localization and the composition of certain hoards. These corrections result in some cases from a re-examination of the material in situ.

The third and final section includes a synoptic table of all the hoards, indexes of their distribution (by modern country, diocese, province and content), as well as an index of places of discovery (432-452).

The reader might be disappointed by the editors' decision to exclude, despite the title of the book, the hoards of the Balkan regions of western Illyricum (modern Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia), whereas hoards from Hungary (no 349), the Czech Republic (no 356) and Slovakia (no 368) were included. An extensive bibliography on the excluded regions compensates only somewhat for their omission (1, n. 1). In order to work on the assembled material the inventory was necessarily closed in April 2001, well before publication, and includes only a few important hoards published after that date. However, as Curta has already mentioned in his review [Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 31/2 (2007), 229-230], some hoards published before that date have been omitted. In addition to those cited by Curta, I note the absence from the catalogue of an important hoard found in Rhodes, which is mentioned only in passing by Touratrsoglou (102): it is the double hoard from Lindos, composed on the one hand by fourteen 7th century solidi (Justin II and Constantine IV) and on the other hand by 12th century Byzantine, Almohad and English coins [J. Balling, A Byzantine double hoard from Lindos, Nordisk Numismatisk Årsskrift (1963), 13-41]. Overall, however, these shortcomings are minor and no doubt unavoidable given the difficulty of the monumental task at hand.

Les trésors monétaires attests to many years of hard work and fruitful collaboration. Its almost exhaustive inventory of coin hoards from 491 to 713, which were originally published in diverse languages and often in obscure journals, offers scholars a user-friendly instrumentum studiorum. It is accompanied by pertinent comments that place the hoard evidence in its historical and economic contexts, thus rendering it useful to every historian of the period. It represents a model for cooperative research and publication in Byzantine numismatics that will hopefully set the standard for future studies of other periods and regions.

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Pagona Papadopoulou

Princeton University