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The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece

David M. Schaps

Publication Year: 2004

Coinage appeared at a moment when it fulfilled an essential need in Greek society and brought with it rationalization and social leveling in some respects, while simultaneously producing new illusions, paradoxes, and new elites. In a book that will encourage scholarly discussion for some time, David M. Schaps addresses a range of important coinage topics, among them money, exchange, and economic organization in the Near East and in Greece before the introduction of coinage; the invention of coinage and the reasons for its adoption; and the developing use of money to make more money. David M. Schaps is Professor of Classics at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xi-xii

List of Figures

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pp. xiii-xiv


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pp. xv-xviii

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1. The Revolutionary Invention

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pp. 1-17

OCCASIONALLY AN INVENTION succeeds so thoroughly that it changes permanently the terms in which its society thinks. It becomes an essential part of the world; life without it is hardly conceivable, and when observing other societies—or indeed, when remembering one’s own society before the coming of the invention—one tends to imagine that there must have been...

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2. Questions and Controversies

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pp. 18-33

EVEN MORE THAN OTHER historical events, the invention of coinage is an occurrence whose aspect depends upon the attitudes we bring to it and the questions we ask of it.1 Economists, historians, and anthropologists may each reasonably claim it for their own portion and may indeed treat with scorn those who, without the expertise of their field, presume to trespass...

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3. Money before Coinage: The Ancient Near East

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pp. 34-56

IN THE BRONZE AGE, the Near East was by no means what an economist would consider a moneyless society. All ancient Near Eastern societies had a conventional standard of value, and many had a standard of payment, usually precious metals or a specified grain. The standard of payment was always “primitive money,” never coin,1 and it did not always perform all of the functions that coin was later to perform. The economic details varied from...

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4. Greece before Money: The Bronze Age

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pp. 57-62

BRONZE AGE GREECE was far behind its Near Eastern contemporaries in economic sophistication. As far as we can tell, it had no regular standard of value. Gold was important to the kings of Mycenae; not for nothing did Homer speak of “Mycenae rich in gold,” and visitors to the National Museum in Athens are still astonished today by the wealth and workmanship of the gold...

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5. Homer: Tripods and Oxen

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pp. 63-79

ONE OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS of Sir Moses I. Finley1 was to demonstrate that the Homeric poems describe a society understandable in terms of modern anthropology and that the society described was not the society that produced the Linear B tablets.2 Finley presumed that, “allowing for anachronisms and fictions, the society revealed in the poems existed in...

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6. The Archaic Age: Cauldrons, Spits, and Silver

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pp. 80-92

IF THE POST-MYCENAEAN AGE had been one of geographic retrenchment, with local dynasts taking the place of the regional palaces, the period that we call “archaic,” from the eighth century to the sixth, was one of expansion. Many new or abandoned sites were settled. The number of burials seems to have risen steeply, strongly suggesting that population, too, was rising. The...

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7. The First Coins

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pp. 93-110

THE EARLIEST DATABLE COINS were made neither of gold nor of silver nor of copper. In the British Museum’s excavations of the Artemision at Ephesus during 1904–5, ninety-three small pieces of metal were discovered, all but two of them conforming to the Milesian weight standard and most of them struck with an image on one side. Nineteen of these were a hoard found...

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8. Money and the Market

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pp. 111-123

THE MONETIZATION OF THE MARKETPLACE appears to have been immediate (a matter of decades at the most) and total. Nowhere in the historical record after coins have been invented do we find local markets being run by barter. Everything sold in the marketplace was sold for a price, and the price was expressed and expected in coins. As we have seen in his story of...

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9. The Monetization of Politics

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pp. 124-137

Peisistratus was an Athenian of good family and connections, who had distinguished himself in the Megarian war. Being politically ambitious, he organized a party around himself; being unscrupulous, he succeeded in persuading the Athenians to supply him with bodyguards. With the aid of these “club bearers,” he established himself as tyrant of Athens....

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10. War by Other Means

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pp. 138-149

AS IN ALL OTHER SPHERES, so in war: the invention of coinage did not make possible the impossible. Money pays the soldiers, supplies their food and weapons, and may often buy off their enemy, but all of these problems can be met without money. Here as elsewhere, the invention of coinage made the possible much easier and so changed the way in which things were done, until...

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11. The Monetization of Labor

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pp. 150-162

There was no proletariat in ancient Greece; the use of the term proletariat to refer to wage earners in general is an innovation of the nineteenth century.1 There were surely poor Athenians, and there were propertyless Athenians; but as far as is known to me, there were, until the invention of coinage, no free Athenians who worked daily for an employer who paid them a regular...

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12. Money on the Farm

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pp. 163-174

FARMERS ARE AND WERE notoriously conservative. Not only their relative isolation from the trends of public opinion but the nature of their work predisposes them to continue in the ways of their fathers: plants and animal scan be damaged or killed with a day or two of improper care, and one introduces innovations only with the greatest of caution. It will not surprise...

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13. Using Money to Make Money

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pp. 175-193

If coins had been merely a convenience, a more effective way of transferring items from one to another, their effect on Greece would probably have been limited to increasing market trade, making trade and exchange a larger part of the society’s experience. This effect they surely had; but their influence went much deeper. The conceptual revolution that identified coins with...

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14. Monetization: Limits and Illusions

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pp. 194-212

“MONEY,” WROTE PAUL BOHANNON, “is one of the shatteringly simplifying ideas of all time, and like any other new and compelling idea, it creates its own revolution.”1 Bohannon is not an ancient historian; he was speaking of the effect of the introduction of coinage to the society of the Tiv in Nigeria, and his judgment is open to the objection that Western society impinges...


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pp. 213-246


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pp. 247-272


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pp. 273-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025336
E-ISBN-10: 0472025333
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113330
Print-ISBN-10: 047211333X

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2004