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The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece

Author(s):Schaps, David M.
Reviewer(s):Silver, Morris

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

David M. Schaps, The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. xvii + 293 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-472-11333-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Silver, Department of Economics (Emeritus), City College of the City University of New York.

Briefly stated, David Schaps’ central argument runs as follows:

Coinage = Money (in the Greek experience the two are equated) was invented in Greece or Asia Minor (Lydia) in the later seventh or earlier sixth century. The Greeks eagerly copied/adapted this innovation and it spread rapidly in their cities during the sixth century. The result was a profound transformation in Greek economy and society. Before the Greek adoption of coinage, the ancient Mediterranean world knew only primitive money, not money as we know it. Primitive money was incapable of generating the revolution that Greece experienced.

I begin with a number of quotations capturing the argument and then, in the main part of the review, move on to consider the details.

This book will tell the story… of the development of money both in the Near East and in Greece up to the invention of coinage and its widespread adoption by the Greek cities, the only communities that adopted it wholeheartedly at its first appearance. (17)

Something new happened with the invention of coinage, and it produced a new idea that persists to our day. (5)

I have tried throughout only to sketch the ways in which Greek thought and behavior were changed by the introduction of money. (vii)

From the Greeks onward, we find a new way of speaking and ofthinking. Now a person might state the entirety of a household’s possessions in terms of money, as no member of a premonetary society would ever do. (16)

One of the central propositions of this book is that when we speak historically, the invention of coinage was the invention of money: that is, the concept that we understand as “money” did not exist before the seventh century B.C.E., when coins were first minted. There surely had been many items before that we may recognize correctly, as money, there were even places…where a single item performed all the functions associated with money. Never before, however, had these items been conceptualized as money, for money to the Greeks, as to us, was the measure of all things, something different in nature from all the valuables that might represent it. (15; emphasis in original)

All ancient Near Eastern societies had a conventional standard of value, usually precious metals or a specified grain. The standard of payment was always “primitive money,” never coin, and it did not always perform all the functions that coin was later to perform…. If Greece was the cradle of coinage and Lydia its birthplace, the societies of the Near East were its ancestors. (34)

Schaps links the unprecedented Greek adoption of coinage with Greek backwardness. The Greeks… who had only very primitive forms of currency, thought of coins as they had never thought of those items in which they had once traded, evaluated and paid. An ideal that had grown up in the East at a time when Greece had no need for it suddenly dawned on the Greeks when coins appeared. It was a time when the Greeks were in a period of economic and intellectual expansion for which their relatively primitive economic concepts did not provide an adequate basis…. Precisely because of their economic backwardness, they had no sufficient preexisting conceptual structure to compete with or subordinate the idea of money. (16-17)

Why did the ancient Near East (ANE) not move from a very evident monetization to “money, as we know it”? Technology would not have raised a barrier to the transformation. Why were coins so exciting to the Greeks and so uninteresting to their neighbors? The answer is that they filled a need peculiar to Greek society…. It was Greece that was searching for new forms of government and administration to manage the new complexity of the poleis and new ways of organization to maintain its people, and coins made that administration and that organization simpler and more manageable than spits and cauldrons [primitive money] could have done. (108)

This is interesting, but not entirely convincing. An alternative line of explanation is that coinage (guaranteed money) is not nearly as important economically as Schaps supposes. The alleged special interest of the Greeks in coinage may then reflect an ideological dimension peculiar to the Greeks. Schaps mentions “the particular Greek appreciation of the universality of money” (196). There is also a real question, explored below, whether Greece was really so backward monetarily as Schaps suggests.

Schaps’ presentation is quite clear and, obviously, there is rich material here. The view that coinage was invented by the Lydians is one that is generally accepted by scholars. I do have some problems with the equation of money with coinage and the meaning of “primitive money.” There is also something of a problem with respect to whom, according to Schaps, invented coinage: On the one hand, the Lydians invented coins and then the Greeks eagerly used them. On the other hand, the time when the Greeks eagerly used coins is the time of invention. These are relatively minor issues and I put them aside. On to the details!

I. Did the Ancient Near East Know Coinage?

A. Indirect Evidence

1. Schaps states that a “discussion of the factors that go into price determination does not form part of this book, for their importance arises in a money economy, and the point at which the Greeks achieved a money economy is the point at which this study ends” (30). I am not sure exactly what this means. Schaps is perhaps suggesting that the forces of supply and demand determine prices only in an economy with money, which he equates with coinage. This is, of course, completely false. Later Schaps adds “The Babylonian economy was still not, as it would become in the Hellenistic period, dominated by a market where prices changed each day; but it was not immune to the law of supply and demand” (49). This is a heroic understatement! Although we do not have daily price data, there is ample evidence of price changes and of the operation of supply and demand. Indeed, the Old Babylonian period (earlier second millennium BCE) has been characterized by Hallo (1958: 98) as one in which “there was a price on everything from the skin of a gored ox to the privilege of a temple office.”

2. Silver was indeed used as a means of payment in the ANE. However, rather than spreading through the population, it remained in the hands of merchants. “It never became, as coins eventually would, synonymous with wealth itself. It could not have done so, if only because too few people owned it. For this reason, the Babylonians never thought of silver as we think of money” (51).

The surviving documents do not demonstrate that Mesopotamians thought of money in the same way the Greeks did. Caution is justified about the reason for this presumed difference. There is evidence for the dispersal of precious metals in the population. As early as the middle of the third millennium in Ebla (in Syria) silver was used to purchase ordinary goods including clothing and grain as well as wine and semi-precious stones (Archi 1993: 52). Mesopotamian texts of the middle of the second half of the third millennium already show us street vendors, and, according to Foster (1977: 35-36, nn. 47, 48), the use of silver to pay rents and purchase dates, oil, barley, animals, slaves, and real estate; in addition, “silver was widely used in personal loans and was often in possession of private citizens and officials.”

3. Schaps asserts “The silver of the Near East had never been coined; it was weighed at each transaction, and the scale was an essential accessory to every sale” (49). This statement may reflect general belief, but it goes beyond the evidence. It is not true that ANE texts invariably mention weighing and/or scales. Indeed, to my knowledge, the mention of scales is infrequent. Nevertheless, Schaps is on strong ground in stressing the centrality of weighing in transactions recorded in the Bible.[1]

B. Direct Evidence

Schaps maintains that “an examination of the various primitive items that have at one time or another been claimed to be coins fails to reveal any clear example, and it may be useful to clear the air of the various hypotheses, which by their very number can create the false impression that coinage was common in the eastern Mediterranean Basin long before the Lydians and the Greeks” (222-23). Elsewhere he maintains that “the verisimilitude of the preceding suggestion is not much above zero” (235). Schaps may well be correct in rejecting this hypothesis. However, his treatment of the evidence leaves something to be desired.

1. The evidence is reasonably clear that the ANE went a good part of the way toward coinage by circulating ingots of guaranteed quality. Assyrian loan contracts of the eighth to seventh centuries use various formulas to advance “silver of (the goddess) Ishtar (of the city) Arbela (or Nineveh or Bit Kidmuri).” Lipinski (1979) argued brilliantly against interpreting this phrase to mean “temple capital.” Expressions of this kind, he suggested, refer to the quality of the metal, and their inclusion in contracts makes no sense unless the metal is impressed with a stamp of guarantee. The practice of guaranteeing metal quality, it may be added, probably goes back to the second millennium. The expression “silver of the gods” is found in texts from Mari in Syria and Amarna in Egypt. For example, in a letter concerning the disposition of an inheritance the king of Mari refers to the deceased person’s “silver of the gods” (Malamat 1998: p. 185; cf. CAD s.v. ilu 1.e).

In discussing the ingots from the temple of Arbela Schaps concludes: There was nothing particularly important about this development as far as Assyria was concerned. The temple’s ingots, even if stamped, were no more than good quality silver…. It will have been the business of a merchant to recognize them and to know good silver from bad, but there was nothing revolutionary about them. They may have come in convenient sizes…, but they were hardly standardized, and it is hard to imagine that a merchant would have failed to put them on the scale before accepting them. (92)

A guarantee of metal quality surely reduced the transaction cost of using money and it is therefore puzzling that Schaps considers this a development little or no importance. Moreover, he goes beyond the evidence in saying that the ingots were not standardized in weight. The texts do not say that the ingots were weighed.

2. Schaps writes of the Egyptian shaty “piece”: “It is regularly used as an item of account, not a medium of trade: that is, not ‘pieces’ but other items changed hands, bartered for each other and evaluated in terms of ‘pieces'” (224-25). In fact, there is evidence for the circulation of shaty‘s in texts of the Ramesside era (second half of the second millennium). In the Eighteenth Dynasty, a text (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1453A) records the delivery of silver shaty‘s to a woman at the meryet “quay, marketplace” (Condon 1984: 63-65). In Papyrus Boulaq 11 merchants pay for quantities of meat and wine with shaty‘s (Castle 1992: 253, 257; Peet 1934). The texts do not say that the shaty‘s were weighed or tested for quality.

3. Schaps discusses the Egyptian Hekanakht letters of about 2000 BCE, but he does not refer to the following significant detail. Copper coins may be indicated when Hekanakht sends to his agent “24 copper debens” for renting land. James (1984: 245) explains that “the letter says quite clearly ’24 copper debens,’ not ’24 debens of copper,’ which ought to signify 24 pieces of copper each weighing, one deben.”

4. Schaps does not mention texts from the Assyrian trading station in Anatolia (earlier second millennium BCE) in which we sometimes find prices being expressed in terms of copper ingots, patallu and sad?lu. Thus, one Dakuku “owes 12 copper sad?lus as the price of donkey.” Dercksen (1996. 60, n. 179) notes that “quantity is expressed by simply giving the number of ingots instead of their weight [which] points to a more or less customary weight and size for this type” (emphasis added). I would add that use of the number of ingots also points to a standard quality.

5. Schaps defines “coin” as follows: “[A] coin is an object, usually but not necessarily of metal, which circulates as a medium of trade, and whose value is guaranteed by the stamp of the issuing authority” (223). He adds: “We may thus ignore without further discussions such items as spits, rings, and sealed bags of silver, which although they served many of the purposes that coins later served were not by themselves coins at all. They belong to the history of ‘primitive money’… (223).

Schaps’ dismissal of sealed bags of silver is most puzzling and instead of ignoring these, he offers a brief discussion of their significance. He concludes that “When silver was to be reused, a certain amount was given to the assayer in advance. Whatever the assayer did not use was sealed with a royal seal, obviating the need for weighing and assaying it again. The ‘sealed silver,’ then, is ordinary silver sealed in a sack, not a coin” (223-24).

In my view, sealed bags provide evidence for widespread use of “coinage” in the ANE. The background is as follows. Cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium refer to sealed bags of silver (e.g. kaspum kankum). We hear of “(silver) in lumps-sealed in a bag” (CAD s.v. kankua) and “x silver which is placed in its sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kan?ku 2). There is also mention of silver “marked” (udd?) with its weight (CAD s.v. id? 4.a). Copper might also be packed into purses called (c)hurshianu (CAD s.v.; Dercksen 1996: 66)

The sealed bags might be transferred: “I needed (and asked you for in writing) ten shekels of silver under seal.” x silver which PN gave to PN2 , and which is marked with the name of the merchant. (CAD s.v. s(umu 1.e); “you have sent me silver which is not fit for business transactions… send me silver, (in) a sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kaniktu 2). Oppenheim (1969) makes brief mention of cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium that refer to sealed bags of silver deposited with persons who used the silver in various transactions. Most directly, the practice of transacting with sealed bags of silver is reflected in the call, in eighteenth-century contracts from Mesopotamia (the city of Larsa), for merchants to pay for palace-owned goods with “sealed silver” (Stol 1982: 150-51). The transactional use of sacks is ignored by S.[2]

Some years ago, in reflecting on these references, it occurred to me that in eleventh-century-CE Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa, in Talmudic times (400-500 CE) and earlier in Carthage and in Rome (the tesserae nummulariae), various coins and (probably) metal fragments were kept in purses labeled on the outside with the contents and sealed by governments or private merchants. In addition to keeping the coins “fresh” — that is, preserving their full weight — Udovitch (1979: 267), who studied the usage in medieval Islam, explains: “these packaged and labeled purses made settlement of accounts much more convenient… by obviating the need to weigh, array, and evaluate coins for every individual transaction. Significantly, most payments and transfers of funds were executed by the actual physical transfer of the purses.” We may assume that these purses circulated among the wealthier classes.

Schaps responds as follows: “[Morris] Silver (126-27) obfuscates this point, going so far as to say that (medieval Islamic!) sealed purses ‘in short… were large denomination coins.’ This is surely to broaden the definition of a coin far beyond reason” (224, n. 9). Schaps obtained this quote from my 1985 edition. In 1995 I wrote: “In short, the sealed purses functioned as large-denomination ‘coins'” (161). The reason for the change in formulation is that numismatic specialists and antiquarians insisted that coins had to be made of metal. I was hammered on this, to an economist, unimportant detail. Schaps? properly broadened definition of “coin” makes my original formulation perfectly appropriate. Under his definition a “nickel,” as he says, can be wooden and “a dollar bill would also count as a ‘coin’ (223, n. 3). The important point is that there is evidence to suggest that the kaspum kankum functioned as/were coins!

6. Schaps does not mention evidence provided by Joann’s (1989). Hammurabi (1792-1750) paid/rewarded Mari’s soldiers with (mysterious) shamsh?tum “sun discs,” gold rings, silver of 5 or 10 shekels, and with small pieces of silver impressed with a seal. Joann?s bases himself on ARMT 25, 815 and a letter (A-486+) to Zimri-Lim, the king of Mari. The key word here is kaniktum from kan?kum “to mark a seal” (see CAD s.vv.). In the absence of (additional?) evidence for the use of kaniktum to make payments, Joann?s suggests that these sealed metal objects may have been “medals.” Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps they were coins. Indeed, as far as I am aware, the evidence for coinage is more ample than the evidence for “medals”! The text is silent about whether and how Mari’s soldiers spent the small pieces of sealed silver.

7. Several bread-shaped ingots of the eighth century inscribed with the name of a king preceded by the Aramaic letter lamed have actually been found in the palace of Zinjirli, a north Syrian state located on the only good crossing of the Amanus mountains from east to west. The meaning of the possessive l is debated. One possibility is that it means “belonging to” in the sense of personal possession. Balmuth (1971: 3), however, suggests that it means “on behalf of” or “in the name of” (its meaning on coins of later times) and, therefore, that the inscription represents a royal guarantee of the metal. Any such guarantee might refer only to the quality of the metal or to both quality and weight. Schaps responds as follows: “But there is no indication that this disk… was ever meant to be currency at all, and coins did not become current in this area until centuries later” (91, n.52). Thus, Schaps comes close to saying that the ingot could not be a coin because they had not been invented yet! Schaps believes that the disks were designed for storage of wealth, not for making payments. Perhaps he has guessed right. The fact is, however, that there is simply no evidence beyond the inscribed ingots themselves.

As I will show next, Schaps requires much more from the Near Eastern coinage evidence than from the Greek.

II. Greek Coinage Evidence

1. There is clear evidence of a double standard in Schaps’ consideration of the Lydian evidence (93-6). The “Lydian” coins excavated in the Artemision at Ephesus are mostly dated to the seventh and earlier sixth centuries BCE. However, the dating remains controversial. Two of the pieces were dumps not coins. The significance of their inscriptions is still being debated. All but two of the ninety-three pieces conformed to the Milesian weight standard. There is no evidence that merchants would not have had to weigh them. There is no direct evidence that the coins circulated. The coins are made of the wrong metal, electrum instead of silver, gold, or copper. (Variation in the ratio of gold to silver, would seem to call for quality testing.) In short, despite numerous opportunities for raising objections, Schaps does not hesitate to call the finds in the Artemision, the “earliest datable coins” (93; emphasis added).

Schaps explains further: “The motivation behind the ‘cutting’… of such coins must have been quite different from the motivation of the temple of Arbela in casting its ingots. Ingots of a pound or so are a convenient way in which to store silver, and they were probably made for that purpose. Small and minutely subdivided weights of electrum [as in the Ephesus hoard], however, were undoubtedly made for payment not storage” (100). Possibly. However, there is evidence for the circulation of the Arbela ingots. A contract in which neither the temple nor its commercial agent is a party shows the silver being loaned out. The document originates some 50 miles from Arbela. On the other hand, no direct evidence is presented that the Ephesus coins circulated.

Contrast Schaps’ evaluation of the Artemision coins with his view of the Cappadocian lead disks, which may date to the mid-second millennium (225-26). The “ornamentation” on (one side) of the disks is similar but not identical. The disks “vary irregularly in weight.” They are made of the “wrong metal.” There is no evidence of “circulation from place to place.” Scholars have expressed doubts that “such small bits of lead could have had much monetary value” (225). “Nothing suggests that they are coins except their size and shape and the fact that they are made of metal…” (225). It would seem that ANE candidates for designation as early coins are always too large or too small or whatever.

2. Schaps does not demonstrate that the Greece took its inspiration from Lydian coins. Schaps explains: “The Greek coins were silver, not electrum…. The change to silver indicates that coins, even if they had begun as a solution to the problem of the variability of electrum, had come to be appreciated as what they now were: a countable unit of value” (104; emphasis added). Clearly, this terminology simply assumes an imitation and modification of Lydian coinage practices.

3. There are hints that the Greeks had long been familiar with “primitive money” or even coinage. Greek traditions and legends place coinage much earlier than the sixth century. Thus, Plutarch (Theseus 25.3) wrote in the first century CE that Theseus, the legendary unifier and king of Attica, issued coins. In the second century CE, the scholar Pollux (9.83), claimed that coinage was invented by the even more shadowy Athenian figure Erichthonius, an early king. We find reports in ancient literary sources that Pheidon, king of Argos, introduced a silver coinage possibly as early as the eighth century (see S 101-4).

Hacksilber “cut-silver” hoards have not been found inside Greece. However, an eighth century hoard was excavated in Eretria in Euboea. (The Taranto 1911 hoard is dated to c. 600.) Balmuth (1975: 296) suggests that “although many of these have been called silversmith’s hoards, the practicability of exchange by weight suggests that Hacksilber could simultaneously be both material for a jeweler and material for exchange.” Schaps does not “believe there was ever an internal bullion economy in Greece” (195).[3] However, Kim (2001) has presented evidence that money of weighed silver bullion was employed in the Greek world well before the introduction of coinage. There are references to the use of silver to pay fines in Solon’s time.

More importantly, Schaps provides evidence consistent with bullion usage. In the eighth century, at Gortyn in Crete, the leb?s “cauldron” was used to make payments. Schaps explains that “it is hard to escape the impression that cauldrons, as inconvenient as they may seem to be, were functioning as a means of payment… in which fines could be assessed and deposits demanded” (83, cf. 195). Actually, it is preposterous that physical cauldrons were used as means of payment. More reasonably, “cauldrons” might be the name for an ingot, perhaps stamped with the image of a cauldron. Mysterious monetary units are, after all, commonplace in the historical documents. Thus, a text from the ANE (Isin) records the purchase of an orchard for copper “hoes” ((c)haputu) inscribed with the name of the goddess Ninisina. Payments are also made in “sickles” and “axes” (CAD niggallu 1.b).

III. Alleged Revolutionary Effect of Coinage/Money

Schaps’ central proposition is not documented in a credible manner. In this endeavor, he receives only limited mileage from his strained identification of coinage with money. Sometimes he claims for money/coin the effects of Greek economic growth. In other instances, he admits that no revolution occurred. The quotations cited below illustrate his difficulties.

1. “The conceptual revolution that identified coins with wealth turned money into an item of which one could never have too much, or, indeed, enough” (175). What then of the Assyrian merchants of the early second millennium BCE whose wives scolded them “You love only money, and you hate your own life!” (Larsen 1982: 42)? More to the point, what of Solon (Fragment 13.43-45. 47-48, 71-73 West):

One hastens after one thing, another after something else; one man, desiring to bring home profit, wanders over the fishy sea in ships … another, whose concern is the curved plow, cleaves the thickly wooded land and slaves away for a year… but no limit of wealth [ploutou d’ouden terma] is clearly laid down for men; for those of us who now have the greatest livelihood [pleiston…bion] have twice the eagerness [diplasion specdousi]; who can satisfy [koreseien] all? (Balot 2001: 90)Presumably, this view originates in the late archaic period — i.e. before the Greeks adopted coinage. In any event, Solon does not link human acquisitiveness with coinage or money.

2. “To the extent, then, that Homeric society had distinguished prestige goods from nonprestige goods, money subverted the distinction: money could buy anything and could be gotten in exchange for anything. It follows that even a peasant or a shopkeeper could amass enough money to buy the most prestigious goods; and it followed from this that the possession of those goods, which is now open to everybody, no longer distinguished the best from the worst” (117).

3. “The history of the late archaic age in Greece is the story of the crumbling of oligarchies. This development was already underway before coinage had been invented…. Nevertheless, it is more than probable that money and the market had their share in continuing the process and in changing the entire concept of oligarchy” (120).

4. An (alleged) trend from socially embedded transactions to impersonal economics should not be attributed to the adoption of coinage. There is no doubt that economic transactions tended, as Greek society developed from the archaic age to the classical and the Hellenistic, to be more a matter of immediate mutual economic benefit and less a form of discharging social obligations. The invention of coinage certainly facilitated this change, which may, however, have been propelled more by simple population growth than by any technological or cultural development. (33)

5. “The agora grew up in the Kerameikos, the potters quarter, and excavations have found evidence of potters’ waste as far back as 1000 B.C.E., but there are not other signs of commercial or industrial activity before the growth of the agora itself [in the sixth century]” (113). “We cannot… prove that there was no retail trade before coins were invented; but what we have seen suggests that if there was any, there was not much” (115). The latter suggestion, however, does not depend so much on “what we have seen” as on what we have not, namely the archaic agora! “The place in which Athenians had previously congregated was hardly remembered by the Athenians and has not been securely identified to this day” (113).

In the end, Schaps offers a more balanced appraisal. The various participants “were all making a profit, and they were doing it in a way that would have been a good deal more difficult before the invention of coinage” (115). “Money, we may reiterate, did not create trade, but it marked the beginning of a new age of commerce in Greece” (122). “An expansion of retail trade was the first visible concomitant of coins. At this distance, we cannot tell which is cause and which is effect, but we can say at least that the marketplace and coinage grew up together” (196).

6. “Without money, the great temples, the dramatic festivals of Athens, its navy, and its democracy would have taken a very different form, if they had come to exist at all” (197). This is simply a reach.

7. “Merkelbach’s observation that a bordello was hardly conceivable before the invention of money is a plausible one, though the ‘money’ involved need not have been coins: the weighed silver of the Levant would also have been sufficient” (160). “Merkelbach’s observation” is “plausible” only because he does not identify money with coinage. How did Greeks pay for sexual services before the (alleged) “invention” of coinage/money in the sixth century? Schaps does not tell us.

8. “The ancient Greeks, even when money had become the universal medium of exchange, still considered the exchange of labor for money to be the exceptional case” (162). No revolution in the labor market.

9. “In sum, it appears that money never truly transformed Greek agriculture” (172).

Schaps, however, underestimates the market orientation of Greek agriculture in the later archaic period. Citing Hesiod (Works and Days 618-94), he (89, cf. 119) suggests that “Peasants might try to change an agricultural surplus into a more lasting form of wealth by sailing abroad during the seasons when the farm could be left alone.” What exactly was the “more lasting form of wealth” in these days (allegedly) before money/coin? With respect to Schaps? “agricultural surplus,” Redfield 2003: 168) points out that Hesiod advises “peasants” to “leave the greater part, and load as cargo the lesser” (Works and Days 690). Hesiod it seems can actually imagine farming entirely for export, although he is against it.” Moreover, Hesiod’s comment that “wealth means life to poor mortals” indicates an appreciation of production for the market.

IV. Peripheral Contributions

Apart from his central argument, Schaps makes a number of rather interesting and useful observations. Some examples follow.

“When the [Mycenaean] palaces had been burned and their far-flung bureaucracy dispersed, there will have been more need for exchange. The Homeric heroes did indeed have to weigh the value of a slave against the value of a tripod; if this seems to us a step toward the concept of money, it is not for that reason a sign of an expanding economy” (71). Thus, as I would see this, the Homeric era can be viewed and an “Intermediate Period” of a type familiar in Egyptian economic history.

Speaking of the marketplace in Athens, Schaps notes: These merchandises were not mixed: not only was there no one ‘general store’ that sold them all, but there was not even a single place where one could ‘do the shopping.’ Each merchandise had its own part of the agora, and a person would speak of being ‘among the fish’ or ‘among the banks.’ (167)

Or even, citing Aristophanes, “among the tragedies” (S 167, n. 19)!

Schaps (123) cites Aristophanes’ joke that a politician could win public support by lowering the price of sardines.

Schaps takes up private enterprise in the coinage business: It might, in theory, have happened that coining would have become a form of business, in which private individuals turned silver into coins that would have been accepted by the reputation of the coiner…. It did not happen in Greece. Once coinage was generally adopted in Greek cities, the coining of money was normally a state monopoly. (179)

By contrast, I would suggest, some of the inscriptions on the coins from the Artemision coins seem to be personal names, which leaves open the possibility that the issuers were private individuals.

Large business loans were made at Athens. “It is true, however, that large loans at Athens were, as far we can tell, never designed to be paid off in drips and drabs out of one’s regular income” (245).

There are also some rather unfortunate observations. “Behind the [Greek] prejudice [against merchants] though hardly ever explicitly expressed, lies a real paradox, namely, the syllogism that: (a) a trade should be fair; (b) if a trade is fair, both sides should remain with the same value; whence it follows that (c) if a person can increase his capital by trade, he is cheating someone” (177). It should be needless to say that there is no “real paradox.” An uncoerced exchange benefits both parties. Unless each contractor views his postexchange position to be superior to his preexchange position, exchange will not take place. Contrary to the Marxist perspective, exchange is productive. Specifically, trade rearranges an existing stock of goods in a way that enables each participant to become better off as measured relative to his own values at the time of deciding to trade. The creative nature of trade is little appreciated by scholars untrained in basic economic principles. Schaps (177, n. 7) compounds the problem by minimizing the contribution of the middleman in “making a market.” Later, he redeems himself by crediting the obolostat?s “obol weigher” for smoothing the function of the marketplace by “redistributing — for a fee — the coins that circulated in the market so that any seller could count on finding enough coins to start a day’s business” (186).

Concluding Remark

Not surprisingly, Schaps fails to demonstrate his thesis that coin=money revolutionized Greek economy and society. In my judgment, it is not nearly enough to cite the obvious advantages of coins in retail trade and to note that a Greek household might now express the entirety of its possessions in terms of money. With respect to the invention of coinage, the communis opinio has long been that it first appeared in the Greek world, not in the Near East. Schaps, to his credit, does explore the evidence for coinage in the Near East. However, he omits or misrepresents much and treats the remainder in an unbalanced manner. He has a tendency to make definitive statements not supported by evidence. Outside his central argument, he has many worthwhile things to say. The latter insights are sufficient to justify a favorable evaluation of the book.

Notes:

1. In Genesis 23.16, Abraham “weighed” for Ephron’s field the sum of 400 shekels of silver kesep ‘?ber lass?cher. The latter phrase is usually translated “current money of the merchant,” but the literal meaning is “silver passing for the merchant.” The expression makes us focus on the kind of silver that would be employed in commerce. Hurowitz (1986: 290, n.3), taking note of the Old Assyrian usage kaspum asshumi PN (personal name) equlam ittiq — “silver will travel overland to the name of PN” — concludes that the silver “must have been of a standard, recognized quality.” There is no mention in Genesis of a test of the quality of the metal. Hence, it seems reasonable that a merchant’s stamp or seal guaranteed the silver. Schaps (91, n. 50) rejects this interpretation. He (228, n. 37) is correct in insisting that the silver was weighed

2. Despite the dangers, some biblical evidence should be noted. In 2 Kings 12.10-12 we read that in the ninth century under King Jehoash: a box with a hole bored in it was set up in the temple for the collection of silver [presumably silver pieces] for a repairs fund; at a certain point the Temple officers removed the silver from the box and “tied it up”/”bagged it” [warrasuru]; then the silver was counted [wayyimnu]; and then the “measured”/”regulated” [metukkan] silver was given to contractors who delivered it to various workers at the Temple who used it to purchase timber and stone. The text does not say that the sacks were opened in order to make payments. Thus, expressing all due caution, the most direct understanding is that the sacks circulated outside the Temple.

3. There is some reason to believe that terms originally meaning “weigh” came to have the meaning “pay” (compare S 228, n. 37) The Greek material provides a possible example of this kind of development in meaning. A law of Solon states: “Silver is to be stasimon at however much the lender may choose” (Kroll 2001: 78; Schaps 2001: 97). The orator Lysias (later fifth-earlier fourth century BCE) explains “This stasimon, my good man, is not a matter of placing in a balance but of exacting interest at whatever rate one may choose” (10.18). Schaps (2001: 98) concedes that stasis may refer to weighing but he opposes Kroll’s interpretation of Lysias as referring to an obsolete procedure, the weighing of silver on a scale: “The claim hinges on the presumption that stasimon ‘properly’ should mean ‘weighable'; but there are no parallels for such a meaning.” What then does stastimon mean in Solon’s law? According to Schaps (2001: 98) the word means “nothing more than ‘is to be paid’.”

In fact, there are no other examples of the use of stasimos in the meanings “weighing” (Kroll) or “paying” (Schaps). What is clear is that “There is an absolute connection between the adjective stasimos and the noun stasis, both derived from the verb hist?mi ‘to stand up, to cause to stand up” (David Tandy personal correspondence dated March 2, 2004; LSJ s.v. hist?mi). The verb hist?mi is well attested in the meaning “to weigh.”

In classical Athens, long after the introduction of coins, we find the term obolostate? “weigh obols” in the meaning “making small loans” (LSJ s.v.). There is evidence here of an evolution from “weighing” to “paying.”

Abbreviations:

CAD: Gelb et al., The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (University of Chicago)

LSJ: Lidell, Scott, Jones, Greek-English Lexicon References

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Morris Silver is Professor Emeritus of Economics in the City College of the City University of New York. His most recent publications about ancient economies are Taking Ancient Mythology Economically (Leiden: Brill, 1992) and Economic Structures of Antiquity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995). “Modern Ancients” is forthcoming in Rollinger and Ulf (eds.), Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World , Fifth Annual Melammu Conference 2002. Professor Silver maintains a website on “Ancient Economies” at http://sondmor.tripod.com/index-html.

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Ancient