A. MEADOWS & K. SHIPTON (eds.), Money and Its Uses in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pp. 208. ISBN 0-19-924012-4. STG £72.50 (Hb).
Review by Constantina Katsari
The majority of numismatic books produced over the past 50 years have tended to be restricted to the compilation of catalogues of coins found in hoards, excavation sites, museums, private collections or auctions. The publication of edited collections of essays, numismatic monographs or studies on the monetary economy is extremely rare mainly because of the difficulties connected with such historical analysis. Meadows?s and Kirsty?s edited book is certainly one of the few edited volumes published in the last decade on the uses of money in the ancient world. A group of well-known researchers contributed different essays on the subject under the supervision of the editors who then arranged this material in a rational thematic way. Even though the chapters vary in quality and length, the overall quality of the book is certainly above average and the contents are well-organized. The geographical area of the case- studies extends to the Greek world of the eastern Mediterranean Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt. Chronologically they cover the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, although the Hellenistic period is certainly examined in more detail than the rest.
The chapters are grouped into two sections: a) Monetization, money supply and the politics of coinage, and b) Money and Society Cases studies on the uses of money. The editors did this in order to draw attention to the underlying themes of economy and culture. The short but indispensable introduction sets the theoretical framework of the book and reveals the objectives of the writers. Both the editors and the contributors are aware that there are at least two elements to be explored the socio-economic and the political aspects of coinage. The essays presented in this volume combine the two themes and so illustrate the dual nature of money, while giving a special emphasis to the economic component.
Henry Kim?s paper, ?Archaic Coinage as Evidence for the Use of Money?, is the first in a series of economically oriented chapters. He argues that the concept of money existed long before coins appeared in the market. Coinage, as it developed within the precincts of the ancient Greek polis, was characterized by the implementation of accurate weight standards and the minting of lower denominations that facilitated daily transactions. On the other hand, Richard Ashton, ?The Coinage of Rhodes, 408-c.190BC? emphasizes the continuous intervention of the State in the production and circulation of coinage. Although the role of the government was especially significant in the formation of a monetary economy, the multiple functions of the markets could have been explored further. The most compelling of the economic papers in this collection was probably that by John Davies, ?Temples, Credit, and the Circulation of Money?. Based on the epigraphic sources from Greece, he attempts to ?map the ways in which the adoption of coined money ? affected the economic activity and attitude of collectives? (p. 117). He manages to demonstrate a conflict between the non-rational use of coins in accordance with ancient religious ideas, and the rational economic use of money. The hypothesis that the second eventually prevailed over the first because of the increasing demands of the state and the needs of its citizens is perfectly plausible. The socio-economic aspect of ancient currencies is analysed in the chapter ?Money and the Elite in Classical Athens? by Kirsty Shipton and in Jane Rowlandson, ?Money Use among the Peasantry of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt?. These articles complement each other, since Shipton is mainly interested in the monetary activities of the elite and its effect on family relations, while Rowlandson explores the level of monetization of the lower classes in the rural communities of Egypt.
The political element to the production of coinage first becomes evident in J. Trevett, ?Coinage and Democracy at Athens?, where he effectively proves that the production of coins is closely linked to the establishment of democratic constitutions. Graham Oliver, ?The Politics of Coinage: Athens and Antigonus Gonatas? and Andrew Meadows, ?Money, Freedom and Empire in the Hellenistic world?, study the problem of the intervention of the king in the politics of the Greek city-states. Meadows, relying mainly on the numismatic evidence, analyses the attitude of kings towards the production of coinage and tries to compare it with the analogous Roman processes. Although, in general, I found his comments convincing, I should note as a minor point of contention that the Roman imperial intervention aimed probably only at the partial administrative control of colonial mints and not the rest of the civic mints. Last but not least, Sita von Reden, ?The Politics of Monetization in Third-Century BC. Egypt?, provides a valuable example of how to write numismatic history. She manages to combine the symbolic and the economic aspects of coinage in highly successful fashion, and this ought to encourage future studies along these lines.
All who intend to examine Classical or Hellenistic history from the economic, social, political, or ideological perspectives, will need to read this book, whatever their level.