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Inter-Provincial Trade in Late Antique Syria from Excavation Coins

Jane Sancinito

University of Pennsylvania

The publication of coin finds from Syria has provided an opportunity to investigate the economic world of the province in the late antique and early medieval periods. However, the field is divided into extremes with works such as Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages providing a synthetic view of the economy, drawing from a large number of diverse sources, while numismatic works offer nuanced detail about minting and circulation at local and provincial levels, and often limiting themselves to the interpretation of single finds. The two sides of scholarly inquiry have rarely been put into productive dialogue, with coinage frequently relegated to the sidelines in treatments of the ancient economy as a whole.

In this paper, using the tools developed by the FLAME project (Framing the Late Antique and Early Medieval Economy), I examine more than twenty well-published excavations in order to provide an in-depth analysis of coin circulation in Syria during the late Roman and early Byzantine periods. The finds range from the large cities of Antioch, Nessana, and Tiberias, to the Memorial of Moses on Mt. Nebo and the villages of Dehes and Capernaum, and include the finds of the Limes Arabicus Project, which combined both survey and excavation over a large area in the Transjordan region.

The data consists of more than 10,000, primarily bronze, coins, struck between the reign of Constantine and the Islamic conquest. In this paper, I look particularly at coins found within the province struck at non-Syrian mints to examine inter-provincial coin circulation as a potential proxy for long-distance trade. Since bronze coins are primarily small change, they provide a unique opportunity to trace objects that traditionally have only a small circulation radius. Because it has been assumed that they would be left at home, they can be used as a means to test interconnectedness in the monetary economy. Preliminary analysis of the data shows strong ties between Constantinople and Syria throughout the period, highlights that monetary production was highly irregular across the centuries under consideration, and shows that there was substantial variation in circulation patterns within the borders of the province, with southern sites showing greater ties to Egypt than to Asia Minor.

I will argue that, even with these preliminary findings, it will be possible to harmonize large-scale interpretations of the economy with the small-scale data of individual coin finds. Through the addition of data from hoards and stray finds, as well as comparison with the findings of others in the FLAME project, each treating a different region, it will be possible to reconstruct the monetary economy of the late antique world with tools that can analyze every scale, micro to macro, and integrate the evidence of numismatics into our synthetic conceptions of the economy of the late antique Mediterranean.

Session/Panel Title

Coins and Trade

Session/Paper Number

67.5

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