Featured Coin Circulation in Late Antiquity - The Byzantine Shops at Sardis

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Marsyas Mike, Dec 21, 2019.

  1. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    While researching the Byzantine bronzes that come my way, I kept coming across online references to the Byzantine shops at Sardis. Finally I bought the book, The Byzantine Shops at Sardis by J. Stephens Crawford.which is a handsome cloth-bound quarto from Harvard University Press (1990). Mine is ex-Carnegie Mellon Library in Pittsburgh and it was only about $3 on eBay.

    Here's the story - one day around 617 A.D., the shops at Sardis burnt down. There were a bunch of them, along a kind of portico against a large bath complex and a big Synagogue. From the findings, archaeologists think that the shops were a mixture of manufacturing (textiles, dyes mostly) and restaurant/taverns. Kind of like a cross between a US strip mall and small industrial park.

    Nobody knows why they burnt down - the Persians are a likely culprit. But here's the interesting part - the ruins were never investigated, and only partially built over. Which makes the shops at Sardis a kind of Pompeii in the East. And there were a lot of coins - all bronze. And no skeletons. Which means people were able to evacuate, partially, but left behind tools, lamps, scales, and over 1000 bronze coins (and one gold brooch stuck in a crack in a wall). Here's some text:

    Book - Byz Shops at Sardis Dec 2019 (1).JPG

    Here is what got me really excited - a breakdown by percentages of just what coins were found - Hellenistic / Greek Imperial / LRB / Byzantine -

    Book - Byz Shops at Sardis Dec 2019 (2).JPG

    For each shop, a full list of coins found is provided. Not fully attributed from a numismatic perspective, but with enough information you can tell what they were finding:
    Book - Byz Shops at Sardis Dec 2019 (6).JPG

    I left a few thumbnails from the book below. My only real complaint is that although the book is extensively illustrated, no coin photos are included! Not a single lousy follis or LRB.

    What I took away from this is the idea that LRB extensively circulated as small change in the Byzantine era, hundreds of years after they were minted. Sort of as if they stopped minting pennies after the Indian Heads in 1909 and yet we were still using them to make change a hundred years later. This might also explain why the tiny "nummus" type coins from the time of Anastasius' reforms and later are so scarce - there might've been enough old LRBs that minting new tiny bronzes was not required.

    Finally, this is an elaborate ploy to post some new Byzantine Folles I recently got - that Heraclius is SB 836 (rather scarce - not in Wildwinds or labrum). These are the kind of coins they were digging up at Sardis:

    Byz - Justin II Nicomedia Follis Dec 2019 (0).jpg Byz - Justinian I follis Const. Dec 2019 (0).jpg Byz Heraclius - Follis Nicomedia Dec 2019 (0).jpg

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  3. BenSi

    BenSi Well-Known Member

    Nice write up !
    However you scored on that book. It runs for about $80.00 and higher.
    ominus1 and Marsyas Mike like this.
  4. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Very interesting stuff, sounds like worthwhile reading. I'd like to learn more about the length of time low value coins were used across the ancient world. For example, how long were the 'barbarous radiates' exchanging hands privately in Britain and Gaul?
    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  5. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    I haven't run across any barbarous radiates in the Sardis book, but an occasional antoninianus of Gallienus and Claudius II Gothicus were found. Similar timeframe I think. Although as you note, the barbarous radiates tended to circulated farther north and west of Sardis.
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  6. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    that was the deal o de day eh?!...:)
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  7. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for posting all that material. That is the kind of information I love to read about. Any explanation for the absence of higher denomination coins? No use for them in that kind of market? They grabbed the more valuable material as they escaped the fire?
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  8. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Thanks Kevin, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I should've mentioned earlier that some of the book is available on Google books as a preview:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=g...v=onepage&q=byzantine shops at sardis&f=false

    I'm not sure why the valuable stuff - gold coins in particular - were not present in the ruins. Archaeologists are pretty hesitant these days to speculate - they are mostly just describing what they find, and in what context (which is fine - I suppose it is the historians who do the speculating).

    There was enough other stuff - bronze vessels, dyestuff inventory, marble mortars, for instance - that were in situ to suggest that people left in a hurry, but had time to remove the really high-value stuff - and themselves! A bronze vessel or lamp would be fairly valuable, I'd think, so it seems a little odd nobody came back to dig through the rubble to find things - the archaeologists say the area was abandoned for a while (p. 2 in the excerpt linked above).

    The 7th century was a pretty scary time - but these excavations show how people kept doing what they do, making a living and eating lunch and counting their pennies. Until the city gets sacked! :nailbiting:
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