King Brut and Troy Weight

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by EWC3, Sep 7, 2018.

  1. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    This might appeal to some who have an interest in oral history, or just in strange coincidences. I take it from memory but can fill out reference on request - there are two parallel stories here, one taken from oral history, one from archaeology. But only one conclusion.

    First - the"Oral history"

    The name "Troy" weight standard first appears in written text about 1370 AD. The crucial context, I judge, is that Edward III had just gone bankrupt - due to failing to pay off his war loans to Italian bankers. Bank action triggered what we would call today various "austerity measures". The most famous was a poll tax - triggering the so called peasants revolt of 1382. But here we consider an less known earlier action, the introduction of a light weigh (avoirdupois) pound of 16 Florentine ounces - thus c. 453g. That happened about 1360.

    Prior to 1360 weights apparently just got called pounds and ounces, in a system many believe to be the Troy one - with a 16 oz pound of c. 497g. So the system itself seemingly already existed in 1360. What was new was just the name, now needed to distinguish it from the rival, newly imposed, and lighter, avoirdupois Italian standard

    Granted all this - why pick the name "Troy"? Well, in 1360 the most widely read history book held that Britain had been created by an eponymous King Brut, a grandson of Aeneas of Troy, who had conquered the Island from a race of giants. He reputedly founded London, first called "New Troy".

    A best guess then seems to be the name "Troy" was originally attached to the troy standard because it was popularly believed that Troy was the true and very earliest English standard - originally brought here from Troy itself by this guy Brutus. Robert Graves, who attempted to investigate these sort of myths, dated the fall of Troy very exactly to 1243 BC

    Second: the archaeological history

    The most recent account of English weight standards (by Connor 1987) does not record any English weights prior to the Roman conquest! A lot has happened archaeologically since then.

    Back at the early 20th century Arthur Evans had claimed that a c. 65g weight standard was in use in ancient Crete, perhaps from about 1700 BC. He claimed it as ultimately coming from Egypt. By 1995 Petruso had extended this finding to a lot of weights found in Crete and as far as the Greek mainland, which constituted a c. 490g standard, split in a simple 16 oz binary fashion. That is to say - into ounces - so the weights Evans had found were 2 ounce weights to a c. 490g pound.

    Within just a few years, by around 2000, Pare in Germany had linked this finding to a further series of weights - these found in the graves of Bronze Age German warriors, dating perhaps from about 1500 BC onwards. They are the very oldest NW European weights - but seem to be to the same Cretan standard, thus transmitted from Egypt to Crete, thence to the Greek Mainland, and then on to Germany and surrounds during the early Bronze age.

    Then in 2010 divers found a weight belonging to this series from a wreak - off the south English coast at Salcombe, in Devon.

    You can see a pic of it it here on twitter (upper piece in the bottom right panel)

    Linked by style to the German pieces. It weighs 29.8g, in slightly corroded condition. A modern Troy ounce weighs 31.1g. The Salcome wreak is dated to between 1300 and 1200 BC

    What can we conclude? Well fanciful legend, oral history, apparently held that Troy weight came to England from Troy itself around 1200 BC. Archaeological fact is that something very like it did come to England, and yes - about 1200 BC. There is at present nothing to connect this very ancient weight to the subsequent English Troy system - which apparently was followed in the medieval period. That is to say, not that the idea of a connection is wrong - just that there is more of less a complete lack of any evidence at all.

    Its very odd.

    A secondary conclusion which I would draw is this. The Salcombe weight was discovered in 2010, and the tweet I drew attention to is about the only attempt by a modern archaeologist to publish the matter to the general public. And he does not even mention the weight of the item! I feel sure that if this weight had be found and identified in 1918, the matter would have been written up in the Times, and avidly debated in the letter pages by amateur readers.

    Today, this Cointalk effort is I think the very first bit of writing, anywhere, to publicise the possible implications of this find.

    All very odd..................

    Rob T
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  3. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    But I’m sure the Salcombe finds must have been studied thoroughly and published, being a major discovery.
  4. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I suppose my reply is - why are you sure?

    The only publication I am aware of is a few paragraphs in the back pages of the Salcombe excavation report. As far as I can tell, this whole matter is unknown outside of a few Bronze age metalwork specialists. That publication only comments on the form of the weight - it says nothing about its weight standard.

    Years before this weight was found I wrote to Prof Pare in Germany concerning the strange resemblance of his proposed Bronze age weight standards and the Troy apothecaries system, but I got no reply.

    The modern search for the roots of British weight standards seem to begin with John Greaves' trip to Egypt around 1640. In the 19th century Ruding championed the idea that Troy came to Britain from Ancient Germany, in the 20th century Grierson did the same. All this seems to have fallen off the map of both academic and popular understanding in recent decades, under the control of modern archaeological thinking.
    If you can find anything I missed - please do let me know : -)

    Rob T
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  5. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    No, but because it was a remarkable find, I thought there must have been a lot of research.
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  6. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Yes - I completely agree - ought to have been. Actually, the odd thing puzzling me is - why when modern academia looks at any matter to do with economic history, do we so often get an unsatisfactory result?

    Here, a remarkable find going near unreported. In the 'Where Frome' thread - a cock-eyed interpretation of hoarding.......

    I hope to kick start an old thread on the origins of coins in a little while - as it seems to me - odd things go on there too.

    Rob T
  7. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Well, there are studies of the Salcombe finds, for instance an article on by Quanyu Wang, S. Strekopytov and Benjamin Roberts): 'Copper ingots from a probable Bronze Age shipwreck off the coast of Salcombe, Devon: Composition and microstructure' in the Journal of Archaeological Science (2018). It mentions the weight and for the rectangular weight, points to two other publications, one by Wang and one by S. Needham (Claimed by the Sea, 2013, Council for British Archeology, York - CBA Research Report 173).
    EWC3 likes this.
  8. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    So a couple of things:

    The origin of the name "Troy" ounce is obscure. I have heard that it might be from Troyes, France. But alternates are possible. As you mentioned, Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain", published in the 12th c. was a popular read, and Edward III was very interested in Arthurian legend and had his own "round table" constructed if I recall. Could the name Troy ounce have been applied to an old weight standard that differed from the French or Italian? Perhaps.

    But the notion that a weight standard dates back to the mythical founding of England stretches believability. It should be recalled that King Brutus and the story of Trojan settlers of Britain is a legend, not a history. As they continue to be to this day (look at all the superhero movies), origin stories were popular in medieval times. Recall that the Aeneid was an origin story as well written nearly 1000 years after the Iliad. Even Homer's Iliad is an origin story, with gods making up the main characters. It's a good story, without a doubt, but trying to find a factual basis for a mythical story is problematic.

    Similarly problematic is the fact that weight standards changed considerably during Roman, Saxon, and Norman times. Unlike other aspects of Anglo-Saxon life, which we only wish were recorded for posterity at all, documents involving weights and monetary policy do survive in written records. Ine of Wessex, Offa of Mercia, Eadgar of Wessex, and even Aethelred the Unready left there mark on weight and monetary policy. And while the texts can be confusing the gist is essentially "I'm king and I am setting the weight/value of this to so many of these". It's good to be the king. Also recall the obsessiveness of the Domesday book (late 11th c). If there was a Troy standard in use, William would've known about it and weighed every last grain of wheat using it. So I cannot accept the notion of a Trojan origin for a weight standard.

    On the flip side, England has a history of keeping old things. Heck the penny was called 1d, the 'd' for "denarius" up until fairly recently. The names penny and shilling are probably 1500 years old, and the silver penny standard started by Offa in the 700s survived with only small changes to the modern era.
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  9. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Thanks for the thoughts

    Yes, of course! No one is denying that. However, that legend does seem to me to be the best explanation of of etymology of the name "troy". I am happy to listen to alternatives, if you wish to suggest any?

    It would seem to be correct to say that Romans, Carolingians and Vikings all used related standards probably deriving from Roman roots. Likewise Mercians (post Offa) and Normans (post William) used standards that probably derived from the Islamic east. Again, I am happy to consider alternative suggestions, when adequately supported.

    To be honest, this claim seems to me a sort of modern myth, not unlike 13th century myths about Merlin and King Arthur. The factual history of weight standards suggests traditions ran very deep indeed. Kings of course controlled the weight of their own coins, but control of the traditional standards was generally beyond their gift - with of course a few obvious exceptions. Its very important here to distinguish fundamental weight standards from mere short term manipulation of coin weight for fiscal reasons - (something that notoriously ran riot under the Anglo Saxons).

    Why do you think he did not? The last two standard works on British/English weight standards were Skinner (1967) and Connor (1987) Connor suggests that William was using Troy, and Skinner that William was using sterling which was itself a simple derivative of troy. Thus both agree with me - essentially - William was using Troy.

    I recommend both books. Metrology is a fascinating and rewarding subject, and deserves careful study

    Rob T
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  10. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Sorry - took me a while to track the paper down - (got bogged down on trying to get to the Researchgate version). Note this paper has only been out a few weeks

    Anyhow "Claimed by the Sea" is the excavation report I already mentioned

    The full extent of the treatment of the Salcombe weight in the Wang paper above is this:

    "The investigations together recovered 31 objects including ....... one rectangular block/weight"

    Thats it!!!!

    Rather makes my point I think?

    I believe I met this Wang in the BM labs some years back - when following up questions about Chinese fakes. If so, she is an expert metallurgist, a very pleasant person, but she knew very little about coins, weights or ancient economics back then, and its not clear from this paper that anything changed since.

    Actually, that meet was mostly memorable because her boss was in the room, and on hearing I was connected to coin collecting, that other woman ostentatiously turned her back on me - in a quite deliberate snub.

    Rob T
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
  11. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Dear Paul

    Perhaps I am turning into a grumpy old guy, but I seem to get lots of comments rhetorically phrased to suggest I am wrong - sometimes on this group, and even more often - elsewhere.

    When I dig into the matter it seems to me very often, as in this case, its fairly easy to find flaws in the facts or logic of the apparent contrary argument. It seems to be a sort of growing bad habit of modernity itself to offer just rhetoric - with no real substance.

    When I was a youngster, we were taught that that sort of thing partly caused the decline of Greek civilization itself!

    Thus forgive me if I seem a little insistent, but, do you agree that Wang above is just another example of a professional academic who is showing only the sort of cursory interest in this very important weight that I initially pointed up?

    All the Best

    Rob T
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2018
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