Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.10.52 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.10.52

Stéphane Martin (ed.), Monnaies et monétarisation dans les campagnes de la Gaule du Nord et de l'Est, de l'Âge du fer à l'Antiquité tardive. Scripta antiqua, 91.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius Éditions, 2016.  Pp. 201.  ISBN 9782356131737.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Benjamin D. R. Hellings, Yale University Art Gallery (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The book under review is a compilation of essays that evaluates coin finds and the monetisation of the Gallic countryside from the second century BC to the fifth century AD. Assembled and edited by Martin, the contributions in this volume represent a selection of papers presented as part of the RurLand (Rural Landscape in North-eastern Roman Gaul) program in 2015. The region addressed in the volume encompasses northern and eastern Gaul and the Germanic provinces, from the Seine/Saône axis to the Rhine.

In the introductory chapter, Martin outlines the primary objective of the publication, to address the assumption that the countryside population was cut off from the monetary economy due to the relative scarcity of coins on rural sites. The second goal is to test the notion that the economic development of the countryside, as measured through increased use of coinage, was the direct result of Rome’s conquest. The chapter includes a useful map that illustrates the region covered by each chapter with one-sentence summaries for each.

In the second chapter, Martin offers an interesting historiographical overview of the interpretation and study of coin finds in the countryside. The number of coins found in rural contexts is an important consideration. However, Martin emphasises the need for a more holistic interpretation beyond absolute numbers and suggests three approaches, which he labels concepts, places, and objects. With the first proposed method (concepts), he argues that it is necessary to abandon the dichotomy of a natural economy and a monetary economy, and advocates for a better definition of the concept of monetisation and the way archaeological evidence can refine our understanding of coin use in a rural setting. This is followed by the second method (places), which demonstrates the various contexts market activity could have taken place by drawing evidence from various regions of the Empire. Martin’s third method (objects) encourages the study of archaeological artefacts, which may indicate or implicate the use of coins, regardless of whether they have been found with coins. Martin’s approach is employed throughout the remaining essays and offers an opportunity to reconceptualise our understanding of the monetisation of the Gallic countryside.

In the third chapter, Martin, Malrain, and Lorho examine coin finds from rural sites in the second Iron Age (La Tène) in France to confront the belief that the countryside population was cut off from the monetary economy. The database of finds, compiled by INRAP (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives), consists of 645 sites of which c. 12.5% have produced coins. The strength of this chapter lies with the robust dataset used, providing a useful overview of regional differences across northern France. Coin finds are mapped by type and small regional differences are further explicated in subsequent pages allowing the authors to conclude that there does not appear to be any difference in the types of coins used in urban and rural contexts (within their respective regions). The chapter concludes that future studies should concentrate on geographical and regional differences to better investigate the specifics of coin use in rural contexts. A minor issue with this chapter is that throughout the text, references are made to French administrative regions but the map does not contain these names.

The fourth chapter offers an account of the monetisation of civitas Remorum (Aisne, Ardenne, Marne) between the end of the third century BC and AD 68. The paper begins with a summary of rural habitation in civitas Remorum and the difficulty of identifying villae. The second section provides detailed coverage of coin circulation patterns, by metal (gold, silver, bronze) and by site type. The evidence presented is of great interest and summarizes a wealth of research. Doyen observes that small change at countryside sites remained proportionally stable between the pre-Roman and post- Roman periods (until AD 68), although the presence of gold decreased and remained limited until the beginning of the fifth century. Through the quantification of numismatic evidence, Doyen concludes that this development is the result of a decreased population size due to overexploitation of land during the first two centuries BC.

In his contribution, van Heesch considers the monetization of northwest Gaul from the first to third century AD (the civitates of the Nervians and the Menapians). Van Heesch investigates the evidence in reverse chronological order because he claims the data are more convincing and clearer for the second and third centuries than for the first century. He explicitly demonstrates the increased presence of coinage over time and concludes that a large portion of the rural population in this remote part of the Empire had access to coins at some point. He also demonstrates that despite the limited availability of coinage during the first century, small change was still available in villages. This is particularly the case with Augustan coins, which must have been ‘lost’ or deposited during the first century and have been found at small villages, demonstrating that rural settlements were linked to the monetary economy of the Empire. Van Heesch also considers contemporary Augustan Gallo-Belgic and Iron Age bronze coins while several possibilities are elucidated how these coins might have been used. A tentative case is made that they could belong to a relatively well-developed monetary society, supporting the book’s two main objectives.

In the sixth chapter, Schucany considers money and market in the Helvetian civitates by comparing coin find profiles from rural settlements to those of cities, vici, and military camps. To do so, she compares coin numbers to the volume of settlement layers that were excavated (coins/m3), complementing the volume’s holistic approach to look beyond absolute numbers. This approach allows her to demonstrate that relative to site size and its excavated area, some rural sites produce a high number of coins (figure 3), to the point of being comparable to urban sites. The rest of the chapter analyses the coin finds and demonstrates the different chronological profiles at different site types. Urban and military sites produce a very high number of first century coins, which is not the case at rural sites. Schucany, consulting archaeological evidence, concludes that coins only penetrated the countryside during the second century due to labour and agricultural specialisation. Although she states, “small estates rarely provide sufficient amount of coins for evaluation” (p. 112) it would be interesting to see whether a similar development also occurred at countryside farmsteads.

Trommenschlager and Brkojewitsch provide an overview of villae from the northeast of France in four sections: a detailed overview of the villae, coin circulation, the denominations, and contexts of the coins themselves (782 in total). The last two sections are of the greatest interest and importance. Here the breakdown of denominations by villa, by period, is presented. Coin find contexts are also considered facilitating comparisons between the chapters by Doyen and Schucany, which is useful to compare micro-regions from the north-western provinces. Unlike the Helvetian villae considered by Schucany, those under consideration here do not demonstrate a high degree of monetisation during the second century. Instead, the majority of coins are radiates, third century imitations, and coins from the fourth century. Trommenschlager and Brkojewitsch assessing the precise contexts of the coins conclude that the coins do not indicate productive activity but rather belong to phases of abandonment.

Nüsslein’s chapter covers the production of third century imitations in the northeastern France (vallée de la Sarre). Many key matters regarding imitations are woven throughout although the focus lies with the people responsible for producing imitations within the studied area. The sites from Vallée de la Sarre that are presented as possible places for production of imitations cover a range of types, from large agglomerations to farms, and produce a concentration of imitational mints in a confined region. Similar clusters have also been identified around Trier, south east of Paris, and in Britain. Nüsslein goes on to explain that these groupings are usually in the countryside and not nearby large urban centers, which typically represent principal points of central administration. He concludes that imitations were therefore produced locally as a response to the lack of coinage provided by the official mints, thereby challenging the idea of a poorly monetized rural economy.

In the ninth chapter, Burgevin and Filipiak present coin finds from rural site types from the Champagne-Ardenne and Bourgogne areas, with a particular emphasis on late antiquity. The presentation of the archaeological sites is kept to a minimum, allowing for the rest of the essay to present the chronological periodization and circulation duration of the coins themselves, noting that coins from the fourth century outnumber those of the first two centuries. The importance of better studying coin finds from fourth and fifth century and the way that this will help establish our understanding of economic activity during this period is also stressed. Although the paper provides a useful summary of evidence from sites otherwise difficult to come by its presentation is not ideal. The periodization of the coins themselves is not sensible, differing drastically in duration inhibiting comparison between periods. Additionally, the decision to end a period in AD 259 instead of 260 is presumably the consequence of using an old dating scheme, which should have been avoided.

Martin concludes the book with an overview of several themes from the various contributions. He ends the chapter looking forward to the ways the chapters in the volume can contribute to future enquiry. One way forward is the comparison between coin circulation in rural and urban settings (the latter was little discussed in this book). The volume provides useful chapters for anyone working on the ancient Roman economy and coin finds, while encouraging new approaches. The real strength of the volume lies with the wealth of numismatic data employed, which in some cases is inaccessible or difficult to retrieve. If one minor fault is to be found, it is that figures and maps are not uniform throughout the volume, although this detracts little from the volume’s contribution to archaeology and numismatics.

Table of Contents

Stéphane Martin, Introduction
Stéphane Martin, Monnaies et marchés dans les campagnes gauloises: concepts, lieux, objets
Stéphane Martin, François Malrain, Thierry Lorho, La circulation monétaire dans les campagnes gauloises de l’Âge du Fer. Éléments de synthèse à partir des découvertes répertoriées dans la base de données des établissements ruraux du second Âge du Fer
Jean-Marc Doyen, Structures agricoles, occupation du sol et monétisation des campagnes de la civitas Remorum (Aisne, Ardennes, Marne) de la fin du IIIe s. a.C. à 68 p.C.
Johan van Heesch, The Multiple Faces of the Countryside: Monetization in the North-West of Gaul during the High Empire (1st -3rd c. AD)
Caty Schucany, Money and Market in the Countryside of the Helvetian civitas
Ludovic Trommenschlager, Gaël Brkojewitsch, La circulation monétaire des villae médiomatriques: analyses méthodologiques, numismatiques et archéologiques
Antonin Nüsslein, Des ateliers monétaires dans les campagnes médiomatriques pendant l’Antiquité tardive: qui sont les fabricants de monnaies d’imitation dans la vallée de la Sarre?
Alexandre Burgevin, Benoît Filipiak, Remarques sur la circulation monétaire dans les campagnes à la fin de l’Antiquité en Gaule de l’Est
Stéphane Martin, Conclusions
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