BMCR 2007.12.04

Agoranomia: Studies in Money and Exchange Presented to John H. Kroll

, , Agoranomia : studies in money and exchange presented to John H. Kroll. New York: American Numismatic Society, 2006. xii, 259 pages, 14 pages of plates : illustrations ; 27 cm. ISBN 0897222989. $125.00.

Table of Contents

This collection of twelve papers (two in French, ten in English) was presented to John Kroll to mark his retirement from the University of Texas at Austin. As the subtitle implies, they concentrate on Kroll’s interests and expertise in the fields of numismatics and economic history. Several of the papers are quite narrowly focussed on coinage. Nonetheless, and in spite of the lack of coherence and the slightly variable quality which is inevitable in this kind of volume, there is a great deal here which will be of interest and importance to those with any interest in the economies, and indeed the history more generally, of ancient Greece. The chronological range of the volume encompasses the archaic, classical and Hellenistic periods, though the balance is towards the earlier rather than the later. The articles are arranged broadly in chronological order of their subject matter, with the final two covering more general topics.

The book includes a short preface by the editor, a bibliography of Kroll’s work to date, an index of the hoards referred to in the text, a general index, and fourteen pages of plates illustrating coins referred to. The plates are of generally high quality, and the book is attractively produced overall.

Hélène Nicolet-Pierre begins the proceedings proper with an elegant consideration of ‘Les talents d’Homère.’ She starts with the use of the word τάλαντον in the Homeric poems, noting the two main senses of i) a balance / pair of scales and ii) the result of the process of using a balance, i.e. a weight (e.g. of something given as a gift or a prize). She moves on to consider the word ta-ra-si-ja in the Mycenaean Greek of the Pylos tablets, where it refers to a quantity of wool, and then the evidence for the existence in the Bronze Age world of sets of balances like those referred to in the Homeric epics. She wonders if the golden scales of Zeus in the Iliad could perhaps be connected to the golden balances found by Schliemann at Mycenae, and the beautiful if enigmatic gold disks from the same tombs. It has been a matter of dispute since antiquity how the ‘Homeric’ talent as a unit of mass should be defined. Nicolet-Pierre raises the possibility that the gold ‘talents’ of Homer’s heroes are symbolic (and like those disks), with confusion arising from a later sense of ‘talent’ that implied a given mass (of several kilograms), and the poems’ being written down at a time when coinage was taking hold in the Greek world. It is in the nature of the evidence that firm conclusions will remain elusive, but Nicolet-Pierre’s arguments help us to see what we can say about Homeric talents.

Raymond Descat’s ‘Argyronetos: les transformations de l’échange dans la Grèce archaique’ is a rich and energetic piece with wide significance, tying together a number of important strands in the economic, social and political history of archaic Greece — though it starts almost from a single word in Athenaeus. This is in the familiar passage (265b-c) where Theopompus is cited as claiming that the Chians were the first Greeks who used slaves who had been bought with silver. Descat suggests that the use of the word ‘argyronetos’ is more significant than has usually been understood in the past. He argues that both parts of the word are important, i.e. both ‘bought’ (as opposed to acquired by any other means) and ‘with silver’ (as opposed to with anything else), and that Chian links with the Near East and its involvement in the slave trade are significant factors, representing a pivotal moment in the ‘transformation’ of exchange (and economies more generally) from what we see in Homer to the more commercialized and monetized world that developed in the archaic period. Almost in passing, Descat also questions Finley’s famous claim about ‘the advance, hand in hand, of freedom and slavery’.1 He argues instead that a proper interpretation of the evidence suggests that chattel slavery was not part of the solution to social strife, but part of the problem.

In his contribution, (‘KUKALIM, WALWET and the Artemision deposit: problems in early Anatolian electrum coinage’) Bob Wallace provides more thoughts on some of the earliest coins in the Greek world, building on (and to an extent revising) his earlier note on the subject in JHS 1988. He makes a case for a number of detailed conclusions in this contested area. Most immediately arresting to a general audience will be his now confident identification of the WALWET legend with Alyattes. He repeats his observation that the KUKALIM legend may well mean ‘I am of Kukas’, but that this Kukas cannot be identified with the Gyges who was the first ruler of Lydia, but must instead be another member of the royal family of Alyattes’ own time, perhaps a provincial governor. Tantalizingly, Wallace also looks ahead to a future argument about the date of Croesus’ accession to the Lydian throne. If his arguments in this area are convincing they will clearly have important chronological implications, and not just for early coinage.

Jonathan Kagan provides an analysis of a hoard of the coins of Abdera which appeared in 2000. This is a remarkable and extremely important collection, for the quality of the coins, for their date (sixth century) and perhaps most of all for the fact that they are mostly small change (of thirty one coins, two are tetradrachms and the rest all smaller, with no fewer than eighteen of the previously unknown hemiobols). As such it represents a major source of additional data on one of the most important mints (at least in terms of its significance for modern scholars) of archaic and classical Greece. Apart from anything else it makes clear that a full range of denominations of silver coinage was present in northern Greece from the start (and so strongly reinforces the arguments made in this area by Harry Kim),2 with obvious implications for what we think about the early functions and purpose of silver coinage in the Greek world. Also relevant here is the wide degree of variation in weights among the hemiobols, which implies local monetization rather than the production of coins for foreign trade. Kagan also takes the opportunity in his piece to discuss some issues of local chronology, suggesting a starting-date for Abderan coinage of c.530.

Selene Psoma, in her rather longer piece, also discusses an early coinage from northern Greece with wider significance — the so-called ‘Lete’ coinage, and its proper attribution. Psoma argues, on grounds of the weight standard used, and the coins’ iconography and style, that these coins should properly be associated with the Thasian Peraia, and the metal-rich area of the Thracian coast facing Thasos. Psoma briefly considers each of the cities in this area that are mentioned in the Athenian tribute quota lists. While giving due prominence to his views, she considers Michael Smith’s attribution of the coinage to Eion ‘rather problematic’,3 because in the period 513-476/5 that city was a Persian military base, with a Persian governor. Psoma’s own preference is for the city of Berge. She goes on to consider some of the implications of this view, not the least of which is the character of Berge itself in the late sixth century, but also the relationship between metropolis and apoikia, and the nature of Thasos’ influence in this strategically vital area.

With Ed Cohen’s short but typically trenchant piece the volume moves fully into the classical period. It will come as little surprise to most readers that ‘A legal fiction: the Athenian law of sale’ is a sustained attack on Pringsheim’s 1950 book in general and in particular on the notion that in classical Athens a sale could only be a simultaneous exchange of purchase price and the good being purchased (with the consequence that credit sales or advance payments for future delivery would have required elaborate legal and financial chicanery).4 Cohen is a careful and astute reader of ancient texts, and his analysis here of Hypereides’ ‘Against Athenagoras’ provides an admirably clear and straightforward account of why we should not believe in Pringsheim’s law. The final part of his paper, in which he suggests reasons why belief in the existence of such a law has (in his account) been so persistent is an interesting and entertaining addition. However, Cohen’s case is not as novel as he makes it appear. Many of the scholars he cites as adherents to Pringsheim’s views are rather more sceptical and certainly more nuanced in their arguments than Cohen implies with his rather selective quotations. It is also unclear why Cohen feels the need to persist in using the rhetoric of the primitivism-modernism debate in expressing his disagreements with some other scholars — the passage from Paul Millett’s article of 1990 which he quotes as proof of Millett’s primitivist credentials is in fact as clear a statement as could be wished for of why Millett would reject a description of his views as ‘primitivist’ and, more importantly, why such a debate is unlikely to be productive or interesting.5 Nonetheless, on the substantive issue at hand, this is a sensible and welcome addition.

Catherine Grandjean offers some observations on ‘Athens and Bronze Coinage’, and more specifically on the Athenians’ apparent suspicion of and reluctance to adopt such coinage during the fifth and early fourth centuries. Much of this short paper is given over to a summary of the monetary history of Athens from the construction of her first substantial fleet until her eventual adoption of bronze obol fractions in the later fourth century. Athens’s reluctance to adopt the convenience of bronze coinage even in the small denominations suitable for local trading is explained in various ways. First, Grandjean notes that the first Athenian experiment with bronze coinage (the rather atypical plated coins issued at the end of the Peloponnesian war) was not a success, and came to be associated with political crises. Second, she reminds us that at this period bronze coinage was in fact still a relatively new phenomenon, and that Athenian conservatism concerning the adoption of a fiduciary coinage is hardly exceptional, and, implicitly, that an explanation is more urgently demanded for those places which did adopt bronze coinage early. It is also at this point that Grandjean introduces (very briefly) the idea that staseis in the fourth century in precisely some of those poleis (chiefly in the Peloponnese) ‘could have been caused, at least partially, by conflicts between debtors and lenders, and therefore, as in modern societies, could have been linked to monetary problems.’ This is an idea which deserves more detailed consideration, especially since a couple of pages later it has become a much less tenuous suggestion, for Grandjean if not the reader. Here (106) the need to prevent stasis arising from creditor-debtor disputes has become a major explanatory factor in post-war Athenian monetary policy. In the interim, Grandjean briefly draws on Aglietta and Orléan’s distinction between three types of confidence in a monetary system (i.e., methodic, hierarchic and ethical).6 Due to the brevity of this section it is rather hard to see precisely how Grandjean wants to apply this to Athens. What she does say promises to be extremely interesting; I would have welcomed a fuller discussion, perhaps at the expense of her earlier chronological survey, little of which will be unfamiliar to most readers. For some reason Grandjean’s chapter seems more afflicted by niggling errors than the rest of the book. Most are trivial (e.g. nomothetes for nomothetai on page 106); and although one wonders where the very odd figures for Athenian annual tribute come from (page 101) they do not seriously affect the substance of her argument.

Graham Oliver takes us into the early Hellenistic period, though we remain in Athens for now. ‘Polis Economies and the cost of the cavalry in early hellenistic Athens’ serves nicely to highlight one aspect of Kroll’s work away from coins, with the lead tokens used in the administration of the Athenian cavalry. Oliver provides a clear and useful summary of the existing work on the subject and its importance for the history (political, social and economic) of late classical and early Hellenistic Athens. Oliver builds on this previous work (especially that in the well-known accounts of Bugh and Spence)7 with his usual attention to detail and careful use of the available (especially epigraphic) evidence. He partly revises but generally adds depth and nuance to their conclusions. Not only does he re-assert the importance of the cavalry arm in Athens (which was sustained in spite of the considerable costs involved) but he also stresses how ‘cavalry service is direct evidence of the commitment of the élite to the wider benefit of Athenian society’ (page 122).

Richard Ashton and Gary Reger provide a two-part article: ‘The Pseudo-Rhodian drachms of Mylasa revisited’. The second part is Ashton’s publication of material which has appeared since his 1992 article in Numismatic Chronicle on these issues. This material amounts to some 200 coins; no radical change in the existing relative dating scheme has been required. Ashton provides some commentary where it is necessary. Reger’s more discursive contribution deals with the relationship between the coins and another potentially crucial corpus of evidence from this important city — the Mylasean ‘lease’ inscriptions. Reger’s piece here is preparatory to the publication of his book-length treatment of Mylasa, and is an elaboration of a position he first outlined more than a decade ago — that the inscriptions should be dated to the early second century (i.e., before c.185). This is in many ways an attractive thesis, though the matter will not be settled by this article. It does however seem to be a positive step towards our being able properly to evaluate these fascinating but frustrating texts.

With Andrew Meadows’ ‘Amyntas, Side and the Pamphylian plain’ we come to the very end of the Hellenistic period, and the arrangements made for the administration of Galatia following the recovery of Asia Minor by the forces of Mark Antony after the defeat of Labienus and his Parthians. Specifically Meadows is concerned with the territory that ended up in the possession of Amyntas, who had been an officer in the army of the recently deceased king of Galatia, Deiotarus. Meadows starts from an article of Syme’s surveying the literary evidence, in which he concluded that Amyntas’ domain did not include the wealthy Pamphylian plain and its cities.8 As Meadows observes, this article did not however take into account a coinage of Amyntas that was minted with the designs of the city of Side, rather implying that the Pamphylian plain (or at least some of it) did belong to Amyntas after all. Meadows provides a detailed survey of the coinage of Side and observes that in fact this conclusion is much less safe than it has usually taken to be (even by Syme after he noticed his omission of the coins), as there are good reasons for believing that the later coinages of Amyntas’ time are imitations and need not in fact have been minted at Side at all. One group is die-linked with Amyntas’ own coinage and so was presumably minted by a mint belonging to Amyntas — but whether that mint was actually in Side has to be established by external evidence. As Meadows notes, Amyntas would have needed money to pay his troops when he acceded, and there would have been an attraction to making a type that was recognizable and desirable to them, such as that of Side. By itself such an imitation ‘does not prove that Side was the mint any more than the posthumous Philips of Antioch prove that the Romans had reinstalled a dead king to the throne of Syria’ (page 172). Furthermore, Syme’s original conclusion has been reinforced by the other evidence which has appeared since his original article.

François de Callatay’s contribution is a more general piece. ‘Greek coins from archaeological excavations: a conspectus of conspectuses and a call for chronological tables’ starts, appropriately enough, with Kroll’s magisterial publication of the Greek coins from the Athenian Agora, and in particular with the conspectus summarizing the catalogue which Kroll included.9 De Callatay emphasizes the usefulness of this conspectus, which is, for once, magnified rather than diminished by the unusual nature of the site — given the huge number of the coins, the time span from which they come and the lack of interruptions to the use and occupation of the site. De Callatay also puts this conspectus into context with other publications of coins from sites in the Greek world. The first and most striking point revealed by this comparison is how few sites have properly published collections of coins of significant size, with only a dozen producing more than five hundred coins. As De Callatay observes, this is a poor situation compared just to Roman Britain, never mind the rest of the Roman world. More specifically, de Callatay summarizes the distribution of coins by metals (where the huge preponderance of bronze at Athens proves, unsurprisingly, to be fairly typical) and by local or foreign manufacture (where Athens’ large proportion of local coins is much less typical, though there are noticeable variations over time). De Callatay’s over-riding point, to which it is hard to take exception, is that more publications should provide chronological data on the coins found on Greek sites. He succeeds in pointing out just how poorly off Greek archaeologists and historians are at the moment, and shows well how much could be gained. He appends a list of sites with published Greek coins; the brevity of this list is sobering.

The final piece in the volume is on ‘Co-operative coinage’ by Emily Mackil and Peter van Alfen, dealing with the monetary ‘unions’ of the Greek world — that surprisingly large number of instances where Greek poleis co-operated to produce coinage. Mackil and van Alfen are keen to stress the primacy of the economic motivations for poleis to do this, over and above the more broadly political motives that they see as having been emphasized in the past. Their central point is made thus: ‘the political fragmentation of the Archaic and Classical world does not translate easily to economic fragmentation… the local and regional economies of the ancient Mediterranean were deeply interconnected, so that state practices such as the minting of coinage, the issuing of civic decrees regulating interstate commerce, and functional co-operation in monetary production should be seen as responses to that fact.’ (page 204) The point about interconnectivity is not perhaps as underappreciated today as Mackil and van Alfen claim, but it is nonetheless valid and worth stressing. There is no space here adequately to summarize their argument, which is dense and rich and provides several interesting case studies. However, the authors’ conclusion, that ‘we should begin to think seriously about complex economic cooperation across political boundaries in the ancient Greek Mediterranean’ (page 235) is one which should be heeded by all ancient economic historians, and the piece provides a fitting conclusion to the book as a whole.


1. Finley, M. I. 1959. ‘Was Greek civilization based on slave labour?’ Historia, 8: 164.

2. E.g. Kim, H. S. 2001. ‘Archaic coinage as evidence for the use of money’, in A. Meadows and K. Shipton eds. Money and Its Uses in the Ancient Greek World, pages 7-21; Oxford.

3. Page 73; the reference to Smith is to his 1999 Brown University doctoral dissertation , “The Mint of ‘Lete’ and the Development of Coinage in the North Aegean.”

4. Pringsheim, F. 1950. The Greek Law of Sale. Weimar.

5. Millett, P. 1990. ‘Slave, credit and exchange in Athenian law and society’ in P. Cartledge, P. Millett and S. Todd eds. Nomos: essays in Athenian law, politics and society, pages 167-194. The passage cited by Cohen here is pages 180-182.

6. Aglietta, M. and Orléan, A. 2002. La Monnaie entre violence et confiance. Paris.

7. Bugh, G. R. 1988. The Horsemen of Athens. Princeton; Spence, I. G. 1993. The Cavalry of Classical Greece. Oxford.

8. Syme, R. 1934. ‘Galatia and Pamphylia under Augustus: the governorships of Piso, Quirinius, and Silvanus’ Klio 27: 122-148.

9. Kroll, J. 1993. The Athenian Agora XXVI The Greek Coins. Princeton. The conspectus appears on pages xviii-xxvi.