Relation between the Late Roman World and Barbarian Europe in the Light of the Coin Finds

Relation between the Late Roman World and Barbarian Europe in the Light of the Coin Finds

By Aleksander Bursche

XIV International Economic History Congress (2006)

Introduction: The area considered in the present contribution is East Central and Northern (Scandinavia) Europe, settled by peoples referred to in the written sources as superiores barbari. As such we leave out from the discussion the zone directly bordering on the Roman Empire settled by proximi ripae. Roman contacts with these two zones of the barbarian world were essentially different. This is reflected both by historical accounts and by the differences in archaeological evidence, including coin finds.

Mass influx of coinage to the area of interest started relatively late, ie, during the second half of AD 2nd century, more exactly, during the Marcomman Wars. This dating is indicated by oldest hoards, which barring a few exceptions, are closed – at the earliest – by issues from the times of Marcus Aurelius, and by archaeological context of coin finds in graves or bog deposits, where they may be dated in principle, at the earliest, to the second half or even last quarter of AD 2nd century. And so, during a period of well developed exchange between the Roman Empire and the Barbaricum, coinciding with the Golden Age and the House of Antonine, Roman coins started to flow more intensively in the reign of the last two Antonine emperors.

Roman coins reached the Barbaricum in larger number, with some interruption and widely fluctuating intensity, until the period of the late Constantine emperors and subsequently, in a very limited quantity, except for the episode of the second half of the 5th and early 6th century when a large number of solidi made their appearance in the Baltic Basin.

Throughout this entire period the influx of coinage was far from uniform, both as regards the types of issues, chronology and geographic range. Influx of a specific category of coins to a given areas during a specific period may be interpreted as resulting from different forms of Roman-Barbarian interchange. These are outlined below inchronological order under headings of denominations most frequently encountered in Barbaricum during a given period.

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