Unexpected Evidence concerning Gold Mining in Early Byzantium

Roman gold mine
Roman gold mine
Roman gold mine

Unexpected Evidence concerning Gold Mining in Early Byzantium

Tatyana I. Afanas’eva and Sergey A. Ivanov

Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies: 53 (2013) 138–144


One of the consequences of the decline of Roman imperial might was the shortage of slaves at state-run mines. Consequently, criminals were often sentenced to damnatio ad metallum. The need for gold especially soared when the gold solidus was introduced at the beginning of the fourth century. Side by side with common criminals, political prisoners, including Christians, worked in the mines. In the third century, Cyprian of Carthage addressed convicted Numidian bishops: “No wonder that you, being pure gold and silver yourselves, are sent to gold and silver mines! Yet their nature has changed: whereas before they sent gold and silver uphill, now they get it from outside. (The persecutors) put you in fetters, as if gold could be sullied from its contact with iron!” It was probably at this time that the first prayers for Christians suffering from such persecution appeared. The earliest attestation is in the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions: “We pray for those in the mines and in exile and in prison and in fetters for the sake of the Lord.

In the Vita of Pope Silvester the same set phrase is used in the address to the newly baptized Emperor Constantine: the pope begs him to liberate “those who are suffering in exile and in the mines for their piety,” Later this formula became part of the Anaphora within the Liturgy of Basil the Great: it was integrated into the intercessio— a series of invocations on behalf of different groups of people, beginning with emperors and bishops and all the way down to orphans and widows. Basil’s Liturgy was practiced by the Eastern Patriarchates and in different languages, the oldest being the Egyptian; later it was included in the Armenian, Syrian, and Greek traditions. The most flexible part of the Liturgy was the intercessions: different groups of manuscripts contain different pleas subdivided into different thematic groups and arranged in different sequences. The Byzantine version likewise had innovations.

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