Un tezaur de monede bizantine timpurii descoperit la Capidava / A Hoard of Early Byzantine Coins found at Capidava (Scythia)

  • Subiect: In 2008 and 2009 a hoard of 51 copper coins was found in a room close to the southern wall of the fortress (Fig. 1). The archaeological context was rich in artifacts, including 19 amphorae and 3 lamps mixed with debris and burnt remains from the collapsed building, including burned wood and tiles from the roof. The hoard itself was found near the South-Western entrance, on a floor covered by fragments of amphorae affected by a strong fire. Some of the coins were arranged overlapping neatly in rows as if they had been stacked, while others were spread on the floor overlapped like rows of cards (Fig. 2). The coins had been severely burned and some of them were glued as a result of the high temperature. Together with the early Byzantine coins, all dated to the sixth century, was found a Late Roman coin from the fourth century. Other fourth-to-fifth century coins were found on the floor in different parts of the room, which raises once again the issue of the prolonged circulation of Late Roman coins deep into the Early Byzantine period. Especially archaeologists need to be aware of this factor when they are using coins to date their complexes. The building in which the hoard was found was never rebuilt, so the context was never disturbed after the collapse. In fact, the entire fortress was abandoned a few decades after the event. This find presents us with a rare opportunity to study a coin hoard in a clear archaeological context and to suggest more plausible explanations for the circumstances of its loss. Given the different circumstances in which a hoard could have been concealed, scholars have attempted to classify them into different categories: savings, emergency, accidental, and abandoned hoards. Most of the copper coin hoards found in the Balkans seem to correspond to the emergency type, also known in the literature as currency or circulation hoard, because it is assumed that it represents an assemblage gathered hastily in the face of an impeding danger and therefore represents a quite accurate reflection of the coins in circulation at the time of concealment. The value of emergency hoards for our understanding of the monetary circulation is somewhat limited by the fact that the concealment is intentional and therefore a potential process of selection cannot be completely rejected. The hoard found at Capidava seems to belong to the less common category of accidental losses. The archaeological context in which the hoard was found points to an unforeseen destruction of the building. The hoard was not intentionally left behind by the owner and therefore allows a more accurate glimpse into the monetary circulation at Capidava in the late 570s - early 580s. Although the hoard was not intentionally concealed by the owner and does not appear to be a group of coins meant to be hidden or put away it is not clear whether the accumulation itself is totally random. It is well known that intentional hoards contain a higher percentage of higher denominations than the one usually found in the case of site finds. The hoards from Syria-Palestine are the best reflection of this phenomenon. Unlike the Balkans, excavations in the Near Eastern sites have yielded a large number of small denominations, which are seldom found in hoards from this region. Such a clear-cut distinction can not be seen at Capidava when we compare the composition of the hoard with that of the single finds. Nonetheless, we notice that the hoard contains a higher percent of folles, the highest denomination of the Byzantine bronze coinage, 82% compared to c. 54% in the case of single finds (Fig. 7). Nonetheless, the chronological breakdown of both the hoard and the single finds is very similar (Fig. 5). The chronological structure of the hoard from Capidava is typical for the Lower Danube area, the two major characteristics being the rather small number of coins composing the hoard and the high occurrence of coins of Justinian, despite the fact that the hoard was probably lost in the early 580s. First, the size of the hoard, 51 coins, is typical for the region. Hoards numbering more than 100 coins are rare in the Balkans. By way of comparison, a cursory review of the hoards from Syria-Palestine will reveal that hoards of more than 300 specimens are not at all uncommon. The second feature, and perhaps one of the more peculiar aspects of the monetary circulation in the Balkans, is the heavy presence of large Justinianic folles issued between 538 and 550. Both hoards and single finds from the Lower Danube area point to an abundance of such heavy coins and, more significant, their persistence until the last decade of the sixth century. In the province of Scythia, coins from 538–550 represent more than 15 percent of the entire group of EBC, while the proportion is much higher in Moesia II and in the north-western Balkans, in Serbia. It is interesting that the major urban centers of Scythia - Tomis, Histria, and Noviodunum, yielded a smaller number of large folles, while none of the four hoards found at Histria contains such coins. In the smaller fortresses defending the Danube frontier the situation is different. At Durostorum and Capidava more than 15 percent of the early Byzantine coins are issues of Justinian from 538–550. Such examples suggest that the process of withdrawing the heavy series was more readily implemented in the major centers where the control was stricter. The circulation of these unusually large coins needs more attention. After 550 the weight of the copper follis began to slide until it was stabilized at almost half the weight of the follis introduced by Justinian in 538. According to Gresham’s law we would expect to find many such coins in hoards from the following decades, especially with the inflationary tendencies in the second half of the sixth century. And indeed we do, but at least two problems arise. First, there is a lot of regional variation: large hoards from the Near East concealed at the end of the sixth century usually have a chronological gap corresponding to the dated issues of Justinian I (538-565), although they contain a fairly large number of issues from his predecessors Justin I and Anastasius (Fig. 4). The large coins of Justinian were more successfully withdrawn from circulation in the Near East, a highly urbanized area, whereas in the militarized border region of the Danube these coins continued to circulate for a few decades longer. There is also some indication that the large folles have appeared in larger numbers in the region later than the date when they had been issued. Most Balkan hoards buried during the reign of Justinian contain few large folles, whereas hoards concealed a few decades later, such as the one found at Capidava, contain a rather high percentage of such large specimens. Coin hoards from the northern Balkans, as a general characteristic, contain heavy specimens as late as the 580s, as testified by such finds in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. It is significant that, with one exception (Veliki Gradac), no such coins seem to appear in any of the hoards concealed in the 590s, a possible sign that the big coins of Justinian had been finally removed from circulation by the end of the century. Such a late date of withdrawal could also be related to the difficulty encountered by Justin II and Tiberius II in collecting the taxes from the border provinces of the Balkans, which received particular mention in the legislation of 566 and 575. The collection of taxes was also an opportunity to regulate the circulating mass, and a disruption of this system could have delayed the process of calling in the heavy Justinianic coinage. We may also use a later account from Theophanes Confessor who argued that the imperial treasury could no longer sustain the regular payment of the troops, so the state was forced to cut ¼ of the salaries in 587. Such factors can explain why the small hoard lost at Capidava in the early 580s still contained so many large coins of Justinian. What seems to be more compelling in this particular case, is the fact that Gresham’s law plays no part since the purse was lost accidentally when the building collapsed under the fire. The composition of the hoard is probably a fairly good reflection of the coin circulation at Capidava around 580. Judging by the single finds from other fortresses on the Danube, very similar to the site finds from Capidava, we could assume that at least the chain of fortifications north of Durostorum displayed a similar pattern of coin circulation. Most of the coins were probably used in local exchanges in the northern Balkans since the numerous finds from the excavations conducted in Constantinople, with over 500 early Byzantine coins published so far, do not include even one large coin of Justinian. Even more, the small hoard from Capidava contains a follis from Carthage issued in 539/40, a mint rarely found among finds from the Danubian provinces. It was probably brought to the region either through commerce in the Black Sea or by the movement of soldiers after the reconquest of North Africa and was still in circulation at Capidava when the hoard was lost around 582. Although the information about prices and salaries come from distant regions, such as Egypt and Palestine, there are enough grounds to suggest that the small hoard found at Capidava was in no sense a fortune. According to A.H.M. Jones the cost of living for the poor was less that 1.5 solidi/ year, which for the reign of Tiberius translates into c. 70 folles/month. Consequently, the 46.5 folles comprising the Capidava hoard represent a rather modest sum. The historical significance of the hoard found a Capidava should be seen not only at the level of the town itself but at the larger scale of the Lower Danube area (Fig. 3). After a relatively peaceful period after 560, the second stage of the barbarian invasions began in the last years of Justin II’s reign. In 576 the Slavs initiated a new series of powerful raids in Thrace, reaching the Long Wall, while only two years later, according to Menander the Guardsman the most important source for these events, 100.000 Slavs ravaged the same region for a second time. Unable to react, the new emperor Tiberius II sent an embassy to Baian, the khagan of the Avars asking him to prepare an offensive against the Slavic tribes living north of the Danube in the eastern part of Wallachia. According to Menander, Baian was more than willing to accept such a proposition since he was anxious to plunder and to subdue the Slavic tribes. The action was carefully planned and took place either in the summer of 578 or the summer of 579. The Avars, 60.000 horsemen according to Menander, crossed the Danube probably at Singidunum and were escorted downstream under the strict supervision of Joannes, who was most probably holding the office of questor exercitus and who had been assigned this important mission. The troops followed the route Bonnonia - Ratiaria - Novae - Durostorum and crossed the Danube into the territory of the Slavs using one of the fords from the province of Scythia, either at Capidava or a few miles to the north. Using the numismatic evidence, some scholars argued that most of the hoards closing in the late 570s should be ascribed to the Avar expedition just mentioned. Indeed there is a cluster of hoards from this period and also well documented single finds in various fortresses along the Danube pointing to severe destructions in the late 570s and the early 580s. The major problem with such an interpretation is that it goes against the scenario of the Avars being closely escorted by the Byzantine authorities. I would argue that it is very unlikely that an expedition ordered by Byzantium and meant to strike the Slavs would leave a long trail of destruction along its way. The Avars crossed the Danube first into the Empire and then into Slavic territory with the assistance of the Byzantine fleet and it is very hard to believe that they did so after endangering and destroying Byzantine fortresses on their way to the final target of their mission. Moreover, the hoard found at Capidava strengthens this point of view. Based on its dating, the hoard was most probably lost after the expedition of the Avars, so the destruction of the fortress, which may have been precisely the place used by the Avars to cross the river, is the result of subsequent events. The most likely candidates are once again the Slavs. We learn from John of Ephesus that the Slavs devastated the provinces of the Balkans from 581 to 584, without any serious opposition from the Empire “burning, plundering, and killing without restraint” in the words of the Byzantine chronicler. It is very probable that the hoard from Capidava is related to these terrible events. There are many other hoards in the Balkans with a closing date in the early 580s and it is very likely to have been lost due to the great danger and uncertainty in the region during these years (Fig. 3). At any rate, caution needs to be employed when ascribing the existence of hoards to a specific event since the region was menaced by successive waves of invasions starting in 576 and continuing until the end of the century. In what concerns the fate of Capidava, the hoard documents and dates an important destruction at the beginning of the 580s, but the fortress remained functional, albeit reduced to a quarter of its initial size, until the first decades of seventh century when its military function ended along with the Byzantine control of the Lower Danube.
  • Limba de redactare: română
  • Secţiunea: Numismatică antică şi bizantină (Ancient and Byzantine Numismatics)
  • Vezi publicația: Cercetări Numismatice: CN
  • Anul publicaţiei: 2009
  • Referinţă bibliografică pentru nr. revistă: XV; anul 2009; subtitlu: Volum dedicat lui Octavian Iliescu (1919-2009)
  • Paginaţia: 87-105
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