Classics Colloquium: Peter van Alfen (American Numismatic Society)

  • Columbia University 603 Hamilton Hall New York, NY 10027 USA

Classics Colloquium

“Muddle Wrestling: Grappling for Conceptual Clarity in Archaic Money”

In recent years, the global trends towards currency homogenization and monetary diversification have attracted the attention of sociologists Nigel Dodd and Geoffrey Ingham, each of whom has explored at length not just contemporary monetary practices, but also the nature of money and its long history. In the course of their sometimes spirited debates over how to define money, to trace its origins, and to outline the theoretical approaches towards the production and consumption of money in various fields of study, including economics, sociology, and politics, they have worked towards achieving greater clarity where previously there has been what Ingham has called “category errors” and Dodd a “conceptual muddle.” Largely overlooked by those who work on ancient monetary problems, their efforts to disentangle money’s abstractions and materiality offers a path out of some of the thorniest pitfalls in discussions of the development of money in the ancient Mediterranean world, particularly in the archaic period. In this paper I demonstrate how Ingham’s and Dodd’s clearly defined, hierarchical units of analysis--money idea, money of account, and currency—can be profitably employed to map and isolate problems in approaches to archaic money that hitherto have been plagued by their own conceptual confusions, not least of which is how to define “money” in an archaic context. Adopting these analytical units allows us to investigate with greater success the development of archaic money, particularly the currency form of coinage, and its relationships to critical social, political and economic developments taking place within various communities and regional systems at the same time.