The Origins of the Old Rus' Weights and Monetary Systems: Two Studies in Western Eurasian Metrology and Numismatics in the Seventh to Eleventh Centuries

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Omeljan Pritsak. The Origins of the Old Rus' Weights and Monetary Systems: Two Studies in Western Eurasian Metrology and Numismatics in the Seventh to Eleventh Centuries. Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies. Cambridge, MA: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1998. xii, 172 pp. Illustrations. Map. Works Cited. Indexes. $29.00, cloth.

Professor Omeljan Pritsak's study offers a challenging viewpoint on the early medieval monetary system of the Old Rus'. The book is innovative and controversial: innovative, for it offers a new look at the old problem, controversial, because its methodology, especially in the first part-where the author uses very precise metric data for a variety of European coins and later goes on to manipulate these data-can be questioned on the basis that medieval European metrologies were most likely not that clear-cut. The author meticulously discusses the historic and numismatic sources but his conclusions are often weak and questionable. In the second part of the book, the author presents the iconographic and epigraphic data. His approach of accepting debatable ideas as well-established historical facts would probably invoke criticism among many historians. Finally, the reader should be advised that although the book was published in 1998, it represents the state of knowledge as of the 1970s at the latest. The core of the book was written in 1977 or later years, therefore it reflects the status quo of scholarship as of the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The first part of the book is based on several papers presented in international symposia and seminars. Pritsak discusses the Old Rus' monetary system using a comparative method with special attention to metrological problems. The author opens up by discussing the impact of the Roman monetary system on the indigenous European systems outside of the Empire. He points out that the Roman system was based on the use of three metals hierarchically ordered in value (bronze/copper, silver, and gold). By the seventh century AD, the traditional Roman system had been replaced by gold-silver bimetallism and eventually silver monometallism, which later characterized the medieval monetary systems in most of Europe.

Among the highlights of the first part of the book is a new hypothesis on the monetary reforms by Charlemagne, who tried to established parity with the Byzantine monetary and economic system. The novelty rests in the point that Charlemagne had two types of deniers of two different values. Another interesting point is about the Viking monetary system, which could have served as a medium to unify (equalize) the monetary systems of the West with the East (Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire). Tables 1-2 and especially 1-3 are very informative in showing the possibility of economic gains between the areas with different denominations of silver. Other interesting deliberations include the issue of the Khazars' monetary economy in Chapter Two. The author makes an interesting point about the increase in trade in Eastern Europe in the ninth century and suggests a commercial initiative of Islamic merchants. An interesting view is offered about a possible interconnection between Khazaria and the Carolingian monetary system in the ninth century AD. In conclusion, the reader learns that the Khazars' system appears to have been compatible with the international standards of the time.

Another significant contribution is in the discussion of the monetary system of Volga Bulgaria (Chapter 3). In presenting his overview of the economic systems of areas surrounding the Old Rus', the author points to the Volga Bulgars as the economic power of the tenth century AD. They, according to Pritsak, stimulated the market for the Samanids and introduced the silver coinage into Eastern Europe. …


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