The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
Coinage and Currency. The Seas and Shipping

MONEY BEGAN TO DEPRECIATE after the Great Inasions. The theory that the Merovingians kept to the gold standard and that the Carolingians replaced it by an exclusively silver coinage is incorrect and altogether. too flattering to the Merovingians. The reality was less simple. When the barbarian monarchies took root in the West, they made no innovations, and were content to keep the Byzantine solidus.1 Most of their kings were incapable of a monetary policy; the newcomers followed the example of the local inhabitants and used the imperial gold solidus, which was in circulation throughout the whole of Europe and was everywhere accepted. The Ostrogoth king of Italy, Theodoric, who died in 526 and who was devoted to the formalism of Roman administration, entrusted to the Count of the Sacred Largesses the minting of specie and of the gold solidi struck in the chief mints of his kingdom at Rome, Ravenna and Milan, and which continued to bear the Emperor's name. Only at the end of his reign did the king's monogram appear, but coining remained a public service under the Ostrogoths, and Theodoric made a point of energetically defending the monopoly: 'Moneyers', he declares in one of his letters, 'have been appointed in the general interest; they must not pass into the service of individuals.'2 With the Burgundians and the Visigoths, who appear to have preserved the idea of the state more effectively than the Franks, coining, which had begun by being merely imitative, also kept

____________________
1
Le Gentilhomme, Mélanges de numismatique mérovingienne, Paris, 1940, p. 132.
2
Cassiodorus, Variae, V, 39, quoted by Blanchet, Manuel de numis. I, p. 235, n. I.

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