Marginal Money: Coins, Frontiers, and Barbarians in Early Byzantium (6th-7th Centuries)
The project undertaken during my eight months at Dumbarton Oaks forms the second part of my dissertation entitled “Marginal Money: Coins, Frontiers, and Barbarians in Early Byzantium (6th–7th Centuries).” Employing a comparative framework, I argue that the same frontier acted both as a political/military frontier of exclusion and as a cultural frontier where ideas, fashions, and people circulated more or less freely. In the hands of “barbarians,” early Byzantine coins possessed more than basic economic value, but also brought social prestige, conveyed religious symbolism embedded in the iconography, and offered a general sense of sharing in the early Byzantine lifestyle. On a broader level, my work contributes to the dialogue about multi-disciplinary methodologies, since it uses physical evidence as the basis for a complex account that weaves numismatics, archaeology, anthropology, and history into a homogeneous narrative.
During my first three months at Dumbarton Oaks I created a corpus of early Byzantine coin finds in barbaricum, from Central Europe to the Caspian Sea. Although my initial intention was to cover only the territory of present-day Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine, the superb resources of the Dumbarton Oaks Library, including hard-to-find journals from Transcaucasia, permitted a much more ambitious undertaking. I spent the following months writing the most important chapter of my dissertation “Face-Value, Bullion Value, and Prestige Value: Early Byzantine Coins beyond the Frontier.” I have benefited from numerous fruitful discussions, not only with Byzantinists, but also with fellows in Pre-Columbian Studies with whom I shared an interest in archaeology.