Silver and bronze : cross-cultural currencies in Italy and Sicily
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The monetization of Sicily took the form of an integration of native and Greek traditions of wealth and exchange. The Bronze and Iron Age indigeni of Italy and Sicily used weighed bronze – raw, ingots, and objects – as proto-monetary currency. When the Greeks arrived in the eighth century B.C., they introduced Greek weight standards, and were in turn introduced to native ones. This cultural contact sparked a series of assimilations, adaptations, and adjustments of both the Italic and Greek systems. When silver Greek-style coinage appeared in Sicily in the mid-sixth century B.C., 0.8 grams of silver seems to have equaled one litra of bronze, weighing 315 grams. From the beginning of Sicilian coinage silver litrai were issued alongside traditional Greek obols, even at Greek poleis like Himera. The silver litra and the obol were similar in weight, and either one could have served the same economic need for fractional silver. The litra was preferred, however, and in many places replaced the obol altogether. By the fifth century B.C. the silver litra was fully assimilated into the Greek-style coinage system as a fraction of the drachma, suggesting a strong cultural preference for the native standard. Indigenous communities like Morgantina minted silver litrai in the Greek style, representing a native adoption of Hellenic practice. Greek cities like Acragas and Selinus recognized the native preference for bronze, and produced cast trade coinage inspired by Italic tradition. These Sicel silver litrai and Greek bronzes may represent two faces of a mutually beneficial currency. The Sicilian litra was also present from the 6th century B.C. at the Etruscan coastal city of Vetulonia, a crucial hub of the metal trade with Southern Italy and Sicily, again probably for commercial purposes. The earliest Etruscan silver coinage from 5th century Populonia was based on the Sicilian litra. The Romans, too, adopted silver coinage on the litra standard from the Greeks, though under different circumstances. No matter the individual circumstances of these monetary changes, whether born of native identity or Greek accomodationism (or both), they paint a complex picture of colonial and postcolonial populations attempting to coexist, cooperate, and prosper.