A dialogue in metal : silver, bronze, and cross-cultural currencies in Italy and Sicily

Castellano, Giuseppe Carlo, II
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The monetization of Sicily and Italy was marked by a persistent indigenous influence and by a critical adoption of coinage by the native peoples. This dissertation addresses cultural identity and interaction in areas of contact between Greeks and indigenous Sicilian and Italic peoples through the lens of monetary practice, tracing the native influence on coinage through close study of technical aspects. These include weight standards, technique of manufacture, and metallic preference. These technical aspects, as the products of unspoken or even unconscious cultural habits, are excellent quantitative indicators of cultural influence.

When the Greeks arrived in Sicily and Tyrrhenian Italy in the 8th century BC, during their period of explosive migration across the Mediterranean world, they found the native peoples using bronze objects by weight as a form of premonetary currency. These bronze objects, tools, and ingots were reckoned against a native Italic libral pound (Greek, litra). The Greeks in Sicily adopted this indigenous bronze standard. The litra had an enormous impact on the monetization of Italy and Sicily. Already in the 8th to the 6th centuries BC, Greek and indigenous settlements all around the Tyrrhenian, from Sicily to Etruria, had developed bronze libral standards that varied regionally but enjoyed mutual convertibility through convenient “conversion standards” that form the linchpins between differing local systems of exchange.

From the very beginning of coinage in Sicily in 550 BC, around two centuries after the arrival of the Greeks and roughly contemporary with their adoption of the Italic bronze standard, Greek cities minted silver coinage equivalent to the indigenous bronze litra. The native settlements soon followed suit. This standard served to convert between the native bronze tradition and the imported Greek silver.

My research further indicates that not only were the Sicilians using hybrid systems of exchange, but that the Etruscans also adapted Greek-style coinage in a way that conformed to local exigencies. Etruria is a counterpoint to the Sicilian situation, in that only Greek standards were used for the limited coinage of the Classical period, on account of the Greek role in mediating trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea.