This paper offers a concise comparative assessment of some key features of the ‘Aegean’ and ‘Chinese’ models of coinage.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the existing body of research scholarship on Roman coins, money, and the monetary economy greatly exceeds corresponding scholarship on early Chinese money in terms of both volume and sophistication. As a consequence, while the physical characteristics of Roman coins and their distribution have already been studied in very considerable detail and much attention has been paid to their relevance to broader questions of economic history, our knowledge of ancient Chinese money and its uses remains much more limited and fragile and many important questions have barely been addressed at all.
How was the valuation of ancient coins related to their quality and quantity? How did ancient economies respond to coin debasement and to sharp increases in the money supply relative to the number of goods and transactions? I argue that the same answer – that the result was a devaluation of the coinage in real terms, most commonly leading to price increases – applies to two ostensibly quite different monetary systems, those of early China and the Roman Empire.
My concern in this paper is the historical interpretation of the Greek and demotic documentary papyri of the Ptolemaic period, the role of Archaeology in the context of Ptolemaic economic history, and the application of social science theory towards an understanding of Ptolemaic Egypt.