Coins, the Ancient Economy, and Ukraine

CIUS and the FLAME project (Framing the Late Antique and Medieval Economy []) at Princeton University are working together to digitize coin finds on the territory of pre-Christian Ukraine. We hope, in the coming months, to record as many buried caches of gold, silver, or bronze coinage on Ukrainian territory as possible (from roughly between 325 and 750 CE). Such buried coins wind up in the ground for a number of reasons—perhaps to safeguard a person's life-savings or simply an instance of loose change—but the effect is to leave modern scholars with small traces of the economic and cultural lives of ancient people. Though small, when such tidbits are added together, they can shed a powerful light on ancient history.

FLAME is assembling a database of such finds, which will help answer historical questions about how ancient economies functioned. Where were coins being minted, and when? Where did they travel to? By extension, how did economic regions connect (or fragment) over time? To do this, FLAME contributors digitize scholarly articles, excavation reports, museum collections, and even (occasionally) newspaper articles that record discoveries (some going back to the 17th century or further!). Our newest addition—the Circulation Module—launches in mid-May of 2021 and will map these findings, allowing users to filter, collect, examine, and analyze coin finds (along with their trajectory, from mint to burial) from Portugal to India. Scholars will therefore be able to draw together huge amounts of data, easily and in a standard format.



FLAME's Circulation Module.

Early on, we identified Eastern Europe as an area of need for the project. Due to disciplinary boundaries that are largely the result of Communist-era politics, cooperation with North American universities in the fields of Classics, Ancient History, and Medieval Studies has remained, at best, spotty. It is for this reason that, when we began, there were zero Ukrainian finds in FLAME's coin database, compared to nearly 500 in neighbouring Romania. CIUS's support, then, of a Ukrainian research team is indispensable in filling this hole. It is critical to FLAME's work, of course, but it is also critical to the field of Ukrainian Studies.

To see how, consider the formative scholarship of Ukrainian historian, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, whose work on the early, pre-Christian history of Ukraine (in Vol. 1 of his History of Ukrainian-Rus) grapples with the influence of Mediterranean and Western European states on the lands that would become Ukraine. For example, sometime around 292 CE, a great Crimean king died. Buried with him in his mohyla, in Kerch, was a gold diadem on whose thin gold leaf, dead-centre, appears the image of the Roman emperor Maximian. The image was taken from a bronze coin, and was obtained by laying it under the gold and hammering the metal into shape. Preserved too is the inscription on the coin: IMP C MAXIMIANVS P F AVG, or "Imperator Caesar Maximianus, Pious Blessed Augustus." Hrushevsky was interested in this "gothic"-style because it showed Ukraine's larger ties to the world of the Mediterranean civilizations to the south and west. How did this history affect the development of Slavic, Christian kingdoms like Kyivan Rus, a legacy that modern nations continue to fight over?


The Kerch discoveries. See left-middle for coin impression.

We hope, as do our Ukrainian partners, that such questions will be more fruitfully posed through better access to data. We are grateful to draw on the expertise of Coordinator Vasyl Orlyk (Professor, Central Ukrainian National Technical University) who is working with a team of two, consisting of Andrii Boiko-Haharin (Senior Curator, The National Bank of Ukraine) and Elena Petrauskas (Assistant Researcher, The Institute of the History of Ukraine at the National Academy of Sciences) to aggregate, analyze, and digitize Ukrainian coin finds in FLAME's system. such contributions are already making their way into the database, and we hope to have a considerable number ready by launch.

This project benefits from funds from the Mykola Klid Memorial Endowment Fund and the Teodota and Iwan Klym Memorial Endowment Fund. We are grateful for this support, and anticipate that our work, which creates new links between scholars in Canada, the United States, and Ukraine, fulfills the goals of both, now and in the future.

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