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Money and Empire c. 300-c. 800


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

What is money for? Modern money keeps market economies moving, but how much did governments in the medieval world think about making shopping easier for their subjects? Did states issue money to pay for armies or to raise taxes? What can their coins tell us about the economic and administrative structures which underpinned societies?

In some cases coins are almost the only evidence we have for political structures which lasted for centuries and altered world events, such as the Kushan and Aksumite Empires of India and East Africa. In other cases they provide an invaluable alternative perspective to narrative sources. This course uses money as a focal point for exploring the ways in which Late Antique and medieval societies of the Mediterranean and India managed their economic systems.

We will examine what happens when money is not money. Coins spread far beyond their economic zones and became objects of ritual, desire and imitation. Money was perhaps the single most direct material connection that most people c. 200-800 had with large systems of government and faraway places.

'Money and Empire' will help you analyse how this relationship affected lives and how it survives in written and archaeological records. It will also make use of the collections of the British Museum.

Learning objectives

By the end of the module, you should:

  • be familiar with the use of coins as evidence for historical processes and able to talk about coinage and economic history using suitable terminology and evaluate technical literature on the subject critically
  • understand the different monetary systems of a range of Late Antique/early medieval states
  • understand how change and continuity can be seen in monetary systems between c. 200 and 800
  • be able to evaluate the effectiveness of different monetary systems and their aims on the basis of numismatic, archaeological and textual sources
  • be able to think comparatively about economic systems and the uses of coins in societies
  • be able to situate medieval and Late Antique societies within wider debates about the nature of exchange systems.