Projects and Science

FWF Projectnumber:
P 255140 - G19

Head:
Mag. Dr. Bendeguz Tobias

Funding: fwf logo

 

 Late Antique and Byzantine Weights in the Mediterranean Area

In archaeology and numismatics, late antique and Byzantine weights represent a research desideratum, and even numismatists consider them "paranumismatic". It is not surprising that up to now no comprehensive publication but only general summaries exist on the subject.

Weights for weighing goods and coins are an important control mechanism of a functioning state. They guarantee correct tax revenue and a transparent control on the part of the citizens. Now and then, the aim was to create trust in the government authority and the market. Without such a system, regulated tax payments, the exchange of goods and a controlled circulation of money would not work properly. The legislative texts of the Codex Theodosianus and their amendments under Justinian I emphatically show that great importance was attached to certified weights and their proper storage.

Late antique and Byzantine weights were produced in various forms and made of different materials such as copper alloys, lead, silver, stone or glass. They are mainly marked by Greek face value stamps that indicate their target weight. The design of the surface can differ from simple engravings to complex figurative and architectural pictures inlaid with various metals.

The size of the late antique / Byzantine Empire was a huge logistical challenge in terms of introducing and maintaining a uniform system of weights throughout the whole territory of the state. Today, weights and scales seem natural, but an international system of units ("International System of Units" – abbreviated SI) was first introduced in 1960 and established over the following decades.

Most of the weights were used weighing money and especially gold coins. The three main gold nominals were the solidus of about 4,5 g and its two fractions, the semissis (about 2,25 g) and the tremissis (about 1,5 g). The solidus consisted of 24 carats (24 κεράτια).

The gold coins were used primarily by the state to pay the wages for their servants like the soldiers or officials. In the other direction, the state collected taxes from its citizens, mainly to be paid in gold coins. To guarantee the solvency of the Byzantine state it had to raise more money than it spend. It was estimated that in the 6th century AD the tax revenue was about 4.8 million solidi per year from the state prefectures, three quarters of it coming from the prefecture of Oriens alone. Moreover, tax incomes were collected from financial and domain administrations. For all these financial transactions money had to be weighed and controlled by state officials.

From the metrological point of view it is evident that at least the glass weights were amazingly accurately calibrated.

Literature:

  • Schibille, A. Meek, B. Tobias, Ch. Entwistle, M. Avisseau-Roustet, H. Da Mota, B. Gratuze, Comprehensive Chemical Characterisation of Byzantine Glass Weights. PLoS ONE 11/12, 2016, e0168289. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168289.
  • Tobias, Il peso monetale. Note cronotipologiche e distributive. In: P. M. De Marchi (ed.), Castelseprio e Torba: Partimonio dell'Umanità (Mantova 2013) 587-588. (ISBN: 9788887115840).
  • Tobias, Souvenir aus dem Orient? Ein fāṭimidischer Glasstempel aus Ószőny (Brigetio). (Keleti emléktárgy? Egy fāṭimida üvegpecsét Ószőnyről (Brigetio)). In: A. Anders, Cs. Balogh, A. Türk (eds.), Avarok pusztai. Régészeti tanulmányok Lőrinczy Gábor 60. születésnapjára. (Avarum solitudines. Archaeological studies presented to Gábor Lőrinczy on his sixtieth birthday). Opitz Archaeologica 6=MTA BTK MŐT Kiadványok 2 (Budapest 2014) 521-526. (ISBN: 9789639987135).
  • Tobias, Glass Weights. In: O. Tekin (ed.), Suna and İnan Kiraç Foundation Collection at the Pera Museum Part 2. Late Roman and Byzantine Weights (İstanbul 2015) 187-200. (ISBN: 9786054642465).
  • Tobias, Akdeniz Dünyasında Geç Antik ve Bizans Ağırlıkları. Toplumsal Tarih 267, 2016, 36-39.