The Origins of the Old Rus' Weights and Monetary Systems: Two Studies in Western Eurasian Metrology and Numismatics in the Seventh to Eleventh Centuries

by Omeljan Pritsak
illustrated by Lesia Isaievych

ISBN 0-916458-48-2 (cloth/hardcover)
184 pages, 6" x 9" size, published May 1998 by Harvard University Press

This comprehensive book explores the numismatic and metrological systems of medieval Europe and the Middle East. Omeljan Pritsak shows the relationships between the numismatic systems of Western Europe, Khazaria, Volga Bulgaria, the Byzantine Empire, and Arabia and the system of Kievan Rus, and then proposes a number of innovative solutions related to the systems of Kievan Rus. Many of Pritsak's conclusions challenge conventional theories in this field.

Of particular interest are the sections that concern the Khazars, Bulgars, and Varangians. There is an extensive discussion of the question of whether the Khazars minted coins, as well as an assessment of various runes and symbols. Accompanying the text are 15 halftones, 17 tables, 11 graphs, and 1 map.

"As the title indicates, this book explores two distinct but related topics: the various monetary-weight systems that developed in European Russia during the Viking Age and the Rus' coinage of the Kievan era... These two essays constitute an important contribution to our knowledge of Rus' metrology and numismatics. While particular interpretations can be disputed, Pritsak's essays are marked by extraordinary erudition, a number of inspired insights, a western Eurasian view that transcends the narrow confines of the Rus' lands, and the collection in one place of invaluable metrological data on diverse monetary-weight systems. Although we may not always agree with Pritsak, we are indebted to him for these essays which, hopefully, may stimulate further research on the monetary systems of European Russia in the Viking Age." - Thomas S. Noonan, in Russian Review

"Pritsak sets out to determine the precise value in grams of every weight in each of these systems [Khazars, Volga-Bulgarians, and Old Rus'] and to show that the three systems are closely interrelated, deriving largely from early medieval Arabic precursors. However, his assumptions about the nature and values of the Arab terms are often flawed. The value of the pondus Caroli is much debated; its closeness (but not exact equivalency) to the Baghdad ratl is probably merely fortuitous. His reckoning of the Carolingian denier standard at 1.70625g is unjustifiably precise and substantially below most estimates... Secondly, evidence for a North African dirham standard (AD 767-800) of 2.73g is inconclusive. Individual undamaged specimens weigh from about 2.2g to more than 31g, with a frequency peak between 2.7g and 2.8g. We do not know, however, if this was an al marco coinage based on such an 'average' weight or one that was weighed against some standard weight, such as the coin dirham (2.97g) or the dirham kayl (about 3.13g). In any case the Arab traders reaching Khazaria in the late 8th century would more likely have used the general standard of the caliphate (either of the latter two weights) than the purported African standard... Finally, Pritsak ignores the general variability and imprecision of the medieval metrologies... Throughout [the second part of the book], highly debated matters are offered as certainties..." - Stephen Album, in The English Historical Review (September 1999)

"Professor Omeljan Pritsak's study offers a challenging viewpoint on the early medieval monetary system of the Old Rus'. The book is innovative and controversial: innovative, for it offers a new look at the old problem, controversial, because its methodology, especially in the first part - where the author uses very precise metric data for a variety of European coins and later goes on to manipulate these data - can be questioned on the basis that medieval European metrologies were most likely not that clear-cut. The author meticulously discusses the historic and numismatic sources but his conclusions are often weak and questionable. ... His approach of accepting debatable ideas as well-established historical facts would probably invoke criticism among many historians." - Ludomir Lozny, in The Canadian Slavonic Papers (September-December 2002)




Post-Roman Monetary Systems in Western Europe (Francia, England, Seventh to Ninth Centuries):
Charlemagne's Currency Reform -- The Monetary System in Anglo-Saxon England -- The Silver ora and the healfmarc of the Vikings -- The German mark -- The Byzantine Monetary System -- The Muslim Monetary System -- Gold to Silver Ratios and Profits

Did the Khazars Possess a Monetary Economy?
Controversies -- The Khazarian tin and altin -- The Mystery of the "Twig-like" Signs -- The bismar/bezmen -- The Khazar Monetary System Reconstructed

The Monetary System of Volga Bulgaria:
The Emergence of the Volga Bulgarian Monetary System -- Adaptations to the Muslim Metrology

The Origin of the Old Rus' Grivna Serebra:
The grivna and the grivenka -- The osminik -- The grivna and the kuna -- The Shilling in Old Rus'

The Development of the Old Rus' Weights and Monetary Systems:
Old Rus' Weights and Monetary Systems in the 10th Century -- The Monetary System of Volodimer the Great -- The Southern Rus' (Kyivan) Monetary System -- The Northern Rus' (Novgorodian) Monetary System -- Eleventh-Century Developments

The Old Rus' System of Weights:

Appendix: Varango-Chazarica:
Whole Words (gud, kutR, kiltR, ubi) -- Isolated Runes (k, s) -- A New Interpretation



The Iconography of Old Rus' Coins:
The Obverse Sides of the Types "Vladimir I-IV" and Svjatopolk -- "Jaroslav's Silver" -- Patron Saints (George, Demetrius, Peter, Michael) -- "Tridents" and "Bidents"

Epigraphy of Old Rus' Coins:
Introductory Remarks -- Personal Names (Princely and Baptismal) -- The 9ETPO7 Inscriptions -- The 9ETFP Inscriptions -- The Formula na stole -- The Formula "And This is His [i.e., the Ruler's] Gold/Silver" -- The Formula "Silver of [the Patron] Saint [N.]" -- Sacred Legends (The Name of Jesus Christ, Votive Invocations) -- The Formula Amen -- Old Rus' Numismatic Abbreviations

A New Classification of Old Rus' Coins:
Historical Commentary to the Datings -- A New Classification

Appendix: The Pseudo-Hoard of Mit'kovka

Illustrative Tables -- Works Cited -- Index

List of Tables and Illustrations
Table 1-1. Structure of the mitqals
Table 1-2. Gold to Silver Ratios
Table 1-3. Gains in Interzonal Exchanges
Figure 2-1. Weight of the 89 Khazar Dirhams
Figure 3-1. Weight of the Volga Bulgar Coins of the Tenth Century
Table 5-1. Fineness of Volodimer's Silver Coins
Figure 5-1. Old Rus' Silver Coins from the Kyiv Hoard
Figure 5-2. Old Rus' Silver Coins from the Hoard of Nizyn
Figure 5-3. Weight of the Silver Coins of the "Vladimir III" Type
Map. Eastern Europe to 1220
Figure 7-1. "Vladimir I" Gold Inscriptions
Figure 7.3. "Vladimir II" Inscriptions
Figure 7-4. "Vladimir III" Inscriptions
Figure 7-5. "Vladimir IV" Inscriptions
Figure 7-6. "Svjatopolk" Inscriptions
Table 8.1. Categorization of Old Rus' Coins
Table 8-2. Comparative Analysis of the Distinctive Byzantine Features in Old Rus' Coinage

Illustrative Tables
Table I-1. The "Tridents" of the "Vladimir" Coins
Table I-2. The "Tridents" on "Jaroslav's Silver" Coins
Table I-3. The "Bidents"
Table I-4. Sitting on the Throne
Table I-5. Royal Dress
Table I-6. The Pantocrator's Nimbus
Table I-7. Crown Surmounted by a Cross of Five Pellets with Pendilia
Table I-8. Symbols of the Ruler's Power
Table I-9. The Plain Cross Scepter
Table I-10. Comparison of the Structure of Sassanian Coins with "Jaroslav's Silver"
Table I-11. Typology of Old Rus' Coins
Table J. Images from the Codex Gertrudianus of Cividale


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