700 Years Without Coins for Romania

By Bob Reis, World Coin News

We were discussing the interactions of the Roman empire with the people living in what is now Romania. The Romans called them Dacians during the empire, the place Dacia. The Romans thought they had interests to protect in Macedonia, and saw the Dacians as a threat to those interests. The Dacians did not knuckle under. The Romans went up there and fought them over many years in several different major campaigns, beat them, colonized the coast and the near-coastal hinterland and stayed for centuries until the pressure of migrants from the northeast forced them to abandon their attempt to govern the region.

The coastal zone was substantially secured during the reign of Augustus and the territory organized as Moesia in 6 A.D.

Contained in Moesia were the coastal towns of Callatis, Tomis and Istros with their centuries of coin issues. Through the 1st century BCE those towns had issued copper municipal coins from time to time, and those occasional issues continued under the Romans. Tomis made more than the others, starting with Augustus and continuing for more than two centuries. Callatis started imperial coinage with Nero. Istrian coinage was very sparse and ended with Gordian III. Tomian coins are all scarce; Callatian and Istrian are scarcer still.

Back in the mountains, the Dacians brooded and fretted on their lost territory, occasionally crossing the frontier to wreck and steal things. They mounted a large invasion in 86 CE during the reign of Domitian. The Romans drove them back eventually and then they divided the province of Moesia into Superior and Inferior parts. The positional references refer to their relation to the Danube: Superior was upriver in what is now Serbia mostly with some Bulgaria; Inferior was downriver in Romania. The hinterland remained Dacia and Dacian.

Moesia Superior was closer to the Roman center of gravity and the Romans did considerably more business there than up in Inferior. The Dacians didn't make much distinction between the two and preyed upon either as opportunity provided. Trajan became emperor in 97 CE and resolved to do something about the unsatisfactory security in the Moesiae. He invaded Dacia (exact date uncertain) and defeated their forces in 101 CE. A peace treaty was apparently violated by the Dacians three years later and Trajan responded by besieging and eventually destroying the Dacian capital, taking the Dacian king's head back to Rome.

The Dacian treasury was legendary. Trajan brought it home to Rome where it was coined into Roman money in great profusion. There were gold mines in Dacia as well. The conquest of Dacia was considered a stroke of great good fortune, and was announced on the coinage for years after.

Trajan's coinage was complex and voluminous. Of course Dacia was mentioned in his actual titles, so that your average metropolitan Trajan coin will have DAC in the obverse legend. It shows up, or its Greek equivalent, on more than a few colonial coins as well. There is a series of Dacian conquest commemoratives in all metals, gold, silver and copper. Various events and aspects of the Dacian campaign are illustrated. Here the empreror is riding down a Dacian warrior. There is the bridge he had built across the Danube, the longest in the world for over 1,000 years after. Victory inscribes VIC DAC on a shield. Dacians male and female sit and weep. And there is the column he had erected in Rome to commemorate the conquest.

The Dacian conquest commemoratives come in gold, silver, and various sizes of copper. As a class they are not uncommon. There is, realistically, no limit to the cost of all the varieties.

Back in Dacia there was peace for a while but the war had been very expensive and development (colonization) was underfunded. Trajan got involved in another war of conquest in Jordan, and there were ongoing problems with Parthia. Parthia was what got Trajan at the end. On campaign in the east he got sick and died on the way home.

There were Goths and Celts in Dacia and more coming, Goths at least, all the time. Seeing what had happened to the Dacians kind of gave the "barbarians" an us-or-them attitude about the Romans. Dacia the province was rather loosely held in its northern regions, and Moesia Inferior for that matter as well. The tenuous nature of Roman administration is perhaps reflected in the sporadic coinage. There was none at all in Dacia until the time of Philip the Arab in the mid third century CE, and it ends with Gallienus a couple of decades later. Moderately scarce coins, all of them. And not so well made, the usual situation with the "Greek Imperial" series. And usually badly preserved. And worn.

The Roman empire was in a state of more or less permanent military and economic emergency from the mid-third century on. In Dacia the Goths became very numerous and bellicose. In 275 CE the Roman emperor Aurelian, pressed elsewhere, decided that prudence demanded the withdrawl of the Roman troops and administrators, leaving the civilian population to fend for itself. The Goths formed a kingdom and evidently governed tolerably well. They did not make official coinage, but there are an awful lot of small imitations of third century Roman coins in base metal from Dacia. Probably Goth.

Romans held on in Moesia Inferior for another century. They lost it in 376 CE. The Goths had been assaulted by the Huns and appealed to Roman emperor Valens for refuge in Moesia. Granted, but then the Goths didn't like the way they were treated and took up arms. The Roman forces sent by the emperor Valens were defeated. That was the end of Roman Moesia.

I don't know about you, but when I think "Roman Empire" I think of the second century map. Roman ring all the way around the Mediterranean, France, western Germany, Britain, Syria, half of Iraq. That all dissolved, leaving little Roman islands here and there, and then they evaporated, leaving ruins, the newcomers dismantling the ruins for building material. The northern zone, including the proto-Romania of our current interest, was confusingly overrun by numerous different groups of nomads and migrants. Goths who split into Ostrogoths and Visigoths, Avars, Huns, later Bulgars and Slavs.

Rome the city became the capital of a German kingdom, the capital of the empire was Constantinople. The emperors, we call them Byzantine from 491 CE on, mostly dealt with the Goths up in Romania by paying them off in gold solidi, hiring them for soldiers and occasionally performing some military activity up the Black Sea coast in defense of their trading outpost in Cherson.

If you look at the maps in Sear's Byzantine Coins and their Values you will see that most of "Romania" was considered to be Byzantine (Roman) territory through the 12th century, but that was probably an overstatement most of the time.

Since there were imitations of Roman coins made in late third century CE Dacia there were probably imitations made in the fourth and fifth centuries too. Such "barbarous" coins are common, but mostly they can't be placed to a region by physical characteristics and we don't know exactly where they were found. They made them in the west too, and down in Syria. Difficult series, people are doing attributions around the edges, no major reference yet that I know of.

Imitations were made of sixth and seventh century Byzantine coins too, but evidently not so many, and perhaps hardly at all in "Romania." I go looking for Byzantine imitations online and I find a few coppers, none described as coming from somewhere in particular. There are imitation gold coins too (not to mention modern fakes). Often there is a fine line to be drawn. How crude does a Byzantine coin have to be to be called barbarous?

So did the people in "Romania" make imitation coins in the 6th through, oh, 10th century CE? Probably, but don't know for sure.

The Bulgars formed a kingdom in Ukraine in the seventh century and from there descended into Romania and further south. There were some Byzantine looking coppers struck in the 10th century, pretty rare, not known to be found in Romania. Bulgarian silver coins of the 13th century are fairly common, but they are neighbor coins, possibly used in old Romania, but not from there.

Well, what about Islamic coins in the "dark ages?" You know, Abassid and Samanid silver coins found on the amber and fur routes up into Poland and Russia all the way to Sweden. Mayber there were some that made it up to Romania. I googled "Islamic coins in Romania" and found this gem: The Byzantine Empire and the Territories North of the Danube by Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, Romanian National History Museum; Bucharest; Romania (undated).

Oberlander-Tarnoveanu mentions a "complete moneyless period" before 650 CE, when "massive payments of silver hexagrammata" were made to some local "kingdoms" in Moldavia and Wallachia. One (me) assumes that those Byzantine hexagrams were protection money of some kind, and one supposes that the protection purchased was rather minor else the payment would have been in gold. Copper, he opines, traveled with small traders, and he states that the latest Byzantine coppers found in his country were coined by Constantine (V), 741-775, he who vanquished and destroyed the first Bulgarian kingdom.

He writes that Byzantine coins dating from the 730s to the ninth century are very rare in Romania. During that period, evidently, nothing much happened. Byzantine coins started showing up again in the reign of Theophilus, 829-42 and there presence grew over the next century or so. That was a period of fitful war between Byzantium, Bulgaria, and Kievan Rus.' Troops had to be paid.

Then there was a period in the 11th century, after the Byzantine emperor Basil II had destroyed the second Bulgarian kingdom, when some of the Romanian territory on the Black Sea coast was once again for a time under direct Byzantine control and Byzantine coins of that emperor are found with greater frequency.

He specifically states that there are no Islamic hoards at all from the eighth and ninth centuries and very few from the 10th and 11th, all in Moldavia.

What all that seems to add up to is that there were no coins made in Romanian territory from the fifth century to at least the 12th. That's about 700 years. And several centuries in which apparently no coins were used.

No trade?

This discussion of "Moldavia" and "Wallachia" is technically a bit cart-before-horse. There was, obviously, more than a little reconfiguring of political geography from ancient to medieval times. During this sub-Byzantine period the old regions of Dacia and Moesia became obsolete, but the newer zones of Moldavia, and Wallachia had not yet taken shape. They emerged as political entities in the 14th century. That was after the Mongol invasion. Moldavia and Wallachia struck their own coins, so there is something for the numismatists to do. I'll discuss them next time.

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