Monday, June 23, 2014


Mark Peacock, Introducing Money. Economics as social theory 33. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. Pp. xii, 212. ISBN 9780415539883. $45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Matt Gibbs, University of Winnipeg (

Version at BMCR home site


Mark Peacock's book, Introducing Money, forms part of the Routledge series "Economics as Social Theory". The volume is divided into an introduction and three sections: theories, ancient monies, and modern monies. Within these lie nine chapters, the most useful of which for ancient historians will be chapters three through seven, although chapter two—as it considers Hopkins' taxes and trades model, and its application—should be included. Peacock's aim is to consider the origin and development of money not as "conjectural history" (6): he holds neither "that money develops from 'moneyless' market exchange, or 'barter'", nor that "money's medium of exchange function is its primary function" (6).

Chapter one considers "the 'orthodox economic view'" in which money is seen as originating from exchange and its associated acts, namely barter (17). The scholarship of Carl Menger, and its central tenet, is introduced: money is the result of decentralized actions performed by individuals who are concerned with furthering their own economic interests (18). This examination is followed by a critique of this theory, with Peacock observing that "Menger's conceptualization of the relationship between the means of payment and medium of exchange function obfuscates historical processes" (25). Nevertheless, he makes it clear that Menger's view deserves consideration precisely because it suggests money's use to effect one-sided payments predates money's function as a medium of exchange (25). The chapter also considers the concept of barter and its issues, and concludes with a discussion on the importance of John Maynard Keynes' work, namely that it draws us away from thinking about money in its all-purpose form (29).

Chapter two examines the 'state' or 'chartalist' theory of money. The first section deals with units of account, the means of payment, and then debt (in particular, taxation). The following section considers the "catallactic consequences of monetizing taxation" (36),1 and makes use of Hopkins' taxes and trades model because it illustrates some of the theory's implications (38-39); its applicability to Ptolemaic Egypt, Achaemenid Persia, classical Athens, and medieval England is discussed (40). The chapter closes with a reiteration of the main concepts of the theory: the state and its needs represent the primary movers, and the driving force behind this is that money's acceptability lies in the power of the state to impose and enforce taxation (45).

Chapter three considers the chronological and geographical span of the ancient Near East, and then examines the Ur III period (50). A concise appraisal of this economy suggests that the "palace was… a central agent in trade and exchange, and merchants an equally essential adjunct to the palace's economic activities" (51-52). The next section considers the extent of 'private' economic activity in the context of markets and prices (52-53). By Peacock's own admission, a 'safe' conclusion is that prices were controlled neither by free market forces nor firmly set by the palace administration (55). Having considered the relationship between 'private' exchange and barter (57-59), Peacock uses Ammisaduqa's edict to posit that both debts and their cancellation existed, leading to the suggestion that although Near Eastern societies were monetized, they did not possess "an all-purpose money" (62), and that the role of the palace was ever-present in the monetary sphere (63). Examining Mycenaean civilization, Peacock states that the palace lay at the heart of the local economy, and although administrative in nature, the extant evidence reveals a relatively complex division of labour (65), but does not illuminate the private commodity exchange that we might expect to see in a redistributive society (64-65); Peacock believes that the lack of evidence for such exchange may well be a result of the tablets' palatial bias (66). Moreover, the extant evidence does not concern money, at least as units of account; the answer as to why may lie in the way in which taxes were imposed, and "the decision not to denominate tribute payments according to a unit of account", given that palace administrators may not have been able "to conceive the values of different goods in terms of a unit of value" (66-67).

Chapter four begins with a consideration of the political economy of Homeric society, in which Peacock provides a justification for the use of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as historical sources, while arguing for a cautious approach (69). Next, Peacock examines the functions of money in Homeric society, noting that while cattle were used to express value and that the degree of monetization was low (71), no one item seems to have served as the exclusive medium of exchange (72). But trade was not absent from Homeric society, as the example of the Phoenicians suggests (73-75). An examination of how wealth was stored, and how it was valued, follows: several instances where agrarian and material goods, animals, and women are presented by Homer are considered as conferring honour and prestige on recipients with the variety among these items essential (76). Much of this is unsurprising given that land and agriculture were the foundation of wealth in Homeric society (76), but wealth could be held in the form of valuable objects and precious metals acquired through gift exchange and plunder. The practice and importance of gift exchange is considered briefly, with the intriguing proposition that the norm may have been to give gifts that were roughly equal in value (76-78). Through a discussion of payments made in contexts outside market exchange, and the role of tribute in the context of the oikos and later polis, Peacock suggests that the functions of money are institutionalized to different degrees, are embedded in Homeric social institutions (82), and that the low degree of monetization in Homeric society was, in part, a function of the low degree of centralization, itself an expression of weak state institutions (83).

Chapter five begins with a consideration of Menger's use of Homer, arguing that the former's belief—that market exchange was already significantly developed—"cannot be taken seriously as an attempt to analyse money either in Homer's epics or in archaic Greece" (87). Using the work of Laum, Peacock examines why cattle were used as a unit of account, and suggests that their importance and prestige were at the heart of the matter; of course, Peacock makes the connection between the political communities of late archaic Greece and an emerging state theory of money (88-89). Payments in the context of sacrifices are then studied, and Peacock analyses the relationship between those individuals involved (91-96). Finally, the role of those "who are 'paid' for contributing services to the Homeric 'state'" is considered (96-98); these people were primarily participants in athletic contests, which were, of course, religious occasions and were marked with sacrifices (96). Following Laum, Peacock contends that this representation (the subsequent means of payment that stands for, or represents, the original form of payment) is reflected in the use of votive figurines (97): these were used as sacrifices to the gods, but also became a medium of exchange between dedicants and temples (97). Peacock concludes that the state was the central actor in sacrifice and was the "initiator of payments" made through its chosen medium (here, cattle), and that the notion of representation here—in which a means of payment replaces an earlier medium—effectively represents an evolution in the form of money (98-99).

Chapter six traces the evolution of money in archaic Greece, and begins with a discussion of Philip Grierson's work, which suggests that standardized values can originally be found in the institution of wergeld that required compensation for individuals who had been killed. Perhaps the most significant feature of the law-codes that contain wergeld tariffs is that compensation was paid not only to victims (or their families), but also to the king or the state (107; cf. Tac. Germ. 12.2). The examination of the wergeld principle moves to consideration of extant Near Eastern laws (108) and Peacock concludes that, although it may well have "developed into a unit of account beyond the penal sphere" (110), the evidence is hardly definitive. Peacock examines wergeld, now termed "blood price", in Homer, providing several examples (110-13), and he concludes that the systemization and changes in Greek law provide some understanding of the development of monetary value (113). Peacock then considers Drako's homicide law and several of Solon's measures, before finally asking whether or not money's use as a medium of exchange occurred "prior to its legal–fiscal use as a unit of account and means of payment" (119). Ultimately, Peacock ascertains that monetary development in archaic Greece was promoted through innovations in the legal sphere and that these developments "presupposed the existence of written law that emerged in Greece in the archaic period" (121).

Chapter seven provides a succinct review of coinage in Lydia, and in the Greek poleis (124-29), arguing that one must consider the evidence from classical Greece which may suggest that coinage was devised for the purpose of facilitating trade (128). With respect to coins as a unit of account, Peacock notes that "few things were 'safe' from being valued according to money and treated as a commodity" (133), but that classical Athens had its share of critics of market exchange is carefully noted (134-35). Peacock considers the notion of wealth and the stores of value, with reference to the famous example of Pericles and his use of the market (Plut. Per.. 16.4); implicit, of course, is Pericles' use of coinage (135). But Peacock's significant point is not only that the cultural traditions of the Athenain élite were undermined by coinage, but also that this did not occur without legislation (138). Moreover, by the classical period, the extension of fiscal payments in the form of taxes and payments to citizens, in comparison to the archaic, were remarkable (138-39). The importance of coinage, according to Peacock, can also be seen in Athens' regulation of it, with reference to the Coinage Decree as a control measure (140-42). The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the current debate over the significance of coin.

Chapter eight moves from the ancient world to the modern. Initially Peacock examines the work of Amartya Sen on famines and markets, contending that markets cannot be judged in abstraction from other social institutions (148). Drawing on Sen's work, Peacock considers the importance of, and dependence on, the market during famine, noting that "being a peasant with access to or ownership of land" provided a degree of protection unavailable to wage- labourers, because the latter's dependence on the market exposed them to risks of "trade entitlement failure" (152-53): a term coined to refer to changes in relative prices (150-51). The following section analyses commercialization and monetization (157-62), and the ways in which they influence a society's vulnerability to famine. In the context of peasant studies, Peacock questions the approach of moral and political economists concerning the motives of peasants and their use of the market (162-67). The chapter concludes with Peacock's critique of Sen's 'entitlement' approach (167-68).

The final chapter examines local exchange trading systems (or LETS), and provides a succinct history of these institutions, their principles, and practices (170-71). Peacock argues that the LETS are closely and essentially connected to the market economy, that they are parasitic on it, and most importantly that their unit of account "serves as a num√©raire" (170), a basis upon which value is calculated (169, 171-75). The chapter also examines the work of Silvio Gesell and money's store of value function (175-77), and ends considering the motivations of the participants in LETS. Finally Peacock offers several comparable examples—more broadly, networks fashioned with if not the same, then similar, motivations—in Argentina and in Greece (178-82).

The text concludes with a bibliography offering a useful repository of economic and sociological literature. This covers not only ancient economies, but also those of the medieval and modern periods.

The volume itself is well-presented, clear, and concise. Some theoretical elements behind Peacock's theses may not be entirely applicable to all areas of ancient history, but he has produced an eminently readable and stimulating book that will be of significant interest for ancient historians working on coinage and the economy.


1.   The term 'catallactic' is now generally used to denote market activity, but was first used to mean the "Science of Exchanges", notably by R. Whately (1855) Introductory Lectures on Political Economy. 44 edn. London: John W. Parker, p. 4. Peacock notes that 'Catallaxy' can be understood to mean the market (184, n.2). A 'catallactic consequence', then, is an effect in the context of the market (in this case, driven by the monetization of taxation).

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