Armies, coins and enforcement

While working on Time of Troubles, we’ve found it necessary to return to the issue of coinage. For example, a common argument made concerning Hasmonean coinage in Galilee in the century or so immediately before the turn of the era is that such coinage indicates ‘integration’ with the Hasmonean project of an independent Israel, indeed that the people willingly threw themselves into a vibrant ‘trade’ with larger centres.

Not so fast, since coinage itself was invented in three parts of the world (without knowledge of the others) a few centuries earlier: China, India and Lydia. Rulers soon saw a distinct logistical benefit: instead of the immense resources devoted to provisioning armies, rulers began to demand taxes in coin from the people they controlled. At the same time, the soldiers were paid in coin, especially in an era of perpetual warfare. So how could people get hold of such coins to pay taxes? Exchange agricultural produce with the soldiers.

In other words, coinage meant armies, occupation and taxes in coin. Time and again, we come across evidence that local people did not immediately adopt coinage with enthusiasm (as the myth of Adam Smith would have us believe). Instead, they tended to resist coinage, which had to be forced upon them. A good exercise is to trace the gradual enforcement of coinage by following the paths of Roman armies.

So what does this mean for the Hasmoneans in that small corner of the world? Hasmonean coins meant armies, garrisons, and of course taxes in that coin to the regime in Jerusalem.


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