Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 3. Primitive economies

Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon Raised mound of Rathcroghan,
or Ráth Cruachain, royal seat of the kings of Connacht.
The epic tale 'The Cattle Raid of Cooley' begins here
So far, we have a huge pot of coins buried in the ground in an area that does not seem to have used money. We have eliminated the possibilities of the coins being buried because of the threat of invasion, and have also eliminated the possibility of any sort of votive offering. We have established that the most likely source of the money was payment to local people for supplies, labor, or both and that the most likely source was Carausius' army.

So why would people provide goods and services for money they had no use for, and then bury that money in the ground?

To answer that question, we first have to understand primitive economies. What does that phrase conjure up? Let us ask the man on the street -- or rather, the digital equivalent. Google the following question (without any quotation marks): What happened before money was invented? You will notice a lot about barter. You will also notice a lack of supporting evidence and perhaps a few things that you already know to be wrong. I picked the Irish photograph above for a very good reason: at the time the Frome hoard was buried, Ireland did not use money. From reading the caption, and after consulting "the man on the street" you might imagine that there were two ways to get a cow, you could trade something for it, or you could steal it.

Think again. If you have a bull and  few cows, what do you get? You get interest on your investment. Obviously, you must have some suitable land available for your cattle, but the rest is fairly simple, the cattle eat grass, drink water and make more cattle. Nowadays, we invest money and get interest from this investment -- at least, that's the theory. We cannot be sure about this though and money, left alone in a pot does not breed. We have to take a lot on faith and we realize that such investment seems to be creating inflation, and that today's money is not based on anything tangible. We print more money as we need it. Something must be wrong here. We go through cycles of economic downfalls, lose our shirts and start all over again. But we think that those Irish farmers were primitive.

They were indeed primitive, but primitive means primal. They had an economic system that worked very well. If you had a bit of land but no cattle, the local lord or king would loan you some cattle. You would have to pay interest on that loan in the form of some of the cattle's offspring, and that interest was spread out over three payments. If everything went well, you would gain the profit of then having cattle, and the king would get more cattle to loan out to others. Of course, you might suffer from a cattle raid, or you could neglect the needs of the cattle, some might get a disease and die, and so on. In such an environment, various solutions would evolve to handle these sort of events. The society was co-dependent and as soon as a situation arose, king and commoner, alike, would work out some system to overcome the difficulty. Thus the early Irish Laws came into being, From everything we know, though, these laws had been evolving for a very long time. Within a local area with little outside contact, the laws became more and more refined. They reflect the structure of the society. Someone steals some cattle, but he needs to pasture that cattle. If it is on his own land, then it is fairly obvious to everyone that he used to have twenty head of cattle and suddenly has fifty --meanwhile his neighbor is down thirty. He then has to give those cattle back and pay a fine on top of that. The amount of the fine is based on the status of the victim -- his honor price. Perhaps he steals the cattle and then drives them far away. The king then demands the fine from the thief's relatives. Perhaps he gets a friend to pasture the cattle -- the king then demands the fine from the friend.

But these are simple scenarios, it got far more complex than that: there were certain social obligations that were also covered by these laws and these varied depending on the status of the individual. The size of houses were determined by these laws; the obligations to visiting guests right down to whether one was entitled, or not, to have butter! You can read about all of this in this paper.

The cultural situation in rural areas during the time of Carausius  cannot possibly be equated to the cultural situation in a Roman town. For a start, the latter used money. As cultural areas expanded over time, the laws evolved in one place ran headlong into laws that had evolved in another. They had to become reconciled and that took the form of simplification. Today, laws have become very simple indeed. The speed at which these laws changed depended on the degree of necessary communication between increasingly remoter cultural groups.

While everyone involved in the Frome hoard situation was, technically, Roman -- the farmers of that area would have still been subject to modified laws and customs stretching far back into antiquity. I use the example of the Irish laws for a very good reason: to some degree, the laws in Ireland were also influenced by the same cultural group where Carausius, himself, originated. He was of the Celtic tribe the Menapii. and that tribe also had a branch in Ireland. Some believe that the two are unconnected and the names are mere coincidence, but in the next episode, I will provide some pretty strong evidence to show that they were, indeed, the same people.

But it goes even further than that: the farmers who provided services to his army were doing so, not just for profit, but because they also had social connections with him. You might say they were his allies.

So when they obtained the payment, it was buried as collateral for loans, and those loans would have been for livestock. The Irish laws allowed for the improvement of a person's status through profit -- remember, these laws evolved to be of benefit to all. As the profit increased, the various clans were represented by even more remote areas and the laws then had to be adjusted, or made simpler to accommodate the differences. Bit by bit, we evolved into the modern world that we now inhabit. The sudden arrival of viable cash in the rural area would have been a social disaster, It could not possibly be allowed, and everyone knew that.

Although  I have provided the explanation for the Frome hoard, it still  remains to support the evidence presented here, and that gets rather interesting, indeed -- but that will have to wait for tomorrow's episode: "Messing around in boats" -- see you then.      

Erratum (part two): I should never take given data on faith! The date range given in the Wikipedia article was wrong. The coins of Maximianus and Diocletian would, of course, have been pre-reform radiates and minted prior to to the death of Carausius. The date range is thus only 40 years instead of 52!

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