A Numismatic Problem in Fourth-Century Papyrology: What is a Monad?
(Revel Coles, 28 January, 1998)

This paper centred on a currently unpublished Oxyrhynchus papyrus,, scheduled for publication in vol. LXVII of the series which will appear perhaps late in 1999.

The text is dated 29 June, AD 361, and forms part of a small archive all from this year which relates to the transportation of various commodities from the Oxyrhynchite nome to Pelusium at the eastern angle of the Nile Delta. The motive for delivery to Pelusium (instead of expected Alexandria) is unclear; conceivably these deliveries might have been in aid of a projected campaign by Constantius II against Julian, aborted at Constantius' death in November, 361.

The main aim of the paper was to investigate the meaning of what was transported in this text: 'in silver of the coinage of the Augusti, seven monads of myriads of denarii', that is a quantity of everyday coins. 'Silver' is a euphemism, the silver content perhaps being no more than 1%; a 'myriad of denarii' may-it has been argued-mean just one coin. The real issue is the nature of the monad, or 'unit'.

The rest of the evidence amounts to only a handful of texts which were discussed in turn: P.Oslo III 162 (a monad equal in value to 5 gold solidi, equal in value to 1 lb. silver bullion), P.Oxy.IX 1223, P.Hamb.III 215, P.Oxy.LI 3636, P.Oxy.XLVIII 3402 (a monad = a myriad of myriads-of-denarii, not less than 10,000 coins), P.Oxy.XXXIV 2729 (the subject of an important article by Carrié in Aegyptus 64 for 1984), and lastly a Michigan papyrus published by Sijpesteijn in ZPE 61 (1985) with which Sijpestein in ZPE 62 (1986) 153 and P.Oxy.LVIII 3958.26 n. should be read. This last item is a challenging text where the numismatic data appear to be wildly inconsistent with a date for the papyrus on palaeographical criteria.

With our increased information, it was clearly possible to reject the view of Johnson and West, writing in 1944 (Currency, p.131), that the monad meant a pound of silver bullion; nevertheless, an extensive discussion after the paper failed to reach an agreed solution.

A version of the paper is to be presented at the Papyrology Congress in Florence in August. Meantime, its author will welcome any enlightenment from readers of the Newsletter!

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Created on Sunday, 07 March, 1999: 14:55:44