Barter reintroduced after the fall of Rome?

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    Below is an excerpt from my state’s 6th grade curriculum. They say that barter came back into practice following the fall of Rome since there was no central authority to guarantee the value of money. This sounds absurd to me. Did people really go back to barter after having used money? Surely all the coins that had be made up to then were still on the face of the earth. Why not just continue using them?


    Teachers should ask the students to explain differences between barter and money markets (e.g., ability to save and store money for future purchases). Review the map of trade routes during the Roman Empire. (See Explain that the Romans minted coins that circulated everywhere in the Roman Empire and that the Romans also honored coins minted by captive peoples. Teachers should present information and discuss the relationship between money and promotion of trade in the empire. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was no central authority to guarantee the value of money. Ask students to explain why bartering became important again after the fall of Rome. Ask them to form hypotheses to explain what happened to Roman trade routes, markets, and cities along the trade routes.

    Jason Jewell

    If I recall correctly, Henri Pirenne shows that coinage shifted from primarily gold to primarily silver after the Western Empire faded. This was due mostly to the West’s losing access to certain Mediterranean markets, particularly after the Islamic conquests of the 7th century. Coinage did not go out of use. Some localities shifted to barter because the division of labor dried up, and they weren’t plugged in to real trade networks. It had nothing to do with the lack of a central political authority.

    I hope this helps.


    Thanks! That’s very helpful. I also ran across this article. I can’t vouch for the author and some of his economics sound a bit iffy, but in this paragraph he offers a much more compelling reason for a return to barter (and one that’s the polar opposite of the official spiel I referenced earlier…).
    Hadrian may have temporarily halted the economic crisis that Trajan’s policy was rapidly creating but beneath the surface problems persisted. This manifested itself within the currency in particular. With the strain of foreign demand and the steady movement of currency eastward as a result of the adverse trade balance evasive action was taken. Nero took the move to contaminate the denairus and to reduce coins by clipping. The weight and quality of the denairus fell constantly until the time of Commodus when inflation was reaching cataclysmic proportions. In his reign the silver denairus sank to one third of its former value, and wholly ceased to circulate outside the Empire. The aureus became so unreliable that by 200 A.D. it had ceased to be accepted abroad without testing for weight and quality. The story of the third century was one of worsening inflation and the minting of bad money. The situation became so bad that many people fell back on the natural economy of bartering thus further perpetuating the economic problems.

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