Saturday, September 18, 2021


Welcome to Trapezites, the ancient currency conversion website and marketplace simulator! Step into the sandals of the ancients and spend your drachmae, denarii, and shekels. Learn about ancient money, what it was worth, and what things cost!

Metallic currencies–whether protomonetary (pre-coinage) currencies like ingots, weapons, and tools or later coinage–are among the most widely distributed and most numerous elements of ancient material and visual culture in the Mediterranean world. During the Bronze Age, the first weight standards emerged, allowing for metal objects to be reckoned against recognised parameters, thereby significantly facilitating their function as currencies. These metal currencies served as stores of wealth, measures of value, and means of exchange. Around 600 BC, the Lydians introduced coinage as pieces of precious metal, uniform in weight and stamped with a visual guarantee of quality and legitimacy. This ingenious invention was quickly adopted by the Greeks and spread throughout the Mediterranean World (though it should be noted that coinage of a rather different sort was independently invented in China around the same time). Coins fulfilled various functions in ancient society in addition to their role as currency: as historical documents, propaganda, and portable art.

Trapezites takes the form of a standard online currency converter, but in this case the conversion is from one ancient currency to another, accompanied by information about purchasing power in antiquity. Most anyone who has travelled internationally has been forced to exchange money. This was the reality in the ancient world as well, in which a vast range of individual entities minted coins on a variety of regional standards, so that currency exchange, conversion, and the establishment of equivalencies between monetary systems were crucial to social, political, and economic interaction. Weight standards were fundamental to the development, spread, and function of ancient money and carried a great deal of cultural significance to the peoples involved (and still do: why else would the United States staunchly hold on to ounces and pounds when the vast majority of the world uses a logical and uniform metric system?). I am working to bring this knowledge and its implications to a wider audience.

About Me

I am Giuseppe Carlo Castellano (PhD in Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin, 2019). One of my research focuses is ancient numismatics–the study of coins–but I am also dedicated to the digital humanities and the dissemination of knowledge online. It was on the basis of my interest in public-facing work in the digital humanities that I was selected in 2017 as one of the first cohort of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Engaged Scholars Initiative. The centerpiece of the fellowship is the public-facing postdoctoral project, intended as a non-traditional supplement to my dissertation work on cultural contact through metallic currency in Italy and Sicily. Trapezites is my postdoctoral project.



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