Journal of Global History

Articles

The Eurasian silver century, 1276–1359: commensurability and multiplicity*

Akinobu Kurodaa1

a1 Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Bukyo, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan E-mail: ankuroda@ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Abstract

Across the Eurasian continent, from England to Korea, silver suddenly became abundant in the late thirteenth century, only to become scarce again in the 1360s. The annual silver output from the London mint and the yearly silver rupee issued in Bengal moved virtually in tandem, arguably as a result of the Mongol empire lifting silver out of the lower tiers of the market and maintaining its flow along the highways of long-distance trade. In this first silver century, monetary usages formed multiple strata, and the circulation of silver remained in a high-level circuit in the hierarchy of monies. Units of account, denominated in terms of silver by weight, worked to give value to silver coinage in the western parts of the commercial highways and kept a link with paper monies in the eastern parts under the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Throughout the silver century, the Mongol empire lowered commercial barriers, to allow the ready flow of silver along trade routes, and consequently created a horizontal unity that, on the surface, was continent-wide. This contrasted with the second silver century, beginning in the 1570s, which ushered in a system of competition between territorial states, some of which vertically cemented the tiers of their domestic markets with credit, and created a space for compatible monies.

Akinobu Kuroda is Professor of East Asian Economic History, University of Tokyo.

Footnotes

* This essay has depended on guidance from many specialists, including Mark Blackburn, Nashiro Kunio, Shih Ching-fei, Robert Chard, and the curators of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum. I also thank the editors and readers for their comments. This is a product of a research grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education Science and Technology for the programme ‘Unique characteristic and synchronicity of currencies in medieval and early modern East Asia and their implications for the theory of money’, numbered 17083007.