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HomePrecious metals in the medieval Mediterranean

Precious metals in the medieval Mediterranean

Les métaux précieux en Méditerranée médiévale

Mining, processing and circulations

Exploitations, transformations, circulations

*  *  *

Published on Monday, November 23, 2015


Silver on one side, gold on the other? The medieval Mediterranean was an area in which precious metals were produced and circulated, intertwining three worlds, both friends and foes: Roman Christianity to the West, byzantine Christianity to the East, and Islam to the South. Precious metals (gold, silver, copper and lead), at the origin of numerous objects of the material culture and currencies used by the economies, filled the societies. They were mined, processed, commercialised, controlled and hoarded by a wide variety of stakeholders and institutions, from simple peasants to emperors.



This symposium proposes to open up a large-scale survey on these products, which raised a number of issues for Mediterranean societies. In recent years, the work of historians and archaeologists has considerably renewed the broad syntheses of the past by providing additional data and developing new methods. Yet, few projects cover the full circuit of metals, from production to use, from a wide historical perspective. This shortcoming is mainly due to the disciplinary and geographic silos which are still too prominent.

It therefore seemed appropriate to review the state of methods and knowledge to initiate comparative analyses between the West and the East in the Long Middle Ages. The aim of bringing together researchers from various horizons and disciplines is to open discussions in order to gain a better understanding of how these productive systems worked and to better assess the extent of their influence on medieval economies and societies.

Theme 1. Mediterranean mining areas

New research findings

 This session sets out to examine mining operations in the light of the most recent work. Based on case studies or regional synopses, it will be an opportunity to investigate the integration of mining into the economies and to characterise these enterprises, situated between craft and industry. It will also more widely examine the human and natural environments of mining operations, considering relationships to space and control, and the challenges elicited in possible territorial structures.

Theme 2. Circulation of People and Knowledge

Innovation drivers

 Producing and working precious metals entails the mobilisation of specific knowledge and techniques, regardless of the location and context of implementation. Workshops, from this viewpoint, are permeable reservoirs of knowledge. The operations were based on both internal experience and external inputs. Are there links between the processes used on either side of the Mediterranean? We know that practitioners circulated in Western mining operations. Is this also true over larger distances? If intermediaries were involved, who were they and how did they adapt the techniques to fit the different contexts?

Theme 3. Trade structures

Operation and organisation

 The multi-facetted precious metals in circulation were derived directly from mining (ore, bullion lead, ingots, etc.) and from successive reuse (semi-finished products, various objects, currencies, etc.). Sometimes facilitated, sometimes restricted, the circulation of precious metals was governed by regulations according to the main economic and diplomatic trends. Did this have repercussions on trading techniques? More broadly speaking, were there specific methods for precious metals trading (i.e. particular clauses in commenda, insurance contracts, means of transport, protection, etc.)? Trading points punctuate the flow of products. It would appear that, unlike manufactured products, precious metals were seldom found in the conventional markets and trade fairs. So how were they traded? Were they managed by specific stakeholders (moneychangers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, coppersmiths, etc.)? Were there parallel markets? Contraband channels?

Theme 4. Tracing of metals

Methods and results

 It is difficult to envisage the tracing of metals from production to use in ancient times. Gaps in sources, complex markets, diffusion over large distances: there are many pitfalls that impede the rendering of an economic circuit. Yet, this is essential to fully connect production areas to the economies and societies. What were the features and evolution of the precious metals market in the Mediterranean basin? Was there trading of Western silver and Eastern gold, as implied by some research, or should this scheme be revised? Based on recent work, this session will first address the main sources and complementary methods used to answer the questions: review of the literature on practices, and diplomatic and regulatory texts; typological and chronological studies of metallic objects and trace analyses, for example. Secondly, it will be an opportunity to present the research results, on various scales.

5. Round table

Review and prospects

 A final round table will be an opportunity for participants and the public to exchange views on the points addressed in the communications, on cross-cutting themes, and to raise new questions about precious metals. Three issues applicable to the Mediterranean basin as a whole could serve as a framework.

  • Firstly: the share of ore fed directly into trade is under question. A direct link is most often made with monetary workshops for silver, but is this the only one, or does it represent the major share? The series of extractions and sharing that took place along the line suggest a more complex diffusion structure. And what about the quantities of lead and copper extracted at the same time as silver?
  • Secondly: it is still difficult to label and qualify mining operations. The term “enterprise” is increasingly used, but what are the definitions? Although the Middle Ages remain a craft era in much research, reference is now being made to an “industrious revolution”. Can this be extended to small “industrialisation areas” in the case of metals?
  • Thirdly: transfers of precious metals between Mediterranean states appears to have been structured by the exporting of polymetals (silver, lead, copper) from the West to the East, and of gold from the East to the West. This scheme constructed by eminent medievalists (M. Bloch, R.-H. Bautier, et al) has not been worked on further since then. Yet, we know large polymetal mining operations took place, particularly in the Maghreb area. How can this paradox be explained? Updated reflections are in order.

Submission guidelines

Online submission http://metaux2016.sciencesconf.org/


  • 28th October 2015 : call's opening
  • 29th Februar 2016 : deadline to submit

  • 29th March 2016 : proposals' selection

Organizing Committee

  • Marie-Christine BAILLY-MAITRE (AMU-CNRS, LA3M UMR 7298)
  • Giovanna BIANCHI (Universita’ degli studi di Siena)

Scientific Comitee

  • Marie-Christine BAILLY-MAITRE (AMU-CNRS, LA3M UMR 7298)
  • Sandrine BARON (CNRS, UMR 5608 TRACES / Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès)
  • Giovanna BIANCHI (Universita’ degli studi di Siena)
  • Patrice CRESSIER (CNRS, UMR 5648 CIHAM / Université Lumière Lyon II)
  • Mohamed OUERFELLI (AMU-CNRS, LA3M UMR 7298)
  • Catherine VERNA (Université de Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis)


  • Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme, 5 rue du Château de l’Horloge
    Aix-en-Provence, France (13090)


  • Monday, February 29, 2016


  • mines, métallurgies, argent, plomb, cuivre, or, artisanat, industrie, commerce


  • Nicolas Minvielle
    courriel : minvielle [dot] nicolas [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Nicolas Minvielle
    courriel : minvielle [dot] nicolas [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Precious metals in the medieval Mediterranean », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, November 23, 2015, https://calenda.org/345115

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