Accepted Paper:

Islamic silver hoards in medieval Poland as primitive capitalist accumulation  


Kacper Poblocki (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the substantial hoards of islamic silver found by archeologists in Baltic and Eastern Europe and argues that we can understand why silver was buried in substantial amounts by looking how the institution of slavery unsettled local populations in medieval Northern Europe.

Paper long abstract:

The staggering amounts of islamic dirhams dug up in Eastern and Baltic Europe has always perplexed historians. Now, they are gradually becoming a material fulcrum of an entirely novel theory of state-formation. The Polish state was founded not as a consequence of the eastward expansion of Latin Christendom or a gradual evolution of tribes into a more "advanced" institution, but because of a demand for slaves generated by the world of islam. Islamic coins arrived to Poland in three abrupt waves that are nearly perfectly congruent with construction booms and violent destructions of extant (tribal) social and material structures. I argue that the institution of slavery can account not only for why islamic silver arrived to countries such as Poland but also why they were buried - we know of the trade because archeologists have unearthed numerous silver hoards. Archeologists have been unable to explain the practice of silver hoarding and/or why silver in Poland was shredded - often into really tiny pieces. I reinterpret these silver hoards in the light of the islamic economic literature and (credit) theory of money, and embed the practice of hoarding in the context of slavery. Slavery not only generated the external push for state formation in Poland but also was employed for unsettling and remaking of local institutions. I suggest several reasons why silver was buried and discuss if these hoards can be regarded as examples of the very first capitalist "primitive accumulation" in Poland.

Panel P109
Hoarding, temporality, and value: regimes of accumulation and dispersal