A fascinating short excerpt from a new study that estimates war and population change in Ancient Rome from finds of stashed coins.
It turns out that the coin hoards are a surprisingly good guide to human behaviour:
The reasons for this correlation are not hard to fathom. People tend to hide their valuables in times of violence and danger. Emergency hoards would later be recovered by the owners unless they had been killed or driven away. As a result, the greater the intensity of warfare, the more hoards are left in the ground to be discovered by archaeologists. For this reason, the time-specific deposition rate of hoards serves as an index of internal instability caused by violent conflict and dislocation.
Coins are useful because, of course, they’re dated. So in other words, finding lots of unrecovered coin stashes from a particular time period suggests there was a lot of war.
The researchers used this measure of war intensity in Ancient Rome to estimate population changes. Neat.
Link to full text of study.