The project will examine the spread of the alphabet in the western Mediterranean from the novel perspective of the function that literacy played within the Phoenician economy. It will determine how Phoenician market-based commerce transactions were conducted, and whether literacy played any role therein. The project has the potential of changing current views on two important problems: (1) the sudden popularisation of literacy (ca. 830-700 BCE) (2) the increasing monetisation of the Phoenician economy despite the (seeming) absence of currency. The innovation lies in examining the potential causality between forms of currency and literacy in areas of Phoenician commerce, seeking the institutional role that literacy played within commercial transactions.The investigation will use archaeological and epigraphic evidence to test the following hypothesis: a type of market-based commerce using phenomenally barter trade but actually employing written records of transactions, based on shared measures of value established in (silver) metal weight, offers an explanation for the overseas Phoenician monetary practices. Accordingly, the functional role that writing played within the Phoenician commercial system would explain both the swift spread of literacy in Mediterranean regions touched by Phoenician commercial networks (e.g. Iberian Peninsula) and the absence of a physical form of Phenician currency. The outcome will be a monograph detailing a new model of ancient monetary practices in market-based commerce and their relation to literacy in the first millenium BC.
News published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the scholarship: