Dr Rebecca R. Darley
Office 211, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room G10, 28 Russell Square
London, WC1B 5DQ
I am a lecturer in medieval history at Birkbeck, University of London, specialising in narratives of travel and the material evidence (especially numismatic) related to fourth- to eighth-century movement between the Roman Empire and south India and Sri Lanka, and the historiography of Indo-Roman trade. Teaching focuses on the late antique and early medieval periods, the historical role of money and the Byzantine empire.
My PhD, ‘Indo-Byzantine trade, 4th-7th centuries: a global history’ used Byzantine coins found in India as a focal point for re-examining the narratives of Indo-Roman trade and the archaeological and textual sources for late antique networks connecting the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. My interests include structures of communication, the organisation of trade (in particular with respect to state apparatus) and the role and significance of money in the pre-modern world.
I had the opportunity to develop these research areas and expand them between 2014 and 2015 as a research associate associate in the ‘”Bilderfahrzeuge” project at the Warburg Insitute (University of London, in association with the Max Weber Stiftung (Bonn). The project seeks to examine movement and transfer of material, images and ideas and discussions about these movements. It gave my research new comparative and art historical avenues. Byzantine and Roman coins found in south India provide a nodal point for a multi-directional investigation of historical and historiographical processes. Above all, coins provide a unique insight into the way in which powerful symbols could be appropriated, modified and transferred into entirely new networks of meaning.
My work as part of the “Bilderfahrzeuge” included analysis of the historiography of Byzantine and Roman coins in India, in discussion with group members working on antiquarianism and nineteenth-century scholarship to explore the tropes and strategies applied to the evidence by colonial and post-colonial scholars, which have worked to strengthen rather than challenge pre-existing narratives.
As vehicles for images coins are exceptionally vertically and horizontally mobile. They were used in late antique Byzantium by people of almost all social levels and travelled widely beyond the empire as organs of trade and diplomacy. They therefore represent a broader spectrum of engagement with images than elite or static production of decorative images. However, this comparative egalitarianism is balanced by the implications of strict state control and the extent to which coinage reified and supported the negotiation of social hierarchies and inequalities.
Moreover, as coins moved beyond their place of production and intended use, their meaning shows evidence of having altered considerably. Not only were the images on them vested with changing meanings, lowering and raising the value of various iconographic elements, but the icon of ‘the coin’ itself changed, from a primarily economic and political to an increasingly socially and culturally significant emblem, in south India associated with piety and ritualized transfer of wealth.
A temporally and geographically comparative approach to Byzantine coins in south India therefore presents an opportunity to ask larger questions about how cultural icons of power and wealth might be transformed by distance and re-appropriated in the pre-modern world, and how the twin functions of coins, as bearers of meaning and value, constituted a basis both for broad movement and appeal and also for their limited range of representational possibilities within any given context. Having left the Bilderfahrzeuge project for a lecturership at Birkbeck, I continue to explore these avenues of research with perspectives deepened and developed by my work with the group.
Indian Ocean studies
Pre-modern economic systems
Lecturer in Medieval History, Birkbeck, University of London
Research Associate, ‘Bilderfahrzeuge’ Project
‘Faith and Fortune’ numismatic exhibition, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, Curator
Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences Project, British Academy, Research Assistant
Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, PhD Byzantine Studies (Thesis title: ‘Indo-Byzantine exchange 4th-7th centuries: a global history’), AHRC Scholarship 2009-12
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Trustees of Harvard University), Junior Research Fellow in Byzantine Studies
Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham, MA Greek Archaeology, A. E. Hills Scholarship
Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, BA History (1:1**)