Thibault Cardon | CNRS, Université de Caen Normandie, CRAHAM – Centre Michel de Boüard – Social control through money: “camp monies”

The idea here is to link monetary forms and social status, as well as poverty reproduction through money. This supposes to set aside the fiction that money is only a means to exchange and call for studying the plurality of monies, monetary artefacts, numismatics. The materiality of money is not a neutral characteristic as it participates in building social relations up to social control devices, especially in confinement places and areas, as shown in our four examples.

  1. A camp of medieval workers of the 13th c., using wage tokens (méreaux): the fortress of Pont de l’Arche, on the Seine river, which was excavated in 2011-2012.

  A very large quantity of small money-shaped lead objects were found, their diameter and stamped figures alike that of then and there circulating monies. TC proposes to interpret these méreaux as wage instruments for the payment of labourers on this royal construction site. They were apparently produced on site for direct use. The first attested cases of this practice date back to the second half of the 12th c., with coin types based on that of the Latin orient (R. Kool). Other examples followed, almost until today: Briard canal (1606), Dauphiné fortresses (1870), agricultural legion in the 19th c., etc.

  1. A German prisoner camps in Miramas (1944-1946), managed by the US army.

  This camp held about one thousand prisoners, but left almost no archival records: the main source is archeologic and led to the discovery of 200 coin-like objects:

  • About 30% are French coins, only aluminium ones
  • About 60% are German coins, only aluminium and zinc ones

  The monetary system of the camp was thus improvised based on the contemporary money supply.

  In the French-managed camps, on the contrary, specific paper notes were circulated by the War Ministry, bearing the words “bon pour” (value for) and stating that their use was limited to the camp limits. The idea was to prevent prisoners from buying goods from outside or even to finance an escape.

  There are numerous 19th and 20th c. cases of prison monies: Cayenne prison, prisons in Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark. In this latter case specific monies were issued as soon as the beginnings of the 19th c. We also find specific monies in concentration camps: military prisoners camps, Nazi camps, Boers camps.

  1. Military camps: the Boulogne-sur-Mer camp, 1803-1805

  Here also, archeologic excavation led to the discovery of 400 coins, which allow us to compare wage payment rules and practices. The daily soldier wage was 30 c. (0,30 FF) from which were defalcated laundry and food costs, letting a net 5 c. paid every 5 days – i.e. 25 c., which corresponds to a bronze coin at the time. And indeed excavations have produced only bronze and copper coins, but mainly older ones (16th and 17t royals, foreign coins, worn-out coins and even a few similar in size Roman coins). What it suggests is that the payers acquired the scum of the money supply.

  History presents us with other similar cases: payments in devalued coins, in foreign copper coins. Sometimes, special issuance of already devaluated monies to pay the troops (Brittany, 15th c.) or furus in 8th-9th c. Al-Andalus.

  This also raises the question of the payment of Roman troops, with the large amounts of counterfeited, locally coined or lead coins in Spain.

  1. Alms and poor assistance: no closed space but similar operations

  Religious establishments handed out méreaux to be exchanged for bread (Lille, 17th c.), often as counterpart to precarious and more or less compulsory labour. See the alms workshops in Limoges, 1771 in a grain shortage context: leather tokens were given as tasks were being done to be exchanged for bread and victuals, to make sure the purchasing power would be put to a right use. There is also the idea that workers are nourished in order to be more efficient. Parallels are traceable in many countries up to the 20th c.

  Shared characteristics:

  • Vile materials
  • Confusion-avoiding resemblance to legal coinage
  • Operation mode specific to the context
  • Fixed value (cours forcé) within the said context, calling for a closed circuit circulation


  • Less costly payments
  • Closed circuit circulation
  • Expenses control
  • Population control


  • Higher prices
  • Closed circuit circulation
  • Exchange costs

  A key aspect of these systems is that they are imposed by an authority upon a social category.

  This opens some perspectives in global history:

  • Clarify the notion of camp money
  • List contexts, examples and lexicon entries
  • Search for transmissions, genealogies
  • Question links to other forms of indentured/forced labour (see latifundia) or the systematic emergence of small change with slavery abolitions
  • Review the historical debate on concentration camps and their links to colonial contexts


Jérôme Jambu – Cayenne was most likely the name of a shop-keeping bagnard. Alms: the copper denier and double tournois were created under Henri III explicitly to give alms to the poor and were distributed to the Treasurer of the Alms (trésorier des charités). One problem when studying military camps, is that they appear in a context of crisis, most likely when precious metal coins have vanished. And in Boulogne, there is also the question of the presence of conscripts.

A. : See a letter from Napoléon 1st asking for the sending of 3 million FF in copper coins (600 metric tons) to pay the soldiers in Spain. May have been used as a ballast to ships.

Emmanuel Prunaux – Yes, but the copper was never sent. Mollien and others calculated that the cost of sending the copper would exceed its value!

Hisashi Takagi – In the case of prisoners camps, what were the incentives of the issuers? Low denomination would yield a small seignoriage.

Jan Lucassen – Moneta pauperum in Scotland 16th c. Make also difference with canteen money. Prisoners maybe also paid in coins. Is it on purpose you did not mention plantation money after the implementation of the indentured labour system?

A. : There are a few archival records on prisoners’ payments, but rarely about the material objects being used to that effect – typically the case for WW2 prisoners in France.

As for the haciendas etc., there is also the vocabulary instability issue: hacienda tokens (ficas in Spanish) are often confused with supplementary coins.

Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
Organization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021

Citer ce billet
Léo Barcet (2020, 29 mars). Thibault Cardon | CNRS, Université de Caen Normandie, CRAHAM – Centre Michel de Boüard – Social control through money: “camp monies”. Art/Gens : valeurs et constructions sociales. Consulté le 18 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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