Obituary: Miriam Balmuth

by Ute Wartenberg


Miriam Balmuth

Miriam Balmuth, ANS Fellow, supporter, and a member since 1960, died of cancer at her home in Santa Fe on June 30 at the age of 79. Balmuth, who was born in Brunswick, New Jersey, was leading woman archaeologist and numismatist in an age when there were few women pursuing these interests. After graduating from Cornell University in 1946 with a B.A. in classics she continued her education at Ohio State University where she got a M.A. in Classical languages. In 1964 she received a doctorate in Classical Archaeology from Harvard, a rare achievement for a woman in those days.

Early on, Balmuth developed a strong interest in numismatics. From 1955 to 1962, she served as Keeper of Ancient Coins at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, where she was also the Assistant for the D. M. Robinson Collection from 1960 to 1962. In 1964 she became Assistant Professor of Classics at Tufts University, where she remained over 30 years. In 1998, she was made Research Professor, which allowed her to focus on her increasing number of research projects.

Balmuth worked in a number of unrelated areas, in which she gained considerable prominence in the US and abroad. In the 1970s she directed the first American excavation on the island of Sardinia, where she continued to work for many years. She was also keenly interested in volcanos and their surrounding landscape.

Among numismatists, she is best known for her innovative work on early coinage and pre-coined money. Throughout her career, she was preoccupied with the precursors to the western coinage, such as Hacksilber, cut-up pieces of silver, jewellery or other items of this nature. In 2001, the American Numismatic Society published an important volume on this topic, which was edited by Balmuth (Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. Collection of Eight Papers Presented at the 99th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. Numismatic Studies no. 24), in which Balmuth brought together papers by leading scholars from different disciplines. This interdisciplinary approach so rarely found in numismatics made her a key figure in the field.

Before their permanent move to New Mexico, she and her late husband Norman came quite regularly to the ANS. Miriam was quite charming, and is remembered too as having a forceful, focused personality. As a passionate baseball fan she was able to rattle off statistics and all sorts of other related stories; apparently too her favorite player Roger Clemens reminded her of a Roman charioteer. Miriam will be sorely missed by many students and colleagues, not least by her many friends at the ANS.