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.

Obituary: Howard L. Adelson

by Joseph Ciccone


Howard L. Adelson

Howard Adelson, chronicler and Fellow of the ANS, died on December 5, 2003. He was 78 years old. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1925, Dr. Adelson received his B.A. from New York University before serving in the Army during World War II. After the war, he earned a M.A. degree from Columbia University and then began studying at Princeton. However, his efforts were once again interrupted when he was called to serve in the Korean War.

After that war, he earned his second Masters degree and Ph.D. at Princeton University. Subsequently, he was appointed Professor of Medieval History at the City College of New York, where he also led the Ph.D. program in medieval history.

Dr. Adelson became a member of the ANS in November 1951. He initially worked in the editorial department, where he worked first as Assistant Editor from 1953 to 1956 and Associate Editor from 1956 to 1963. During this period, he also served as a lecturer for the Society’s Graduate Summer Seminar, a role that expanded in 1963 when he was named Director of Studies for the ANS. For the next three years, he would coordinate programming for the Summer Seminar.

Dr. Adelson made one of his most significant contributions to the ANS in 1958, when he wrote the Society’s centennial history, The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1958. This work is still the leading source for information on the history of the Society.

In 1996, Adelson was named an ANS Fellow and in 2001 a Life Fellow. In addition to his numismatic pursuits, Dr. Adelson also played an active role in Jewish affairs. He served as the National President of the United Zionist Revisionists of America, President of the Tel Hai Fund, a Director of the Jewish National Fund, a Director of the United Israel Appeal, and as a member of several World Zionist Congresses, and a delegate to the World Jewish Assemblies. He was also a participant in several of the International Conferences on Soviet Jewry beginning with the first held in Bruxelles. In addition, he was also a member of the International Board of Governors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a member of the Board of Overseers of the Rothberg School for International Studies of the Hebrew University, and a member of the Associate Board of Directors of the Brookdale Hospital Medical Center and Co-Chairman of the American Academics for Israel’s Future. He is also a regular columnist for The Jewish Press, commenting upon Jewish affairs, Israel, and international relations.

Professor Adelson was honored on a number of occasions. In addition to his ANS Fellowship, Dr. Adelson was a Fellow (honoris causa) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a recipient of the Jabotinsky Centennial Medal from Prime Minister Begin, a recipient of the Brookdale Medal from the Brookdale Hospital Medical Center, and a National Fellow of the Explorers Club. He also received the Humanitarian Award by the Kings County Council of the Jewish War Veterans and Medal of Freedom by the Barzel Society of the National Conference of Shomrim Societies Dr. Adelson is survived by his son, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Margie. He also leaves behind his daughter Sarah, son-in-law Curtis, and grandson Jonathan.

Obituary: Ya’akov Meshorer


Ya’akov Meshorer

On June 23, 2004, Ya’akov Meshorer, one of the world’s leading numismatists and a recipient of the Huntington Medal, died after a long illness. As the founder of the numismatic department at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Meshorer was one of the most influential figures in the field of ancient numismatics, not least because he wrote most of the standard books on Jewish coins.

Meshorer was born in Jerusalem in 1935 into the prominent Mani family, which has been living in the area for centuries. Always keenly tied to the history of this area, Meshorer and his twin brother Asher were keen amateur numismatists from an early age. At the age of 14, they donated their first coin to the Israel Museum. After his military service in the army from 1954 to 1956, he became a member of Kibbutz Hazerim where he married Adaya Weiss. A gifted artist, she became later a conservator at the Israel Museum. As in his childhood, Meshorer spent his free time as a hobby archaeologist, even establishing a small museum in the Kibbutz. His love of antiquity, and in particular coins then led him in 1960 to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he studied archaeology for several years. He received a B.A. and a M.A. in archaeology, which were followed by a Ph.D. in numismatics.

Meshorer founded the numismatic department of the Israel Museum in 1969, which he led until 1993. During these years the collection grew into the foremost collection of Jewish coins in the world. The collections of Roman, Islamic and Byzantine coins as well as other areas also became a major focus. It was due to Meshorer’s extraordinary ability to convince collectors and dealers to leave or donate their collections to the Museum’s holding that the numismatic department grew enormously. Meshorer would negotiate special prices for very rare coins for a collector – with the condition that the collector would turn the coin immediately over to the museum. Meshorer also served twice as Chief Curator of the Archaeological Wing of the Israel Museum, initially from 1975 to 1982, and then again from 1990 to 1996.

Meshorer taught extensively, and the considerable number of outstanding Israeli scholars in this field attest to his legacy. He was a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was appointed Professor of Numismatics there in 1983.

Ya’akov Meshorer’s contributions to the field of ancient numismatics are in key areas that were barely touched by scholars prior to his often ground-breaking research. In 1975, he published Nabataean Coins, still a standard work on the coins of the kingdom of Nabataea, which was based on his doctoral thesis. Numerous studies were dedicated to the Roman Provincial coins of Palestine (City-Coins of the Eretz-Israel and the Decapolis in the Roman Period, 1985; The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, 1989), when few scholars were doing systematic research in this area. He catalogued the ANS’ collection of coins from Palestine, which appeared as SNG ANS Palestine in 1981. His most important contributions were however in the field of Samarian coinage. These coins, which were influenced by Persian, Greek, Jewish and other Eastern designs, were hardly known until the 1990s. These tiny silver fractions were represented by a few specimens in museum collections. Thanks to several hoards and an increased awareness for these coins among coin dealers and archaeologists, the corpus of this series has grown to several hundred different types. The Coinage of Samaria in the Fourth Century BCE by Ya’akov Meshorer and Shraga Qedar brought them in 1991 to the attention of the numismatic community. This groundbreaking book was followed by an updated second edition in 1999 (Samarian Coinage). These monographs and numerous articles on the subject have opened up a fascinating field of research, which vividly illustrates the relationship between different communities in Palestine and the Near East. Apart from these specialized studies, Meshorer also wrote solid surveys and handbooks, which introduce Jewish coins and other local coins to the non-specialist. Ancient Jewish Coinage (1982) and A Treasury of Jewish Coins (2001) are excellent examples of such handbooks, which are widely used by collectors and field archaeologists alike. Additional articles on modern coins, medals, paper currency and many other coin-related objects illustrate the genuine love that Meshorer had for the field.

His expertise in numismatics and his amazing ability to engage people brought him many commissions. He was a member of the Archaeological Council of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a member of the Directorate of the Israel Society for Medals and Coins, serving on the committees that determined the design of the modern Israeli coins.

In 2001 the American Numismatic Society honored him with its highest academic award, the Archer M. Huntington Medal for outstanding scholarly achievement. Last year, he was elected a honorary member of the Council of the International Numismatic Commission.

With Ya’akov Meshorer the numismatic community has lost one of its most popular and outgoing members, who will be missed by many of the friends and members of the American Numismatic Society. Later this year, the ANS will be publishing his final book, a monumental two-volume work, in which he catalogued over 5,000 coins from the collection of Abraham D. Sofaer.

Review: Illegal Tender: : Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle

David Tripp, Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle. Free Press, New York 2004, ISBN 0-7432-4574-1. $26.

Many numismatists might wonder whether there is anything more to say about the 1933 Double Eagle. Ever since the coin resurfaced in the 1990s, the astounding story surrounding this coin has become well known and is a topic of much debate in certain circles. I was therefore surprised to find much in this book, written by ANS Fellow David Tripp, that I did not know. I have always felt a somewhat personal interest in the 1933 Double Eagle, not least as one of the protagonists in the story is a relative of mine. And since the mysterious owner of the coin has loaned it to the ANS for display in our exhibition at the Federal Reserve Bank, I have told the story of gold and greed to many admiring visitors.

In twenty-one chapters the book gives an account of the Double Eagle series, from its beginnings in 1905 when President Roosevelt asked Saint Gaudens to redesign the American coinage, to 2002 when the sole 1933 example sold at Sotheby’s New York for almost $7.6 million. The story of the 1933 Double Eagle is enthralling: it escaped the melting pot when the US came off the gold standard, and subsequently dodged the Secret Service; it became part of the collections of King Faroukh of Egypt, disappeared after his deposition, and finally emerged in the hands of a London dealer in the mid-1990s when he was arrested at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. One of the most amusing parts of this book is the account of the legal wrangling between Stephen Fenton, the London dealer, and the US government. Here we are introduced to a part of the story that few people know. Tripp had access to all the relevant documents and presents a fascinating picture of how a young lawyer fought this case on behalf of the English dealer. After the case was settled, the coin was given to Sotheby’s and Stack’s for auction, which is the focus of the final installment of this story. Here many well known coin dealers, collectors, US Mint employees and others appear, described by Tripp in loving, often humorous detail. The author does not even spare himself (Sotheby’s coin department consisted of “a long-tenured and beleaguered consultant who habitually wore red socks”).

This is surely one of the most enjoyable numismatic books that I have read in a long time. More like an Agatha Christie mystery than a history book, much of the action has been fictionalized. Dialogues are common, which makes one wonder whether this all happened in this particular way: “As Fenton stared at the coin in dazzled awe, de Clermont asked, ‘What do you think?’ ‘Wonderful’ It was a breathless, whispered reply.” What is perhaps most appealing is this popular approach of this book. Numismatic books tend to be written for that small group of initiated enthusiasts with jargon used without restraint, which makes them virtually inaccessible to the general public. While this book is popularly accessible, it still is unquestionably a scholarly effort; the book is heavily footnoted (almost 30 pages are appended in the end section), which allows the reader to check much of the sources or theories. In all this is an enthralling, convincing, and, best of all, a page turning account of this most interesting coin.

—Ute Wartenberg Kagan

Review: Coinage of Arabia Felix

Stuart Munro-Hay, Coinage of Arabia Felix. The Pre-Islamic Coinage of the Yemen. Nomismata 5. Milano: Edizioni ennerre, 2003. Hb., 221 pp., 61 b/w pls. ISBN 88-87235-28-7. 80,00 Euro.

According to a popular proverb, often attributed to an anonymous Arabic source, “A book is like a garden carried around in one’s pocket.” If this is a true statement, then Stuart Munro-Hay’s long-announced Coinage of Arabia Felix. The Pre-Islamic Coinage of the Yemen should be expected to represent the work of an ambitious gardener making the attempt to transform a jungle of obscurity and confusion into an organized and rational formal garden.

In the first part of the introduction, “The Study of South Arabian Coinage” (pp. 17-24), Munro-Hay introduces us to previous stewards of his numismatic garden and their various attempts to sort out the thorny issues of interpretation that have bedeviled the study of South Arabian coinage, from the pioneering days of De Longpérier and Schlumberger in the nineteenth century down to the present. This sketch of the last 150 years of South Arabian numismatic studies is followed by an extremely succinct historical outline (pp. 25-28) of the four major kingdoms of Saba’, Qataban, Himyar, and Hadhramawt, teased from the evidence of the few surviving Greek and Latin sources and South Arabian inscriptions. A new king list for the rulers of Saba’, Qataban, Himyar and Hadhramawt also appears on pp. 220-221. The haziness of the literary and documentary record, as well as the divergence of scholarly opinion regarding chronology, already reveals the potential of the coinage to help sharpen the historical picture, while simultaneously underlining the difficulties of placing it in its appropriate context. With regard to the instances where dates are taken from K.A. Kitchen’s remarkable Documentation for Ancient Arabia (Liverpool, 2000), it should be stressed, however, that these are very approximate and cannot be taken as secured. Also, the addition of a map to this section would have been highly desirable.

The coins themselves are introduced in two main sections. In the first, “The Coinage and Its Characteristics” (pp. 29-40), the author primarily focuses on the epigraphy of the coinage, including the interpretation of ‘mint’ names and monograms, as well as the divine and royal symbols that often appear on the coins. It is plausibly suggested that place names like RYDN (Raydan), HRB (Harib) and SQR (Shaqir) that appear on some issues were primarily intended to identify issuing states and not necessarily mints.

While dealing with the many monograms that appear on the coins — arguably one of the most important aspects of the whole coinage — Munro-Hay provides the reader with a useful but rather general overview in which only a few of the monograms are actually interpreted. In discussing the tricky question of the ‘cursive legend,’ which appears on imitations of both Athenian ‘Old’ and ‘New Style’ coinage, Munro-Hay at first questions neither the reading SHR HLL, nor G.F. Hill’s proposal that the change from ‘Old’ to ‘New’ Style imitations took place under one ruler (BMC Arabia, p. liii), thus arriving at the rather untenable solution of attributing these Sabaean issues to a Qatabanian ruler, whose dates (at least according to Kitchen) are too early to have issued ‘New Style’ imitations. It is only in a later section (pp. 46-47) that he takes the discussion further, introducing what may possibly be clues for understanding this enigma: an ‘archaizing’ use of the ‘mukarrib’ symbol (as in an inscription of king Dhamar‘alay Watar Yuhan‘im). Also, the composition of the Sanaa Hoard (1879), which favors a close link between all the various ‘New Style’ imitations (1.11, 1.13-1.16), marks them as very separate issues from the ‘Old Style’ imitations, and seems to require a new reading of the inscription. However, it should be noted here that neither of the two ‘Old Style’ coins of type 1.7i mentioned in footnote 210 actually bear the ‘curved sign.’ Additionally, the ‘mysterious’ BM coin of type 1.8iii is almost certainly a fraction of type 1.7.

Perhaps the most important part of this section is the commentary on symbols, such as the ‘staff and D,’ the ‘curved sign,’ and the ‘oblong sign,’ representing royal titles and the quasi-national deities of the South Arabian kingdoms. The proper understanding of these obscure emblems permits the linkage of several issues and the placement of series in their appropriate geopolitical contexts. Unfortunately, the author does not touch upon the HL monogram so prominently displayed on Qatabanian coins. The discussion is supplemented by a valuable chart on pp. 89-108 that lists all inscriptions and symbols known from the coins in the main catalogue.

The real meat for numismatists and ancient historians comes in the second section, “History and Development of the Coinage” (pp. 41-58). Here, through the use of new hoard and typological evidence, as well as new insight into inscriptions and symbolism, Munro-Hay embarks upon the work of pruning away the overgrowth of old interpretations, while preparing the ground for more fertile enquiry into the chronological and historical problems of South Arabian coinage. Nevertheless, a mere 18 pages of text on such a vast and complex subject cannot be expected to answer all questions and solve all problems. As in the catalogue (see below), here too, the author is torn between a desire to group and discuss the coins according to the issuing state or according to typological criteria.

At the beginning of this section, Munro-Hay makes the intriguing suggestion that the ‘Old Style’ Athenian imitations (1.1i-iv) of the fourth-third centuries BC, traditionally considered Sabaean in origin, are actually from Qataban. To this end he cites the coins of the recent al-Surayrah hoard, which included imitations bearing the Qatabanian HL monogram and sometimes the name of the Qatabanian king Yad‘ab Dhubyan as well as coins lacking both this monogram and name (pp. 42-43). While the new HL and royal issues must certainly be from Qataban, the transference of the type 1.1 coins lacking monograms from Saba’ to Qataban should perhaps be taken with some caution since it rests heavily on an argument ex silentio: The coins cannot be from Saba’ because they display no Sabaean symbolism. Of course, at the same time these issues also lack any obvious Qatabanian symbolism. More importantly, Munro-Hay here seems to overlook the continuous use of one and the same peculiar weight standard for all coins throughout types 1.1 to 1.16 as well as the similarity in fabric between all the (typologically identical) ‘Old Style’ imitations struck to this standard. Taken as a whole, these various series, through their intermittent or regular use of the ‘staff and D’ and ‘curved’ symbols, betray clear signs of a Sabaean origin. It is regrettable that a single Sabaean standard unit in the Berlin cabinet, tentatively (but wrongly) attributed to Hadhramawt because of the assumed legend SQR, is repeatedly mentioned (on pp. 62 and 114), but not illustrated (for a rather blurred image of this coin, see J.N. Svoronos, Les monnaies d’Athènes [Munich, 1926], pl. 111, 50).

We should also be a little cautious about the idea that Qatabanian coins imitating Athenian issues of the fifth century BC (1.0a.2) should have chronological precedence over those based on fourth century models. After all, they are linked by their HL monograms to imitations based on fourth century prototypes (1.0a.4-1.0aii). Fifth and fourth century Athenian coins appear to have been used side by side as models for the imitative Philisto-Arabian and Samarian coinages of the fourth century.

In discussing the imitations of Athenian ‘New Style’ tetradrachms (1.13i-1.16iv), including both longhaired head and the succeeding ‘Augustan’ head obverse types, Munro-Hay challenges the traditional view that they were struck by the kings of Himyar. Instead, he convincingly argues that these coins are more likely to have been struck in neighboring Saba’ because of their use of the so-called ‘curved sign,’ a symbol representing the Sabaean deity Almaqah, and the absence of explicitly Himyarite symbols. In light of this reattribution, the author also raises the possibility that the ‘New Style’ imitations with ‘cursive’ script (1.11i-ii), usually attributed to the Qatabanian mukarrib Shahir Hilal, may also have been struck in Saba’, perhaps under Dhamar‘alay Watar Yuhan‘im.

It is suggested that the model for the longhaired laureate head used as an obverse type for the imitation Athenian New Style silver coinage (Types 1.13i-iv-1.14ii, 1.14.iv) may be derived from the archaizing head of Apollo employed on the denarii of the Roman Republican moneyers L. and C. Calpurnius Piso Frugi (p. 44). While this is not impossible, the argument that the denarii of L. Calpurnius Piso somehow counterbalanced a supposed reduction in Athenian New Style tetradrachm production in 100-86 BC, and were therefore placed in a special position to influence South Arabian typology (p. 45), cannot be taken seriously in light of the revised chronology for New Style coinage (see now H. Mattingly, “The Beginning of Athenian New Style Silver Coinage,” NC 150 (1990), pp. 67-72 for the beginning of the New Style in 164/3 BC, not 186 or 168 as given by Munro-Hay on p. 45) and the fact that the Roman denarius was never a particularly common denomination in the Near East, even in the Imperial period. If the inspiration for the longhaired head type did indeed originate outside of South Arabia, a more likely source may be the coinage of the Nabataean Arabs, northern cousins and trading partners of the South Arabian peoples. Beginning with Aretas IV (9 BC-AD 40) and continuing into the reign of Rabbel II (AD 70-106), Nabataean coinage regularly carried ruler portraits depicting the king with long hair and wearing a laurel wreath (for examples, see Y. Meshorer, Nabataean Coins (Jerusalem, 1975). Such a parallel would also be commensurate with Munro-Hay’s desire to downdate the series to the first century BC/AD.

Munro-Hay follows C. Robin (“Yashhur’il Yuhar‘ish, fils d’Abyasa‘, mukarrib du Hadramawt,” Raydan 6 [1994]) in attributing the ‘bucranium’ (more likely an antelope or ibex head) series (2.1-2.18a-civ) to Saba’, again based on the presence of the ‘curved sign,’ and in dating them to the first or second century AD. Again, however, no attempt is made to interpret the monograms on this series. His identification of the longhaired head coinages bearing the names ‘MDN BYN and ‘MDN YHQBD as issues of the same ‘Amdan, king of Saba’ and Dhu-Raydan, but using different epithets to emphasize his authority over Saba’ and Himyar, respectively, is also heavily indebted to Robin (see “ ‘Amdan Bayyin Yuhaqbid, roi de Saba’ et de Du-Raydan,” in Études Sud-Arabes, Receuil offert à Jacques Ryckmans [Louvain, 1991]). New and important, however, are some of the attempts to link other rulers named on the royal coinage with kings known from lapidary inscriptions. For example, the author struggles with the identity of the ruler DMR‘LY DBYN who struck coins naming the Qatabanian royal castle of Harib (HRB) (3.15i, 3.18), but is not a known king of Qataban. However, he ultimately arrives at the conclusion that the later second century king of Himyar, Dhamar‘alay Yuhabir, is the most probable (pp. 55-56). Unlike other known rulers named Dhamar‘alay, Yuhabir’s Himyarite origin is well established. He also seems an excellent candidate because he ruled during the collapse of Qatabanian power, which might have given him the opportunity to claim authority in Harib. Likewise, the KRB’L YHN‘M named on some royal coins (3.16i) marked RYDN (Raydan) is understood as Karib’il Watar Yuhan‘im I, a first century AD king of Saba’ and Dhu-Raydan. If this is correct, then it may be that he should be considered the originator of the RYDN royal coinage.

With the exception of a brief overview of the historical problems relating to the fall of Qataban and the rise of Hadhramawt (pp. 49-50), there is little detailed discussion of the extensive series of Hadhrami bronze coins in the introduction. This noticeable absence is alleviated by an addenda section (pp. 59-64), largely distilling the discussion of these coins from recent articles by ‘U. Aydarus and A.V. Sedov.

Munro-Hay’s proposed chronology for all the South Arabian coin series is laid out in tabular form on pp. 82-88, allowing the user to see at a glance what are proposed to be contemporary issues. This chart and the following type catalogue (pp. 111-198) require a few words with respect to the peculiar system of classification. Where one would expect the coins to be arranged by issuing authority, Munro-Hay instead classes them according to their typology (with the strange exception of Hadhramawt). Thus, some 90 types are detailed in five classes (Imitation Athenian, ‘Bucranium,’ Royal, Hadhramawt bronze, and Miscellaneous), which are further subdivided into subtypes, variants and denominations. As most readers will be unfamiliar with the complex subject, a more traditional arrangement might have been more helpful, bearing in mind that despite the interwoven character of some of the series, South Arabian coinage is not beyond such an accepted approach. We are left with the impression that the typological classification system, already adopted by Munro-Hay in previous works at a time when these classes may have roughly corresponded with some of the issuing authorities, is still maintained despite the modifications dictated by the appearance, in 1994, of the al-Surayrah Hoard (i.e. containing a sizeable and hitherto unknown Qatabanian coinage struck to the Attic standard). Leaving aside the overly cumbersome nature of the catalogue numbering system (Who likes to refer to a coin as ‘Type 3.4ciib’?), the system has little flexibility for accommodating new types (a point already revealed by the insertion of the early Qatabanian series as Type 1.0) and is not always practical. For example, the denominations of ‘Old Style’ imitations with identical monograms are assigned very different type numbers such as 1.4i8 and 1.4ii1 (a unit and its corresponding half) or 1.4i5 and 1.4iii2 (a unit and its corresponding quarter). Even with the chosen classification system, it might have been a little more helpful if the Imitation Athenian class had been broken up into several classes in order to clearly mark the division between ‘Old Style’ (1.0.2-1.9a) and ‘New Style’ (1.11i-1.12iv, 1.13i-1.16a) imitations, as well as the cornucopia gold (1.12ai-1.12av — some further discussion of the place of these remarkable series in relation to the imitation Athenian issues would have been worthwhile). The descriptions given under the type headings are somewhat cursory, but the additional remarks under each type often contain useful references to other known specimens not illustrated in the plates. An additional inconvenience comes with the fact that the plate coins can only be traced back to the chart and type catalogue with difficulty. One is forced to read through the list of photographs and drawings (pp. 71-81) and then work backwards to match images with catalogue entries.

A number of coins described in the main section of the type catalogue and illustrated on the plates are not South Arabian and thus do not fall within the scope of this book. App. 5, fig. 50, and App. 10, fig. 2, although unusual Athenian imitations, are unlikely to be South Arabian. Fig. 25 is a drachm of uncertain North Arabian origin, and the same has to be said of figs. 383 and 384 (the relevant article on these last coins by F. Bron and A. Lemaire, “Pseudo-Athéniennes avec légende araméenne LBLT et monnaie BLT en Arabie du sud,” Transeuphratène 10 (1995), pp. 45-56, is omitted from Munro-Hay’s otherwise excellent bibliography which covers all publications up to 1999). Fig. 423 is in fact a Seleucid imitation from Commagene (see O. Hoover, “Notes on Some Imitation Drachms of Demetrius I Soter from Commagene,” AJN 10 (1998), pp. 71-94) and has nothing to do with South Arabia. The Alexander imitations illustrated by figs. 367-369 (described as type 1.10.4, where Munro-Hay follows the somewhat outdated chronology proposed by Robin in 1974, obviously unaware of Callot, “Les monnaies dites ‘arabes’ dans le nord du Golfe arabo-persique à la fin du IIIe siècle avant notre ère,” Failaka [1990], pp. 221-240, who convincingly argued for closer dates of all these issues within the third century BC), and their later imitations (App. 2, fig. 94-317 743, and App. 6, fig. 67) were actually struck in North East Arabia.

In addition to the main series of South Arabian coinage, a final miscellaneous class is included in the catalogue in order to cover anomalous coins (5.1, 5.4a-5.4d) that are not easily inserted into the other classes, issues that properly belong to the Islamic period (5.2), and demonstrable forgeries (3.2ai-3.2bi and 3.4i). However, a close look at several of these miscellaneous coins, suggests that they are not in fact South Arabian issues at all. Hill already thought that the ‘Himyarite’ letters described by Casanova in 1893 on three copper fulus of the Umayyad Caliphate with Standing Caliph type (5.2 with figs. 253-255) might have been misread Kufic Arabic inscriptions. Although Munro-Hay’s commentary tends to agree with Hill, it is clear that he is torn on the subject and keeps the possibility of South Arabian readings open. A greater familiarity with modern studies of the coinage of the early Umayyad period would have erased any doubts about the correctness of Hill’s position. Fig. 254, carrying letters read as South Arabian SN‘ and a monogram resolved as South Arabian B and F, is a known issue of Harran in the province of al-Jazira (SICA 1.687). The letters are actually the Greek numeral IS (16), probably representing the coin’s qirat weight while the monogram is also Greek (see S. Album, “Islamic conquerors adopted local Byzantine coinage,” The Celator [April 1988]). The monogram read as South Arabian WTR and its accompanying ‘triangle flanked by circles’ symbol on fig. 255 are in fact, perfectly good Kufic Arabic inscriptions naming the issuing mint as Ma‘arrat Misrin in Jund Qinnasrin (cf. SICA 1.674-678).

The 61 photographic plates that accompany the text are generally of very high quality and will certainly serve as a treasury of images for the future study of South Arabian coinage. These plates also include beautiful illustrations, often enlarged, of coins listed in eleven appendices (pp. 199-219) which follow the type catalogue, containing all known South Arabian coins in the major British and German public collections (British Museum, Ashmolean Museum, Munich Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde and Munich Staatliche Münzsammlung) as well as several important private collections, and coins from the al-Surayrah and Sanaa hoards. It is hard to overestimate the boon that Munro-Hay has provided to students of the series by collecting so much South Arabian illustrative material in one place and in such good quality. However, the arrangement of individual images on plates V to XVII is more than baffling. There seems to have been no attempt to arrange the illustrations in accordance with the order of types in the catalogue. Thus, for example, in plate IX, a miscellaneous class coin of the Islamic period (fig. 255) precedes bronze issues of Hadhramawt (figs. 256-257 and 259-260) and a forgery of the royal series (fig. 258), followed by ‘bucranium’ coins (figs. 264-284). It is also somewhat peculiar that the images of coins from various national and private collections are relegated to plate appendices, rather than integrated with the rest of the material. This arrangement is unnecessary and confusing for those who want to visualize the development of individual series in accordance with numismatic methodology. Despite its many illustrations, the book is certainly not a corpus, and one may therefore question the utility of illustrating so many coins of common single types as is the case with the al-Surayrah hemidrachms, many ‘New Style’ imitations, ‘bucranium’ coins and issues of Amdan Bayyin. It is also unclear to the present reviewers why so many reverse images (primarily ‘bucranium’ and royal types) have been rotated in the plates (obviously not intended to visually indicate die axes, and thus not serving any purpose). One also wonders why, in the case of Appendix 2, precious 11 plates are devoted to huge enlargements of very common and altogether badly preserved coins. Finally, the scale of enlargements and (occasionally) reduced images is not indicated.

As we have seen, a number of problems plague the jungle of information that is Coinage of Arabia Felix. In most cases, these could have been removed with just a little more effort invested into methodology and structure, thereby increasing the work’s value as a handbook. Still, there can be little question that it represents a landmark in the study of South Arabian coinages and, for those sufficiently diligent, will provide a material basis for further work on the money and history of the ancient Yemen.

—Oliver D. Hoover and Martin Huth

Review: Misstruck Roman Empire Bronze Coins

Dennis O’Reilly, Misstruck Roman Empire Bronze Coins, San Mateo, CA: John Jencek, 2003. Spiral bound. 55 pp. color illus. $15.00.

In ancient Rome just about everyone had his own book, almost all of which were privately published, mainly to share with friends and colleagues. Cicero had his epic poem about his own consulship, Tacitus had his histories, and Pliny the Younger had his letters. Perhaps one of the most well known examples of a Roman author privately publishing his work is that of Catullus, who had his libellum (“little book”) of poems published so that he could offer them as a gift to his friend, the historian Cornelius Nepos.

A similar sort of grassroots publication of “little books” by and for friends has been an important staple of United States and American Colonial numismatics for decades (many an important and arcane die study that has become a cornerstone in the study of these series began its life as a private publication circulating among like-minded collectors), however, it has not generally tended to be as successful in the world of ancient numismatics. While there are some notable examples of privately produced libella on ancient topics, such as C. Daniel Clark’s underground classic, Speedy Identification of Early Denominationally Marked Byzantine Bronzes (Tehachapi, CA, 1990), they are very few and far between. This situation is somewhat unfortunate because without publication it is impossible to know what material is really out there in private hands.

In the present privately published little book, Dennis O’Reilly describes and illustrates a collection of some 109 bronze and billon coins from the early Principate to the first half of the fifth century AD, all suffering from various striking errors. Just about every possible minting mistake is represented here in some form. Obverse and reverse brockages are plentiful, including an impressive provincial brockage of Caracalla’s portrait (p. 9), while various degrees of double striking, centering errors, and die clashes account for the majority of the remaining material. For good measure an example of a double reverse muled as of Tiberius (RIC I, 82 [Rome], misdescribed as a lifetime issue of Augustus) is also included on page 2.

The method of presentation is extremely simple and straightforward. Each page illustrates two coins in full color and enlarged to twice their original size. Below each image appears a summary description including the name of the issuing emperor with reign dates, an abbreviated type description, a description of the error and the diameter of the coin. Rough values are also given as well as a catalogue reference, when possible.

Although the images are generally well photographed, it would have been helpful if further attention had been paid to the descriptions and references. The absence of numbers for the individual coins hampers the usefulness of the catalogue, while the referencing is somewhat haphazard. The Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC) volumes are used mainly for the Julio-Claudians and a few isolated third and fourth century emperors, while the bulk of the fourth century rulers are referenced by the numbers given in Late Roman Bronze Coinages. David Sear’s Roman Coins and their Values (London, 1988) is used for the remainder of the coins. While Sear is fine for rough descriptions on 2×2 flip inserts, his numbers do not, nor were they ever intended to convey the same kind of detailed information as RIC numbers. Thus, descriptions of several coins as “variants” of, or “similar” to, those listed by Sear become tiresome very quickly, since all of the issues in question are known and fully referenced in RIC. The numbers provided by the more up to date RIC should also be preferred to those from LRBC.

In addition to improved referencing, the author would have been well advised to include more typological and denominational details in the descriptions as well as the metrological data. However, for the most part, the descriptions, such as they are, are correct. Only a few minor errors have crept into this catalogue of error coinages. We have already mentioned the case of the misidentified Tiberian as, above, but the majority of the remaining mistakes are misread inscriptions, some of which may be typographical, rather than reading errors. For example, the titles P(ius) F(elix) do not exist on the double struck Postumus sestertius (RIC V, 146 [Lugdunum]) listed on page 16, although O’Reilly restores them in his description. Likewise, the legend of a 60% off center and double struck antoninianus of Claudius II Gothicus (RIC V, 113 (Rome)) on page 26 is given as VIRTV[S AV]G, when in fact the inscription reads VIRTVS [AVG]VS[TI]. A 55% off center 12mm bronze coin on p. 49 is described as a SECVRITAS REIPVBLICAE issue of Valentinian I despite the fact that only […A]VG and […R]EIPVBLI[CAE] remain of the obverse and reverse legends, respectively. Considering the small diameter and the placement of Victory’s arm on the reverse it seems more likely that this is really a SALVS REIPVBLICAE AE 4 issue of Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius, or Honorius with the reverse type of Victory dragging a captive to left.

Despite these criticisms, Misstruck Roman Empire Coins does fill a void in Roman numismatics by collecting together in one place a good sample of error coins of the imperial period. This interesting and understudied material also serves to pose questions that may be worthy of further investigation. For example, one wonders why the fifteen errors catalogued for the period of the Julio-Claudians (5 of Augustus, 2 of Tiberius, 1 of Caligula, 2 of Claudius, and 1 of Nero), Flavians (1 of Vespasian) and the Antonines (2 of Hadrian and 1 of Antoninus Pius) are primarily limited to the copper denominations of the as and the quadrans. The orichalcum sestertius and dupondius are almost nowhere to be found. It is unclear whether this is simply a fluke of the collection, or whether the process of minting, or quality control, for orichalcum permitted fewer error coins to enter into circulation. To answer such questions in a scientific manner would require a look at a much larger group of error issues sampled from the world’s major numismatic collections.

It is interesting that the only misstruck coins included in the catalogue for the Severan dynasty are three provincial issues of Caracalla (one of which can be attributed to the Macedonian mint of Stobi) and one provincial coin of Elagabalus. Admittedly this preponderance of the provincial material to the exclusion of the imperial coins should probably be considered a coincidence, but it also serves to underline the reduction of copper coin production at the imperial mints in the late second and early third centuries.

The prevalence of error coins from the later third and fourth centuries, of which O’Reilly presents some 90 examples, should probably come as little surprise, since this was a period of massive production of imperial base metal coinage in response to the persistent problem of inflation. The Roman Empire of the third century is primarily represented by base antoniniani of Gallienus (10 examples), Claudius II Gothicus (5 examples), and Probus (4 examples), while issues of Postumus (3 examples), Victorinus (6 examples), Tetricus I (5 examples), and Tetricus II (1 example) admirably represent the breakaway Gallic Empire. It is not clear to the present reviewer why a 19mm blank planchet on p. 23 has been attributed to one of the Tetrici or Claudius II. Error coins of the British usurpers Carausius (2 examples) and Allectus (2 examples) fill out the overview of mistakes at mints in the third century. It is an interesting coincidence that many of the errors appear under rulers who were especially hard pressed by inflation and who issued massive billon coinages in response. Since this process involved the almost annual recall, debasement, and recoining of older coins with higher silver content it is hardly surprising that numerous errors in striking were made. Quality is often the first thing to be sacrificed when speed and quantity are given precedence.

The frequent monetary reforms of the fourth and fifth centuries also provide a good deal of evidence for continued hasty production and poor quality control at the imperial mints. Constantine the Great and his family are very well represented: Constantine I (6 examples), Helena (1 example), Crispus (2 examples), Constantine II (4 examples), Constans (4 examples), Constantius II (8 examples). An AE 3 of Constans (cp. RIC VIII, 91 [Constantinople]) on p. 43 is not actually an example of a misstruck coin, but rather an example of a coin struck by an improperly engraved die. Here instead of the usual obverse inscription the die engraver inscribed DN CONSTANNS PF AVG, adding an extra letter N to the emperor’s name. The post-Constantinian age is filled out mainly by three issues of Valens and the coinage of the Theodosian co-emperors Arcadius (3 examples), Honorius (2 examples), Theodosius II (1 example), and Valentinian III (1 example). It is interesting, but probably coincidental, that most of the coins from the late Roman period tend to suffer from double striking and poor centering, much more than brockage, while in the material collected for the third century and the early empire, brockage reigns supreme as the main form of striking error.

The imperfect references and lack of a numbering system will probably prevent Misstruck Roman Empire Bronze Coins from attaining the kind of underground reference status among Roman coin enthusiasts that some privately produced works have attained in other areas of numismatics. Nevertheless, anyone who has ever been interested in error coins, or who has ever wondered what a bad day at the Roman mint really looked like, would not be badly served to follow the same recommendation that Catullus made to Cornelius Nepos concerning his own libellum: “take and keep this little book, such as it is, and whatever it is worth.” (Cat. 1.8-9).

—Oliver D. Hoover

Review: Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions

Frank L. Holt, Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Hb. 198 pp., illus., 5 b/w pls. ISBN 0-520-23881-8. $24.95

Alexander the Great is a virtual industry unto himself. Scholars publish on average some forty new books and articles about the man every year. Now even Hollywood is getting into the act with two forthcoming films dramatizing the life of the Macedonian conqueror. With all of this academic and popular attention, one might imagine that we know all that we can know about Alexander and that another new book on the subject would be superfluous. However, Frank Holt’s Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions shows that because of the sources and the foibles of modern historians in many ways Alexander is unknowable and remains a man of mystery. One important and independent piece of evidence for an event in the king’s career survives in a series of remarkable silver medallions that began to appear in the late nineteenth century. The adventure of their discovery and the quest to properly interpret them as clues to understanding the real Alexander form the main subject of the present work.

The first chapter (pp. 1-22) is an excellent condensed biography of Alexander the Great from his youth in Macedonia to his untimely death in Babylon after conquering what was then most of the known world. However, this overview of thirty years in the late fourth century BC is not simply used to introduce the reader to the man responsible for the so-called elephant medallions that are the main subject of the rest of the book. It also serves to establish Alexander as a mysterious figure constantly subject to the changing interpretations of his historians, admirers, and enemies, thus, a figure worthy of an investigation after the manner of Sherlock Holmes.

In the chapters that follow, the mystery unfolds in a pattern reminiscent of one of Holmes’ most famous cases, The Sign of the Four (1890), in which the discovery of a peculiar document triggers an epic historical enquiry into important events on several continents before it can be properly understood and the mystery solved. Holt begins the second chapter (pp. 23-46) with the story of the discovery and travels of the Oxus Treasure, which included the first known silver medallion (the Franks medallion) bearing the types of Alexander the Great holding a thunderbolt and a battle between a cavalryman and a mounted Indian elephant. Although it is customary for most Holmsian adventures to begin with a murder, the mystery of the elephant medallions opens with the somewhat lesser crime of smuggling that ultimately brought the Oxus Treasure and the Franks medallion by a hair-raising and circuitous route from Afghanistan to India, and thence to Great Britain, where the latter was ultimately donated to the British Museum in 1887. It was first published by Percy Gardner, who recognized the identity of the figure holding the thunderbolt, but rather than connecting the elephant battle with an event from Alexander’s Indian campaign, he suggested an otherwise unrecorded conflict between one of the Graeco-Bactrian kings and invading Yueh-chi tribesmen. Holt argues that while this interpretation seems laughable to modern scholars, when Gardner came up with it he was confused by circumstantial evidence, such as a “pedigree” coin of Agathocles carrying Alexander’s portrait, and a belief that the medallion was struck around the same time that the hoard was closed (c. 150 BC).

Moving from the long and treacherous journey that first brought the Franks medallion to the attention of the West, in chapter three (pp. 47-67) the story continues with the great intellectual adventure that ensued following Gardiner’s initial publication. While there was general agreement that the reverse type depicted a deified Alexander, there remained some question about what event the obverse elephant battle represented. Barclay Vincent Head, thought an episode from Alexander’s Indian campaign more probable than Gardner’s Graeco-Bactrian theory, and like many of his contemporaries sought confirmation in a textual description in the classical sources. As Holt shows, by misconstruing the Greek text of Arrian (5.18.6-7) on the battle of the Hydaspes, Head was able to make a case for the cavalryman as Taxiles (Omphis), an Indian ally of Alexander, and the elephant as the mount of the Rajah Porus. The appearance of a second specimen of the medallion in 1926 led Sir George Francis Hill to take another look at the type, arguing that similarities in dress between the cavalryman and the reverse figure of Alexander indicated that the former must represent Alexander as well. Because Hill was an early student of the technology of ancient coin production, Holt closes this chapter with a brief digression on how coins like the elephant medallions were made, as well as the value of die studies.

Following this technical intermission, the mystery continues in chapter four (pp. 68-69) with the appearance of a third medallion in 1959 (currently on display in the ANS “Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars” exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) and the new round of academic enquiry that it entailed. Although by this time it was generally agreed that the combatants were Alexander and Porus, Holt shows that the pitfalls that troubled the earlier interpretations of Gardiner and Head still plagued a new group of scholars. As Gardiner willfully turned away from the context of the battle of the Hydaspes, Deena Pandey and Michael Mitchiner associated the medallion types with Porus’ unlikely presence at the battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) and with Alexander’s alliance with Taxiles, respectively. Salvatore Settis, on the other hand, looked to the classical sources, this time finding evidence for the typology in lines from Plautus’ Curculio and an anecdote about Aristobulus, one of Alexander’s court historians. However, the close link proposed between the medallions and these new literary references seems to have been just as illusory as the one that Head found between them and Arrian’s account.

It is an unwritten rule that every good mystery must include at least a few red herrings in order to add interest to the plot and keep readers guessing until the detective can find the correct solution. The case of the elephant medallions is no different, for as Holt shows, as early as 1926 forgers were already complicating the story with their fabrications. An example of one of these forgeries, influenced in part by an early and imperfect sketch of the Franks medallion published in 1887, is illustrated in the plates (pl. 13). Nine possible forgeries in museums and private hands are detailed in an appendix at the end of the book.

In chapter five (pp. 92-116), the mystery of the elephant medallions takes a fresh and unexpected twist with the recounting of the discovery of the 1973 Iraq Hoard, which not only contained further examples of the large medallions depicting the elephant battle, but also included smaller medallions bearing two new type pairs, that of an Indian archer r./ riderless elephant r. and an Indian chariot galloping r./ elephant r. with mahout and rider. The full contents of the hoard, as variously reported by Michael Duerr, Coin Hoards 1 (1975), Martin Price, and Peter van Alfen, as well as descriptions of all published elephant medallions are listed in two appendices.

As on previous occasions, this surprising new discovery touched off a flurry of study and interpretation among numismatists and ancient historians, but Holt argues that in most cases the tendency was to resurrect old theories and to follow the traditional pattern of seeking direct confirmation from the classical sources. Thus, A.N. Oikonomides and M.C.J. Miller tried to link them to the foundation of Nicaea and Bucephala, N.G.L. Hammond to an elephant hunt, and Wilhelm Hollstein thought that they represented money paid to Alexander by Taxiles, all events recounted by ancient historians. Martin Price came to the rather implausible conclusion that the medallions were struck before the war against Porus in order to celebrate the alliance with Taxiles and express the “supposed policy of concord and community within [Alexander’s] empire.” The most popular recent attempt to associate the medallions with a classical text is probably the linkage of their control monograms (? and AB) to an anecdote about Xenophilus and Abulites in Plutarch (Alex. 68.7). This possibility was first mentioned in passing by Price but later endorsed by Andrew Stewart and Robin Lane Fox. Holt, however, raises some doubt as to why these Macedonian governors of Susa should be connected with what appears to be an explicitly Indian issue. The chapter concludes with a scathing criticism of A.B. Bosworth’s view that the medallions all served to promote Alexander’s megalomania and to warn others that the terrible defeats that he had inflicted upon the “outlandish and formidable” Indians could be visited upon anyone who opposed his rule. This is used as a springboard for an important digression on how the study of Alexander the Great has often tended to be hijacked by the personal opinions and theories of scholars, regardless of the evidence. The reader is left with the distinct impression that with the passage of time the medallions and Alexander himself have actually become more mysterious than when the Franks medallion first appeared in the late nineteenth century.

Lest we begin to despair that the mystery might never be solved, in the final two chapters Holt puts on his Inverness coat and deerstalker cap and applies his own deductive powers to finding a viable solution. As its title suggests, in chapter six “A Closer Look” (pp. 117-138), the author applies the detective’s magnifying glass to the physical evidence of the medallions in order to begin to, “(a) determine what are the precise images on each of the denominations, drawing upon corroborative evidence whenever possible; (b) establish as reasonably as we can where the medallions were made, how many were produced, and under whose authority; and (c) interpret the function of this entire mintage as a group in terms of its intended audience and message, learning from this what we can about the king and his contemporaries (p. 117).” The main focus in this chapter is on determining the correct description of the several medallion types. Here the author takes apart older descriptions piece by piece and reexamines the iconography of the medallions, in order to squeeze out as many details as possible from their worn surfaces. Five pages of photographic plates of the various types and two composite line drawings of a large medallion aid the discussion.

In chapter seven (pp. 139-165), Holt takes the clues gleaned from the close analysis in the preceding chapter to form a new interpretation of the medallions and their types. He argues that the most likely occasion for the issue of the elephant medallions was shortly after the battle of the Hydaspes, and that they served as commemorative pieces (aristeia) awarded to soldiers for distinguished service in the battle, rather than as proper coins intended for circulation. In short they were the equivalent of modern military campaign medals, except that they also had intrinsic cash value. While the idea that the medallions were presented shortly after the Hydaspes campaign is very appealing, the suggestion that their value as coinage was a secondary concern is undermined by the fact that many of the medallions show signs of wear and several even bear test marks (see pls. 8 and 12), both features that point to circulation. If they served primarily as commemorative aristeia, but only as money when their owners were low on cash of the more common variety, it seems a little surprising that there should have been so many in the Iraq Hoard (6-7 of the large medallions, 11 archer and 3 chariot medallions). Perhaps a better analogy for the medallions may be the high value coins and medallions struck as donative payments to the army by later Roman emperors. These too often carried special types, but it was expected that their recipients would spend them.

The case for a mobile military mint striking the medallions in the immediate aftermath of Alexander’s victory over Porus seems plausible, considering the poor quality of the striking and the general failure to adhere to a strict weight standard. However, if Alexander did have a military mint in his train, it is a little surprising that he does not appear to have used it to issue any of his imperial coinage during the course of the campaign. We must also wonder at the wisdom of weighing down troops with such heavy tokens of honor while the projected conquest of India and the long march home lay ahead. Thus it still may be that the mint for the medallions should be sought at Susa or Babylon and that the medallions were connected to an award ceremony that took place after the return from India.

Holt convincingly argues against the typological interpretations of earlier numismatists and historians, but his own solution to the mystery of the elephant medallions ultimately turns out to be far more elemental than elementary. It also falls into the trap of trying to connect them to details in the classical texts. He argues that the types depicting Indian troops and elephants all represent forces said to have been defeated by the wet and muddy conditions created by a rainstorm on the eve of the battle of the Hydaspes. The depiction of Alexander as Zeus Keraunophoros on the large medallions was thus intended to give credit for the fortuitous rains, and hence the victory that it enabled, to the Macedonian king alone. There can be no doubt that this is an ingenious and unexpected solution to the problem, seemingly worthy of a Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately it does not quite tie up all the loose ends.

For one thing, there is no reason to assume that the image of Alexander as Zeus must be specifically related to the natural events that occurred in connection with the battle. The ancient historians make it very clear that Alexander’s obsession with his own divinity and with his relationship to Zeus began well before he had even set foot on the borders of India.

The theory of Alexander as storm-bringing Zeus is supported by numerous ancient accounts of battles influenced by divinely sanctioned storms, ranging from the torrential downpour that brought victory to the Israelites at the battle of Megiddo in the Song of Deborah to the thunderstorm that Marcus Aurelius directed against his Germanic enemies, commemorated on the Antonine Column. We would add to the list of examples by pointing out that the Achaemenid Great Kings, whom Alexander replaced, were also believed to have power over the weather. The Greek sources tell us that Darius I (Polyaen. 7.11.12) called down rain to quench the thirst of his troops and Artaxerxes II (Ctesias, Ind. 4) twice deflected storms by means of his sword. However, while Alexander, particularly in his role as the successor to Darius III, might seem a prime candidate for the storm god responsible for the victory at the Hydaspes, this interpretation of his image on the elephant medallions is seriously problematized by its total absence from the surviving accounts of the battle. The ancient historians mention that the noise of the storm covered the sound of Macedonian preparations for crossing the river and that the muddy conditions hampered the fighting prowess of the Indians, but none of them even hint that Alexander was rumored to have been somehow responsible for the weather. Even Pseudo-Callisthenes, who includes such unlikely episodes as the occasion when the very waves of the sea offered Alexander obeisance, appears to have no idea that the storm on the Hydaspes was anything miraculous. Surely if Alexander had used the weather as a prop for his increasing desire for deification, we could expect at least one of the historians to have known about it. After all, he could not have done so in secret. Although the storm certainly helped the Macedonians to defeat Porus, from the perspective of the ancient historians, and presumably also that of their eyewitness primary sources, it seems not to have played the crucial role that Holt suggests.

Besides, it is not so clear that a claim of control over the storm would have gone over especially well with Alexander’s troops. The monsoon conditions on the eve of the battle was a nightmare for the Macedonian troops and more than one soldier is said to have met his death through lightning strikes. It is hard to imagine Alexander, even as the Bosworthian arch-despot, intentionally taking responsibility for a natural occurrence that no doubt most of his troops would have far preferred never to have experienced at all. The heavy rains in India took a major toll on Macedonian morale and ultimately contributed to the mutiny on the Hyphasis, which forced Alexander to give up further eastern conquests. If he had claimed to invoke the storm at the battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander must have seemed a remarkable failure in his later inability to drive off the bad weather that afflicted his men.

Holt’s view is further shaken by the detailed depiction of the Indian troops on the small medallions. Unlike their larger cousins, which clearly show a retreating elephant chased by Alexander on horseback, there is little indication that the Indians and elephants of the small medallions have been defeated and absolutely no sign that a storm invoked by Alexander was involved. The Indian archers are shown with longbows drawn and ready to fire, despite the fact that the muddy conditions prevented their proper anchoring. Likewise, the horses pulling the Indian chariots appear to gallop at a pace much faster than would be possible if the chariot wheels were mired in the mud. The drivers and archers who ride in the chariots also show no sign of realizing that they have been defeated by the elements. It is suggested that the types paired with the archers and chariots both indicate defeat because they depict a riderless elephant and a swiftly moving elephant with one rider looking behind him, respectively. This is based on the presumption that the men absent from the riderless elephant were killed in battle, and that the rider looking to the rear watches nervously for an unseen pursuer. But there is no evidence that the riderless elephant was ever mounted, for he lacks the rope harness depicted on other medallions and used by riders to maintain their balance on the animal’s back. As for the rear facing elephant rider, it is worth noting that he is also a standard bearer and as such might be looking back to exhort Indian troops advancing behind him just as easily as he might be watching for pursuing enemies.

Because of these various problems, it is difficult to accept Holt’s argument that the storm on the Hydaspes is the unifying theme for the typology of all of the elephant medallions. While his association of the medallions with the great battle against Porus is quite convincing, it might be prudent to seek a more general interpretation of the medallion types. If we do not require the iconography to be tied directly to the ancient accounts of the battle, then it may be possible to accept the depiction of elephants and Indian troops as a simple celebration of the mighty and alien forces defeated by Alexander at the edge of the known world.

Despite our doubts about some of the conclusions, there can be no question that Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions is a gripping intellectual adventure that will appeal to those already familiar with the story and the scholarship, as well as to those new to this rare and perplexing series. The prose is accessible and artful, making the book one of the most entertaining works of scholarship that this reviewer has read in several years. We are also compelled to add that the use of Charles Darwin’s theory of worms as the protective custodians of archaeological remains to connect the twists and turns of the mystery through each chapter is nothing short of brilliant. Thus we congratulate Holt, not only for offering new insight into the history and study of the elephant medallions, but also for presenting a novel approach to the writing of numismatics and ancient history for a broad audience.

—Oliver D. Hoover

Current Cabinet Activities (Summer 2004)

by Robert Wilson Hoge

Since the last issue of the ANS Magazine, we have received, as is typically the case, a variety of communications from individuals with inquiries about particular coins or other issues. Because of our move to the new facilities underway at this time, it has not been possible to respond to all of these in the manner to which we hope correspondents may feel accustomed, nor were we able to host visiting researchers as we did heretofore. In this column, however, I will briefly review some of our service requests, both to indicate the nature of daily work at the ANS in trying to help people with their numismatic investigations and to show a selection of relevant pieces from the collection. But in this issue I want especially to note, for our members, some important recent developments regarding the famous ANS cabinet of United States large cent pieces.


1793 Wreath cent, vine and bars edge, S. 11a (ANS 1946.143.25, gift of George H. Clapp). 27 mm.

An Update on the Early U.S. Large Cent Collection

Many will recall the situation, revealed some years ago, in which it was discovered that a major theft from the cabinet had taken place. Careful investigation and documentation revealed that numerous pieces from the magnificent collection of early U.S. cents donated to the Society in 1946 by ALCOA Aluminum magnate George H. Clapp had been stolen around 1949, apparently by the well-known specialist and author Dr. William H. Sheldon, in a nefarious scheme. Evidently, cents of somewhat lesser quality of the same varieties had been substituted for the Clapp coins, which subsequently entered the marketplace and found their way into the possession of numismatic dealers and collectors.

In recent years, most of the coins have been recovered in an effort that continues today. One of the most important of these pieces is the beautiful uncirculated Clapp specimen of the 1793 wreath cent with vine and bars edge, Sheldon 11a, which was formerly from the E. S. Sears Collection (1925). Others include the handsome C. E. Clapp (1924) example of Sheldon 87, a 1796 Liberty Cap piece; a 1797 Sheldon 137, formerly from the R. D. Book Collection (1930); a lovely 1803 Sheldon 247 purchased from the St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co. (in 1924); and an 1810 Sheldon 283, also formerly owned by C. E. Clapp (1924), which passed through the hands of several major dealers and collectors.


1796 Liberty Cap cent, S. 87 (ANS 1946.143.242, gift of George H. Clapp). 29.2 mm


1797 Draped Bust cent, S. 137 (ANS 1946.143.365, gift of George H. Clapp). 29.2 mm


1803 Draped Bust cent, S. 247 (ANS 1946.143.709, gift of George H. Clapp). 28.3 mm


1810 Capped Bust cent, S. 283 (ANS 1946.143.809, gift of George H. Clapp). 28.7 mm

A number of outstanding professional numismatists and scholars identified these coins and assisted with their recovery—particularly our indefatigable Honorary Trustee Eric P. Newman, who heads the recovery program. The ANS sincerely acknowledges and appreciates their help, and the cooperation of the unaware collectors and dealers through whose hands the coins passed.

An additional observation that I have been pleased to make is the presence, still in the collection today, of three rare coins that were not stolen! These pieces, for which we have Clapp’s original March 20, 1942, bill of sale from Burdette G. Johnson’s St. Louis Stamp & Coin Stamp Co., were not “switched” and purloined by Sheldon, probably because he was unable to obtain corresponding specimens to insert! They are three key 1793 rarities, all from the famous former collection of Virgil Brand and previously that of Dr. Thomas Hall. The varieties were not listed by Sheldon.


1793 Chain cent, with AMERICA, NC.1; Crosby 2-C (his plate coin); purchased by Hall from W.H. Johnson in June, 1892 (ANS 1946.143.11, gift of George H. Clapp). 27.1 mm. Finest of three known.


1793 Wreath cent, vine and bars edge; NC.5; Crosby 10-F; purchased by Hall from the Parmelee collection, April, 1892; formerly owned by Frossard (12/1881) and Le Gras (ANS 1946.143.23, gift of George H. Clapp). 26.9 mm. Unique.


Receipt for three 1793 large cents purchased for $1200 from the St. Louis Stamp and Coin Co. March 20, 1942, by George H. Clapp. 216×186 mm.

Ancient, Medieval, Modern and Latin American Coins

With our collections and Library closed, less research activity has been possible and our requests for services have been fewer, but there is always interest in the Society’s famous cabinet. Herman Vogle inquired about Medieval German bracteates. Santiago F. Agardy asked for advise about researching an inherited collection of miscellaneous coins. Roger deWardt Lane contacted us about several medals which he had recently found and wished to donate to the Society. Paul Bosco acquired a collection of lead strikings from the dies of the famous 18th- and early 19th-century counterfeiter Carl Becker, and generously invited the Society to select as donations any examples of pieces not already represented in the cabinets. (Among these were several which are useful additions to the collection, including a couple of genuine Roman coins and one or two sealings not recorded in the Becker corpus.) Stuart P. Feld and Allison E. Smith, of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, inquired about help in identifying a French silver écu aux huit L of 1725. The piece was seemingly from the mint of La Rochelle and probably one of the considerable number of coins of this issue which were recovered as salvage from the wreck of Le Chameau (“The Camel”), a vessel carrying payment for French troops in Canada when it sank in that year.

Julio Sánchez Rosales sought information about a 1775 coin of Carlos III is from the great mint of Potosi, in what is now Bolivia, an 1822 of Fernando VII is from the mint of Madrid, in Spain, and an 1890-O US dollar. Dr. Alexander Siegel contacted us in connection with his research on the 1838 Guatemalan 8 Reales, of which there is no example in the ANS collection. We do, however, have one dated 1839/7-MA which does appear to be genuine. This coin is about uncirculated and weighs 27.015g


Central American Republic (Guatemala), AR 8 Reales, 1839/7-MA (ANS 0000.999.31127). 38.9 mm.

ANS coins are referenced in a newly-issued publication, Numismatique de Dombes, by Jean-Paul Divo (Corzoneso, Switzerland: Fiorino d’Oro, 2004). This very attractively produced reference covers all the coins of the last French feudal domain, dating from 1470 to 1674. The Society has a very presentable run of the coins (78 pieces) from this small territory along the left bank of the river Saone, north of Lyon. They were minted in the capital city of Trévoux, which gave its titular name to the rulers (as Seigneurs de Trévoux) until after the rise of its Bourbon family to power in the latter half of the 16th century. At this time the mint town was elevated to the head of a Principality lasting until turned over to the crown in 1762 by Louis-Charles de Bourbon, Count of Eu, younger son of Louis-Auguste, Duke of Maine, the illegitimate son of King Louis XIV.


Dombes, Henri I de Montpensier (1592-1608), AR Teston, 1606 (ANS 1954.29.13, gift of the Institut Français aux Etats-Unis). Divo 88. For reasons unstated, Divo calls this the second type of 1606 although it resembles the issue of 1605 rather than that of 1607, which matches the so-called first type. 30.7 mm.


Cover of Numismatique de Dombes, by Jean-Paul Divo. 161×230 mm.

The colorful history of Dombes is reflected in its interesting coins. The state followed Roman law rather than that of the kingdom of France, as evidenced by the mintages of Gaston d’Orleans (1606-1650, the third son of King Henri IV) for instance, indicating the status of the ruler as “Prince Usufruct.” Gaston was obliged to marry his cousin Marie de Bourbon-Montpensier, and upon her death enjoyed the “fruits” of rule until the majority of their daughter, the celebrated Anne-Marie-Louise, La Grande Mademoiselle. With a forward by Michel Dhénin, the Conservateur Général of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and a 32-page beautifully illustrated historical introduction by Paul Cattin, and including maps, engravings and dynastic charts and excellent photographs, the book is everything one could hope for although it does show signs of too-great haste in its proofing and copy editing. Several examples of ANS coins from Dombes will serve to reveal something of the variety of issues involved.


Dombes, Gaston (1627-1650), AE double tournois, 1640 (ANS 1934.999.827, purchase from the former collection of Ole P. Eklund). Divo 205 var. 20.6 mm.


Dombes, Gaston (1627-1650), AE denier, 1650/49 (ANS 0000.999.32108). This unique specimen, not cited by Divo, underscores a period of uncertainty at the time of a transition in types at the Trévoux mint. (cf. Divo 211-213), for which our understanding is inadequate. 16.6mm.


Dombes, Ann-Marie-Louise de Montpensier (1650-1693), AV sequin d’or (zecchino), n.d., in imitation of a 17th century Venetian gold piece (ANS 1954.237.417, bequest of Herbert E Ives). Divo 219. 21.3 mm.

United States Departmental Questions

Among those who have been in touch concerning Americana, Drew Golfin was researching a 1776 counterfeit, possibly American British halfpenny (Breen 1008). John C. Crawford contacted us to ask about an 1892 cent while Wayne Moquin was curious about an apparently double-stamped 1997 cent. Mike Welch inquired about an 1898, and Enrique R. Devesa, a 1902 Liberty Head “V” Nickel. Ahmad Saleh was curious about silver dollars of 1885 and 1921 and Julio Sánchez Rosales wanted information about the 1890 dollar of the New Orleans mint. Freddy M. Pansi wanted to know about an 1887 $5 gold piece and Javier A. Romero Moreno, about an 1894-dated half eagle. Carlos Figueredo inquired about an 1847 eagle; E. M. Cheng, regarding a 1924 $20 gold piece. Harry Baker was interested in the Columbian Exposition half dollar of 1893, while Edward Esposito was researching a white metal 1863 patriotic Civil War token.

For investigating American coal company and railroad scrip, I advised Molly A. Gallagher, Research Intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, about our on-line data bases at http://www.numismatics.org. The Harry Bass Foundation’s “NIP” Project search engine key word search combs the pertinent literature. One can search our own “Library” keyword database to see what we may be able to provide. There are an abundance of general articles as well as studies of particular issues and issuers. To the extent that it has been catalogued onto the data base, our numismatic collection can be accessed on-line in the “Coins” keyword search database (in the US Department, made of paper, there are at this time 36 entries under coal and 70 under railroad). Most of the coal-mining scrip in the ANS cabinet is from the collection of Henry C. Chitwood. The fabulous strength of the Chitwood collection, however, has yet to be realized; it lies in 2,664 metallic tokens (accession no. 1985.141) issued by the coal-mining companies, the infamous “company stores” of Depression-era lore. This is yet another area of the collection which has not yet been entered into the data-base.

Kayoko Ishizaki and Hiroko Tanaka, of Japanese Video Production, in New York City, contacted us regarding a plan to feature the idea of the United States’ $10,000 bills which were once circulated in this country. The program, to be entitled “Mezamashi,” is part of the news digest produced by Fuji Network, a major media network in Japan. The ANS cabinet has only one example of a $10,000 note, a 1900 Series Gold Certificate.


United States $10,000 Gold Certificate, 1900 Series (ANS 0000.999.53027), 190×90 mm.

Medallic Miscellany

Our great recently-​completed move to the ANS’ new facilities has revealed things that we might not otherwise have had occasion to notice for quite some time to come. One fortunate outcome for me was encountering, in a tray in which it didn’t belong, the empty individual box for a fascinating item that figures prominently in the earliest history of the medal. I did remember having seen the piece, but now its box gave us its missing provenance and some other data. This medallion is a cast lead example of one of the two medallic works that can be traced to the collection of Jean, the Duke of Berry, the acquisitive French patron of the arts who flourished in the late 14th and early 15th centuries (see The Currency of Fame, Portrait Medals of the Renaissance, edited by Stephen K. Scher, New York: Harry N. Abrams and the Frick Collection, 1994, pp. 32-37). These pieces (medals of the Roman emperors Constantine and Heraclius, two heroes of Christendom in the Middle Ages) once purported actually to be works from ancient times, but were surely products of a Burgundian or Northern French school of ca. 1400.


France, Heraclius Commermorative PB medallion, artist unknown, ca. 1400 (ANS 1941.95.1, gift of J.M. Kingsley, Jr.) 92.9 mm.

The Heraclius medallion, represented by the ANS specimen, shows on its obverse a crowned portrait of the emperor wringing (or fondling) his beard, with Greek and Latin legends. The types relate to his status as the recoverer of the true cross after it had been taken by the Persians. The reverse seemingly features a version of a legendary incident from AD 630, when, as the emperor was about to enter Jerusalem in triumph with the cross, the gate was suddenly blocked with rubble and an angel of the Lord appeared to say that when Jesus had entered the gate, he came humbly. Heraclius then wept, removed his coat and shoes, and took up the cross, upon which the gate miraculously restored itself. The inscriptions carry the emperor’s protocols in accordance with 14th century usage and liturgical references to him and the legends about him although the Greek is clumsily rendered and unclear.

David Rondinelli contacted us in connection with researching an interesting early Mexican medal, of which we have examples in the collection. In 1796, the Marquis of Branciforte, the 53rd Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), requested and received permission from Spanish King Charles (Carlos) IV to erect an equestrian statue in the king’s honor. A colossal wood and plaster model statue was unveiled to much fanfare in the main plaza of Mexico City, the Zocalo, on December 9, 1796—the birthday of Queen Maria Luiza. This event was commemorated on an attractive medal, the dies for which were sculpted by Emmanuel Tolsa and engraved by Geronimo Antonio Gil.


Mexico, Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain, Charles IV, AR Commemorative medal, 1796 (ANS 1911.105.275, gift of Isaac Greenwood). Grove C-268. 33 mm.

Reportedly, 3,000 silver medals were distributed upon this occasion. Seven years later, the fine one-piece bronze casting of the statue was installed. Referred to dismissively by Mexicans as El Caballito (“the little horse”), the monument was moved, for its safety, to the grounds of the University of Mexico in 1824. Moved again to its present location on the Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare of Mexico City, in 1852, El Caballito remains an impressive landmark to this day. The principal reference work for items of this kind, from which the information here has been drawn, is Medals of Mexico, Vol. 1, by Frank W. Grove (Guadalajara: the author, 1970).

Many sections of the collection in our fine new vault await attention. As we hear from you in the future, we will certainly have occasion to make many new observations and learn ever more about the wealth of this collection that so many generous benefactors have built for the enjoyment and enlightenment of posterity.

Islamic Curator’s News (Summer 2004)

by Michael Bates

The Islamic coinage of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, and their contemporaries, came to the fore this year at a conference on June 25, shortly after taking occupation of our new Fulton Street building. Seven speakers and some twenty other participants considered various aspects of the coinage of the Muslim world from Spain to Afghanistan and from AD 700 to about 950. The meeting was co-sponsored and supported by the Middle East Medievalists group.

The meeting began with a survey lecture by ANS Curator of Islamic Coins Michael L. Bates, who has been working on a narrative history of the caliphal era for some three decades. In his attempt to summarize the broad conclusions of his work, he organized his presentation around two axes.


Damascus dirham of 79 (AD 699) (ANS 1987.141.2), gift of Roger Kuntz).

First, chronologically, the two and a half centuries after the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik’s introduction of purely inscriptional Islamic coinage in AD 697 saw the evolution and definition of a standard Muslim coin type and inscriptions that endured long after the definitive fall of the caliphate as a political entity in 1258. Elements introduced by Abd al-Malik are still present on the coinage of some Muslim countries today. The new Islamic type of 697 established the basic design format of classical Islamic coins, with several horizontal lines of inscription surrounded by circular inscriptions on both sides. The only non-verbal elements were divisions or borders between and outside the inscriptions. The coins were anonymous, being struck, as stated on the coin, bism Allah, “in the name of God,” not by mere human authority. The important inscriptions, put together from phrases in the Qur’an, proclaimed the unity of God and the supremacy of Muhammad as His last messenger, and a long reverse inscription countered the Christian doctrine of God as Father and as Son. This last reverse inscription was replaced by the Abbasids immediately on their overthrow of the Umayyad caliphate in 750 by three words restating the position of Muhammad as messenger of God. In 763, for the first time, an official of the caliphate, al-Mahdi the son of the caliph al-Mansur, placed his title on the silver dirhams minted under his authority. This innovation accompanied, and proclaimed, the adoption in that year by al-Mahdi and his father of official honorifics, to wit, “the Mahdi” or expected lawgiver at the end of time, and al-Mansur, “the victor,” who, in many eschatological narratives, was to precede the Mahdi. They were the first caliph and successor to use such titles, which were standard henceforth for all caliphs.


Rayy dirham of 145 (AD 763) (ANS 1958.222.10, purchase).

Al-Mahdi’s name appeared, however, only on dirhams issued under his authority as governor of Khurasan, the East, and later on dirhams of Armenia and Arran when he was given those provinces. The innovation opened the way for many others to put their names on dirhams and on some gold dinars, but in every case, those named were governors with administrative authority over the places where the coins were struck, even if they also had high offices in the central administration. Even the caliphs themselves were named only in some provinces at some times and not elsewhere, suggesting perhaps in these cases direct administration of the province through a subordinate agent of the caliph rather than assignment of the province to a magnate of the family or state. In many cases, a hierarchy of officials are named on a single issue, each with his proper nomenclature, leading to exceedingly long and crowded inscriptions in an extremely mannered cramped epigraphy.

The caliph al-Ma’mun and his wazir al-Fadl b. Sahl began to bring an end to the resulting diversity and ugliness of Abbasid coinage while al-Amin was still caliph in Baghdad and al-Ma’mun was only in control of the eastern part of the caliphate assigned to him by his father. Although their changes were introduced piecemeal, the result, by 822 in Baghdad, was a caliphal coinage that was completely uniform. Dinars and dirhams previously had essentially the same inscriptions, but with minor textual differences and in a different arrangement. Henceforth both currencies had identical inscriptions, except for the denomination. Different mints previously had different policies as to the names and nomenclature of officials; this diversity was eliminated on the new coins because they were anonymous, returning to the example of Abd al-Malik. All mints now had the same inscriptions in the same arrangement. In fact, a variety of evidence indicates that the dies for the few mints that remained in operation were made in Baghdad and distributed to outlying mints, from Egypt to Samarqand; this system seems to have remained in function for more than a century.


Dinar of Madinat al-Salam (Baghdad), 222 (AD 837) (ANS 1971.49.158, gift of E.P. Newman).

Anonymity did not last long. The next caliph, al-Ma’mun’s brother al-Mu`tasim billah, put his title on the coins, but with the difference that the form and position of the name were now standardized, in the last line of the reverse central field inscriptions. Al-Mutasim’s son al-Mutawakkil added the name of his chosen successor as the last line of the obverse central field. Over the course of the next century, all successors-apparent were named on the coins, always in the same location, as well as a very few wazirs, some provincial governors of note, and at the end of the era, three warlords who achieved dictatorial power. Thus was created the standard Sunni Abbasid coin type that was used everywhere in the caliphate until it was destroyed by the Mongols. The military men, like the Samanids, Buyids, Ghaznavids or Seljuqs, were named on the coins as subordinates of the caliphate, even though their power was real and absolute, that of the caliphs merely nominal; and the religious inscriptions of the coins of these different realms were virtually always identical and in the same arrangement. All these amirs, sultans, and shahanshahs respected the caliphs’ right of sikka, the right to be acknowledged as sovereign on the coinage; not to do so would have indicated religious as well as political rebellion, as it did in the case of the Fatimid caliphs and the Zaydi imams.

Second, geographically, Bates emphasized the importance of regional, provincial, and municipal variations within the canon of the standard type, and sometimes outside it. Importantly, until al-Ma’mun’s reforms, there were regional and local variations in the mass of the mithqal, the standard weight for the gold dinar in the west and the old Sasanian-type silver dirham in the eastern caliphate; and different ways of relating the weight of the new silver dirhams to the standard mithqal of each region. It appears that part of al-Ma’mun’s changes was the establishment of a uniform mithqal for the weight of the dinar, and a standard ratio of 7/10 for the weight of the dirham in relation to the mithqal—a relationship that became canonical as a part of Islamic religious law. There were also variations in fineness standard from province to province, yet to be fully elucidated.

The copper fals coinage of the caliphate was always non-standard and local or regional, with many officials’ names not found on the precious metal issues. In the middle of the ninth century, copper minting, except in certain peripheral areas, largely ceased in the caliphate, a phenomenon yet to be explained satisfactorily. There were provinces and regions where older coinages continued on for decades, such as the Bukhar-Khuda coinage of Bukhara; the Tabaristan dirhams of Sasanian type; the Aghlabid dinars and dirhams that continued the coin types of the first Abbasid era, ignoring al-Ma’mun’s reforms, and passed some of the features of those issues on to the Fatimids in the tenth century; and the coinage of the Umayyad amirs of Spain that preserved the original dirham type of Abd al-Malik until the end of the ninth century. The glass balance weights and heavy weights of Egypt are an essential part of the monetary history of the caliphates.

This wide-ranging introductory lecture was followed by five presentations on narrower topics. Roger L. Martinez, a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Texas, Austin, gave a paper entitled “In the Name of God: Authority and Accommodation in the Early Medieval Iberian Islamic Coinage,” which used two Arab-Latin coins of Spain to illustrate Arab policy toward the Christian inhabitants in the years of the conquest of the peninsula from AD 711 to 716.

Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Preiss from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, spoke on “The Governorships of Ibrahim b. Salih,” who governed Egypt twice, under al-Mahdi and again under Harun, and at other times governed parts of Syria. The coins with his name seem to come only from Egypt, and have no indication of date, leaving their attribution to Ibrahim’s first or second term uncertain. In the discussion, it was suggested that their fabric might solve the puzzle, since the coppers of Egypt were reduced in size and weight after the introduction of gold coinage there in al-Rashid’s first year.

Peter Lampinen, a familiar figure at the ANS Islamic conferences and other meetings of the same kind, reported on caliphate coins from Caesarea in Palestine, under the title “The Islamic Renewal: Caesarea Maritima in Abbasid and Fatimid Times.” In recent seasons, the excavation of the settlement areas of the earlier Islamic era has begun, augmenting the finds of interesting coins of the caliphates.

Dr. Deborah Tor, an alumna of the 1999 ANS Graduate Seminar, recently a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and now about to take up a Lectureship at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, called her paper “Action in Andaraba, c. 900; Or, What Coins from the Andaraba Mint Reveal about the Real State of the Samanid Polity,” which examined the frequent changes in the hierarchy of rulers on Andaraba dirhams around the turn of the tenth century. Andaraba is a town in north-central Afghanistan, not far from the rich silver mines of Panjhir, “the mountain of silver.” The coins reflect the power struggle between the Banijurids of Balkh, who were the nominal local lords of Andarab, the Samanids in distant Nishapur, and the Abbasid caliphate far away in Baghdad, providing information not found in any other historical source.

Teresa Bernheimer of Oxford, who held a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, in the past semester, spoke on “The Coinage of ‘Abdallah b. Mu’awiya, 127-130: Some Reconsiderations.” Abd Allah b. Mu’awiya’s coinage was last treated in a magisterial ANS Graduate Seminar paper by Carl Wurtzel, published in ANS Museum Notes 1978. Since then, a new dirham issue of Jayy, 127, has appeared, exemplified by Klat 268b, with a longer quotation of the Qu’ranic verse, “say, I ask of you no wage for it except loyalty to the kinfolk,” that is standard on issues of the adherents of the Prophet’s family as the rightful imams, adding the words “and whoever distributes good will be rewarded for it with good.” This is evidently the earliest of Abd Allah b. Mu’awiya’s issues, and indicates more clearly his ideological appeal.

The final plenary lecture by Professor Stuart Sears, organizer of the conference, discussed “The Politics of Money: the Caliph Abd al-Malik b. Marwan’s Inscription of Qur’anic Verse.” Abd al-Malik used excerpts from the Qur’an on the new Islamic coinage, on the Dome of the Rock, and elsewhere in new ways, emphasizing aspects of Islam that had previously been left in the background. He was the first to state the Prophethood of Muhammad on coins, and to use verses proclaiming the primacy of Islam as a new religion superior to and supreme over all others. He also chose quotations directly challenging the legitimacy of the remnant of the Roman Empire in Constatinople.

About twenty persons took part in the conference, and at the end of the afternoon the group adjourned to the South Street Seaport for pitchers of beer al fresco.

Greek Acquisitions (Summer 2004)

by Peter Van Alfen

Shortly before our move downtown, ANS Trustee Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss donated yet another batch of choice coins to the Greek cabinet, including a rare Cypriot issue from an as-yet unknown mint. The coin was found with the famed Asyut hoard (no. 817 in Martin Price and Nancy Waggoner’s 1975 study of the hoard) and features the head of a roaring lion on the obverse and an exquisitely detailed octopus on the reverse. The Cypriot character ka in the upper right hand corner of the reverse field may one day help lead us to the mint that produced the coin; Dr. Michel Amandry, our visiting scholar, informs me that his department in Paris recently purchased a similar coin, but with a lengthier inscription that could be a personal name. The obverse type, the lion, as here and in its various other guises, was exceedingly common on Archaic and later coinages, particularly those from Asia Minor and farther east. As a symbol of royal might the lion on coins represented not only the hegemonic Persian kings, but also those they overthrew, like the king of Lydia, and those who became their vassals, like the kings of Phoenicia and Cyprus. More difficult to explain, however, is the octopus.


Early fifth century double shekel from Cyprus (Kourion?) with roar lion obverse and octopus reverse (ANS 2004.18.6, gift of Arnold-Peter Weiss).

While certainly eye-catching and often quite floral in presentation, the octopus was not an especially common coin type in antiquity. Eretria, one of the four major cities on the large Aegean island of Euboea, appears to have been the first to use the type when it started to mint staters and smaller denominations with an octopus reverse around 525 BC. Because of the stylistic similarity between the creatures on the coins, the esteemed George F. Hill argued that the Cypriot octopus was an imitation of the Eretrian version; presumably the Cypriot coins were minted when Cypriot cities aided the Euboean and other Aegean cities during the Ionian Revolt (499-497 BC). Hill’s theory was rejected by Price and Waggoner in the Aysut study (p. 111); they proposed instead a date in the 480s for the coin. At some point in the mid-fifth century, decades after the Aegean conflicts of the 490-480s, the octopus appears again in the western Greek world, first as a reverse type on a silver (then bronze) litra of Syracuse, then as a reverse type on bronze fractions of Messana (c. 430 BC), and as an ancillary symbol on fractions from Acragas. Perhaps as early as the fifth century, but likely sometime later, the wealthy Etruscan city of Populonia on the Italian mainland also minted octopuses as a reverse type and may have been responsible too for the more elaborate depiction of an octopus emerging from an amphora found on a large silver 20 litra piece in the ANS collection.


Half-drachm of Eretria, c. 500 BC (ANS 1978.82.4, purchase).


Tetrans of Syracuse, c. 425 BC (ANS 1944.100.55828, E.T. Newell bequest).


20 asses of Populonia, c. 200 BC (ANS 1957.172.33, Hoyt Miller bequest).

Why any of these cities chose the octopus as a type (and almost exclusively as a reverse type) is difficult to determine; as far as our sources indicate the octopus played no role in the founding tales or mythology of the cities. However, the cities that minted the octopuses (presumably the Cypriot coin too) shared a common trait: all were located on the sea and all possessed ports; Eretria and Syracuse especially were known for the strength of their navies. Other denizens of the deep, like crabs, dolphins, clams, and even half-man hippocamps often appear on other series of coins from these cities too, like those from Acragas and Syracuse, where the depictions could have played an important symbolic function within the city. The crab at Acragas, for example, is thought to represent the city’s eponymous river god. An octopus could simply represent a city’s close ties to the sea, either as a favorite food (the octopus was a delicacy then as now and was even reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities), or as one of the more distinctive creatures from the sea. Artistically the octopus makes an interesting subject, something vase painters recognized at an early date (see, for example, the depictions of the octopus on numerous second-millennium BC Minoan vases).


20 asses from an unknown Estrucan mint (Populonia?) showing an octopus emerging from an amphora on the obverse (ANS 1949.100.10, purchase).

As tasty or as art-worthy as the octopus might have been, however, literary sources make it clear that the ancients looked upon the octopus with a great deal more reservation, perhaps even fear, than we might otherwise suspect. These perceptions of the creature could certainly have informed the choice of the coin type and what it represented. The octopus was known as a crafty and dangerous animal (Pliny ix.90) with a venomous bite (Aelian v.44) and tenacious grip (Ovid Met. iv.366). Shifty men were compared to the octopus because it was known to change its color to match the seafloor below when threatened (Athenaeus 513d). More alarming was the belief that because they so loved grapes, the eight-legged creatures would venture out of the sea at night to steal the fruit off the vines (Aristotle HA 622 a 31). Most troubling were the tales of immense octopuses with arms 300 feet long (Pliny ix.90); one such monster, so the tale goes (Aelian xiii.6), raided the spice merchants’ quayside warehouse in Puteoli. Perhaps the octopus then was not an innocuous symbol, by rather one that conveyed a sense of dread and respect much like representations of the lion did. A lion and an octopus on one coin, as on our new Cypriot acquisition, might have represented royal might, not only within terrestrial domains, but at sea as well.