Eight Antoniniani of Claudius Gothicus, 268-270 CE

Marcus Aurelius Claudius (213-270 CE) was an Illyrian of modest birth who worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman army during the tumultuous third century. According to the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, he was a fierce fighter and able commander who eventually became caught up in the imperial intrigues of the day. Claudius was commander of the the reserves of a force led by the reigning Emperor Gallienus in the summer of 268 that was besieging Milan, where the would-be usurper Aureolus had taken refuge. The supposed inefficacy of Gallienus as a ruler led to a conspiracy that ended in his assassination.

Worcester Art Museum, 1915.24
Worcester Art Museum, 1915.24

Whether or not Claudius was involved remains unclear, but he was the one chosen by the army to succeed Gallienus. In what was perhaps a related move, the Scriptores Historiae Augustae reports that the soldiers were promised twenty aurei each for their support. Claudius quickly made peace with Aueolus and then just as quickly betrayed and killed him. He then turned his attention to one of the many external threats facing the Roman Empire, namely an invasion of Pannonia by the Goths. It was in this context that Claudius earned the surname Gothicus (i.e. conqueror of the Goths) by which he is now commonly known after destroying a large Gothic army at the Battle of Naissus. Claudius thereafter quashed an incursion of Germanic tribes at the Battle of Lake Benacus and successfully campaigned to restore territories that had been lost by his predecessors to the Empire. The celebrated reign of Claudius Gothicus was ultimately brief, as he was felled by the so-called “Plague of Cyprian” (probably smallpox) in early 270.

The antoninianus was a new domination of silver coin that was introduced amidst the financial crises that gripped the Roman Empire in the early third century. Over the course of time it was debased until it was mostly bronze. As you can see by the mixed patinas of the eight antoniniani issued under the authority of Claudius at the top of this post, the metal content varied.


The common obverse features a radiate bust of the Emperor and Roman Imperial Coinage lists dozens of reverse types. The example above (RIC 168) was minted in Mediolanum (Milan) and its reverse features Spes, the personification of hope, holding a flower.

Matthew Wittmann

Gold Medal of Martin Luther, 1521

One of the treasures in the American Numismatic Society’s collection is a unique gold medal depicting the German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546). It came to the ANS by way of Alastair Martin, an art collector, ace tennis player, and longtime benefactor of many metropolitan cultural institutions.

Klosterneuburg Monastery, 1774
Klosterneuburg Monastery, 1774

The medal was formerly part of the collection at the Klosterneuburg Monastery,   an Augustinian abbey in Austria that has a museum of Gothic and Baroque sculpture and paintings. Its provenance beyond that is uncertain, as is much about the circumstances of its production. The medal dates to 1521, a momentous year in the nascent Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther being excommunicated for refusing to recant his writings. Luther’s 1517 publication of Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum (The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) had provided the initial catalyst for the Reformation by attacking clerical abuses and the practice of selling of indulgences in particular.

In April 1521, Luther was ordered to appear at the Diet of Worms, a formal deliberative assembly of the Holy Roman Empire convened to address the ongoing religious upheaval. Luther refused to disavow his writings and beliefs, which led to the Edict of Worms condemning him as a heretic and forbidding “anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther.” Despite this declaration, Luther had wide support in Germany and this wonderful medal captures something of the esteem with which he was regarded.

ANS, 1955.30.1
ANS, 1955.30.1

This obverse is supposed to have been the work of Hans Glimm, a goldsmith from Nuremberg. This attribution derives from the fact that a few known lead casts have the monogram HR under the bust, although it obviously does not appear on this gold specimen. Whomever designed the obverse, it is clear that the depiction of Luther in profile was based upon an engraving by the painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553) Luther as an Augustinian Friar, with Cap, 1521 Engraving, 8 3/16 × 5 13/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 (30.12.4) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/434162
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Luther as an Augustinian Friar, with Cap, 1521 | Engraving, 8 3/16 × 5 13/16 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 (30.12.4)

The spread of Luther’s ideas and the general success of the Reformation was closely tied to the evolution of the printing press, which enabled both images of Luther and his writings to circulate widely. Cranach worked in the state of Saxony, a center of the tumult, and painted or engraved portraits of many of the Reformation’s leaders. He was also an enthusiastic supporter and close friend of Martin Luther, who as the engraving and medal suggest, cut a rather stout figure. Cranach’s early print was suggestive of the portrait medallions that were popular in Renaissance art, so it hardly seems surprising that it served as a model for the production of an actual medal. Incidentally, Cranach often signed his works with a black winged serpent holding a ruby ring in its jaws, which you can see at bottom right if you click to enlarge the image. The legend that wreathes Luther’s bust reads:


This can be roughly translated as : “If Luther will be deserving of any heresies, Christ also will be deserving of this crime.” 

The reverse makes the connection between Luther and Jesus Christ explicit. It is thought to be the work of Peter Flötner, a sculptor, metalsmith, and printmaker who was a prominent figure in Nuremberg’s flourishing in the arts.

ANS, 1955.30.1
ANS, 1955.30.1

The bust of Christ is surmounted by a holy dove and flanked by verses in German from the Gospels of John. On the left is John 1:29 : “Christ, I am the lamb that taketh away the sin of the world.” On the right is John 4:16 : “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The verses underscores Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Contra established Catholic teaching, Luther believed that salvation was a gift received from God, not something that could be achieved by good works and holiness or, in the case of indulgences, bought.

This wonderful gold medal  is both an exemplary work of Renaissance medallic art and a powerful piece of pro-Reformation propaganda that explicitly suggests that if Luther was guilty of heresy, Christ would be as well.

Matthew Wittmann

Sources: Henry Grunthal, “A Contemporary Gold Medal of Martin Luther,” ANS Museum Notes (1956): 201-203.

Mysteries from the Vault: H.R.C. Clock Token

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

With one of our older mysteries recently solved, it seemed to be time for a new one!

This token is 26 mm in diameter and weighs 4.19 grams, with a die axis of 12. One side has a  table top still-life scene wreathed by Roman clock numbers; the other is embossed with the initials H.R.C. and the number 99. It was purchased by the American Numismatic Society as part of a lot of 200 tokens from Schindler’s Antique Shop of Charleston, South Carolina. Click to enlarge the images if you need a closer look.

ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

Dar al-Kutub: Collection of the Egyptian National Library

dar_al-kutubThe American Numismatic Society is pleased to announce, in collaboration with Dr. Jere Bacharach of the University of Washington and Dr. Sherif Anwar of Cairo University, the debut of Dar al-Kutub, a digital publication and database of the non-hoard numismatic collection of the Egyptian National Library.

The catalog consists of more than 6,500 objects, ranging from late Roman glassware and pre-Islamic Sasanian coinage to the modern Egyptian coinage of Anwar Sadat. The collection is particularly strong in Medieval Islamic coinage across all major dynasties. The catalog differs from its predecessors in a number of ways. Most notably, the collection has been photographed in color, with inscriptions read and transcribed from these images. The database includes references to the 1982 catalog of the collection undertaken by Dr. Norman D. Nicol.

Barquq, AH 784 / CE 1382-1383 Egyptian National Library, 2830
Barquq, Burji Mamluks, AH 784 / CE 1382-1383
Egyptian National Library, 2830

The interface is available in both English and Arabic, owing to translations provided by Dr. Sherif Anwar. The multilingual interface is driven by numismatic concepts defined by Nomisma.org. Over the course of this project, more than 700 Islamic entities—people, dynasties, corporate entities, mints, etc.—were created in Nomisma, with labels in English, Arabic, and other languages, forming the technical foundation for the aggregation of other Islamic numismatic collections. Geographic coordinates have been included for the majority of Islamic mints, permitting the mapping of the Egyptian National Library collection.

Mint Map

According to Ethan Gruber, the ANS Director of Data Science, “the effort undertaken in defining Islamic entities in a Linked Open Data environment will make it possible to improve the Islamic department in the ANS database, and may make Islamic type corpora similar to Online Coins of the Roman Empire possible in the future.” Like other ANS digital projects, the data are freely available with an Open Database License, and are published in the Numishare framework.

The team wishes to thank the American Research Center in Egypt for their funding of this project, and acknowledge the contributions of all of the individuals named here.

Persian Silver of Judah


The first coins with Hebrew inscriptions were struck during the period when the Achaemenid or Persian Empire ruled ancient Judah. It seems likely that the earliest of those coins were struck at the Philistian mint of Gaza between 539 and 333 BCE. Later, only small denominations were struck in Judah, quite likely in or very near to Jerusalem. These are part of what is known as “Yehud” coinage because most of them were inscribed with the paleo-Hebrew legend YHD, although some carry the name Hezekiah and one very rare variety has the name of a priest named Yochanan.

It was quite a feat for coins to be minted at all in this area, which was rather out of the way in that time, and had no great technological capabilities. The mints in ancient Judah most likely resembled small blacksmith or jewelry shops, but must have been in the precinct of a fort or a palace because of the need for security in the transport and storage of uncoined silver. The early coins minted in Judah were patterned after Athenian coins and struck some time before 333 BCE when Alexander the Great brought an end to the First Persian Empire.

The denominations of the coins are uncertain. However, this group seems to be related to the known weight of the Judean shekel, which was 11.4 grams around 800 BCE during the Iron Age. The two denominations of the earliest small silver coins struck in Judah weigh around half a gram or a quarter of a gram. These weights correspond to approximately 1/24th and 1/48th of the known weight of the shekel. Archaeologists believe that there were 24 gerahs in each shekel at the time, although Exodus 30:13 informs us that “the shekel is twenty gerahs.” This discrepancy may be due to a slightly different division of the shekel in this earlier period.

Half a gram is very light and small for a coin. Manufacture of such tiny objects presented challenges because the small size of the dies that were created to strike these coins made them very fragile. The diminutive dies were subject to heavy wear and susceptible to breakage. Numismatists today can track the wearing and breaking of the dies if they can identify a sufficient number of specimens.

ANS, 1999.32.45
ANS, 1999.32.45

The most common of the early Yehud coins is a type with an obverse portrait of Athena and the reverse portrait of an owl, just like the classic Athenian tetradrachm. But instead of the AΘE ethnic inscription for Athens, the coin carries the paleo-Hebrew script YHD. The coin measures about 8 mm in diameter and weighs just half a gram, and most extant specimens, as with the example above, are in rough shape. It is estimated that this type represents a full 15% of the Yehud coins in existence.


Credit: Don Simon
Credit: Don Simon

While I am on the subject of ancient Jewish coins, I would be remiss not to note the passing of Israeli numismatist Shraga Qedar, whom many in the ANS community knew well. Sadly he died last month, and my tribute to him can be found here.

David Hendin

Amasa Delano at the Lima Mint, 1805

coverLast weekend I finished reading Greg Grandin’s The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2015), which is an elaborate retelling of the true history that inspired Herman Melville’s famed novella “Benito Cereno.” Originally serialized in Putnam’s Monthly in the fall of 1855, Melville’s story is a fictionalized account of an 1805 encounter between a New England sealing vessel and a Spanish ship that had been taken over by the slaves it was carrying near Santa María Island off the coast of Chile.

The drama of the historical episode and Melville’s story derives from the fact the American captain Amasa Delano boarded the disordered Spanish vessel without knowing that the slaves had seized it. He spent most of a day rendering aid and touring the ship with its captain, Benito Cerreño and his ‘personal slave’ Mori, who never left his ostensible master’s side. Although some strange behavior arouses suspicion, it is not until he was departing that the ruse was revealed when the Spanish captain desperately leapt from his ship into Delano’s departing long boat screaming about the rebellion. Although it quickly cut its lines in an attempt to escape, Delano dispatched two heavily-armed boats that violently retook the vessel from its captors, killing both slaves and some of the surviving Spanish crew in the process.

Delano’s rather laconic account of the affair and documents relating to it were published in his 1817 memoir, which formed the basis for Melville’s story. Grandin’s book ably places the whole episode in the larger context of New World slavery and offers a narrative that effectively intertwines the history of Spanish America, African slavery, and the United States. Although the grand themes lead to a few rather ponderous passages, Grandin’s extensive research and fine writing ensure that Empire of Necessity is a rewarding read.

Amasa Delano
Amasa Delano

In any case, it also led me to peruse the book that Delano produced about a decade after he returned to the United States. Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (1817) is a six-hundred-page tome that chronicles his three voyages around the globe, the last of which was as captain of the Perseverance (1803–1808). The book provides a wonderful, if occasionally disturbing (check out the passage where some of the crew drowns), picture of the early China trade and the Pacific maritime world of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. As usual here on Pocket Change, we are exploring Delano’s Narrative because of a largely unknown numismatic angle, one that shines a light on the workings of the Lima mint. Part of the reason that Delano and his crew risked life and limb to recapture Cerreño’s ship was that they expected a reward for their actions. When colonial officials in Santiago failed to satisfy Delano’s demands, he sailed for Lima in the fall of 1805 in the hope of getting a hearing with the Viceroy of Peru, Gabriel de Avilés Itúrbide. Avilés took a liking to Delano, but any settlement required extensive negotiations, and during the interim he was given free rein of the city.

LM- Casa Moneda PS 132One of the places Delano visited was the Casa de Moneda de Lima, the city’s mint, which was established in 1568 to coin the silver that was pouring out of the Peruvian Andes. The building that he visited, and which still stands today, was opened in 1758 after a violent earthquake destroyed the earlier structure. Delano began his tour in the area where the gold ore was processed. Here he observed slaves performing the toxic work of refining the gold ore by kneading the doughy mixture with their bare feet and separating out the gold with quicksilver or mercury. After the metal was melted and cast into bars, Delano continues:

After the ore is drawn off in this way in bars, according to the dimensions of the mould, they are taken to a room further to the right in which the grand water works are fixed; in this room were more than ten pairs of rollers arranged very much like those that sugar cane is run through in the West Indies, made horizontal, and gradually decreasing in space. The bars of gold and silver are run through, between these rollers, from one to the other, until they are laminated to near the thickness of a dollar, and the gold to that of a doubloon, having by that time the requisite width. By the time they are nearly reduced to a right thickness they are more than four feet long, the silver having a similar appearance to iron hoops. They are then taken to another room still to the right, and run through a plate which brings them to an exact thickness, at which time they are wide enough to cut out the dollar. After this they are passed under a sharp steel trepan of a roundish figure, hollow within, and of porportionable diameter to shape and cut the piece at the same time. This instrument is fixed at the lower end of a screw which is made with a very large worm; this causes it to descend very forcibly, and when the laminated bar is held under it, every time the screw is turned it comes down and cuts a piece out of the silver the exact size of a dollar; but when a gold laminated bar drawn to a proper thickness, is placed under it, the screw is supplied with another instrument to pierce out a piece the exact size of a doubloon. They are next milled by means of running them through a machine that is only the thickness of a dollar, which is confined edge ways, so that by turning a crank it will roll the dollars through, putting at the same time the mill on the edge.

With the edges of the planchets now serrated or milled, the blanks were weighed, corrected as needed with pins, and then moved into the coining room. There a bronze stamping press was used to produce the final product. The engraving below is from instructions issued in the 1770s by the mint in Potosí, but the machinery used in Lima was similar, if not identical.

Reproduced from H. F. Burzio, Le Ceca de la Villa Imperial de Potosí la Mondeda Colonial (1945)
Reproduced from H. F. Burzio, Le Ceca de la Villa Imperial de Potosí la Moneda Colonial (1945)

Delano described the final step of the coining process as follows:

The master set the people to work at coining dollars and doubloons, to shew me the last process, as I had previously seen all but that. The method is, the two impressions are cut on two pieces of steel, about the size of a blacksmith’s sledge hammer, and not very unlike it in shape, the impressions being cut on the face of each; these two pieces are fixed, one in a frame made of wood and iron on the ground, fastened very strongly with screws, with the impression upwards; the other piece is fixed at the lower end of a large screw, five inches in diameter and four feet long, with the impression side down, and placed directly over the one that is fixed on the ground, all parts of the machine being framed together in a remarkable strong manner. An iron tiller, large bar, is put on the head of the screw in the same manner a boat’s tiller is put over the head of the rudder, the hole for the screw being in the middle of the tiller, which is twelve feet long, having each end of it loaded with about fifty weight of lead and ropes four or five feet long fastened to each end for the men to poll by, who sit down and take hold of the ropes, being from five to seven in number. The man who puts the dollars under has a hole sunk on one side of his work for him to sit in. When the men were all called to their stations and a thousand dollars emptied near the work, the master stepped to the pile and took a handful which he brought to me to inspect, and shewed me where the pins were put in to make up the weight, which were very plain to be seen. One man who stands up at one end of the tiller throws it back and raises the screw. A piece of wood was taken out from between the two impressions that serves to keep them apart and a dollar put under in its stead, on which the screw is turned forward with the full strength of the men placed at the tiller, by which it comes down with incredible force on the dollar. The man at the opposite end of the tiller then heaves it back and raises the screw. The dollar is brushed off by means of a piece of iron twelve inches long, of the thickness and width of an iron hoop, which he constantly holds in his hand, and another dollar is put under. They were handed to me to see how fair and deep the impressions were made, and how completely the pins were pressed in; but I could see on some of them where the pin was. This may often be seen in Spanish dollars, if closely inspected. After showing me as many as I wished to see, they set the screw to work as fast as possible. They could easily finish fifteen in a minute, or one in four seconds. The process with doubloons is the same as with dollars. The pressure of the screw when it comes down on the coin I should imagine to equal a great number of tons, perhaps one hundred.

The silver dollars that Delano observed being minted were 8-real coins or ‘pieces of eight,’ which circulated throughout the Americas. Below is an 1805 specimen from the Lima mint.

ANS 1967.113.728
ANS 1967.113.728

These were known as Spanish dollars in the United States, and they were undoubtedly the most common silver coin there at the time. Indeed, after 1804 the US Mint at Philadelphia was not even producing silver dollars. The doubloon that Delano refers to was the colloquial name for a gold coined valued at two escudos.

ANS 1967.281.26
ANS 1967.281.26

This example dating to 1800 is also from the Lima mint, which you can tell by the mintmark on the reverse. The mark changed over time but in that era Lima Mint Details it resembled the overlapped letters M and E. The Lima mint continued to strike coinage in this mold until 1821, when General José de San Martín declared Peru’s independence from the Spanish Empire. In 1822, new 8-real coins were struck with the legend PERU LIBRE and a obverse that featured the allegorical figures of justice and virtue. The mint remains in operation today, and for a fine article with many photographs detailing its history and environs see Glen S. Murray’s piece in The Numismatist (July 1980).

Delano’s four-page account of his 1805 visit stands out as perhaps the most complete contemporary account of the workings of the Lima mint in English. The full text of the passage is transcribed below the fold and is well worth reading for the wealth of detail it provides. One final numismatic note to his narrative concerns the eventual reward for the “rescue” of the Spanish ship. When Delano returned to Boston in late July 1807, he received a letter and a medal from the King of Spain, Charles IV, for his service. Delano described it as a “gold medal, having his majesty’s likeness on one side, and on the other the inscription, Reward of Merit.” The ANS has one of these medals in silver, and the gold version was no doubt of a similar, albeit smaller, design.

ANS 0000.999.33062

Matthew Wittmann

Continue reading Amasa Delano at the Lima Mint, 1805

Chinese Notes Update: Beware of Works Based on a Fraud

Recently on Pocket Change I wrote about Chinese Ming paper notes. Afterward, I was pleased to hear from an expert on the subject, Bruce Smith, who has been studying Chinese coins and paper money for forty years. Most of the information he conveyed comes from a talk he gave at the Chicago International Coin Festival in April 2013.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The earliest western description of the Ming notes that Bruce could find comes from The General History of China, a translation of a 1736 French work by Jean Baptiste DuHalde that was a compilation of reports by Jesuit missionaries. Early descriptions can also be found in articles by John Williams for the Numismatic Chronicle (1863 and 1864) and in two Journal Asiatique articles, “Sur l’Origine du Papier Monnaie” by Jules Henri Klaproth (1822) and “Memoire sur le Systeme Monetaire des Chinoises” by Edouard C. Biot (1837).

Chinese book 0535_001In the twentieth century, much of the writing on early Chinese notes, including the article by John Sandrock (parts 1&2) cited in my original post, was based on the research of Andrew McFarland Davis in the 1910s. Davis, an authority on U.S. Colonial notes, stepped outside of his area of expertise when he published descriptions and illustrations of early Chinese notes taken directly from Ch’uan Pu T’ung Chih, a work supposedly compiled in the early nineteenth century. The resulting study by Davis and translator Kojiro Tomito, Ancient Chinese Paper Money as Described in a Chinese Work on Numismatics (1918), was used by subsequent writers such as Henry Ramsden and Howard Bowker. Unfortunately, according to Bruce, the Chinese book on which it is based is a fraud. “All of the notes listed and illustrated in the work are bogus fantasies—they never existed,” he says, so any work based on Davis’s writings are suspect, including the Sandrock article.

Incidentally, one of the frustrating things about the online version of the Sandrock article is the absence of a date or the name of the journal where it was originally published. Bruce cleared that up too. A brief article by Sandrock on topic appeared in the Currency Collector (v.4 n.1, Spring 1963). The source of the online version appears to be Numismatics International’s NI Bulletin (part 1, Nov. 2003; part 2, Dec. 2003).

ANS 0000.999.34324
ANS 0000.999.34324

Finally, Bruce also points out that, while the Ming one kwan (or guan) notes were indeed first made in the late fourteenth century, they continued to be printed and circulated into the sixteenth, so surviving examples, including those in the ANS collection, could come from the later period.

I would like to thank Bruce for contributing so much on this fascinating topic.

David Hill


Bvlgari 4The ANS has a selection of rare Roman coins on display as part of an exhibition at Bulgari’s flagship store in New York City. “BVLGARI + ROME: Eternal Inspiration” reflects on the jeweler’s long association with the “Eternal City,” where the original shop was opened in 1884 by Sotirios Boulgaris. The exhibition includes a mix of contemporary jewelry and ancient Roman artifacts and coins.

Bulgari-JewelryBulgari has from time to time also used actual ancient coins in its line as with this choker embedded with a tetradrachm  of Alexander the Great.  New York magazine has a wonderful slide show of some of the items on display.

The American Numismatic Society loan comprises eighteen Roman coins, most notably a gold treveri medallion from AD 293–294. The medallion features busts of four Roman emperors; Diocletian and Galerius on the obverse and Maximian and Constantius on the reverse, each wearing the imperial mantle.

ANS 1967.153.38
ANS 1967.153.38

It was part of the so-called Beaurains Treasure, a rich hoard of Roman artifacts discovered in 1922 near the city of Arras in Northern France. The ANS holds over fifty pieces from that hoard, which you can learn more about here.

ANS 1944.100.4554
ANS 1944.100.4554

One of the other notable coins on display is a denarius of the infamous assassin Marcus Junius Brutus. The image on the reverse of a pileus, a cap given to freed slaves, between two daggers underscored the belief by Brutus and his supporters that the murderous act had liberated the Roman Republic from Julius Caesar‘s tyranny. The legend EID MAR or ‘Ides of March’ commemorates the day of the deed. The coin was minted in 42-43 BCE as Brutus and his allies were raising an army in northern Greece to march on Rome in what was ultimately a failed bid to seize power. It is rare to see an ancient coin so rich in symbolism and so directly tied to a notable event. Among the other coins featured are an aureus of Sextus Pompey and a dozen or so gold solidi, which will be display at the 730 Fifth Avenue store until November 22.

Hair in the Classical World

Bellarmarine-HairThe  Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University has just opened a fascinating new exhibition with the theme of “Hair in the Classical World.” On display in the gallery are an assortment of objects and images from the Bronze Age through late Antiquity, including a diverse array of sculptures and, of course, coins. As the introduction to the exhibition notes, hair is particularly “resonant of cultural identity,” and the way that it was styled and sported in antiquity served a variety of different purposes. Among other things, hairstyles signified social position, served as a medium of cultural exchange, and played an important role in various rituals and rites of passage.


One of the most compelling aspects of the exhibition is its manifest interdisciplinarity. Any consideration of hairstyles must necessarily draw upon a wide range of material, historical, and visual sources, and the interpretation effectively mixes insights from archaeology, art history, and cultural studies. As everything from the intricate hair pins on display to the careful texturing and arrangement of hair on the statuary suggests, hairstyles were an important means of self and artistic expression in the classical world.

Limestone bust, Cyprus, mid-5th century BCE The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Limestone head, Cyprus, mid-5th century BCE
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A significant inspiration for the exhibition was the Caryatid Hairstyling  Project, which employed a professional hairstylist and student models in an attempt to replicate the elaborate hairstyles on the famed marbles of the Erechtheion. A short film of that project is on view as part of the exhibition. While all of this might give the impression that the focus is exclusively on women, there is also material reflecting on men’s hairstyles, which at times were as elaborate as those that adorned women. Braids were one style common to boys and girls in ancient Greece. Grown out along the central part, the braid was ritually cut and dedicated to the goddess Artemis when entering adulthood.

The reason we are writing this up here is of course because coins feature prominently in the exhibition. The curators liken coins to the social media of today insomuch they were a medium through which images of hairstyles circulated and reached a wide audience.

Denarius of Augustus, ANS 1957.172.1500 | Tetradrachm of Leontini, ANS 1997.9.121
Denarius of Augustus, ANS 1957.172.1500 | Tetradrachm of Leontini, ANS 1997.9.121

The American Numismatic Society has ten coins on loan to the Bellarmine Museum for the exhibition, including a silver decadrachm from Syracuse, a denarius of Julia Domna and a gold aureus of Faustina the Younger. Coins were a form of propaganda and a way to project power in the classical world, and the variety of hairstyles captured in the portraits reflect the politics and fashion of their age. Perhaps the pièce de résistance  in terms of the coinage is a silver decadrachm that features a portrait of the water nymph Arethusa wreathed by swimming dolphins. It was minted in Syracuse between 405 and 400 BCE, when the city-state was ruled by the tyrant Dionysius. In an attempt to buttress his reputation and power, he engaged the best engravers available to produce some of the finest coinage anywhere in the Greek world.

ANS, 1964.79.21

“Hair in the Classical World” will be on view through December 18, 2015, and the Bellarmine Museum is free and open to the public (see here for hours and directions). It should also be noted that the museum will also be hosting a scholarly symposium on the subject on the afternoon of November 6. Speakers include Dr. David Konstan from New York University, author of Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (2015) and Janet Stephens, a Baltimore-based hairdresser and amateur forensic archaeologist. To pre-register for the symposium and to see more information about other public programs connected to the exhibition, head here.

Matthew Wittmann

Conflict Antiquities and the ANS

Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the American Numismatic Society, spoke about collecting coins and the conflict in Syria as part of a larger program about conflict antiquities last week. The event was sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and was hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on September 29th. As described by the State Department, the panel discussions “highlighted the connection between ISIL’s looting and trafficking of antiquities and the financing of terrorist operations . . . and forged public-private education and advocacy campaigns about best practices for museums, collectors, and auction houses around the world.” Select segments of each panel were captured on video, and the PDF remarks, presentations, and slides of many of the speakers are available on the State Department’s website.

The first of two panels featured officials from the State Department, United Nations, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, as well as the Michael Danti of the American Schools for Oriental Research. The State Department for the first time presented publicly concrete evidence that ISIL is systematically looting archaeological sites in Syria, and is profiting from selling the antiquities on the black market.

Looted Antiquities US Department of State

This is a topic that was previously explored on this blog, but the government’s presentation leaves no doubt that there has been a very organized and focused effort by ISIL to profit from the trade in antiquities. The full PDF presentation including photographic documentation of the evidence can be viewed and downloaded here.

The second panel hosted six speakers from the ANS, CBS News, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pergamon Museum, Christie’s, and eBay to discuss best-practices and communication regarding exercising thorough due diligence when buying and selling antiquities. Wartenberg’s presentation focused on the American Numismatic Society’s guidelines for the acquisition of coins, and its recommendations to its Members who collect about how to protect themselves from buying potentially looted coins. The ANS promotes and supports ethical coin collecting, but reminds buyers to exercise both caution and common sense when considering purchasing fresh coins from Syria and surrounding regions. You can read or download Wartenberg’s full presentation at the symposium.

Silver Tetradrachm of Cyme (ANS 1948.19.1171)
Silver Tetradrachm of Cyme (ANS 1948.19.1171)

On June 16, 2012, the ANS Board of Trustees ratified revised collections management policies, which include general principles, acquisition procedures, sales, loans, and deaccessioning criteria and procedures. These may be read online here and will also be published in the next edition of the ANS Magazine.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, the ANS will host various events during which Members will be given the opportunity to learn more about these issues, and to discuss them with the senior staff and administration. Details about these events will be posted on the ANS’s Events and Exhibitions webpage.

Lastly, we would like to underscore Wartenberg’s concluding remarks that the American Numismatic Society’s curatorial staff is committed to taking a more active role in raising awareness about the destruction of national heritage and the looting of antiquities, including coins. As she notes, much of this damage will be impossible to undo, but we will nevertheless work to “engage collectors, dealers, archaeologists, legislators, and law enforcement officials in a dialogue that creates a 21st-century academic discipline and hobby for serious coin collectors as it should be undertaken.”