Coinage of the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 3

Part 1 of this 3 part post was published on April 12, 2021

Part 2 of this 3 part post was published on April 13, 2021

The third and final day of the conference, chaired by Joel Allen and Liv Yarrow, was dedicated to Roman Republican coinage and its imitations in the Roman World.

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2535. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

In the first paper of the day, given by A. McCabe, building on some of his previous publications, shared a study he jointly conducted with the late Roberto Russo. He argued that there were two parallel Roman mints or workshops using the L mintmark, one associated with the city of Luceria and the other with the separate mint or workshop responsible for the LT coinage.

Figure 2. Two different mints for the L mintmark, issued in the course of the Second Punic War. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 3. Mint at Canusium, with CA mintmark. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 4. Issue with P mintmark. Courtesy of A. McCabe.

Moreover, the P-mintmarked coins were closely related to the coinage of Canusium, whose production is usually identified by the mintmark CA. The reason for the existence of these closely related issues—yet distinguished by style and weight—issues should be found in the events connected to the Second Punic War. Especially in 215–207 BC, Apulia represented a major battlefield and for this derived the necessity of several camp mints moving with the armies.

Figure 5. Overview of the RRC bronze issues with mintmarks L, L/T and CA. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 6. Find data and museums L, L-T, P, CA in bronze or silver. Courtesy of A. McCabe.

In a fascinating paper, L. Yarrow connected the production of the uncia, a very rare denomination of which only 94 specimens are known so far, to the political agenda of the moneyers.

Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.2029. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 8. Peculiarities of Roman unciae. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.
Figure 9. Connection with populist agenda? Courtesy of L. Yarrow.

Building on a passage of Cicero (On Duties 3.80) and prosopographical and metrological considerations, she convincingly argued that the production of unciae could be explained by the moneyers’ desire to be seen as addressing popular needs.

Figure 10. Overview of unciae issued by the Roman mint. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.
Figure 11. Two well known populists issuing unciae. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.

The third paper of the session, delivered by P. P. Ripollès, focused on the unofficial imitations of Roman Republican coinage produced in Spain. The RBW Collection includes the highest number of these imitations in the world and thus its contribution to their study is invaluable. In his presentation and in a  series of articles, one of which was co-authored by Rick, Ripollès argued that the Spanish imitations were not counterfeits, but should be considered a local answer to the chronic dearth of small change, caused by Rome’s irregular production of bronze denominations.

Figure 12. Spanish imitation of Roman as, late second century BC. Ripollès- Gozalbes 2016 no. 20a, Group H O19 R16. 33.1 mm. 22.79 g. ANS 2015.20.3517. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 13. Spanish imitation of Roman semis, late second century BC. Ripollès-Witschonke 2015 no. 2a, Group A O2 R2. 25 mm. 9.42 g. ANS 2015.20.3428. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

He also showed that these imitations, produced by a non-state and non-civic mint (or mints), were produced on a large scale, comparable to medium-size mints of the likes of Castulo. The scale of this phenomenon shows that the Romans were not only aware of it, but probably encouraged it.

Figure 14. Comparison between the recorded number of Spanish unofficial asses recorded and the specimens from other local mints. Courtesy of P. P. Ripollès.
Figure 15. Production of local coinages in Spain. Courtesy of P. P. Ripollès.

P. Davis delivered a paper on the Geto-Dacian imitations of Roman Republican denarii.

Figure 16. ANS 2015.47.9. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A die-linked imitation of the Poroschia type.
Figure 17. ANS 2015.47.10. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A die-linked imitation of the Poroschia type.

Again, the contribution of the RBW Collection to this specific field is fundamental, as it includes over 300 specimens of these coins. Davis’ contribution focused on the question of the circulation of these imitations and on the techniques used for their production. The study of these imitations could shed some light on the possibility of a coordinated minting operation in pre-provincial Dacia.

In his paper, F. Carbone discussed the monetary production of the colony of Paestum, which spanned the late third century BC to the Tiberian Age.

Figure 18. ANS 2015.20.593. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. An issue signed by Mineia, a rare female signer in Paestum.

He focused on the role played by magistrates and private citizens in the production of these coinages, showing that the Paestan issues signed by private citizens acquired a comparatively greater importance at the end of the first century BC, while in previous decades local magistrates were the main issuers.

Figure 19. Signers of local issues in Paestum. Courtesy of F. Carbone.

As already seen in Sicily and in Copia, names of Roman magistrates began to appear on Paestan coinage in the early second century BC. The peak of production of Paestan coinages is however to be placed in the first century BC, with the semis as principal coin and progressive disappearance of other lower denominations. The coinage produced by Paestum thus played the role of subsidiary currency, produced (once again) to make up for the absence of small change produced by Rome.

Figure 20. Paestan issues as subsidiary coinage. Courtesy of F. Carbone.
Figure 21. Production patterns of the Paestan mint and economic context. Courtesy of F. Carbone.

In the last paper of the session and of the conference C. Stannard discussed the non-state coinages of Central Italy, especially that of Latium and Campania and their connection to Spain through the shared types and names of the so-called Italo-Baetican assemblage.

Figure 22. ANS 2015.20.1949. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state issue dated to the second half of the second century BC, quite certainly minted in Latium.
Figure 23. ANS 2015.20.1953. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state leaden as, issued by the mint of Minturnae, 150–50 BC.
Figure 24. ANS 2015.20.1937. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state issue featuring the furnacator, a figure connected to bath-houses, early first century BC.

In Stannard’s words, “this is a monetary history on two levels. At the more general, the non-state coinages of Latium all respond to a single historical conjuncture, namely the crisis in the availability of small change that began about in the middle of the second century BC.

Figure 25. Roman bronze coin and major elements of the non-state coinages of Latium. Courtesy of C. Stannard.

These responses were all very local and involved many players, about whom we know little. Amongst these, the most interesting is the enigmatic group responsible for the Italo-Baetican issues.

Figure 26. Southern Spain in Republican times, showing the anonymous societates exploiting the silver/lead mines of the Sierra Morena, mining equipment, coins and lead seals marked with their symbols, and finds of Italo-Baetican plomos, included in the Italo-Baetican assemblage. Courtesy of C. Stannard.
Figure 27. Coins of the Annii in the Italo-Baetican series in Latium. The Annii were one of the most important gentes involved in the Italo-Baetican trade. Courtesy of C. Stannard.

It is surprising that so widespread a phenomenon seems to have no reflection in the literature of the time. […] The picture, as I have reconstructed it, challenges a number of assumptions about Rome’s presumed policies regarding its own minor coinage and the coinages of its colonies and allies. [It] demonstrates that Republican Rome did not interest itself in or police its colonies’ and allies’ minor coinages, nor supply and them with small change. Legalistic concepts such as ‘the right to coin’ do not seem to have purchase in this area at this time, with consequences for understanding the nature and practice of Roman expansion.” Stannard’s conclusion certainly apply not only to his materials, but also to the colonial coinages of Paestum and Copia and to the Spanish imitations of Roman Republican coinage.

To summarize, as far as we can tell from the evidence presented in the course of this conference, two different phenomena are at play in the western provinces. At the beginning of the second century BC, after silver coinage became a Roman monopoly with the Second Punic War, the Roman denominational system was adopted also for bronze coinage, with very few exceptions. Names of Roman magistrates began to appear on the local bronze coinages, first in Sicily and immediately afterwards in the colonies of Southern Italy.  It seems quite certain that these magistrates were local ones, as is clearly exemplified by the Paestan duoviri and quattuorviri. In the last quarter of the second century BC, with the conquest of Spain, the need for small change became even more acute in the West and led to the creation of a series of non-state coinages ranging from the Spanish imitations of Roman Republican bronzes to the manifold varieties of non-state coinages produced in Central Italy. The enigmatic Italo-Baetican assemblage shows the strong economic and (non-state) monetary connections between Spain and Italy in the course of the first century BC. In the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, the second half of the second century BC is characterized by the beginning of several “surrogate” silver coinages. On bronze coinage, the names of Roman magistrates began to appear in Macedonia and (we now know) in Asia in the second half of the first century BC, but the local denominational systems were preserved.

More research is still needed, but the papers delivered in the course of this three-day conference were fundamental, as they provided an integrated approach to the monetary history of the Roman provinces in the second and first century BC. The proceedings of the RBW Conference, edited by L. Carbone, O. Hoover, and L. Yarrow, will be published by the ANS in the course of 2022.

I also would like to take this chance to thank again the speakers (who also generously agreed to share their slides) and the sponsors of this conference, the American Numismatic Society and the PhD Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Last but not least, my thanks (and the ones of L. Yarrow and O. Hoover, co-organizers of this conference) go to the over 300 people from more than 30 academic institutions all over the world who attended the conference.

Coinage in the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 2

Part 1 of this 3 part post was published on April 12, 2021

The second day of the conference,  March 24, 2021, chaired by Pere Pau Ripollès, focused on “new” coinages in the Roman provinces, namely coinages that featured the names of Roman magistrates. H. Güney focused on the bronze coinages issued in the names of Roman proconsuls beginning in the late 60s BC by the Bithynian cities of Apamea, Bythinium, Nicaea and Nicomedia.

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.1153. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 2. ANS 2015.20.1149. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 3. ANS 2015.20.2703. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 4. ANS 2015.20.1129. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

The importance of the civic coinages of these Bithynian cities is testified for a later period not only by the sheer number of obverse dies, but by the large radius of their circulation, since a relevant number of specimens of these issues was found in Moesia and other Danubian provinces.

Figure 5. Distribution of the Coins of Nicomedia abroad. Courtesy of H. Güney.
Figure 6. Nicomedians abroad, (by profession). Courtesy of H. Güney.

The presence of these bronze civic issues in different provinces testifies not only to the increased movement of individuals throughout the empire, but also to the growing interconnectivity of the monetary systems in the Roman provinces beginning in the mid-first century BC. In his paper, C. Eilers, presented new evidence for the early (and exceptional) presence of Roman magistrates on bronze civic issues in the province of Asia. Through a well-documented and convincing analysis, he showed that the proconsul of Asia, C. Atinius Labeo, attested on Ephesian cistophori and staters for the year 122/1 BC, is also attested on the bronze coinage of the small Mysian town of Atarnaeus.

Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.12. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 8. Mysia. Atarneus. Bronze, late second century BC. BMC 7. SNG France 131. 19 mm. 6.83 g. Savoca Numismatics 10, 16 October 2016, lot 487.

This paper suggest that Roman magistrates could be involved in local civic coinages as early as the 120s BC, further strengthening the idea of a very early Roman involvement in the coinages of Roman provinces. In her contribution on Macedonia and Thrace, S. Kremydi highlighted the presence of numerous and—in some cases—unique overstrikes on the Macedonian coins included in the RBW Collection, which contribute to solving the problems in the chronology of these coinages.

Figure 9. Macedonian bronze coinage from Pydna to Augustus (168/7 BC–14 BC). Courtesy of S. Kremydi.
Figure 10. Macedonian bronze coinage: an overview. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

One bronze specimen naming L. Fulcinnius, part of the so-called “Quaestors issues” presumably issued in 148/7 BC, is overstruck on a civic issue from Amphipolis, suggesting that issues in the names of the cities were contemporary to those of the “Quaestors”. 

Figure 11. A new overstrike: Silanus (ANS 2015.20.2144) on Amphipolis. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

Several specimens of another “Quaestors” issue naming L. Fulcinnius, are overstruck on issues traditionally attributed to D. Silanus and usually dated around 142 BC, and vice versa.

Figure 12. Quaestors’ issues: Fulcinnius over Silanus and viceversa. R. B.Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

These mutual overstrikes seem to suggest that these issues were produced in the same years. Moreover, the RBW Collection includes a specimen of a Thasos-type tetradrachm, again a “surrogate” coinage issued by the Romans in the course of the first century BC, which has been overstruck on a Macedonian Aesillas tetradrachm, issued in the name of the quaestor Aesillas in the same years.

Figure 13. ANS 2015.20.2662. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

The presence of this overstrike (and possibly of an overstrike of Aesillas on a Thasos-type tetradrachm) at the very least suggests a concerted production between the mints responsible for these two coinages, if not their identity.

Figure 14. ANS 2015.20.2196. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

In a groundbreaking analysis of the Romano-Sicilian coinages issued in Sicily in the course of the second century BC, S. Frey-Kupper offered a new periodization for these coinages, based on the 254 specimens included in the RBW Collection and on the 459 included in M. von Bahrfeldt’ s 1904 archive.

According to her new classification, which adds and improves on Bahrfeldt’s intuition, all the issues with Latin magistrates’ names were produced in Western Sicily between 190 and 140 BC.

Figure 15. Coinage in Sicily under Roman rule, pre-imperial. Evolution in three steps. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.
Figure 16. Romano-Sicilian coins published by Bahrfeldt (n = 489) and collected by RBW (n = 254). Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

According to her new classification, which adds and improves on Bahrfeldt’s intuition, all the issues with Latin magistrates’ names were produced in Western Sicily between 190 and 140 BC.

Figure 17. Romano-Sicilian coins. Wreath series issues (Bahrfeldt Group 1), 190/180-150/140 BC Magistrate Q.B(aebius). ANS 2015.20.3214 (8.20 g.), 3220 (5.19 g.), 3223 (2.14 g.), 3226 (2.42 g.), 3225 (1.41 g.). Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.
Figure 18. Romano-Sicilian coins. Warrior series (Bahrfeldt Group 2), 190/180-140/130 BC C.Calp(urnius) Cato. ANS 2015.20.3012 (5.35 g.), ANS 2015.20.3031 (4.73 g.). Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

Moreover, on the basis of very strong archaeological data, she identifies the mint issuing these coins with Lilybaeum, ending a century-long debate on the location of the mint for these Romano-Sicilian coins.

Figure 19. Romano-Sicilian coins. Areas of production and provision. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

In the last paper of the day, E. Wall presented for the first time an extensive overview on the colonial coinage of the otherwise understudied coinage of Copia in Southern Lucania. According to Livy and Strabon, this colony was founded in 194 BC on the site of the ancient Sibari.

Figure 20. Colonial foundations in Italy. Brill’s New Pauly Suppl. I, vol. 3 : Historical Atlas of the Ancient World.
Figure 21. The contribution of the R.B. Witschonke collection to the knowledge of the colonial coinage of Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.

The coinage of the colony, which presents several elements in common with the Romano-Sicilian coinages and the coinages of Paestum and Vibo Valentia, followed the Roman denominational system and included the names of Roman magistrates, mostly quaestors and aediles.

Figure 22. The denominational system of Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.
Figure 23. The semis from Vibo Valentia (Cannatà 2011, p. 140, Figure 10).
Figure 24. All the known issues from Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.

Copia’s coinage was quite likely issued between 190 and 140 BC, presenting an almost perfect synchronicity with the Romano-Sicilian coinages.

Part 3 of this 3 part post was published on Tuesday, April 14, 2021.

Coinage in the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 1

For the fact that the Romans did not export their own coinage into the Greek world does not mean that their presence had no effect on existing monetary patterns.

(Crawford 1985, p. 119)
Figure 1. Conference Poster.

The American Numismatic Society and the PhD Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY, had the pleasure of hosting a 3-day conference (March 23–25, 2021) focusing on the coinage produced in the Roman Provinces in the second and first centuries BC (i.e., before the conventional starting date of the Roman Provincial Coinage), as fixed by the authors of RPC in mid-first century BC. The papers, delivered by the foremost scholars in the field, offered a numismatic and historical overview of each region represented by the 4,000 coins included in the R. B. Witschonke Collection. This collection, the catalogue of which will be published in the next months, was assembled by Rick Witschonke, a beloved former ANS Curator and Co-Director of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar, in decades of loving and forward-looking study.

Figure 2. Richard B. Witschonke (1945–2015) in 2012. Photo credit: Alan Roche.
Figure 3. Rick with his ANS colleagues and co-supervisors of the ANS Summer Seminar 2007 Andy Meadows and Peter van Alfen. Also pictured, Bernhard Weisser (Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Resident Scholar of that year. Photo credit: Alan Roche.

Rick was one of very few scholars who was (almost!) equally interested in the stylistic subtleties of Roman coinage imitations in the Western provinces of the Roman Empire and in the late Hellenistic coinages issued in the East. He also collected Celtic coinages, whose gradual adaptation to the Roman monetary system has been the subject of several important contributions in the last decade (e.g., the fundamental works by J. Van Heesch and S. Martin), but was hardly included in the studies of Roman coinage in the provinces—with the important exception of M. Crawford— before then.

Figure 4. ANS 2015.20.401. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

Rick was the one who took to heart the idea of “RPC Zero” (i.e., the study of the coinage issued in the provinces of the Roman Empire in the second and first centuries BC, before the Civil Wars), and organized his collection around this. 

As Andrew Burnett points out in a soon-to-be published essay, the broader context of debate about the nature of the coinage and money used throughout the Mediterranean as it fell under Roman power was set by Crawford in his 1985 Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic (CMRR) and then further developed in 1987’s The coinage of the Roman World in the late Republic (CRWLR), edited by Burnett and Crawford. These two books were thus fundamental, as they focused for the first time on the idea of a gradual convergence of local coinages to create compatible monetary systems across the Roman Empire in the second and first centuries BC.

More recently, François de Callataÿ has published several important contributions on the matter, among which his 2011 seminal article More than It Would Seem: the Use of Coinage by the Romans in Late Hellenistic Asia Minor and The Coinages Struck for the Romans in Hellenistic Greece: a Quantified Approach (2016). In these two articles he detailed the idea of local coinages—old and new—struck for the Romans, even if not always in their name. In a 2019 article, Peter Thonemann coined the term of “surrogate coinages” for local coinages “revived” to serve Roman military interests in the eastern provinces of the Empire, using the silver coinage issued by Antiochia on the Maeander in the early first century BC as a case study.

Figure 5. ANS 1992.139.1.

Again, in de Callataÿ’s words, “a most fascinating line of enquiry is to consider large coinages struck suddenly by cities which apparently had little political or economic power. The most reasonable explanation, I believe, must be that, despite their civic appearance, these coinages” (p. 74).

This was precisely the subject of the keynote lecture of the conference, delivered by de Callataÿ on March 23—“Hidden power indeed: the surrogate coinages used by the Romans in Greece and Asia Minor”—which offered an updated overview of new and surrogate coinages issued for the Romans in the East.

Figure 6. Updated overview of “new” and “surrogate” coinages. Courtesy of F. de Callataÿ.

The conference session on March 23, chaired by Andy Meadows, continued on the same vein. Lucia Carbone’s paper mostly focused on the contribution of the R. B. Witschonke Collection to the study of the late cistophoric coinage of the Province of Asia, a “surrogate” coinage issued between 133 BC and the 60s BC. In the specific, the newly studied Phrygian cistophoric mint of Laodicea allows to estimate the impact on the local monetary system of the Mithridatic Wars, fought between 88 and 63 BC in the province.

Figure 7. Late cistophori of Laodicea from the R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 8. Late cistophoric production of the Provincia Asia as estimated from the combination of die studies and hoard data.

Oliver Hoover focused on other “surrogate” coinages, this time issued in Syria. The first one was very likely produced under the last Seleucid king Philip II Barypous (68/7–65 BC).

Figure 9. Anomalous Philip I Philadelphus tetradrachm. Probably Antioch on the Orontes SC 2487A variant. ANS 2015.20.2844. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 10. A possible Roman “Surrogate” Coinage of Philip II Barypous (c. 68/7–65 BC?). Courtesy of O. Hoover.

Hoover convincingly argued that this coinage could have been produced to support the Roman military effort during the Third Mithridatic War, drawing an interesting parallel to the late cistophoric coinage, that supported the Romans during the first two Mithridatic Wars. He also drew the attention to another apparent “surrogate” coinage, an anomalous Philip I Philadelphus tetradrachm, included in the R. B. Witschonke Collection.

Figure 11. Pseudo-Gabinian Pseudo-Philips from the R. B. Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of O. Hoover.

The governor of Syria A. Gabinius (57–55 BC) is known to have struck tetradrachms in the name of Philip Philadelphus, mostly at Antiochia. Judging from metrological and hoard data, the coin in question was probably struck in the 30s BC at an otherwise unknown mint. As already mentioned, the 30s BC are a decade covered by RPC, but this specific coin seems to have followed the standards of “surrogate” coinages, mostly issued in the previous decades.

The following two papers, respectively delivered by Annalisa Polosa and David Hendin, dealt with “new” coinages. Polosa mostly discussed coins issued by the Cilician city of Soli after its re-foundation by Pompey in 67 BC (Plutarch, Pompey 28.4). These coins, bearing Pompey’s portrait, were produced starting in the 60s BC and represent one of the first examples of a Roman magistrate’s portrait on civic coinages.

Figure 12. Cilicia, Pompeiopolis. Bronze tetrachalkon, after 64 BC. Obv. Head of Pompey right. Rev. Nike advancing right, with wreath in right hand, palm in left; around, legend; in field right, OM monogram; Π P monogram. Boyce – (cf. 3e). SNG von A. 5887 21 mm. 6.26 g. ANS 2015.20.1658. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

Hendin’s contribution mostly focused on other coins issued in the area of Decapolis in the Pompeian period. These coins bear the otherwise unattested date “Year 1 Rome.”

Figure 13. Coins bearing the legend LA PΩMHΣ (year 1 of Rome = 64/63 BC) from the R. B. Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of D. Hendin.

The year 1 could not refer other than to the Pompeian Era, which began in 64 BC. These unusual coins should be interpreted either as a military issue or as the product of a mint in the southern part of Syria which came under Roman rule when Pompey arrived in 64 BC. Both these papers, based on coins included in the RBW Collection, highlighted the importance of Pompey’s role in Syria in the transition between “surrogate” coinages issued for the Romans to “new” coinages issued in the name of the Romans.

This is not a rule universally applicable to all the eastern provinces, as exemplified by “new” coinages issued in Macedonia and Greece in the second and early first century BC (e.g., “Quaestor” issues in Macedonia, Thasian-type tetradrachms), but certainly Pompey played a fundamental role in the transition between “surrogate” and “new” coinages for the provinces of Asia and Syria. Summarizing, the papers of the first day of the RBW Conference, mostly focused on the “surrogate” and “new” coinages (according to Thonemann’s definition) issued in the eastern provinces of the empire.

Part 2 of this 3 part post was published on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

Treasure (Rhode) Island? Henry Every and Yemeni Coins found in New England

1837 woodcut depicting Henry Every receiving the treasure from the Ganj-i-Sawai onto his ship, the Fancy.

In a remarkable shift away from the incessant drum-beat coverage of COVID-19 developments,  on 1 April 2021, the Associated Press ran a story about a handful of small silver coins from seventeenth-century Yemen found by metal detectorists in New England and the theory advanced by Jim Bailey that these coins actually represent pirate plunder. In fact, he argues that they are the remains of plunder taken by Henry Every (also written as “Avery”) in one of the most famous pirate actions of the seventeenth century—the taking of the Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai (“Exceeding Treasure”) while returning from Mecca to Surat in 1695. The story was quickly seized upon and embroidered by online news outlets over the week that followed. This is perhaps not overly surprising. The readiness with which the Associated Press has picked it up and other news outlets have run with it is clear testimony to the story’s popular exciting qualities. Indeed, if one listens carefully one can almost hear Johnny Depp somewhere in the distance asking us if we are “savvy” to the whole thing. However, as with most astounding discoveries and anything even remotely endorsed by Capt. Jack Sparrow, it is usually a good policy first to sit down, take a deep breath, and then take stock of the actual evidence to determine whether it can really support the weight of the claims piled on top of it. 

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III dated AH 1105 (AD 1693/4) similar to coins found in New England. ANS 1971.229.3.

But first, a little background that seems to have been missed. Although the Associated Press piece reports that Bailey “found the first intact 17th-century Arabian coin in a meadow in Middletown [in 2014],” he was actually preceded by the hosts of the National Geographic Channel’s Diggers, who discovered one in 2013 and sought the assistance of the ANS in identifying it. The identity of the coin was subsequently published and it appeared in the Diggers episode “Mystery Coin,” which aired on 4 March 2014. Bailey’s find coin as well as several others were published in the August 2017 issue of the Colonial Newsletter along with his theory associating them with Every and the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai. Inexplicably, the Colonial Newsletter as the original publication is not mentioned in the Associated Press item, but is bizarrely misidentified in many of the secondary media reports as “the American Numismatic Society’s research journal” or the nonexistent Journal of the American Numismatic Society, etc.). The American Numismatic Society’s research journal is actually the American Journal of Numismatics (AJN)  but Bailey has never published there.

Although the case for associating finds of coins in New England with Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai can be read in full online thanks to the availability of the full run of the Colonial Newsletter on the Newman Numismatic Portal, his argument rests primarily on three main pieces of evidence:

1. In 1695, when the Ganj-i-Sawai was seized by Every and his piratical colleagues after departing from the Yemeni port of al-Makha (Mocha), the ship is known to have contained thousands of silver coins.

2. After political and economic fallout from the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai caused King William III to issue a proclamation calling for the capture of the pirates responsible, some (Bailey suggests 72) of Every’s associates made their way to the American colonies (especially Rhode Island and Carolina) with their loot in the hope of evading the long arm of the law.  

3. Of four Yemeni coins found in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that can be dated with any accuracy, none post-date the capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai.

The first two facts indicate how coins plundered from the Ganj-i-Sawai could have come to New England, but do not prove that they did, or that if they did, the coins in question must have been Yemeni khamsiyat (corrupted in contemporary seventeenth-century English as comassees). The case is very problematic because it begins with the assumption that the coins had to have come from the Mughal ship and pays little serious attention to the possibility that they could have been brought back by American merchants involved in the East African slave trade, the Yemen coffee trade, or by pirates other than Every and his accomplices. Bailey argues in the Associated Press piece that “there’s no evidence that American colonists…traveled to anywhere in the Middle East to trade until decades later” (i.e., after the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai) and yet in his Colonial Newsletter article the “overlapping business interests of piracy and the East African slave trade” (p. 4607) are noted with respect to the New York ships Margaret and Nassau in 1699 (only four years after the Ganj-i-Sawai incident) and Every and his colleagues are suspected to have come to Newport, Rhode Island, under the guise of East African slave dealers (pp. 4601–4605)—an odd thing to do if this trade did not yet really exist. Even if we set all of this aside, whatever contextual evidence there may be for any of the found Yemeni coins cannot tell us precisely when they arrived in New England or in whose pockets.

Ottoman silver kuruş of Mustafa II dated AH 1106 (AD 1694/5). ANS 1993.11.12.

As much of the silver on the Ganj-i-Sawai was said to have been that of “Turkish merchants,” one might have expected it to have included many Ottoman kuruşlar—large silver coins introduced in in 1688 that were roughly equivalent to European thalers—that would have been far more appropriate for large-scale trade with Mughal India than low-denomination comassees. And even if large quantities of khamsiyat were taken by the pirates, as Bailey himself notes, they were at pains right away to convert as many of the silver coins as possible into more easily transportable gold. John Dann, one of Every’s accomplices, was later arrested in Ireland, given away by the large numbers of gold chequins (perhaps Ottoman sultanis, Safavid Persian ashrafis, or Mughal mohurs) sewn into the lining of his coat! There also may have been some conversion into Spanish silver, judging from the bags of reales that another of the pirates had in his possession when apprehended in Ireland.

Ottoman gold sultani of Mehmed IV dated AH 1078 (AD 1667/8). ANS 1997.65.4870.

The third fact presented by Bailey is of extremely dubious value, not only because the sample size is much too small to be meaningful, but because it may not be truly factual. With one exception, all of the khamsiyat listed by Bailey are issues of the Qasimid imam Muhammad III ibn Ahmad (1686–1717). When dates are not visible (or present), the coins of this Yemeni ruler can be dated to three chronological periods based on his titulature. Issues naming him as “an-Nasir” were struck in the period 1687–1693, those naming him as “al-Hadi” in 1693–1697, and those naming him as “al-Mahdi” in 1697-1718. Therefore, if all the Yemeni coins found in New England were struck prior to the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai, there should only be issues in the name of “al-Nasir” and “al-Hadi.” However, Bailey includes two coins of “al-Mahdi” (one of which is his discovery coin) in his list of New England finds (p. 4582, Table 2). These are almost certainly errors for “al-Hadi” which is very clear on the discovery coin (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 1), but illegible on the second specimen (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 7). However, the close similarity of the latter’s reverse legend to a third coin, clearly struck in the name of “al-Hadi” (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 3), suggests that Bailey’s No. 7 is also an “al-Hadi” issue.  

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III found by Jim Bailey. As published in the Colonial Newsletter 164 (August 2017), p. 4575, Fig. 1.

Bailey’s discovery coin is critically important for the question of potential connection to Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai because it is the only coin recovered with a visible date. In his article, this date is interpreted as AD 1693, which fell in January–August AH 1104 and September-December AH 1105, but he does not indicate which Hijri year was actually read on the coin. The year AH 1104 is normally written ١١٠٤ in Arabic while 1105 is written ١١٠٥ (see the ANS specimen above for this date and note the difference between the final numeral there and that on Bailey’s coin). Neither of these forms seem to closely match the numbers that appear on the coin. Upon close inspection, the date on Bailey’s coin appears to read ١١٠٨ or AH 1108, the Hijri year that extended from 31 July AD 1696 to 20 June AD 1697 (I am grateful to Dr. Jere Bacharach for confirming the AH 1108 reading of the date). If the date is correctly read here as AH 1108, the coin was struck too late to have been carried off from the Ganj-i-Sawai. Every and his pirates captured and plundered the Mughal ship on 7 September 1695 (i.e., at the beginning of AH 1107) whereas if the coin bears an AH 1108 date, as seems to be the case, at the very earliest it could have been struck only shortly before the proclamation of 8 August 1696 that began the manhunt for Every and his associates. It should go without saying that an AH 1108 date is an insurmountable problem for Bailey’s popular theory.

The preceding discussion seems to scuttle the idea of closely pinning seventeenth-century Yemeni coins found in New England on the fallout from one of the most famous acts of piracy of the period. The celebrity status that Bailey’s theory would lend to the coins must walk the plank, but perhaps casting the infamous glory of Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai into Davey Jones’ locker should not be cause for disappointment. The stardom that Bailey has attached to Yemeni coins with New England find contexts actually obscures the real importance of the coins, which should be linked to other reported finds of Mughal and related Islamic coins in North America. They all serve to underline the fact that the early American colonies did not exist in a vacuum, but rather belonged to global networks of trade and cultural interaction (and piracy), and that enterprising individuals could and did profit from these networks if they were willing to undertake the great dangers of sailing half a world away.

Henry Chapman’s Granddaughter Sets the Record Straight

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at a meeting of the New York Numismatic Club (NYNC) on the Philadelphia coin dealers S. H. and Henry Chapman. The day before the event, I was delighted to learn that Henry Chapman’s granddaughter and great-grandson would be attending. By complete coincidence, Henry’s great-grandson is a neighbor of former ANS curator Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, a NYNC member.

Henry Chapman Jr., 1912

I spend a lot of time researching and writing about things that happened in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, and sometimes the characters I encounter from those days begin to seem almost fictional to me. So it is always a bit of a shock and definitely a thrill for me to encounter someone with such a close connection to the distant past. Because she was so young when he died, Henry’s granddaughter has no memory of him, but she remembers his wife, Helen, vividly, having lived with her until the age of 14. (Helen ran the coin business after Henry’s death in 1935.) I certainly never thought I’d have the chance in 2021 to talk to someone who knew the wife of one of my early subjects, especially one who started his business in 1878!

Henry Chapman’s wife Helen, taken at the American Numismatic Association convention in Philadelphia, 1908

One of the great benefits of this encounter is that she was able to set me straight on some facts. I wanted to take this opportunity to correct a mistake I made in identifying someone in a photograph I published in ANS Magazine (2019, no. 4, p.34). In 1983, Henry’s three daughters paid a visit to the ANS along with other family members.

Henry Chapman Jr.’s three daughters visited the ANS along with other relatives in 1983. They are, from left to right in the front row, Helen Arndt, Henrietta Judson, and Jane Huber. The gentleman between Helen and Henrietta is John Arndt, Helen’s husband. Also pictured are ANS executive director Leslie Elam (tallest in the back row) and librarian Frank Campbell (on the extreme right).

In the photograph taken that day, I misidentified John Arndt, Henry’s son-in-law, as Henry’s son Joseph, who is not in the group picture. Correct identifications accompany the photograph reproduced here.

Henry Chapman Jr.’s son Joseph

Henry’s granddaughter did supply me with a photograph of the real Joseph Chapman, which I have included here. He was Henry’s only son who survived to adulthood. Another son, Henry Chapman III, died at the age of three, according to Find A Grave.