All posts by Andrew Reinhard

Metrological Equivalencies: The Attic Tetradrachm in Persian Period Egypt

2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar student Elsbeth van der Wilt

Dr. Elsbeth van der Wilt is a Dahlem Research School POINT fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin. The (long) title of her project is “Long-distance trade, monetization, marketplaces, and sanctuaries in the fourth century BC: Negotiating change in Egypt during the Achaemenid-Hellenistic transition”. Van der Wilt’s research on metrological equivalencies at the ANS will feed into her work in Berlin. She is currently preparing the publication of the lead weights from Thonis-Heracleion, which was part of her doctorate on the lead objects from this site at the University of Oxford (2014).

For my ANS project I am looking at a metrological problem: the equivalencies in the written sources between the Egyptian weight system—the deben of c. 91 g and kite of 9.1 g as measures of value—and the Attic monetary system. The “stater” in the Egyptian and Aramaic texts is understood as an Attic tetradrachm, which became the most prevalent coin in Egypt in the fifth century and remained so in the fourth century BCE. In Aramaic texts a stater is equated to two Babylonian shekel (8.4 g), in demotic it is one stater to 2 kite.

There is a margin of between 5–6% from the tetradrachm, up to the Egyptian standard and less down to the Babylonian shekel. Several scholars have already noted this difference between the Egyptian and Attic systems and suggested that the overvaluation of the tetradrachm over silver bullion, i.e., the deben, could be interpreted as seigniorage: necessary to cover the cost (and profit) of the minting of imitative owls in Egypt, by the temple of Ptah, for example. In fact, this percentage is very similar to the value of Athenian tetradrachms compared to bullion in Athens itself.

I am collecting the weights of different groups of Athenian owls in order to see whether there is any weight adjustment. In particular, I am interested in the unmarked owls that the American numismatist Th. Buttrey argued were imitations (Figs. 1–3). Since then, the Belgian scholar Chr. Flament clarifies the description of the styles of these coins. However, Flament and others have also argued that these coins were in fact minted in Athens, not Egypt.

Fig. 1: Buttrey style X tetradrachm (ANS 1941.131.550)

Flament suggests on the basis of metallic composition of the coins and the distribution of them in hoards for an Athenian origin of the metal and an earlier re-dating (of two styles, B and M). L. Anderson and P. van Alfen point out that there are in fact multiple scenarios that can explain the results of the metallic analyses of these coins. Furthermore, they also do not agree with Flament that the unusual style of the coins are due to poorer die-cutters in difficult times, arguing with reference to other marked Egyptian imitative coins that they could equally be non-Athenian.

Fig. 2: Buttrey style B tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.24219)

J. H. Kroll has put forward a middle ground: for style X at least he suggests that the obverse and reverse dies were originally Athenian and exported abroad, where, later, the reverse dies (with the characteristic extended left foot, see Fig. 1) were imitated. Thus, currently there seems to be a conservative consensus that perhaps only Buttrey style “X” was Egyptian.

Fig. 3: Buttrey style M tetradrachm (ANS 1957.172.1123)

My contribution to this debate is to compare as many weights of the so-called Buttrey style imitations I can find, with weights of different groups such as bona fide 5th century owls, early 4th century owls (Fig. 4), and Pi-style owls (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4: Early 4th century Athenian tetradrachm (ANS 1959.137.1)

I want to investigate a) whether or not there was any tinkering with the weights of the coins in order to facilitate conversion between the different standards; and b) whether the results can be used to further strengthen or preclude the Egyptian origin of these Athenian tetradrachms. Finally, I will place the Attic monetary system in Egyptian metrology in order to suggest an explanation for the popularity of the owls, and compare their position with the metrological situation in the Near East.

Fig. 5: Pi I tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.24312)

The Silver Coins of Syrian Manbog (Hierapolis—Bambyce)

1D3_8238Nathanael Andrade is an assistant professor in the history department at
SUNY-Binghamton. He is the author of
Syrian Identity in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2013) and many articles on the Hellenistic, Roman, and later Roman Near East. His current book projects explore the arrival of Christianity in India in late antiquity and the life of Zenobia, the famous dynast from Palmyra. This blog post features his work as part of the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics.

Silver didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce (ANS 1971.73.3)

For my project, I am doing a close study of the silver coins produced at Syrian Manbog (otherwise known as Hierapolis—Bambyce) late in the Achaemenid Persian period and in the first years of Alexander the Great’s rule over the Near East. The coins are notable because their inscriptions indicate that they were minted in the name of the mysterious priests of Manbog, the Persian satrap Mazdai (also known as Mazaios), and even Alexander the Great. The coins themselves are replete with images of Manbog’s patron gods, namely Atargatis (‘tr‘th or ‘th) and Hadad (hdd). Their types are also modeled on those from contemporary coins of Sidon, Tarsus, and other Cilician cities. But perhaps most intriguing of all, some of the coins bear likenesses of people that were apparently intended to be representations of Alexander.

Silver didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce, 342–331 BC (ANS 2012.1.6)

The coins have been studied and catalogued in various publications of the 20th century. But many features of them are yet to be explored. Since 1999, over 20 other silver coins have come to light, thus nearly doubling the number of known specimens. My research thus includes an updated catalogue. No complete die study has yet been conducted. My project provides one for the known specimens and expounds upon its implications. The weights of the coins have been variously associated with the Babylonian shekel and the Attic didrachm. My study aims to provide some clarity on this issue. The circulation of the coins has yet to be established. My project seeks to define what it was. The iconography of the coins has often attracted commentary, especially in terms of how it reflects Near Eastern religious, cultural, or artistic traditions. But my project explores how the iconography was intimately linked to issues of local authority and, for some of the coins, the turbulent political sequence of 334–330. It even probes whether Alexander’s coins at Manbog have any bearing on how we interpret the subsequent coinage of his reign, which was arriving at its standard form at the time. As part of my overall examination of the dies, imagery, weight, circulation and political context, I also aim to theorize the economic or fiscal needs that the coins served and to identify some of the dubious specimens that have been attributed to Manbog’s mint.

Silver Didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce, 340–325 BC (ANS 2000.3.1)

Finally, my study even tackles the vexing questions that surround the small fractal Samarian or Middle Levantine coins that bear the reverse inscription of MBGY. Does MBGY refer to Manbog and to the minting of small fractions there? Is it an ethnic denoting that “Manbogians” were responsible for minting? Or is it the personal name of a figure that oversaw the coins’ production in some way? If so, what was this person’s role and function? As I address these questions, I hope to make some small contribution to our understanding of the production and circulation of small silver fractions in the late Achaemenid Persian empire.

Silver Stater, Hierapolis Bambyce, 330–325 BC (ANS 2008.36.1)

Cross-Cultural Currencies: The Litra and Early Sicilian Fractional Silver

1D3_8334Giuseppe Carlo Castellano is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is pursuing a PhD in Classical Archaeology. His academic interests include culture contact, numismatics, and the material culture of Sicily and South Italy. Giuseppe is a part of the Contrada Agnese Project of the American Excavations at Morgantina, Sicily.

The indigenous inhabitants of Bronze and Iron Age Sicily exchanged bronze objects as a proto-monetary currency. Ingots, tools, and scrap were hoarded as wealth and traded by weight, eventually coming to be reckoned against a variety of regional libral standards, among which the Sicilian litra. This indigenous bronze system persisted alongside coinage well into the Hellenistic period and had a strong influence on the monetization of Sicily. Greeks and indigenous Italic peoples had been in contact for at least three centuries before the advent of coinage, and so would have become accustomed to each other’s weight standards and proto-monetary practice. The hybridized currencies and standards which emerged from this intercourse speak to the strong cultural and economic links between Italy, Sicily, and the Greek homeland.

Italic aes rude, or raw bronze, exchanged as currency in Bronze and Iron Age Sicily and Italy. Weight 33.95 g (ANS 0000.999.564)

The Greek term litra is of Sicel origin. It is cognate to the Italian libra, the indigenous ponderal unit of the mainland. Linguistic evidence suggests that the word litra came from the mainland to Sicily either as an inherited proto-Italic form or as a later loanword from a peninsular language. Mainland Italic peoples may have introduced their bronze-based ponderal system and associated terminology to Sicily by at least the beginning of the Iron Age.

Obverse of a silver litra of Himera, bearing a cock. These are probably the first silver litrai minted in Sicily, sometime between 550 and 484/483 BC. Weight 0.79 g (ANS 1944.100.8493)
Reverse of the same early silver litra of Himera, bearing an incuse mill-sail pattern. 550–484/483 BC. Weight 0.79 g (ANS 1944.100.849)

With the introduction of Greek-style coinage to Sicily in the sixth century BC the litra took on new significance as a small silver coin equivalent in value to the native bronze weight measure. These coins were minted alongside the traditional Greek fraction, the obol. Despite variations in weight among obols—the expected result of differing Greek regional standards—the silver litrai remain fairly consistent. This suggests that they were at least initially tied to another standard, perhaps the native bronze, unaffected by the variability among traditional Greek systems. The silver litra and its fractions formed a neat solution to the problem of integrating the two traditions and therefore allowed for a direct conversion between the native bronze system and the Greek silver system. This would have greatly facilitated trade between the largely coastal Greeks and the indigenous peoples of the interior. Colonial encounters of this kind often engender complex re-articulations of economic and cultural practice, and it is clear from literary, archaeological, and numismatic evidence that the Greeks were receptive to foreign standards and were willing to modify their own systems or assimilate elements of others in response to social, political, and economic exigencies.

Obverse of a Syracusan silver litra, bearing the head of the nymph Arethusa. Second quarter of the fifth century BC. Weight 0.87 g, diameter 11 mm (ANS 1997.9.29)
Reverse of the same Syracusan litra, bearing a cuttlefish and the legend ΣΥΡΑ. Second quarter of the fifth century BC. Weight 0.87 g, diameter 11 mm (ANS 1997.9.29)

This overlap of diverse currencies led to the creation of hybrid monetary systems that bore elements of both the imported Greek and native Italic traditions. This integrative and assimilative monetization formed part of what Massimo Pallottino in his History of Earliest Italy called the “complex and unstable… equilibrium” that promoted “a tradition of ever-growing diplomatic, religious, cultural, artistic and economic relationships… [and] a truly international way of life.” What emerges is a far more nuanced view of Greek colonization than the literary tradition and the historical narratives suggest: this is not merely a story of the colonizers and the colonized, but of complex colonial and postcolonial populations attempting to coexist, cooperate, and prosper.

The Imperial Family on Third Century Roman Coinage

1D3_8611[Today’s post is authored by Sam Caldis (Brown University) who is taking part in the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics. Sam’s proposed doctoral dissertation topic is collegial rule and imperial power-sharing in the Roman Empire during the third and fourth centuries.  Aside from his seminar project, Sam is spending time at the ANS researching the coins and public image programs of fourth-century Roman emperors, studying for his preliminary exams.]

Coins played a significant role in shaping the public image of the  Roman imperial family.  The majority of the coins which left the central imperial mints featured the emperor himself and emphasized his activities and virtues, from (re)conquering Britain to his close friendship with Hercules.  However, emperors did not always appear solo on their coinage- wives, ancestors, and descendants could all be placed on coins to highlight other marks of distinction for the regime, such as proclaiming ancestry or demonstrating the security of the succession.  Although there has recently been a great deal of interest in the place of members of the imperial house on coinage, one aspect which has been largely ignored is the development of familial types – coins which display at least two members of the imperial family together on either the obverse or reverse of a coin.

RIC I Augustus 207 (ANS 1935.117.354)

These types appear early on – Augustus minted coins with his chosen successors, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, together on the reverse.  By the end of the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211), familial types had become more common.  This is in large part due to the prominence of his two potential heirs, Caracalla (198-211) and Geta (209-211), and their powerful mother, Julia Domna.

RIC IV Geta 184 (ANS 1946.7.38)

The members of this imperial household were mixed and matched to produce a variety of familial types.  The most common familial types depict Severus’s sons on the reverse, usually with a legend emphasizing concordia, or harmony.  This may have been intended to reinforce the dynasty’s stability to the people of the empire, though it may also have been an unsubtle message from the imperial court to a pair of brothers who were notoriously always at odds.

RIC V Salonina 47 (ANS 1954.203.132)

The rapid turnover of emperors in the third century led to further experimentation with familial types.  For example, Gallienus (253-268) has no familial types with his sons and co-emperors Valerian II (253-257) and Saloninus (258-260), but the latter are included in familial types on their mother Salonina’s coins.  Instead of appearing as teenage Caesars, Valerian II and Saloninus are depicted with a third child quite literally no bigger than their mother’s knee, emphasizing the fertility and youth of the dynasty.

RIC V Carus 146 (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Münzkabinett, RÖ 32467)
RIC V Carus 146 (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Münzkabinett, RÖ 32467)

Perhaps the most interesting shift in familial types during this period is the movement of the family portrait from its usual place on the reverse to the obverse, in some cases.  Before the third century, only Augusts and Nero ever produced coinage with an obverse familial type, and these were exceedingly rare.  By the end of the third century, the obverse became the preferred location for the family portrait on familial types. Furthermore, the emperor’s solo portrait on the reverse came to be replaced by more traditional imagery, such as deities.  A significant number of familial types now looked like “normal” coins with the single emperor on the obverse being replaced by a corporate image of two members of the imperial house.  In the rapidly changing political world of the third century CE, emperors experimented with the presentation of their public image in a variety of media as they fought to maintain their position.  Familial coin types were one of part of their toolkit, one which received significant attention and innovation.

ANS Book Sale!


The ANS is selling select books published after 2000 at a deep discount (up to 80% off retail) from April 25–May 8. Titles in the sale (while quantities last) are:

From Crime to Punishment: Counterfeit and Debased Currencies in Colonial and Pre-Federal America (by Philip L. Mossman, reg. $145/sale $45)

The Island Standard: The Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Coinages of Paros (by John A.N.Z. Tully, reg. $120/sale $40)

The Silver Coins of Massachusetts (by Christopher J. Salmon, reg. $95/sale $45)

Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces (by Martin Beckman, reg. $95/sale $45)

New Jersey State Coppers (by Roger S. Siboni, John L. Howes, and A. Buell Ish, reg. $235/sale $100)

Numismatic Finds of the Americas, An Inventory of American Coin Hoards (Treasure Trove), Shipwrecks, Single Finds, and Finds in Excavations (by John M. Kleeberg, reg. $125/sale $40)

American Journal of Numismatics Vol. 24 (reg. $75/sale $15).

Download an order form for your purchase(s).

If It’s Baroque, Someone Should Fix It!

by Elizabeth Hahn Benge, previous ANS Librarian

Truer words could not be said by someone with a passion for ancient history, especially when the baroque takes over the ancient. Such is the case with a Roman Bust of Antinous in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, in Rome. After the original ancient Roman face was broken at some unknown time, the bust received a “new” baroque-style face that was added by the mid-18th century. To many viewers, it is apparent that the face does not match the style of the rest of the bust and is a restoration added later. But then what happened to the original face?

The answer can be found in a new exhibition titled A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, at the Art Institute of Chicago that opened on April 2, 2016. Loans from the American Numismatic Society help introduce Antinous—the Greek youth and companion of Roman emperor Hadrian, who mysteriously drowned in the Nile River in A.D. 130—and his enduring interest throughout history. The ANS loans include four bronze coins of Antinous (1967.152.356; 1944.100.62226; 1944.100.58522; 1944.100.58531) and a 1711 book from the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library. The coins demonstrate the same iconographic features that were likely inspired by sculptures of the same type of Antinous: broad shoulders, bare chest, and lush, curly hair.

ANS 1944.100.62226
ANS 1944.100.62226

The show brings together years of research that took place to determine whether or not the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous was the original face of the Bust of Antinous (inv. no. 8620) that belongs to the Palazzo Altemps museum, a suggestion first put forth by W. Raymond Johnson, Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. Since the “new” face that the Palazzo Altemps bust received is part of the sculpture’s history, it could not be removed, and added to the challenges of understanding if, and how, the Art Institute’s fragment might have fit. But—Spoiler Alert!—it did!

Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson. Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.
Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson.
Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.

This conclusion, and the years of research that led to it, are the focus of the exhibition. Modern 3D printing technology was used to create a mold from which a plaster replica was made in order for the team to effectively demonstrate that the two parts were in fact originally part of one ancient bust. The show is centered around these two parts: the fragment of a portrait head from the Art Institute and the bust from the Palazzo Altemps, which are displayed together along with the full-scale plaster cast reconstruction that gives the impression of its original appearance in antiquity.

The exhibition further tells how the fragment ended up in Chicago, an ocean away from its original location. A video documenting the research and creation of the plaster cast accompanies the show, while a timeline of events spans nearly 40 feet of wall in the gallery. I’ve had fun working on this project, and it is a fascinating story with a lot of content, which can be difficult to convey through photographs alone, and is one of many reasons I hope readers will be able to visit the show in person!

A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts will be on display through August 28, 2016, at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition website can be found here.

And the video that is also part of the exhibition can be found here.


Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans Redefines Attic Weight Coinage

Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans delivers the Fowler lecture at the ANS.
Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans delivers the Harry W. Fowler lecture at the ANS.

On April 12, Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans of Oxford University delivered the 2016 Harry W. Fowler Memorial Lecture, “Imperialism and Regionalism in the Athenian Empire: an Attic Weight Coinage from North-West Turkey and its Afterlife (427-405 BC).”

View the complete lecture here.

Dr. Ellis-Evans makes his case regarding Attic weight standards.

Dr. Ellis-Evans holds degrees from Balliol College and New College, Oxford, with a particular interest in the social and economic history of the ancient world. In particular, he is intrigued by the relationship between geography and history, and will be publishing his PhD thesis exploring this theme with OUP as The Kingdom of Priam: The Troad between Anatolia and the Aegean. Since completing his doctoral studies in 2013, he has written numerous articles and reviews, and presented on a variety of topics relating to the Classical and Post-Classical worlds.

The Harry W. Fowler Memorial Lecture was established in 1998 with a bequest from Mr. Fowler and with additional gifts from the Fowler family. Harry W. Fowler served as President of the American Numismatic Society from 1984-1990, and for his personal generosity was named a Benefactor of the Society in 1986. In 1995 he bequeathed his collection of Bactrian coins to the ANS, which together with the Society’s already strong holdings, has created one of the most comprehensive collections of Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins.

A Superpower is Born: The Rise of the Dollar

A Superpower is Born
A Superpower is Born

The ANS has received 14 copies of the new book, A Superpower is Born: The Rise of the Dollar.  Published in 2016, this 80-page, full-color book features seven articles on United States silver dollars, including two chapters by Matthew Wittmann, recently the ANS’s Assistant Curator of American Coins and Currency. Other authors include Ole Bjørn Fausa, Brian Hendelson, Svein Gullbekk, Michael Märcher, and Jesse Kraft. Published by Samlerhuset Group B.V., edited by Prof. Svein H. Gullbekk of the University of Oslo. ISBN 978-82-999453-2-5.

Purchase price is $25 for Members and non-Members, plus $10 shipping/handling. Contact Andrew Reinhard, ANS Director of Publications to order.