All posts by Peter van Alfen

The Computer Aided Die Studies Program

Sample die connections as created by the CADS algorithm.

Coins first appeared in the western world some 2,700 years ago. During most of this long history, coins were entirely handmade. The metals were excavated and smelted by hand; the coin blanks were manufactured by hand; the dies were engraved by hand; and the coins were struck by hand. Their use as monetary instruments required that coins be standardized, but because coins were handmade each individual coin differed in some way from all the others produced at roughly the same time: the alloys would differ from batch to batch depending on the metal sources; individual weights within a single batch would vary; dies would wear and be recut; or different obverse and reverse die combinations would be used. Of the billions of handmade coins produced over the centuries, only a very small proportion of them remain today. The detailed study of every existing coin thus helps us to piece together the bigger picture of a state’s fiscal and monetary policies, particularly the decisions made about how many coins to strike in a given year, in which denominations, and in which alloys. Detailed study also helps us to understand how mints operated as both government institutions and factories, how they developed organizational structures and production processes to meet demand.

For numismatists working on ancient Greek coinage particularly die studies of individual series remain the hallmark of our contributions to our overall understanding of ancient monetary systems. But to complete a die study, especially on larger issues, is a mind-numbingly difficult task, requiring not just the laborious and time-consuming gathering from a multitude of sources of images or casts of all known specimens, which can number in the thousands, but also the tedious and arduous task of comparing the images to find examples struck from the same die(s). The largest die study of ancient Greek coinage completed to date, Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert’s study of the didrachms of Tarentum included roughly 8,000 coins. This monumental undertaking cost Fischer-Bossert nearly a decade of his life and a good deal of his eyesight to complete. To try to tackle a die study the size of the late 5th c. Athenian “owl” coinage, of which ca. 60,000 coins probably exist today, would undoubtedly take a lifetime.

Overlays of three die-matched "owls" as identified by CADS.
Overlays of three die-matched “owls” as identified by CADS.

It has long been recognized that developing a computer program to do much of the heavy lifting for die studies is something we all would readily welcome to help us speed smaller die studies along and to allow enormous die studies projects like that for late 5th c. Athenian owls to have a shot of actually being completed. The technology for such a program certainly exists today and a number of individuals in the numismatic community have been attempting to develop such a tool. At the ANS, our late colleague Richard (Rick) Witschonke took it upon himself to privately fund the development of what he called CADS: Computer Aided Die Study Program. During the last three years of his life (2013–2015), he worked closely with Huapeng Su to develop CADS, which he hoped to make a freely available, open source program to aid numismatic research. By the time Rick died in early 2015, CADS was functioning well with certain types of coinage, but still required further work to make it fully operational across a broad spectrum of numismatic material. It was Rick’s hope that the ANS would be able to find the funding to complete the work on CADS.

Happily, Prof. Josiah Ober of Stanford University has now stepped up, generously donating $10,000 of his research funds to the ANS to see a beta version of CADS released by the end of this year. Ober’s interest in this project stems from his attempts to find ways to quantify economic performance in the ancient Greek world, demonstrated, for example, in his most recent book The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton 2015) and in the launch of the POLIS website. What we can learn about the production and consumption of coinage has the potential to play a key role in gauging ancient economic performance, but only if we can generate quantifiable data through die studies and hoard studies. Currently, only about 15–20% of all possible die studies for ancient Greek coinage have been completed, meaning we still have a long way to go before we have significant and comparable data sets. It is our hope that with the launch of CADS, we can initiate a new era of numismatic studies, in which other digital tools like OCRE and PELLA can provide the assemblage of raw numismatic material for a series or type that a program like CADS will then use to produce die studies in a matter of hours rather than weeks, months, or even years.

PELLA in Oxford and Paris

The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.
The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.

On April 3–4, the Oxford Paris Alexander Project (OPAL) hosted a conference at New College, at the University of Oxford in England, entitled “A Linked Open World: Alexander the Great, Transnational Heritage and the Semantic Web.” Established by Frédérique Duyrat, Director of the Coin Cabinet at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), and Andrew Meadows, Professor of Ancient History at New College, and funded by LABEX Les Passés dans le Présent and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, OPAL is designed to supplement and enhance the ANS-based PELLA project with additional data and an interpretative framework. “Additional data,” in this case, has been the concerted efforts by Simon Glenn at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Caroline Carrier at the BnF to catalogue the thousands of Alexander-type coinages held by those two institutions in order that the individual coin records and photographs may then be linked to the PELLA website. Thanks to their efforts, PELLA now contains records of nearly 19,000 coins. The “interpretive framework” portion of OPAL includes the New College conference.

OPAL's home in April, New College, Oxford University.
OPAL’s home in April, New College, University of Oxford.

The aim of the conference was to examine how the digital collection of data through the semantic web can assist in identifying, collecting, interpreting and preserving transnational heritage. With its focus on the coinage and empire of Alexander the Great, the conference organizers were particularly concerned first to investigate how the accumulation of data can help us to write the history of an Imperial economic space. They aimed to do this through some carefully chosen case studies and the broad analysis of statistical data provided by the PELLA project. The second part explored the role of Alexander’s coinage as a bridge between different cultures and different periods, with a particular interest in the question of the preservation of global cultural heritage in a transnational environment.

Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.
Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.

Speakers from the ANS included Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber and Research Scientist Sebastian Heath, who both addressed the technical side of ANS-based digital projects like PELLA and the sematic web, that is the intensive and deliberate interlinking of different types of knowledge on the web, including, for example, numismatic, geographical and biographical data within a single website like PELLA. Also from the ANS was Peter van Alfen, who presented one of the historical case studies. A print volume of the conference proceedings is planned to appear in early 2018, published by Ausonius Éditions, the chapters of which will probably adhere closely to the conference program:

The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.
The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.

Part 1: New Tools

Equality and Concept: Broadening the Scope of Linked Open Data (Sebastian Heath)

ANS Digital Projects: A Comprehensive Platform for the Study of Numismatics (Ethan Gruber)

Statistical Exploration of PELLA Data (Julien Olivier)

OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.
OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.

Part 2: Imperial Economic Space—Using PELLA to Write a New History

What is an Alexander? (Andrew Meadows)

The Destruction and Recreation of Monetary Zones in the Wake of Alexander’s Conquests (Peter van Alfen)

Exploring Localities: A Die Study of Alexanders from Damascus (Simon Glenn)

The Impact of Alexander’s Conquest on Minted Silver: New Data from Metallurgical Analysis of Coins Kept at the BnF (Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, Julien Olivier, Caroline Carrier)

The First Generation of Alexander’s Influence: Diversity of Empire (Karsten Dahmen)

Alexander Gold Coinage throughout the Empire and Beyond (Frédérique Duyrat)

OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).
OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).

Part 3: Cultural Interaction and Legacy

The Coinage of Alexander the Great as Perceived during the 16th–18th Centuries (François de Callataÿ)

The Legacy of Alexander: Money in Central Asia (Simon Glenn)

Looting and its Impact: The Case of Alexanders from the Near East and the Role of an Online Corpus Project (Caroline Carrier & Simon Glenn)

The Debate about the Spread of Alexander’s Coinage and its Economic Impact: Engaging with the Historiographical Longue Durée (Pierre Briant)

Conclusion: Alexander: The Wider Vision (Robin Lane Fox)

OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.
OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.

The conference proved to be quite a success, illustrating just how the development of digital tools like PELLA can have a transformative effect on how we interpret existing evidence from the ancient world, on how we approach other interpretations of this same evidence from across the ages, and on the way in which we preserve this entire heritage. In addition to the enlightening papers and conversations, participants were also treated to an after-hours reception at the Ashmolean Museum to view a special exhibition on Alexander’s coinage curated by Simon Glenn, as well as a guided tour of the New College gardens, in full spring bloom, by the eminent historian and Financial Times gardening columnist, Robin Lane Fox.

Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.
Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the ANS’s Hellenistic Royal Coinages Project


We are thrilled to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the American Numismatic Society (ANS) a substantial grant of $262,000 to fund the web-based Hellenistic Royal Coinages (HRC) project. Under the direction of Curator Dr. Peter van Alfen and Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber, this three-year project (Phase 1, planned for 2017–­2020) promises to radically transform the ability of students, scholars, or collectors to identify and research Hellenistic royal coinages, and to incorporate this numismatic material into broad analyses of political, economic, and social history. The funds from this grant will be used solely to hire assistants to aid in the extensive photography, cataloguing, and typology work that lies at the heart of the project.

The Background: Hellenistic Royal Coinages

Coins are an entirely unique type of evidence for the ancient world. No other class of artifact embodies the same mixture of political, social, artistic and economic concerns. The product of politicized decision making, ancient coins entered the world through state payments, but then became instruments of economic exchange more broadly, sometimes with serious and far­reaching social consequences. The numbers that survive today tell us about the size of economies at a given moment and in particular places; their images and inscriptions tell us about the self­perceptions of rulers or entire societies; their find­spots help us map the extent of political powers and economic influence. Ancient coins are a great deal more than just dead currency.

Within a few centuries of their invention in the seventh century BCE, coins became preferred monetary instruments, but their use was mostly limited to the Greek world. This was to change dramatically following the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great at the end of the fourth century BCE. A sudden and massive surge in coin production began using the thousands of tons of captured Persian gold and silver in areas of the Near East that had previously not seen coinage, first under Alexander himself and later under his successors (Figs. 1–2).

Fig. 1: Silver Tetradrachm of Alexander III of Macedon, Amphipolis, 336–323 B.C. ANS 1911.23.2.
Fig. 2: Gold Stater, 330–320 B.C. ANS 1964.42.5.

The monetary consequences of this flood of new coinage and monetary metal were unparalleled, not just in the East, but in the Greek homelands as well, where many city­-states stopped producing their own coins or began to produce imitations of Alexander’s coinage. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his successors, including Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Antigonus began to define their individual kingdoms and soon initiated a new royal class of coinage that stood well apart from the traditional city-­state issues. Taking cues from Alexander’s coins, these royal coinages were distinctive in a number of ways, not least for the ruler portraits that appeared on coins for the first time in history. Today, these remarkable coins bear some of the most distinctive images to survive from the ancient world, and form a standard part of many museum collections (Figs. 3–5).

Fig. 3: Silver tetradrachm of Seleucus I, Susa, 301–295 B.C. ANS 1944.100.74104.
Fig. 4: Gold tetradrachm of Ptolemy II, Alexandria, 270–240 B.C. ANS 1944.100.75919.
Fig. 5: Silver tetradrachm, Byzantium, 260–190 B.C. ANS 1966.75.125.

In a period from which few contemporary historical accounts survive, royal Hellenistic coinages have the potential to provide critical insights into the rise and fall of powerful dynasties in the Mediterranean and Near East between c. 323 and 30 BCE. They can inform us about large scale conflicts, the movement of vast amounts of wealth across regions, as well as the transfer of wealth between social classes. But coinage can only be set to these tasks if it can be assembled in large quantities. With the arrival of web­-based tools for such assemblage, we are presented with the opportunity to bring together large amounts of evidence distributed across multiple collections, and thus to transform our understanding of an entire period of history.

Hellenistic Numismatic Evidence: Problems and Solutions

Hundreds of millions of royal coins were originally produced, hundreds of thousands exist today, and tens of thousands reside in single collections like that of the ANS, which alone holds 25,740 examples. Major collections are held in museums across the United States, as well as in the large national collections in London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere. Like the ANS with its online catalogue MANTIS, most of these institutions provide web-­based access to many of the royal coins in their collections. But despite this wealth of numismatic evidence available for research, the study of royal coinage is severely hampered by several problems:

1) Typologies and cataloguing. The coinages of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid kings of Syria, and the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt have been well studied and typologies have been published in print, but those for Lysimachus of Thrace, the Antigonids of Macedonia, the Attalids of Pergamum, and the Bactrian kings of Central Asia still have not been. Of the existing typological studies, some now are long out of print while the more recent studies, in print or not, are prohibitively expensive thus restricting access for many researchers, whether students, scholars, or collectors. Equally problematic is the fact that even the more recent type catalogues have now been made obsolete by new finds and revised attributions. As a result, there has been little alignment of the cataloguing in different collections making it exceedingly difficult to compare types of coins or to identify new ones across collections or even within a single collection. This global lack of alignment is not only an impediment to research, but to collection curation and in­field archaeological work as well, which often depends on comparative examples for determining attributions and dating of individual specimens. It is now quite obvious that printed books can no longer serve as the ideal medium for the publication of critical numismatic typologies, which need to be widely and openly accessible and easily updatable:

The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus, by Martin Jessop Price

Ta nomismata tou kratous ton Ptolemaion (Ptolemaic Coinage), by Ioannes N. Svoronos

Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue. Part 1, Seleucus I through Antiochus III, by Arthur Houghton and Catherine Lorber, with metrological tables by Brian Kritt.

2) Monograms and symbols. Hellenistic royal coins are remarkably “chatty”; the reverses of the coins typically carry not just the name of the king, but also numerous additional monograms and symbols (Fig. 6). These are not well understood. Some we know indicate the place (the “mint”) where the coin was produced; others may indicate additional administrative information, such as the sub­authority (a “magistrate”) directly responsible for the coinage. These marks are often our sole clue for deducing where and when a coin was struck. To date there has been no attempt to collate the thousands of marks known from the individual series of royal coins into a universal, searchable repository. Such a tool would immediately allow connections to be made between, for example, different series of Seleucid coins, but also between Seleucid and other non­Seleucid coinages. This would further allow deductions about attributions and dating to be verified or corrected, and would give insight into the extent to which the marks were reused across time and space, which would help to resolve the purpose of some marks.

Fig. 6: Reverse of silver tetradrachm, Alexandria, 310–295 B.C. ANS 1944.100.75540.

3) Access to provenance information, find-spots information, and archival resources. One of the most important and prolific scholars of royal coinage, Edward T. Newell (d. 1941), left to the ANS dozens of notebooks and unpublished manuscripts on royal coinages and hoards that remain highly relevant. Until recently access to these documents had been limited to visitors to the ANS. At the same time, files at the ANS containing notes, correspondence and photographs concerning hundreds of hoards of Hellenistic coins remain inaccessible to most researchers. These files form the basis for the terse descriptions of hoards found in the publications Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (1973) and Coin Hoards I­X (1975–2010), detailing the find-spots both for types of coins and for individual specimens. Open access to these archival resources would give researchers a better understanding of the circulation patterns of individual types of coins, and the provenance history of individual specimens.

Hellenistic Royal Coinage aims to provide a solution to all of these problems. Through the digitization of the ANS’s unrivalled collection of this material, in parallel with the conversion of existing print works to a Linked Open Data resource, it will offer a suite of open access online tools that will provide benchmark typologies for royal coinages beginning with those of Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, and the Ptolemies. In addition, it will provide a linkable and searchable repository of monograms and symbols, extensive information on findspots (hoards), and will provide full and interlinked access to critical archival resources held at the ANS.

Overview of HRC

HRC will be built around seven interlinked components, employing the principles of Linked Open Data, already successfully deployed in a number of other ANS projects (including the NEH-­funded Online Coins of the Roman Empire). These include three stand­alone online tools each of which is devoted to the coinage of a single royal dynasty. These are: (1) PELLA, with a focus on the Argeads of Macedonia including Alexander the Great; (2) Seleucid Coins Online (SCO); and (3) Ptolemaic Coins Online (PCO). Incorporated within these three tools will be (4) a monogram and symbols repository. Two additional stand­alone tools, (5) Greek Coin Hoards and (6) the scanned Newell notebooks, will provide full documentation of available hoard evidence and provenance information for many individual coins. While all of the stand­alone tools will be interlinked, they will also be united through a portal site, (7) Hellenistic Royal Coinages, that will serve as a union catalogue for global searches and as a platform for later expansion, which will focus on adding the coinages of the remaining Hellenistic dynasties (Phase 2, post­-2020).

Portions of Phase 1 have, in fact, already been completed. Early versions of three out of the seven components of HRC were launched by the ANS in 2015:

1) PELLA, launched in September 2015, has as its initial focus the voluminous coinages of Alexander (III) the Great, his immediate successor Philip III Arrhidaeus, and those produced posthumously in their names. Later versions of PELLA will incorporate the earlier Argead kings from Alexander I to Philip II. The basic concept of PELLA, like that of SCO and PCO, is to establish stable URIs for each known variety of Alexander’s coinage and then to provide a highly functional tool for identifying individual types of coins within a larger dynastic series, to provide illustrations, information, and statistical analyses on as many examples of the individual types as possible, and to provide as much information as possible on hoards containing examples of the individual types. The typology of the current version of PELLA (v.1) is based on that of Martin Price’s Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus (British Museum 1991).

A typical page on the PELLA website, that for Price type 4 for example, provides: (1) a typological description (with links to the thesaurus); (2) a map of hoard finds (with links to the relevant coin hoard page; see below); (3) links to and illustrations of 47 examples of Price type 4 found in the collections of the ANS and Bode Museum in Berlin; and (4) statistical analyses of the weights and die axes of these 47 coins. All told, the current version of PELLA catalogues 4,070 separate types of coinage with links to 18,676 individual examples from thirteen institutions located in the US, England, France, and Germany; by the end of 2017, thousands of more additional examples will be added from collections in the US, France, and England. Continued development of PELLA has become a collaborative, international initiative, not just in order to add more examples of individual types, but to edit and revise as well. Since Price’s 1991 typology is in need of extensive revision due to advances in scholarship over the last 25 years, a consortium of nearly a dozen researchers based in the US, England and France, is currently working to revise the typology, which will appear in PELLA v.2, planned for late 2017. PELLA will then serve as the model for SCO and PCO, both in terms of functionality and development. With initial development work spearheaded by the ANS, others elsewhere will contribute to and facilitate further development of these tools.

2) In February 2015, the ANS launched a beta version of the Greek Coin Hoards website based on the 1973 ANS co-­publication Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (IGCH ), which lists and provides basic descriptions of 2,387 hoards, the majority of which date from the Hellenistic period. The current version (v.1) feeds hoard find-spot information to PELLA, and allows for rudimentary searches of hoard information. Further development of the tool is necessary, however, to achieve its full potential. This will include the incorporation of data from an additional c. 2,400 hoards derived from the print publications Coin Hoards (vols. I­X), links to the catalogue records of coins found in individual hoards currently held in public collections, links to bibliography on the individual hoards, and, most importantly, the incorporation of the unpublished archival material held at the ANS on individual hoards. Development of has been funded to date by the ANS and Stanford University.

3) The ANS maintains an online archives website, ARCHER. With a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the ANS digitized more than 3,500 pages in 43 notebooks of Edward T. Newell for addition to ARCHER in 2015 (Fig. 7). This was done in such a way as to allow interlinking between the digital notebooks, the ANS’s online numismatic catalogue (MANTIS), and online library catalogue (DONUM). Thus, if a coin mentioned in the notebooks currently belongs to the ANS, readers are directed to that coin’s record in MANTIS; if that coin had been published by Newell, readers are directed to the DONUM record for that publication; and if Newell discusses a hoard listed in IGCH, readers are directed to the relevant page. To date, roughly 15% of the groundwork for this cross-­linking between the notebooks and other ANS catalogues has been completed. A great deal more work remains to complete this as well as to link the monograms and symbols noted by Newell to the planned repository for these marks.

Fig. 7: Edward T. Newell hoard notebook, circa 1939.

The major work that remains for Phase 1 of HRC is then twofold: (1) adding functionality to existing tools; and (2) building new tools. Once completed, Phase 1 of HRC will have a transformative effect on our approach to this important body of material. In a matter of seconds, anyone from anywhere there is an internet connection will be able to gather a wealth of critical information on royal coinages for a variety of purposes, whether for academic research, museum cataloguing, or just general interest.

We thank the NEH for their generous support of this project. We also ask that should you have the desire to do so, please be vocal in your support of this important funding agency for the humanities at this critical juncture in its 50-year history.



ANS Assists with Stepping Wavertree Mast

The Wavertree docked at New York City's South Street Seaport. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The Wavertree docked at New York City’s South Street Seaport. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the revitalization of New York City’s premiere maritime museum, South Street Seaport, the ship Wavertree is currently undergoing restoration at Caldwell Marine in Staten Island. Once the restoration work is completed within the next month, Wavertree will return to her berth in the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge, where she will be open for display and will sail again on a limited basis within New York Harbor. The restoration work on the ship included the removal of all three of her masts, which provided an opportunity to perform the age-old tradition of placing a coin in the mast step before the mast is lowered and secured.

Three children place the coin in the socket for the Wavertree‘s mizzen mast. (Photo Alan Roche)

From archaeological evidence we know that this tradition dates back to at least the Roman Republican period, and very likely dates back even further. The reason for placing the coin is probably sacrificial, much like the coin dedications found in and around ancient temple sites. In this case the dedication was no doubt meant for Poseidon in the hopes he would look favorably upon the ship as it traversed his realm.

The mizzen mast is put in place atop the ANS-donated coin. (Photo Alan Roche)

As the curators at the South Street Seaport prepared for the stepping of Wavertree‘s masts, they approached the ANS for a coin that they might place under the mizzen, the last of the masts to go in. Since Wavertree was built in England in 1885, we selected a maundy fourpence of that year to donate for this auspicious occasion. Given by the British Monarch on Maundy Thursday as alms, these small silver coins serve more of a symbolic than monetary purpose. Thus a symbolic coin meant to serve a good purpose seemed the right choice for yet another occasion meant to serve a good purpose.

1885 Maundy Fourpence (ANS 2004.9.3729)

On August 16th, ANS curator Peter van Alfen and photographer Alan Roche were among the two dozen guests invited to witness the stepping of Wavertree’s last mast. The ANS’s donated maundy fourpence, now encased in lucite, was diligently placed in the mast step by three children before the 10-ton mast was finally lowered into place, where the coin will rest secure until the ship’s next refit, probably sometime around 2066. You will be able to find more information about this event, and the tradition of placing a coin in the mast step in ANS Magazine 2016, vol. 4.

ANS 2004.9.3729 encased in Lucite prior to being placed under the new mizzen mast. (Photo Alan Roche)

Deutschland in Amerika: July 9, 1916

postcard 6

As the First World War raged in Europe, neutrality in the United States was fraught with growing tensions as supporters of both sides of the conflict began to draw lines in the sand. Almost three years were to pass from the beginning of the war in August 1914 until the United States finally entered the conflict on April 6, 1917. During this time, commerce between the United States and both the Entente (Russia, France, Britain) and Central Powers (Germany and the Austro-Hungary) continued. One of the more usual episodes in the ongoing trade with the belligerents took place in 1916. The Entente, spearheaded by the British Navy, had set up a blockade of Germany’s northern ports in the hopes of starving the country into submission. It was a tactic that proved effective, but not decisively so. While normal surface ships had little chance of running the blockade, the Germans realized that they could potentially employ their superior submarine technology to circumvent it.


The Deutschland was a nominally private German cargo submarine operated by the North German Lloyd line, which was built specifically to run the blockade. On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, the Deutschland sailed mostly empty, but with tons of pig iron as ballast. It arrived and docked safely in Baltimore, on July 9, 1916. The pig  iron was subsequently unloaded and turned into souvenirs, which were sold to support German-American charities.

ANS, 1917.53.1 (click to enlarge)
ANS, 1917.53.1 (click to enlarge)

The submarine was loaded with mostly raw materials for its return trip home and Captain Paul König and his crew were feted as heroes all along the eastern seaboard that summer. The German Historical Society in New York City hosted an event for the crew at which the medal below was given.

ANS, 0000.999.56834
ANS, 0000.999.56834

Deutschland made another trip to the United States in the fall of 1916, this time landing in New London, Connecticut. A third planned trip in early 1917 was cancelled due to rising tensions in the aftermath of Germany’s renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare. Deutschland was soon thereafter militarized with torpedoes and guns, reemerging as U-155. The submarine went on to have a successful military career, sinking forty-two Allied ships and earning enmity of many Americans who had previously celebrated its blockade-running.

Peter van Alfen