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.
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.
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:
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)
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)
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)
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.
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).
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).
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:
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.
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 Nomisma.org 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 coinhoards.org 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 coinhoards.org 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.
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.
Last month, on November 7, 2016, the internationally acclaimed Canadian artist Leonard Cohen died of cancer. He was regarded as a man of many talents, who painted, wrote novels, poetry, and the songs for which he was best known. He was a man of art, culture, and ideas, who appreciated the value of both Manhattan and Berlin.
Within the large oeuvre left behind by Cohen, the song Hallelujah stands out for its great popularity and the life of its own that it has taken on in the hands of the many other musicians (now more than 300 in multiple languages according to Wikipedia) who have played and modified its lyrics since it was first released in 1984. However, all versions begin with Cohen’s original lament “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?” and this has prompted the topic for this edition of the ANS blog. Regardless of whether a numismatist does care for music (Cohen’s or anyone else’s) or not, David’s secret chord and those of other lyric poets have made an impact on coins from antiquity up to modern times.
David is depicted playing his chord on the enigmatic Irish St. Patrick coinage of the seventeenth century, some of which was carried off to New Jersey to serve as halfpence in the cash-starved colony. Its production in two denominations (or one that was later reduced in weight?), date of issue, meaning of its iconography, and the circumstances of its arrival in New Jersey have captured the imagination of Colonial American numismatists for decades and even became the topic for an ANS Coinage of the Americas Conference in 2006. The famous king also plays on contemporary coins of Nuremberg and the Papal States, as well as on psalmenpfennige (medallic awards for the completion of Protestant religious education, which included the memorization of Psalms—the Biblical songs attributed to David).
Harps appear without players on English silver coins struck for use in Ireland in the sixteenth century, but it is not clear whether any reference to King David was intended in this heraldic emblem or whether the instrument alluded only to contemporary Irish culture, which held its native harpers in high esteem. David’s harp (indicated by the winged female column symbolizing the unearthly beauty of its music), occurs on English halfpence produced for Ireland English halfpence produced for Ireland in the eighteenth century—perhaps not coincidentally after more than 100 years of repressive policies had all but crushed the native tradition of harping in Ireland. A pointedly Celtic harp (Irish cláirseach) has been used on all Irish coins, including the current euro, since the creation of the Irish Free State (Republic of Ireland after 1948) in 1922.
Although it is regularly described and depicted as a harp in medieval and modern texts and artworks, David’s stringed instrument was actually a form of lyre known in Hebrew as the kinnor. A related instrument, the nebel was regularly played as part of celebratory worship in the Jerusalem Temple. The connection of these instruments to the Temple and to David lies behind their prominent depiction on coins struck by Jewish rebels against Rome during the disastrous Bar Kokhba War (AD 132-136). This bloody conflict erupted when the emperor Hadrian sought to refound Jerusalem (already destroyed by Titus in AD 70) as a pagan city. The kinnor and nebel of the Bar Kokhba coins had a dual purpose. They evoked the longing memory of days when the Temple still stood and great Jewish kings ruled the land while casting Simon bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt, as a Messianic figure who might lead his people to victory and restore the Temple.
The chelys (Latin testudo) and kithara of the Greeks and Romans appear to have been the rough equivalents of the kinnor and nebel, respectively. The former, which included a sound box made from a tortoise shell or wood formed into the shape of a shell, was said to have been discovered by the god Hermes. While traveling along a riverbank, he was attracted by a beautiful sound and when he went to investigate he found that the wind was blowing tendons that had been stretched across a tortoise shell. From this he fashioned the first chelys to be played by gods and men. The kithara, however, was a more elevated instrument of wooden construction associated with Apollo and the Muses as patrons of culture and the arts. Indeed, music lessons on the kithara or chelys were a staple of state education programs for citizens of the ancient Greek cities. The important role of music in Greek education is underlined by coins of the Bithynian king Prusias II that depict Chiron, the centaur tutor of Herakles, playing a kithara. The instrument is the only element of the type that allows the viewer to identify the subject as the educator Chiron and not some other centaur.
Apollo is a ubiquitous deity on Greek coins struck in the Classical and Hellenistic periods and even under the Roman Empire, who often appears in his role as Kitharoidos—the kithara player. His kithara is also depicted on coins, often paired with the head of its divine player or by itself, as on early coins of Delos, the island of Apollo’s birth. Less commonly, even great human lyric poets or the Muses who inspired them to greatness appear on Greek and Roman coins. Sappho is shown playing a kithara on coins of Mytilene in the Roman period as a means of advertising the cultural importance of the city while Terpsichore, Kalliope, and Erato, the respective Muses of choral song, epic poetry, and love poetry appear holding a kithara (Kalliope) or chelys (Terpsichore and Kalliope) on coins of the Roman Republican moneyer Q. Pomponius Musa as an extended pun on his cognomen Musa.
While Leonard Cohen attributes a single secret chord to David in his song, the numerous symbolic uses to which harps, lyres, and their players were put on coins of ancient and more modern times would seem to suggest that through the ages there were in fact many such chords aimed at pleasing the mortal as well as the divine.
Ruben Post is a PhD candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania. Ruben’s area of interest is the economic and environmental of Hellenistic Greece, with a particular focus on federal states. His dissertation examines the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources, land tenure patterns, federal institutions, and economic networks in the Hellenistic Achaean League.
Following the conquests of Alexander the Great (334–324 BCE), the many civic mints of the Greek world continued to produce silver coinage on several different weight standards. In southern Greece, the principal standard was the so-called Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 6 g). In the course of the 3rd c. BCE, however, most of these mints ceased to operate, and city after city joined increasingly powerful federal states, until in the early 2nd c. BCE only three such states—the Aitolian, Boiotian, and Achaian Leagues—came to dominate much of mainland Greece. At this same time, federal coinages unsurprisingly replaced local coinages; these federal issues were struck predominantly on a new standard, referred to commonly as the Reduced Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 5 g). My project for the graduate seminar has been to examine how this new standard emerged and why so many states came to adopt it.
While the main outlines of this process have been known for some time, little attention has been focused on the chronology and initial stages of the spread of the Reduced Aiginetan standard. In my research I found that, while much attention has been paid to the adoption of this standard by federal states, it has gone unnoticed that the first evidence we have for its adoption in southern Greece comes from the coinages associated with two famous Peloponnesian sanctuaries: Olympia and Epidauros. These sanctuaries seem to have required all foreigners to use their coinages exclusively, and administrators thus realized that by lowering the weight of silver used to strike their coins they could make a considerable profit through moneychanging. This monetary reform can be dated fairly securely based on hoard evidence to right around 250 BCE in both cases, though it is unclear who was following whom. When we turn to the federal states of Greece, however, our evidence is less clear. The Boiotian League appears to have been the first to adopt this new standard around 250 BCE, though there is ambiguous evidence suggesting that it may have been adopted some decades earlier. In the case of the Aitolian League, it is clear that the new standard was only adopted in the 230s BCE, and the Achaian League does not appear to have issued Reduced Aiginetan coinage until the beginning of the 2nd c. BCE.
Why did these states opt to reduce the weight standard of their coinage? There are two likely factors. The first is that older, well-used Aiginetan coins continued to circulate as legal tender at this time; hoard evidence demonstrates that as a result a significant proportion of small silver coinage circulating in central and southern Greece in the mid-3rd c. BCE weighed c. 2.5 g (the weight of new Reduced Aiginetan hemidrachms). As such, states that derived revenue from circulating coinage were losing out if they struck full-weight issues. The second is that within a couple of decades this standard became the norm for military pay throughout much of Greece. In later 3rd c. BCE inscriptions, this Reduced Aiginetan coinage is referred to as “alliance silver”; it has been plausibly suggested that this name derives from the Hellenic Alliance of 224/3 BCE, a coalition of several federal states including the Achaians and Boiotians. The need to pay troops of different origins serving together thus probably provided the ultimate impulse leading to the widespread adoption of this standard by c. 200 BCE.
Today’s post is written by Jeremy Simmons, a PhD candidate in the Classical Studies program at Columbia University. He has written on the topic of Indo-Roman trade, and in particular, the spice trade in antiquity. His dissertation will look specifically at patterns of consumption in the larger Indian Ocean trade network, including the engagement between Indian monetary systems and imported Roman coinage. His project, as a participant of the the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar, focuses on Western Kṣatrapa coins.
For my ANS Seminar Project, I decided to look at silver coins of the Western Kṣatrapas, who ruled in the modern day Indian states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh from the mid-first to early fifth centuries CE (Figure 1). These coins have been indispensable for reconstructing the chronology of the Western Kṣatrapa kings, as well as the line of succession, due to the presence of dates (in the Śaka Era) and patronymics on coins. However, the feature of these coins that drew me to this project is the obverse legend, which appears to be written in a script that mixes Greek and Roman characters at random.
These legends have been little discussed in scholarship (as opposed to the Brāhmī legends on the reverse), and have been variously labeled “Greek,” “corrupt/pseudo/blundered Greek,” or “Greco-Roman,” without much consideration of the larger implications of these different descriptions. In fact, it is a general practice to not record the obverse legends of Kṣatrapa coins in catalogues or other publications: cataloguers justify their actions by stating that the legends become corrupt over time and cease to have any meaning; and those publishing or auctioning a single coin tend not to transcribe the obverse legend at all.
This lack of scholarly attention arises from the assumption that the obverse legends at one point communicated written language—specifically, the coins of the early kings like Nahapāna, which have Greco-Roman script transliterations of the Prakrit reverse legends (Figure 2)—but that later die-cutters, due to their lack of skill or knowledge of Greek and Latin, merely rendered corrupt versions as a form of ornamentation. I believe this narrative of decline, first suggested over a century ago, is not only based on the limited evidence of early collections, but has been perpetuated by a regrettable practice of not recording positive data.
In order to correct the treatment of obverse legends on Kṣatrapa coins in scholarship, I have created a database of Greco-Roman obverse legends found on silver coins minted during the three-and-a-half centuries of Kṣatrapa rule (from Nahapāna to Rudrasiṃha III). I gathered these legends from specimens presented in various museum catalogues, auction listings, and publications. While this task involved some difficulties due to the damaged nature of most obverse legends (Figure 3) and the poor quality of photographs, I managed to assemble a large corpus of data in order to supplement existing descriptions and serve as the basis of my initial observations.
It is my hope that these observations will contribute to the following aims: 1) determining which paleographic features of the obverse script are Greek versus Roman, in order to mitigate the problem of variable terminology; 2) outlining possible sources of inspiration for these legends, whether it be local precedents (e.g., Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Indo-Parthian), imported Roman coinage, or imitation Roman coinage produced in India (Figures 4 and 5); 3) uncovering any evidence of conscious design behind these legends (as opposed to mindless copying as previously suggested), indicated by similar patterns of letters, standardization of legends, etc.; 4) and, most importantly, speculating why the Kṣatrapa kings would design coins with unreadable obverse legends alongside very legible Brāhmī legends and numerals.
At the very least, it is my hope to show the merits in investigating elements of a coinage tradition that many have disregarded as “meaningless.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Nathanael 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.
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.
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.
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.
Giuseppe 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.
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.
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.
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.
In a previous installment we looked at the under-appreciated and underutilized leaden riches of the ANS cabinet. In truth, however, the lead coins are probably better known to many collectors and scholars than the Society’s holdings of terracotta and porcelain coins. Yes, that’s right. The same materials and processes used to make your floor tiles, your teacup, and your toilet have at various times been used to make money or monetiform objects.
The oldest example—and my personal favorite—in the collection is a remarkable terracotta “elephant stater” of Seleucus I Nicator (312–281 BC) (Fig. 1).
Seleucus began his career as one of the lesser commanders serving Alexander the Great during his conquest of the Persian Empire, but after Alexander’s death, he became satrap (governor) of Babylonia and then king in his own right over a vast territory stretching from western Asia Minor to the borders of India. At his mints in Babylonia (and Susiana and Bactria) Seleucus I struck silver “elephant staters” featuring the head of Zeus on the obverse and Athena in a chariot drawn by elephants on the reverse (Fig. 2).
It is unclear what we should make of the Society’s terracotta specimen, which probably came from the Seleucia on the Tigris excavations carried out by the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1937. Terracotta coins of other Seleucid rulers have been published from these excavations, but the ANS piece appears to be the only “elephant stater.” The published examples are usually described as clay models used as references by die engravers in the Seleucid mint. However, all of the terracotta coins (including ours) look very much like they have been cast from moulds made from real coins that have seen some degree of circulation and exhibit some of their own surface wear, none of which we would expect from models for artists. One wonders whether the Seleucid terracotta coins served as tokens at Seleucia (they do not seem to be found anywhere else) in times of emergency, whether they might have served as some sort of accounting tool, or whether they had some other unguessed purpose.
More modern and somewhat less mysterious, but certainly equally interesting are the porcelain and stoneware Notgeld (emergency money) coins produced in the German city of Meissen between 1921 and 1923. After the devastation of the First World War finally came to an end and a punishing Treaty of Versailles was imposed on Germany, the country sank into a nightmarish economic crisis that included shortages of circulating money. In order to make up the shortfall, the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Porcelain Factory (founded 1710) of Meissen produced porcelain and stoneware coins for German states, municipalities, and private businesses ranging in denomination from the pfennig to multiples of the mark and thaler (Fig. 3).
In many German states Notgeld more commonly came in the form of paper notes rather than coins (Fig. 4).
It is a little ironic that the factory of Meissen was first to make money out of ceramics since the methods for producing white porcelain and a distinctive dark red stoneware (Böttger ware) were first discovered in Europe by the Berlin alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682–1719) while attempting to create the elusive Goldmachertinktur. This mysterious substance was supposed to give the alchemist the power to cure any disease and, perhaps more importantly, the power to turn lead into gold. Böttger’s efforts attracted the unwanted attentions of the frequently cash-strapped Frederick I of Prussia (1688–1713) and Augustus II of Poland, who was also the Elector of Saxony (1694–1733), and the alchemist frequently found himself held in “protective custody” just in case he was successful. The secret of porcelain was discovered in 1708, during one such period of “protection” by Augustus II. The King-Elector immediately recognized its implications and established the factory at Meissen. Prior to Böttger, porcelain could be obtained by the European elite only through the long-distance trade with China. As such it was valued like precious metals and was sometimes described as “white gold.” For a time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries porcelain was as valuable as money, but it only became money in a real sense in the early 1920s. Unfortunately, while porcelain and stoneware coins helped to fill in the holes in the circulating medium of postwar Germany and also held an attraction for collectors, their utility was hampered by their tendency to break easily. In the end, porcelain coins could not keep up with the hyperinflation that took hold of Germany in 1922–1923 (Fig. 5) and were abandoned as part of the circulating medium before the introduction of the new Rentenmark (a currency backed by land) ended the hyperinflationary period in November of 1923.
A third notable group of ceramic coins in the ANS collection consists of porcelain gaming tokens that circulated as local money in Siam (modern Thailand) between 1760 and 1875. The colorfully-glazed white porcelain tokens (Fig. 6) were produced in China for use by the numerous private gambling houses in Siam.
It has been estimated that there were some 500 to 1,000 different firms, or hongs, that operated these houses and issued tokens. They were produced in a variety of denominations ranging from the att to the salung and involved many thousands of different designs as a means of preventing counterfeiting. Issues were also recalled frequently and replaced in order to thwart would-be counterfeiters. The system was evidently successful and the tokens seem to have inspired trust as money. However, the modernizing policies of the Siamese king Rama V (1868–1910), which included the introduction of a European-style royal coinage (Fig. 7), ultimately resulted in the prohibition of the circulation of the tokens. One is reminded of the much more recent use of casino chips as circulating money in Las Vegas before this was curtailed by changes to Nevada law in the 1980s.
In addition to the gold silver and copper coins usually associated with the ANS collection we should always remember the other, not so well known materials that make up the numismatic riches of the Society’s cabinet. Their stories are equally fascinating and worthy of being told. With each raising of the teacup and every flush it is good for numismatists to give a thought to the days of “white gold” and the remarkable places and people as well as the interesting (occasionally frightening) times that have given us porcelain coins.
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).”
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.