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Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria

duyrat-book-jacket

The American Numismatic Society is proud to announce the publication of Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria, by Frédérique Duyrat. Syria has been the theater of one of the most barbarous wars of the last centuries, characterized by war crimes and persecution of civilians. Beyond the human aspect of this conflict, one of the distinctive features of the war in Syria has been the treatment of cultural heritage. It takes two different forms. The most obvious is the systematic destruction of historical artifacts and remains by ISIS, dubbed “cultural cleansing” by UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. There is a second aspect to the “cultural strategy” of ISIS. This group is completely different from all the preceding forms of international terrorist organizations since it is only marginally dependent on foreign funding and has accumulated an impressive war chest. The traffic of antiquities has, among other activities, become an essential resource for the group. The income represented by looting and illegal traffic of antiquities has been estimated at around $200 million per year, and may represent the second largest source of income for ISIS. Moreover, the chaos caused by this multiparty war is beneficial to different groups of looters, whatever the cause they defend.

It is extremely difficult to identify objects that come from looting. If they have never been catalogued by a museum or in archaeological records, they have no established provenance. The sand or earth remaining on those artifacts is often the only sign of a recent archaeological discovery. Coins are even more difficult to trace to their source. Mass-produced in large numbers and often circulating over wide areas, they have an intrinsic value when struck in precious metal, as well as an artistic and historical interest. Moreover, they can be easily found with basic metal detectors. Official alerts regarding the looting of coins are extremely rare, although coins are often found in illegal commerce, or in military raids. If the recently publicized documents photographed by the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology are authentic, it is noticeable that the licenses for looting granted by ISIS to individuals cover “collecting antiquities and buried money.” Moreover, the looters’ interest in numismatics has been emphasized by the discovery, in June 2015, of an ISIS cache containing weapons and a book with articles on numismatics. As noted by Ute Wartenberg, it is an academic book probably stolen from a museum library, and it contains useful numismatic overviews on coinage issued in Syria from the fifth century BCE to Byzantine times.

In such a context, the role of the historian of antiquity is particularly crucial: to gather all that can allow us to reconstitute this endangered past, to interpret the artifacts, to make them available for future generations in a future time of peace when people will be able to rediscover their roots. But how can numismatics be involved in such an important mission? Coins are tiny, scattered, and they require highly specialized skills to be interpreted. Even studied with care, they remain difficult to understand as a whole. One of the reasons why coins are such a difficult source is their number: issued in the millions, lost or hoarded in the tens of thousands, they form an ocean in which the non-specialist feels lost. To study the coinages of an entire region is a way to approach coins as a single source. Moreover, to study ancient Syria through this particular source sheds light on new aspects of the past of a region currently devastated by war. This is what author Frédérique Duyrat has done in Wealth and Warfare. The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria.

This book assembles for the first time the evidence for coin finds in the region of ancient Syria from the 5th to the 1st century BCE. A full catalogue of all known coin hoards and published excavation finds serves as the basis for an explanation of monetary behavior in an area extending over parts of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Turkey. In seven chapters of analysis, Duyrat establishes the limits of what we can learn from coin circulation, to compare the data from commerce to the data from legal excavations, to try to understand the chronological evolution of coin circulation and how much political events or warfare affect it, and to evaluate what coin finds tell us of the wealth and poverty of the people who assembled them. One chapter is devoted to how the contemporary history of the countries within the scope of this study has influenced the documentation. This book determines more precisely than ever what circulated in the ancient Near East and can provide the patterns by which to evaluate the loss suffered by the cultural heritage of this region.

About the author: Frédérique Duyrat is director of the Department of Coins, Medals, and Antiques of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and is associated to the research team Orient et Méditerranée—Mondes sémitiques (University Paris–Sorbonne) and the Ecole doctorale Archéologie of the University Paris I–Panthéon Sorbonne. She has written and edited more than 50 books and articles on the coinage, history and archaeology of ancient Syria and Phoenicia.

Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria

Numismatic Studies 34, ISSN 0517-404-x

ISBN 978-0-89722-346-1

Hardcover, 600 pages, b/w figures, tables

Wealth and Warfare is available for purchase through the ANS’s book distribution partner Casemate Academic/Oxbow Books. ANS Members qualify for a member discount and should write to Andrew Reinhard, ANS Director of Publications,  for the online discount code.

ISIS, Numismatics, and Conflict Antiquities

In preparing a session on cultural property issues for the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar, I was reading more of the news about the systematical looting of Syria. The debate about how the sale of antiquities, including coins, helps to fund ISIS has been hotly contested, but images such as the aerial views of the ancient site of Dura-Europos are just too depressing for words.

Palmyra Gate, Wikipedia
Palmyra Gate of Dura-Europos via Wikipedia

What I had missed until I read Sam Hardy’s blog on conflict antiquities is the discovery of a numismatic book among an unlikely assortment of weapons and somehow academic-looking publications. The photograph below was one taken of materials confiscated by the Kurdish People’s Defence Unit after a battle with Turkish Islamic State fighters.

‘New documents unravel ISIS-Turkish state cooperation’ (c) Mehmet Nuri Ekinci, Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF), 3rd June 2015
‘New documents unravel ISIS-Turkish state cooperation’
(c) Mehmet Nuri Ekinci, Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF), 3rd June 2015

An open page shows what numismatists and archaeologists identified immediately as a group of various Persian and Phoenician coins, with some text below. I knew right away that I had seen this page some time in the past, and after a few minutes I was able to decipher the title of the article, ”La Syrie sous la domination achéménide” by Maurice Sartre. A Google search quickly confirmed that this was published in the volume Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie II, edited by Winfried Orthmann and Jean-Marie Dentzer and published in 1989. Here is the entry for the book in the ANS Library Catalogue, and upon arriving at the ANS this morning, I was able to confirm the identification:

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Towards the end of the book, there is a map of archaeological sites of Hawran, an area in southwestern Syria:

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

The confiscated book is missing the first pages, its dark-green hard cover, and very last page (p. 591). The page with the text and images of coins in the Syrian photograph is page 17. Incidentally, the first volume of Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie was published in 2013.

There is indeed a personal connection of mine to the book. Winfried Orthmann was professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Saarbrücken University, where I attended his lectures as an undergraduate. And the book was published and printed in my hometown Saarbrücken.

IMG_116018Now how this very scholarly book on archaeology of Syria ends up in the hands of ISIS fighters is an interesting question. I, for one, have never underestimated the often erudite knowledge people who are involved in looting ancient sites in the Mediterranean. For people interested in a general overview of coins from Syria, this book is indeed helpful. Articles by Christian Augé on “La monnaie en Syrie à l’époque hellénistique et romaine” (pp. 149–190, with four plates illustrating 71 coins) and by Cécile Morrisson (who won the ANS Huntington Medal in 1995) on “La monnaie en Syrie byzantine” provide excellent and well-illustrated introductions to the coins of this region. Her article gives a considerable amount of detailed scholarly information on site finds of coins in Syria.

So this is an extremely unlikely find—a scholarly, not exactly inexpensive, and heavy—book on the archaeology of Syria in the hands of ISIS fighters. If anyone doubts the multifaceted connections between looted antiquities and war in Syria, this discovery has to make one wonder.

Ute Wartenberg

Update:

museum
Ar-Raqqah Museum

After my last post identifying the Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie (1989) as the volume confiscated from ISIS fighters, Professor Winfried Orthmann, one of the editors of this German collection of essays on the archaeology of Syria, sent me an email. He informed me that he had sent a copy of the book to the director of antiquities at the Ar-Raqqah Museum. It is also possible that the had an additional copy of the book. Raqqa, a city in the Euphrates River in the northern region of Syria, has been a stronghold of ISIS for a while, and the looting of its museum has been widely online (see, for example, this and this). In any event, it is certainly possible that this relatively rare academic volume seen in the photos was one of the copies from the Ar-Raqqah Museum.