Tag Archives: numismatics

The Computer Aided Die Studies Program

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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.

A New Lecture Series: “Money Talks: Numismatic Conversations”

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The ANS curators and fellows are pleased to announce a new lecture series, “Money Talks: Numismatic Conversations.” In this monthly interactive lecture series, appropriate for all levels of coin collectors and enthusiasts, attendees will view relevant coins, banknotes, or medals while learning about the broader world of numismatics. Light meals will be served, and Q&A sessions will follow. To ensure these events are as accessible as possible to all, most will take place on Saturdays at the ANS headquarters in New York City. On a few occasions, these Numismatic Conversations will take place at other venues.

During Saturday Numismatic Conversations at the ANS, the Society will be open from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm, so you have the opportunity to view items in our collections or library.

When taking place at the ANS, the fee will be $20 for ANS members, $50 for non-members. Pricing for other venues will be determined.

The series kicked off at the ANS on February 11 with lectures by Peter van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, and Ute Wartenberg on “The Origins of Money.” This lecture  considered the beginnings of money and its various guises including cut silver in the ancient Near East, early electrum coinage of Asia Minor, early bronze objects, bars and heavy coins in Italy and the spread of cowries in the Indian Ocean area, Eastern Africa and South Asia, including China.

Next Lecture: March 11

The next lecture in the series will be on Saturday, March 11, at the ANS at 1:00 pm, by Vivek Gupta, “The Beginnings of Islamic Coinage.” This talk will introduce members to the beginnings of Islamic coinage in the seventh century and its vast trajectories within the Arab lands and beyond. It will begin with an in-depth survey of its Byzantine and Sasanian precedents and will provide a basic outline of “Arab-Sasanian” and “Arab-Byzantine” types. Members will also learn about the styles of Arabic calligraphy that were used on early Islamic coins. Members will be able to view and handle fine examples of the ANS’s Islamic holdings with Assistant Curator, Vivek Gupta.

Lunch will be served at 1:00 pm, followed by the lecture at 2:00 pm, and Q&A at 3:00 pm. The ANS will remain open from 12 noon until 4:00 pm. RSVPCatherine DiTuri, (212) 571-4470 #117

Highlights of upcoming lectures (full brochure to follow):

Saturday, May 6

Gilles Bransbourg, “Signs of Inflation.”

Dr. Bransbourg will look at how inflation translates into coinage debasement and banknotes bearing large denominations, from ancient Rome to modern Zimbabwe.

Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 1:00 pm. American Numismatic Society. Lunch served at 1:00 pm, followed by the lecture at 2:00 pm, Q&A at 3:00 pm. The ANS will remain open from 12 noon until 4:00 pm.

David Hendin, “Ancient Jewish Coinage.”

Mr. Hendin will discuss the origins and production of ancient Jewish Coinage from the Persian era until the time of the revolts against Rome.

Date: TBA. Venue: American Numismatic Society.

Alan Roche, “The Art of Photographing Coins.”

Mr. Roche will consider the various aspects involved in the production of high resolution images of coins and banknotes. A hands-on photographic demonstration will be included.

Date: TBA. American Numismatic Society.

Mark Tomasko, “Representations on US Banknotes.”

Date: TBA. American Numismatic Society.

Jonathan Kagan, “Numismatic Book Collecting.”

Mr. Kagan will talk on collecting early books, particularly those with a focus on numismatics.

Date: TBA. Venue: American Numismatic Society.

Speakers: TBA “Wine and Money.”

In this lecture we will consider the strong relationships between coinage, banknotes, and wine throughout history and cultures.

Date and Venue: TBA.

Please mark your calendars and plan on joining us for these informal programs in a relaxed and social environment.

Reserve your spot!

For further information, please contact:

Catherine DiTuri, (212) 571-4470 #117

Gilles Bransbourg, (212) 571-4470 #156

Wealth and Warfare: The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria

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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.

ANS Book Sale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download an order form for your purchase(s).

Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans Redefines Attic Weight Coinage

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

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

View the complete lecture here.

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

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

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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.

War Of Queitus

There was a significant “Third Revolt” of the Jews during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98–117 AD). This war took place between the Jewish War (First Revolt: 66–70 AD) and the Bar Kokhba War (Second Revolt: 132–135 AD).

It was called “the war of Quietus” and took place between the years 115 and 117 AD. It was fought in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, but apparently not in Judaea.

More accurately, the “war of Quietus” was a series of revolts. These revolts were likely the direct results of both the aftermath of the reign of Domitian (who was especially hard on Christians and Jews) as well as attacks under Trajan’s rule on both Christian and Jewish leaders.

We do not know a great deal about the “war of Quietus,” and one reason is that there is not any known numismatic material that references this war. By comparison, the numismatic evidence from the First Revolt consists of both the coins of the Jews of the period, as well as the JUDAEA CAPTA coins of the Flavians, which reflect a great deal on their view of Rome’s victory.

Bar Kokhba’s coins are likewise very important to our knowledge of the so-called Second Revolt. Indeed, the first name of Bar Kokhba, “Simon” was known ONLY from his coins until 40 years ago—1960 to be exact—when the Bar Kokhba letters, discovered in caves near the Dead Sea, were discovered and translated.

Bar Kokhba bronze coin with the name of Simon. (Image © by David Hendin)
Bar Kokhba bronze coin with the name of Simon. (Image © by David Hendin)

After Domitian’s harsh rule, his successor, Nerva, was less abusive to his subjects.

There is no doubt that at this time in history there was quite a lot of animosity against the Jews. If you don’t believe it, read the very anti-Jewish first-century historian Tacitus, who in small part stated: “The other practices of the Jews are sinister and revolting, and have entrenched themselves by their very wickedness.”

Early in the second century, under Trajan’s rule, the head of the Judaeo-Christian Church, Simeon, son of Cleophas, was executed by the Roman governor of Judaea.

Furthermore, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, a leading gentile Christian, was sent to Rome and executed about the year 110. Grant describes him as “the first significant Christian churchman.” (At this point in the history of Christianity there were both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Originally Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism, thus the earliest Christians needed first to be Jews. Later, as Paul spread the gospel throughout the world, he preached that non-Jews could convert directly to Christianity without becoming Jewish first.)

The reasons for these executions are not clear, but they are probably part of a religious persecution by Rome that also underscored the Jewish unrest.

In 110, Trajan moved against Parthia, thus ending a 50-year peace that Nero had established. The Parthians had been weakened by the new and powerful Kushan kingdom in eastern Iran. A few years later, Trajan also annexed Armenia, and moved his armies into upper Mesopotamia and Adiabene. Adiabene is a country of special interest, since its ruling dynasty (led by Queen Helena) had voluntary converted to Judaism in the first century. (Helena’s tomb stands today in East Jerusalem, it is known as the “Tomb of the Kings.)

During these various military operations, a large number of Jewish communities came under Trajan’s control.

The first uprising came in Cyrenaica, where a Jewish king named Lukuas (also called Andrew) violently attacked the local Greek governments and Roman provincial authorities—all of whom had been weakened in favor of Trajan’s Parthian campaigns.   Cassius Dio painted a grim picture of Jewish atrocities, culminating with the Jews forcing the Romans and Greeks to fight with wild animals, or as gladiators in the arena. This sounds almost as if the Jews were exacting revenge for similar fates suffered by so many Jewish captives in Rome some 45 years earlier after the First Revolt.

The outbreak had meanwhile spread to Cyprus, and Eusebius, the “father of church history” reports its capital Salamis was laid waste by them. There is no information about how the Cyprus revolt was ended, but we know of the consequence, Cassius Dio reports that from that time forward Jews were not allowed to appear on the island, under penalty of death. Violent fighting also followed in Egypt and the synagogue of Alexandria, said to be a marvel of Egyptian architecture, was destroyed. To quell these Jewish outbreaks, Trajan’s first move was to call in a general named Martius Turbo. By repeated onslaughts against the Jews he overcame the rebellions in Cyprus, Egypt, and Cyrenaica.

To oppose the Jews closer to his own army, in the district of the Euphrates, Trajan turned to his favorite general, Lucius Quietus, a Moorish prince, known for his unpleasant disposition.

Emil Shurer writes in The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ that “with barbarous cruelty Quietus executed his commission and laid waste to the mostly Jewish towns of Nisibis and Edessa. Thousands of Jews were put to death. Thus was order restored, and Quietus, in recognition of his services, was appointed governor of Palestine.”

Even though accounts of the “war of Quietus” are skimpy, some sources say that as many as half a million casualties occurred amongst the foes.

Apparently as a reward for his good work, in about 117 AD Trajan sent Quietus to Judaea as governor of Palestine with unlimited power. This seems to indicate that there was also a certain level of Jewish rebellion in Palestine. However, the main Jewish insurrections at this time were clearly outside of Judaea. On the other hand, it is quite probable that the Jewish restiveness in Judaea at the time was the precursor to the Bar Kokhba War which erupted only 14 years later in 131/132 AD.

Possibly partly because of the Jewish uprisings, Trajan was finally unsuccessful in his Parthian campaign and he eventually had to give up on his grandiose plan to turn Parthia into a Roman province. At this time Trajan became very sick. He was taken to Antioch, and died a few months later in Cilicia. His wife, Plotina, told the army that before his death Trajan had named Hadrian as his adopted son and successor.

When Hadrian became emperor, he removed Quietus from this post, probably because the Moorish General had favored Trajan’s expansionism, which was not Hadrian’s style. Quietus was executed in Rome the following year, accused of participating in a conspiracy against the emperor.

I discussed the “war of Quietus” with Rabbi Benjamin Yablok, a numismatist and Talmudic scholar. He pointed out that the “war of Quietus” had at least one interesting, long-lasting effect on Jewish tradition. Based on writings in the Talmud, Rabbi Yablok explains, when Jewish women were married they would wear golden tiaras or crowns to the ceremony. But, “in commemoration of the misfortunes caused by Lucius Quietus, the Rabbinical sages decreed that brides should no longer wear crowns.” Jewish women have not worn golden marriage crowns since that time.

There is no numismatic evidence of the Jewish War of Quietus, 115-117 AD. However, this eastern issue semis of Trajan gives him the title PARTHICO “The Parthian” which refers to his early success against the Parthians during this period. The Jewish Talmud refers to this denomination as a “mismis.” (Image courtesy cngcoins.com)
There is no numismatic evidence of the Jewish War of Quietus, 115–117 AD. However, this eastern issue semis of Trajan gives him the title PARTHICO “The Parthian” which refers to his early success against the Parthians during this period. The Jewish Talmud refers to this denomination as a “mismis.” (Image courtesy cngcoins.com)

by David Hendin, ANS Adjunct Curator