On June 5th, the 63rd Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics, which has been generously sponsored by Eric P. Newman, began at the ANS under the direction of Dr. Peter van Alfen. Since 1952, the Society has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of Classical Studies, History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood.
This year’s Visiting Scholar is Dr. Thomas Faucher of the Institut de recherche sur les archéomatériaux, Centre Ernest-Babelon, part of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the Université d’Orléans (Orléans, France). Dr. Faucher is, among other things, a specialist in ancient coin production and Ptolemaic coinages. In addition we welcome eight students who come to us from McMaster University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU), the University of Delaware, the University of Houston, and Rutgers University.
For over half a century, The American Numismatic Society, a scholarly organization and museum of coins, money, and economic history, has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. With over three-quarters of a million objects, the collection is particularly strong in Greek, Roman, Islamic, Far Eastern, and US and Colonial coinages, as well as Medallic Art. Located in New York City’s SoHo district, the Society also houses the world’s most complete numismatic library.
The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students will select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper or digital project while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood. Successful applicants are typically doctoral candidates or junior faculty in a related discipline, but masters candidates are admitted as well.
This year’s Visiting Scholar will be Dr. Klaus Vondrovec, Curator of Ancient Coins at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, who also teaches at the University of Vienna. Dr. Vondrovec is, among other things, a specialist in late Roman and ancient coinages of Central Asia.
Applications are due no later than February 12, 2016. A limited number of stipends of up to $4000 are available to US citizens, and non-US citizens studying at US institutions under certain visas.
During the late 2nd century BCE, the region of Commagene, located in south-central Anatolia, became an independent kingdom during a period of high geopolitical tensions. By the first century BCE, the Seleucid Empire was waning, the Romans and Parthians were actively working to consolidate their own empires, and the Armenian kingdom continued to expand its territory under the leadership of Tigranes the Great. While these major powers dominated the political and physical landscape, Commagene was the setting for cross-cultural interaction brought about by trade and military activity. Commagene’s multifaceted political and cultural position is particularly evident in the bronze coinage of Mithradates I Callinicus (r. 96-70 BCE), who ruled the area under the sovereignty of Tigranes.
What does the numismatic record tell us about how the Commagenian dynasts saw themselves in relation to the other assorted regional powers? The American Numismatic Society possesses four examples of coins issued under Mithradates, but one in particular is unique:
This coin is a rare type with an image of an eagle with a palm leaf under its wings on the obverse, instead of the more typical profile of a diademed king. A caduceus, a rod with intertwining snakes that is associated with the Greek god of commerce Hermes, is represented on the reverse, accompanied by the inscription ‘BASILEWS MITHRADATOU KALLINIKOU (‘of the king Mithradates Callinicus’).
The depiction of animals instead of rulers was common in the Greek world, where the eagle usually referenced Zeus. Yet if we consider the imagery of the eagle and palm branch on Mithradates’ coins within the context of first century Anatolia, the imagery may also express political alliance or allegiance to Tigranes. Specifically, the eagle commonly appears as an emblem of kingship in Tigranes’ coinage. In the example below, two eagles flank a rosette on his crown.
The eagle and palm branch on Mithradates’ coinage may thus be read as a conscious appropriation of kingship imagery that was associated with the dominant power in the region. It was a political act that acknowledged Armenian sovereignty on the one hand, and the Commagenian right to rule on the other. Moreover, the difference in the inscriptions on each coin is striking, and contributes to the present interpretation. While Mithradates carefully refers to himself as basilews or ‘king,’ Tigranes calls himself basilews basilewn or the ‘king of all kings.’ Understood in this context, coinage illuminates negotiations of political identity and expressions of kingship in antiquity.
The legacy of Mithradates’ imagery and the impact of Armenian expressions are also manifest in later numismatic and sculptural projects. For instance, Antiochus I Theos’ hierothesion (sacred tomb) at Mount Nemrud is an innovative fusion of various aesthetic and symbolic traditions, displaying the self-consciousness of the Commagenian dynasts in relation to past and contemporaneous power relations.
For more information on the Commagenian kingdom, see this recent volume edited by Herman Brijder.
The Black Sea coast of Georgia is a wildly popular vacation destination, and its beaches are packed every summer with tourists. While perhaps not familiar to Americans, this stretch of coast has a special reputation in the Russophone world as a lush tropical paradise, and it became a popular vacation destination within the Soviet Union.
The history of ‘tourists’ to this region, though, started much earlier. It can be traced all the way back into the depths of Greek mythology in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason, as the legend goes, came to these shores in search of the Golden Fleece. The narrative of his journey hints at the long history of interaction between the eastern reaches of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean world, a history that has also been substantiated by archaeological evidence.
This gold coin is a material example of the cross-cultural interaction that characterized the area. On its obverse is a non-naturalistic depiction of a head facing right. The reverse is a schematic frontal depiction of a winged Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The coin has a high hammered rim, which is typical of coins minted in the region.
While its findspot is unknown, the coin is a local Georgian imitation of an Alexander stater. It was most likely minted in the territory of what is today Georgia between 100 BCE and 100 CE. A related type of imitation Lysimachus stater is also known from this region. Although Alexander the Great and his successors never directly controlled this part of the world, Hellenistic coinage circulated there, and it was thus a logical choice as a model for local issues.
During this period of history, the Black Sea coast (roughly corresponding to western Georgia) was a polity known as Colchis. Central and eastern Georgia was the seat of the polity of Iberia, known also by its Georgian name ‘Kartli.’ Traditionally, the imitation Alexander staters have been considered to have been produced in Kartli, while the imitation Lysimachus staters have been attributed to Colchis (see Kapanadze 1969). More recently, however, opinion has shifted away from this geographic interpretation, most notably in the work Tedo Dundua and others who manage the online catalog of Georgian numismatics, which is an invaluable resource.
The nature of the minting authority of these coins is unclear–we really do not even know whether they were ‘official’ issues of local authorities, emissions by private individuals, or something else entirely. Given the large gaps in our knowledge of local conditions during this era, it is difficult to place this coin within a more concrete political context. Hopefully ongoing archaeological work in Georgia can help to clarify the situation. The coins do appear in hoards alongside Hellenistic, Roman and Arsacid coins, so they were being used monetarily and were part of a much broader system of exchange.
Travelers, traders and tourists have long found themselves on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, and this enigmatic ANS coin represents just one material facet of the local response to this complex web of interactions.
Tucked away among a host of oddities and commodity currencies in the “traditional” cabinet at the ANS are two corroding gun cartridges, with jackets intact and presumably filled with powder. The bullets are 9mm and were produced in France, as indicated by the stamp S. F. M. (Société Française des Munitions) on the bottom of the casing. They served as ammunition for the Fusil Gras, a popular and fast-firing French service rifle that was manufactured in volume during the late nineteenth century.
The cartridges were donated to the Society in 1930 by Gordon MacCreagh (1886-1953), a Scottish pulp-fiction author and adventurer. Born in Perth, Indiana, MacCreagh’s adventuring life began after an academic fencing duel with a fellow student at Heidelberg University. Under the false impression that he had killed his opponent, he fled to India. MacCreagh served in World War I, and traveled to South America in 1922, but it was not until 1927 that he made his first trip to the African continent.
This expedition to Ethiopia was sponsored by the American pulp magazine Adventure and its ostensible purpose was to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant. MacCreagh spent most of the year fruitlessly searching, though he did gain an audience with Haile Selassie I (then Ras Teferi Mekonnen), who had recently been granted the title of negus (king) of Shoa by the Empress Zewditu. After his return, MacCreagh published an account of the expedition as the The Last of Free Africa (1928). It was also at this time that he made a donation to the ANS that included the cartridges, two blocks of salt (amole), and an assortment of coins that he picked up in Ethiopia.
The cartridges and amole were examples of then popular forms of commodity currency in Ethiopia. The history of firearms there began with the introduction of matchlock muskets in the 16th century by Portuguese mercenaries, who were hired by the beleaguered Christian Ethiopian monarchy as auxiliary forces in their fight against Muslim invaders. Firearms were not a common sight until the 19th century when French and Italian suppliers sold arms and ammunition to an Ethiopian monarchy looking to modernize its antiquated military systems.
By the first Italo-Ethiopian War (1895-96), the quality of armaments had been improved by European arms dealers, but not by much. Emperor Menelik II accommodated the hodgepodge of armaments in his army by dividing his men into 3 groups based on their rate of fire: those with muzzle-loaded guns (neftenya | fusiliers), those armed with flintlock rifles (temenja yaji | “one who bears a musket”) and those who carried breech-loaded rifles (snayder yaji | “one who bears a Snayder”). Snayder became the colloquial word for breech-loading rifles with the arrival of the .557 Snider-Enfield, which was used by British forces in Ethiopia at the Battle of Magdala in 1868.
By the time that Gordon MacCreagh arrived in Ethiopia, most Ethiopian infantrymen were using the by then very obsolete French Fusil Gras rifles. As with all relatively scarce goods in the mostly unregulated Ethiopian market, bullets soon became a commodity currency, and bullets bearing the S.F.M. stamp were highly sought after. When making his donation, MacCreagh mentioned that a single bullet was equivalent to 1/5th of a Maria Theresa thaler, the thaler still being a popular currency in that part of Africa. However, its value seems to have collapsed in relatively short order as arms and ammunition flooded into the country during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1941). within 10 years its value as a commodity seems to have collapsed. At the time that ANS curator Howland Wood published The Coinage of Ethiopia (1937), he observed that a single thaler could then fetch between 10-20 S.F.M. rounds.
The denaro provisino was one of the most widespread issues in Central Italy during the Late Middle Ages. Minted by Rome between 1186 and 1398, these small silver coins were characterized by a comb surmounted by an ‘S’ and symbols on the obverse. The reverse featured a cross surrounded by symbols in combinations that varied over time. Since the provisino is one of the very few informative artifacts from the Roman Middle, and they give us a better understanding of the economic history of Rome in this period.
The design of the provisino was based on the type minted in Provins for the Counts of Champagne (NE France), which was known as denier provinois. The wool comb on the reverse of this denier showed a wool comb, a reference to one of the main industries in Provins. It was circulating widely in Central Italy by the mid-12th century and the Roman mint simply copied it because it was an established type.
Although the Roman provisino never changed its basic type, the shape of the comb and other elements changed over the years. These changes in design allow us to reconstruct a relative chronology for the issue. The ANS collection holds two examples of provisini. The first was minted between the very last years of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century. This dating of the coin comes courtesy of metallurgical analysis carried out by Angelo Finetti in the Istituto di Scienza della Terra of Perugia University in 2000. Many examples of the type were also found in excavations conducted by the École Française de Rome at the fortified settlement of Caprignano (Casperia, prov. Rieti) in strata immediately antedating the destruction of the place in 1307.
In this period the obverse of the provisino showed a wool comb surmounted by an ‘S’, a clear reference to the Roman Senate, between a star and crescent. The legend reads +SENAT’P.Q.R. (Senat[us] P[opolus]q[ue] R[omanus]). The reverse has the legend +ROMA.CAPVD.M’ (Roma Capud M[undi]) with a cross surrounded by symbols. Three variants have been recognized, based around the different symbols in the quarters around the cross:
Cross with two pellets in the 1st and 4th quarters
Cross with misshapened omega and star in 2nd and 3rd quarters
The coin above is of the second variant. The metrological evidence indicates that these were struck in large quantities over a relatively short period of time. The most likely occasion was the First Jubilee of 1300, which was accompanied by a massive building program. This, together with the presence of numerous pilgrims and others into Rome, would certainly have created a great need for petty cash. While these coins are hardly attractive to modern eyes, they offer a window into a forgotten era of the history of Rome.
For more examples of provisini held by Italian museums, see the online database of the Capitoline Museum.
In 334 BCE, Alexander the Great crossed from Europe into Asia Minor and began his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. Centered in Persia, it was the largest empire the world had yet seen, stretching from from Egypt and Bulgaria in the west to Pakistan and Western China in the east. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 559 BCE, the expansive empire was thought to have ruled over half of the world’s population at its height. The Achaemenid Empire is perhaps best known today for the series of wars it fought with the Greek city states, most notably Athens and Sparta. Although the Achaemenid kings were unsuccessful in their attempts to invade Greece proper, they did control a large Greek population living in modern day Turkey, and the repeated Persian invasions inflicted heavy losses on the Greeks.
The Persians thus loomed in Greek minds as their powerful enemy, and one which Alexander was determined to crush as his armies began their march into Achaemenid territory. Classical sources cite revenge as one of Alexander’s goals, and, whether or not this was true, his forces swiftly conquered Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt. The Persian king Darius III massed his forces at Gaugamela, near present-day Mosul in Iraq, but suffered a devastating defeat owing to Alexander’s superior soldiers and tactics.
Darius fled west into the mountains, leaving one of his chief courtiers, Mazday (also known as Mazaeus or Mazaios), in charge of the city of Babylon. When Alexander’s army arrived at the gates, Mazday immediately surrendered the city and ceded control of the the strategically important region around Babylon to the Greeks. But Mazday did not simply surrender because he feared Alexander and his army, he was also motivated by self-interest. Alexander made Mazday satrap (or governor) of Babylon, which suggests he might have struck a deal to surrender the city. This position gave him responsibility for producing coinage:
This is a silver stater that weighs 17 grams, which is fairly heavy for an ancient silver coin, and it was minted in Bablyon under Mazday’s authority (331-328 BCE). On the obverse, the Semitic god Baal, who was worshipped throughout the Middle East, sits enthroned with a scepter in hand. Although mostly illegible, an Aramaic inscription on the right side of the obverse reads, “Baaltars,” a local variant of the god. This image of Baal later came to represent Zeus for coins minted throughout Alexander’s territory, as both were the chief gods of their respective pantheons. The reverse shows a lion, a popular image for millenia in the Middle East, and an Aramaic inscription reading Mazday.
The coin shows something of the cross-cultural influences that followed Alexander’s conquests . The Aramaic language, along with the iconography of Baal and the lion, is deeply Middle Eastern, yet Baal’s image eventually transmorgified into Zeus. The coin was minted at a Greek, rather than Persic, weight standard, and Greek inscription later displaced the Aramaic script. The coin can be viewed as a material symbol of the melding of Greek and Middle Eastern culture in the Hellenistic period.
From 101 to 106 CE, the Roman Emperor Caesar Traianus Divi Nervae Filius Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, more commonly known as the emperor Trajan, waged back to back wars in the ancient territory of Dacia, a region covering modern Romania, Moldova, and surrounding area. Trajan’s victory in these wars was a source of prestige and provided the Roman Empire with a supply of wealth in the form of imported slaves and newly accessible gold mines.
Trajan decreed one hundred and twenty-three days of celebration following the final conquest of Dacia and its conversion into a province. In the years that followed, the benefits of these campaigns reached Rome in the form of plunder brought back by the returning army. Precious metal objects were paraded in triumphant processions through the city before they were melted down and minted into imperial denarii. The coins from this period, which were produced in a variety of types and variations, commemorated the victory and celebrated the might of Rome.
This silver denarius has a typical obverse showing Trajan’s portrait, identifying him by name (IMP TRAIANO), including his titles denoting his military victories in Germany and Dacia, and recording the year it was struck in the form of the number of his consulships. The reverse shows Nike, the goddess of victory, inscribing DACICA on a shield, which hangs on a palm tree (yet another symbol of victory). The legend S P Q R OPTIMO PRINCIPI indicated that the coin was struck at the behest of the Senate and the Roman people for Trajan.
Like many Roman coins, the imagery and meanings duplicate and reinforce each other, presenting Rome as an invincible force almost predestined to add territory and expand. These images, together with the legend, follow patterns of inscriptions and iconography that were utilized in the construction of his forum and the famous Trajan’s column, which celebrated the discipline and strength of the Roman legions. The free-standing column wreathed in an elegant spiral bas relief was completed in 113 CE and is about 100 feet in height. It’s dedication reads:
The Senate and people of Rome to the Emperor Caesar Nerva Trajan Augustus, son of Nerva of blessed memory, conqueror in Germany and Dacia, High Priest, vested with the tribunician power 17 times, proclaimed Imperator 6 times, elected consul 6 times, Father of the Nation: as an illustration of the height which this hill and place attained, now removed for such great works as these.
Interestingly, both the coin and the inscription on the column recognize the agency of the Roman Senate and people (Senatus Populusque Romanus), and acclaim their triumph alongside that of Trajan’s. As with other Roman emperors, the right to strike coinage was one that was technically granted by the Senate as representatives of the people. Moreover, the erection of the column, though organized by Trajan and his favored architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, was technically a Senatorial project, not an imperial one. The coin was struck five years after the wars, but predated the completion of the column and thus helped to keep the memory of the Dacian Wars alive until the grand monuments could be completed.
The 2015 edition of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics started this week at the American Numismatic Society. The seminar offers an eight-week introduction to numismatics for graduate students and junior faculty in a variety of disciplines whose work relates to coins and currency. Attendees also have the opportunity for hands-on work with one of the world‘s preeminent numismatic collections, which holds almost a million objects from all cultures, past and present. This post is to welcome and introduce this year’s participants!
Our Visiting Scholar is Professor Aleksander Bursche of the University of Warsaw, who is an archaeologist specializing in relationships between Greeks, Romans, and “barbarians,” with a particular emphasis on monetary and economic interactions.
Jane Sancinito is a Ph.D. candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania who is interested in the social dimensions of exchange among Roman merchants. She runs a blog about the basics of ancient numismatics that you can find here.
Lara Fabian is a doctoral student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World graduate group at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies relations between Romans, Parthians and mobile pastoralists in the South Caucasus.
Patricia Kim is a doctoral student in the History of Art department at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies aspects of cross-cultural interaction and kingship in Greco-Roman visual and material culture.
Felege-Selam Yirga is a doctoral student in the History department at the Ohio State University. He studies the Near East and Red Sea in Late Antiquity with a focus on Axum.
Rhyne King is a doctoral student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He studies the history of Pre-Islamic Iran in general, and the Achaemenid Empire in particular.
Stephanie Leitzel is a incoming doctoral student in the History Department at Harvard University. She is interested in the environmental and economic history of the Early Middle Ages, particularly in the Irish Sea region.
William Chiriguayo is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Harvard University. His dissertation–an imperial, numismatic history of United States currency–examines how the production of money advanced the American imperial project.
Mariele Valci recently obtained a Master’s degree in the Department of Archaeology at Università di Roma Tre and will be pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham in the fall. Her work focuses on developing a better understanding of the medieval economy of Rome through the study of coins minted by the city between the 12th and 14th century. She blogs about her experience of being an archaeologist abroad here.