Saturday, December 27, 2008

Abstracts for Two Numismatic Sessions at the 2009 Joint AIA/APA Annual Meeting: "Contextual Numismatics..." (AIA) and "Coins and Identity" (APA)

In a previous post I discussed the upcoming colloquium, "Contextual Numismatics: New Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Methodologies," at the 2009 AIA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia that Stefan Krmnicek and I organized. The AIA has now finalized the program of sessions and papers for the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and abstracts are now available online, including those for our session. For convenience I post the abstracts for our session and the topics about which our panelists will speak below. The APA, whose Annual Meeting is joint with the AIA's, has a session on "Coins and Identity" and I post those abstracts below as well.

AIA Session 6A
Contextual Numismatics: New Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Methodologies
Saturday, January 10, 2009, 1:30-4:30

Organizers: Nathan T. Elkins, Goethe Universität Frankfurt / University of Missouri; Stefan Krmnicek, Goethe Universität Frankfurt

1. Session Introduction (Nathan T. Elkins, Goethe Universität Frankfurt / University of Missouri)

Colloquium Overview Statement:

The participants in this panel expound innovative and dynamic approaches to the contextual study of ancient coins within an interdisciplinary framework. Coins have often been reduced to mere aesthetic objects or chronological references divorced from consideration of their original contexts in which they were once embedded. A multidisciplinary treatment of the individual dimensions of an ancient object (functional, social, historical, political, personal, etc.) provides a better understanding of its contemporary meaning. In the study of ancient art and culture, for example, modern scholarship has successfully applied such approaches. Unlike most art objects, however, coins also have an equally strong practical and functional quality, which must be investigated in conjunction with their other dimensions and within the wider context of material culture. Therefore, the numismatist ought to formulate proper methodologies that address these factors suitably.

Using the above methodologies and approaches, the first two papers in this panel explore the theoretical premises in which numismatics can be applied in a wider interdisciplinary framework. The third examines the relationship between hoarders and hoards, while the fourth considers the semantic value of certain coin types. The final paper reconsiders chisel cuts on Athenian tetradrachms in relation to function in light of hoard context. Fleur Kemmers, who has successfully applied the concept of Bildsprache to coins from excavated contexts, and who is sensitive to the advantages of developing numismatic method and theory, provides discussion.

2. Two Sides of a Coin: Etic Structures and Emic Perspectives in Numismatics (Stefan Krmnicek, Goethe Universität Frankfurt)

This study discusses ancient coin finds in the wider cross-disciplinary framework of cultural anthropological and sociological theories. The current state of research in numismatics, the limits of contemporary numismatic methodology, and a discussion about new perspectives take center stage.

Typically in Classical archaeology and historical disciplines, ancient coins are uniformly perceived as money in modern economic terms; alternative or complementary functions of coins are rarely considered. In the past few years—influenced by the concepts of exchange, barter, and reciprocity—Iron Age numismatists have developed a dichotomy between ritual and non-ritual interpretations for a better understanding of the meaning and function of Celtic coins replacing the exclusively economic line of interpretation.

However, like all archaeological artifacts, coins cannot be reduced solely to one lifelong meaning, whether singularly economic or ritual. Ancient coins, like other objects, are actively meaningful in various dimensions through the relationships established with people. The object’s function and usage can change constantly—in the systemic context of the past and even in today’s world. These individual moments of practical usage can be understood through the model of a theoretical biography of the object. In effect, however, only the final context in the biography of a coin in the past Lebenswelt provides proper archaeological interpretations of the archaeological evidence. As a consequence, only archaeologically recovered coin finds, with a well-documented archaeological context, are suitable for understanding the usage and meaning for their contemporary consumer.

3. Working in Between: Numismatics as Historical Archaeology (Nanouschka Myrberg, Stockholm University)

The focus here is on the numismatic discipline as a scholarly field of research. History, archaeology, art history, and economic history are closely related disciplines, whose materials, methods, and terminology are often used and touched upon. Between archaeology’s centering on the object and history’s detached attitude to material culture, there is a space or field of tension where numismatic practice can choose to orient itself more or less outspokenly to the one or the other pole.

Working on coins within the theoretical and methodological framework of historical archaeology implies giving equal weight to several aspects and contexts of the objects. Coins incorporate the dimensions of object, text, and picture. These dimensions have parallel functions and strata of meaning, which do not exclude but reinforce each other, even when they are not obviously speaking with one single voice. The practical function as a monetary object is an essential aspect of coins, but not the only one. Thus it is essential to benefit from the numismatist’s knowledge of the coin’s primary context (origin) as well as to create an understanding of the secondary contexts (uses, reuses, and deposition). Between the one context and the other, the coins go through transformations, which may consist of transportations, demonetisation, mutilation, additions, and various reuses. This is their life biography, of which every stage is of interest to numismatic studies.

4. Interrogating Ancient Coin Finds: What They Say, and What They Do Not Know (Georges Depeyrot, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Delia Moisil, National Museum of History of Romania)

Over the past decade, we have been publishing the systematic inventories of ancient Greek and Roman coin finds from the regions of the Transcaucasus (Georgia, Armenia) and from the countries of Central Europe (Poland, Romania, Moldova, Ex-USSR, etc.).

This extensive documentation allows a clear understanding of the distribution of coin finds, but also the distribution of ensembles, single finds, and/or hoards.

We can interrogate this documentation to understand how coins circulated in antiquity. Their wear indicates whether or not they were used in daily transactions and for how long. Finally, the importance of hoards reveals several modes of conservation but also the nature of discoveries.

We consider, for example, discoveries of silver Roman coins from Romania. More than 500 hoards have been inventoried. Some hoards were reconstituted by the addition of coins at later dates.

We evaluate the relationship between currencies, money, and those who retained them. It is possible to depart from the traditional numismatic and historical approach and try to consider a new approach to the study of coin hoards. This method is influenced more from anthropology than archaeology.

This systematic study considers the monetary economy during the period from the second century B.C. to the end of the third century A.D.

5. Coin Imagery, Authority and Communication: the Case of the Later Soldier-Emperors, ca. A.D. 260–295 (Ragnar Hedlund, Uppsala University)

I present an investigation of the coinages of the later so-called soldier-emperors of the later half of the third century A.D. This age has often been described as an age of crisis. However, to what extent is this a crisis of imperial authority?

The third century has long been the focus of much scholarly attention. Not least, much recent work has been done on the coinages of this age. I suggest that the idea of a crisis of imperial authority in the later third century can be approached through a combination of more recent historical theory—most prominently concerning issues of legitimacy, authority, and communication—with the most recent publications of numismatic material. I approach the coins struck for the soldier-emperors as a means of communication, the aim of which is to express Roman imperial authority. This authority should be understood in relation to an idea of “Roman identity.”

One of the most important results is that a process of regionalization can be discerned. Images on coins struck in the provinces vividly express the development of a “common Roman identity,” and a sense of a “shared Roman memory.” I argue that the developments of such notions are connected to the process through which the city of Rome was gradually losing its power in favor of the capitals established under the tetrarchs, and ultimately in favor of the city of Constantinople.

6. Chisel Cuts: Bureaucratic Control Marks on Fifth Century Owls in the Near East? (Richard Fernando Buxton, University of Washington)

Gashes made by a chisel across either face of Athenian silver tetradrachms (henceforth “owls”) are a common feature in fourth-century B.C. hoards from the Near East. Although frequently dismissed as the result of unsystematic metal tests conducted on owls that were solely regarded as bullion, recent scholars such as P.G. van Alfen (AJN 14 [2003] 1-57) point to the consistent patterning in the placement of such chisel cuts in relation to the owl’s iconography. Van Alfen accordingly argues that this consistency suggests the marks, whether metal test or not, served to identify the coins not as bullion, but rather as discrete objects within a regularized system of bureaucratic control administered from the Near East.

Since such observations have thus far been confined to fourth century owl hoards, this paper examines evidence for regularized patterns of Near Eastern chisel cuts even earlier in the fifth century when owls first reached wide circulation. I argue that close attention to the find spots (e.g. IGCH 1259) and archaeological contexts (e.g. IGCH 1649) of fifth century hoards demonstrates that systematic chisel cuts were already well developed in the region by the start of the fourth century within a self-contained economy that did not feed back into Greece and its hoards. Such a division is consistent with patterns observed for the fourth century and suggests that the common view that owls were used in the Near East during the fifth-century, primarily for transactions with Greek mercenaries and merchants, requires serious modification.

Discussant: Fleur Kemmers (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)


APA Section 59
Coins and Identity
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 1:45 - 4:15

Organizers: The Friends of Numismatics / Jane De Rose Evans

Session Abstract:

Six papers will focus on what a coin meant to the person arranging its creation and on what it meant to a person using the coin, as well as what it meant to a person hoarding or collecting the coin. From the types of Campania and the Akarnanian League in the fourth century BC to the iconography of the Late Antique, the papers will analyze how coins reflect political propaganda and how their types relate to contemporary events and local cults and religion.

1. Their Neighbor’s Keeper: A Neapolitan Coin for Capua (Rabun Taylor, The University of Texas at Austin)

The bronze coinage of Hellenistic Neapolis (Italy) is dominated by imagery of Apollo, who is known to have had a robust cult in this city. But in the second half of the third century, shortly before it ceased minting altogether, Neapolis briefly issued an obol representing Artemis/Diana on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse. Both motifs are anomalous for this city; and the pairing of the hunter-goddess with a symbol of agricultural bounty seems doubly puzzling. This paper will argue that the imagery on the coin is intended to signify not Neapolis, but the rival Campanian city of Capua – a city which, on the one hand, was an agricultural power befitting the cornucopia; and which, on the other, oversaw the second most important cult of Diana in all of Italy, on nearby Monte Tifata. Why would Neapolis assume an alien identity on its coinage?

In 216, during the Second Punic War, Capua took a desperate gamble by switching its allegiance from Rome to Hannibal. Neapolis, as always, remained firmly allied with Rome. Monte Tifata itself, with its famous sanctuary, became Hannibal’s base of operations for several years. When Rome regained Capua and its territory in 211, it wreaked a selective vengeance, sparing the city’s buildings and its territory but declaring the Campanian plains to be ager publicus, Roman public property. Extraordinarily, Neapolils’ bronze issue was intended to burnish Capua’s greatest assets after their defilement by Hannibal and to appropriate those assets symbolically on behalf of Rome.

2. New Perspectives on Fourth-Century BCE Akarnanian Coinage (Douglas Domingo-Forasté, California State University, Long Beach)

*An error with the hyperlink prevents anyone from viewing the abstract for this paper.

3. Learning from Mistakes: Iconographic and Artistic Errors by Late Antique Die Engravers (Philip Kiernan, Independent Scholar)

One of the most fundamental questions about Roman coinage is the extent to which the messages of reverse types were intentional propaganda on the part of the issuing authority, and to what extent those messages were understood by those who used the coins. This paper looks at a rather unorthodox source to shed new light on this old question – the imitations of the bronze coins of the Gallic emperor Postumus (A.D. 260-269). In a period when silver coins had almost been debased to the point of being bronze themselves, Postumus made the unusual decision to strike large bronze sestertii and double sestertii. After four years, the experiment was abandoned, but the need for the fractional coins seems to have remained, with imitations being struck at local workshops in the Western Empire until at least A.D. 260. Unlike the more common imitations of contemporary antoniniani, the imitations of Postumus' bronze coins had a much larger field on which the die engraver could practice his craft. An examination of these coins reveals a number of interesting mistakes, suggesting that even the more talented of the unofficial engravers had only a minimal understanding of the iconography of the official coins they copied.

4. Not the Egyptian Type: Denominational Distinctions and the Selection of Images at the Roman Mint of Alexandria (Sean O’Neil, Randolph-Macon College)

Much has been made over the extraordinary diversity of individual types issued from the Roman mint at Alexandria. In choosing to maintain the closed currency system of their Ptolemaic predecessors, Roman authorities managed to create an opportunity for the careful direction of images toward a specific provincial audience. While several authors and catalogue editors have commented on the exceptionally broad range of individuals, symbols, monuments, and deities referenced on the Alexandrian coinage, comparatively little focus has been placed on the degree of selectivity displayed by Roman administrators. The mandatory payment of certain taxes in coined money necessarily established the Alexandrian coinage as the lone medium for “Roman” ideas and imagery viewed by each and every provincial, and the ruling authority took full advantage. The intentional dissemination of certain themes and the appearance of select imperial family members on particular denominational classes reflect a keen awareness of the distribution and realms of use for billon and bronze issues throughout Alexandria and the province. The distinctions between Greco-Roman and native Egyptian religious iconography are especially revealing, both in the presence (or lack thereof) of accompanying Greek legends and in the exclusion of the latter from the billon denominations that were typically used for larger transactions in the more Hellenized urban centers. Moreover, this calculated presentation of native religious symbols and themes on Alexandrian types can be placed within the broader context of a pervasive attempt to compel Egyptian provincials to accept a Roman reinterpretation of their own religious culture.

5. Coins and Meaning: Flavian Case Studies (Sarah E. Cox, Independent Scholar)

When the study of ancient coins reveals patterns and regularities in their types and legends, it is natural to infer that they were the result of planning by a central authority, conceived with a purpose, often to convey a message to the people. Using examples from the Flavian period, this paper will look at evidence to support that thesis as well as grounds to believe that people paid sufficient attention to what was on their coins to understand the intended messages. Among the minting patterns in the Flavian period is the congruence of types and Latin legends on aurei struck for Vespasian in 70 in both the East and the West. It seems unlikely that very many, if any, individuals would have noticed this congruence, but clearly someone was coordinating mint decisions, particularly the use of Latin legends, empire-wide. Another meaningful, but potentially unnoticed, decision was to have Vespasian share some precious metal reverse dies with Titus, but not with Domitian, a distinction that marked out Titus as his father’s colleague in power and his heir designate. Certain reverse types were targeted for use in particular regions, such as Pax sacrificing on dupondii of Lugdunum, a type originally struck at this mint by Galba. In the Flavians’ reprise of the type, the pointed allusion was to Galba’s unsuccessful efforts to establish peace. Lastly, some reverse designs were utilized for specific denominations, like those of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Asses struck under Vespasian, regardless of when or where, depicted the temple before its reconstruction, while sestertii showed its completed state. Perhaps more readily noticeable to the average viewer would have been the coin types minted to coincide with specific occasions. One of numerous cases is the striking of the laurel tree denarii in 74; because laurel had an apotropaic function, it was used in the lustrum performed at the conclusion of a census, precisely the situation in 74. Another is Titus’s issuance of the Restoration bronzes for Vespasian’s consecratio, all of which carry some form of the word restituit, explicitly stating that Titus was restoring earlier coins. By inserting himself in the numismatic representations of his predecessors, Titus placed both himself and his father, the new Divus, in the long stream of history beside a select group of other worthy individuals. I will conclude with a discussion of how Nero’s reputation is reflected in the treatment of his coinage, based on coin finds in Pompeii. Of 16 hoards of bronze coins found there, four of them have substantial quantities of Neronian coins, but 12 contain none of his coins whatsoever. Particularly interesting is the hoard of over 1300 bronzes from a bar in insula 1.8, where Nero’s coins amazingly constituted less than 1%. Recalling Epictetus’s directive that coins bearing Nero’s portrait should be thrown out as his character was unacceptable, this hoard dramatically demonstrates that one bar owner, at least, paid close attention to his currency and adjusted his actions based on its images and legends.

6. Minting History: The Fabricated Triumph of Drusus (Robin Greene, University of Washington)

Drusus, the brother of the emperor Tiberius, was a critical figure in the Augustan wars against the Germanic tribes until his untimely death while on campaign in 9 BCE. Popular with the people, the soldiers and the senate, Drusus was acclaimed by his troops as imperator and awarded a triumph by the senate; Augustus, however, intervened and granted him an ovatio and “triumphal honors” only. Ancient sources agree that this successful and likable member of the imperial family was never permitted to celebrate a proper triumph. Fifty years later, the emperor Claudius, Drusus’ son, minted a coin series that clearly features triumphal iconography in commemoration of Drusus’ “triumph” over the Germanic tribes; thus, these coins, I argue, advertise a fictitious event as historical fact. Moreover, this series served as a model for Claudius’ own triumphal series issued on the occasion of his triumph for the British campaign, an operation that was generally regarded as far from meriting such an accolade (Suet. Claud. 17). In this paper I explore two main issues implicit in these two series. First, I discuss the various reasons which prompted Claudius to elevate the ovatio of Drusus to a full triumph and to produce these parallel representations, most important among which was his need to legitimize his political position by an emphasis on the achievements and pedigree of his popular father. Second, I consider how the numismatic fabrication of a non-historical event may have been perceived by citizens of Rome and the provinces.

Respondent: Jane Cody, University of Southern California