Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Week 6 and Week 7: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations"

Unfortunately I must write this update quickly since I remain busy trying to organize an international move and also need complete some essential research in Frankfurt before returning to the U.S.

We had two meetings this week since last week's meeting was cancelled. Yesterday we discussed the topic for week 6 "The Art Historical Context: Defining Roman Art and Redefining the Role of Images on Roman Coins – The Concept of Bildsprache" (handout Deutsch - English). In previous weeks we discussed early- and mid-twentieth century understandings of coin images, strongly rooted in a text-based tradition, and then the critics of the way that numismatists had studied coin images up to that point; this sparked a methodological reevaluation in the discipline. In week 6 we turned to some contributions to the study of numismatic images by ancient art historians and discussed in some detail the current understanding of Roman art as a semantic system in which coinage plays an essential role. In particular we discussed the two articles by Hölscher and Zanker and the advantages/disadvantages of their approach which focused on symbolism, the ways that symbols were used in conjunction with one another, and the way that images in general evolved through time (sorry that I do not have time to go into detail).

Today we met to discuss week 7 "The Numismatic Context: Emissions, Die Studies, and Ascertaining the Frequency of Types" (handout Deutsch - English). Although questions such as emissions, die links, and frequency are technical questions, they can provide much insight into the understanding of Roman coin images. We began by discussing one of Ted Buttrey's articles on calculating ancient coin production and the inherent problems in doing so. Although it was not required reading, we talked about the wider discourse relevant to the academic exchanges between de Callatay and Buttrey. The question of differentiating the frequency of types in comparison to one another is useful to the study of ancient coin images since certain types were not as common as others and since, presumably, the more common types would have typically played a more significant role in a visual program. From there we moved on to consider two short historiographical articles, by H.-M. von Kaenel, regarding correspondence between Theodor Mommsen and Fredrich Imhoof-Blumer on Corpus Nummorum project. Theodor Mommsen, who in many ways began modernizing the study of ancient numismatics, argued that in corpora of different collections we need to recognize individual dies, not just individual types. We still have this problem today. Hundreds or thousands of coins of the same type are published in many different museum catalogues or disparate auction catalogues, but their dies are not differentiated. We have multiple examples of one type, but we can say little else. And so to say anything more meaningful, scholars must drudge through every possible publication in order to conduct a die study as they are not built into our corpora. As an example of using some numismatic methods in the interpretation of coin images, we then considered my 2006 article and die study of the Colosseum sestertii. The article begins with discussion of the "historical context" based on the textual sources and then moves onto a discussion of "numismatic context" where I associated other coin types produced by Titus with the dedication of the Colosseum and contextualized the Colosseum sestertii in the wider visual program of Titus' coinage. The die study showed that the surviving Colosseum sestertii were produced from five unique obverse dies (quite a low number for a sestertius). Based on the low number of dies and the context of the emissions, I postulated the coins were commemorative in nature and probably distributed in conjunction with the inaugural games in the Colosseum. The article includes a discussion of the nuanced imagery on the coins themselves.

Next week will discuss "On the Semantic 'Value' of Coin Types: Statistical Evidence from Archaeological Sources" (handout Deutsch - English). The week after that we will continue with "The Importance of Archaeological Evidence: Nuances in the Semantic System and the Intended Audiences of Coin Images" when we will discuss some recent revelations with regard to the study of coins from archaeological context that shed light on the supply of coins to certain populations with respect the images they bear.

Again, apologies for the compact nature of this update.



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