Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Research on Roman Republican Coinage

On June 19-21 in Dresden, Germany, an international colloquium on the topic of New Research on Roma Republican Coinage will be held.  Many experts on Roman Republican coinage will present.  In order of presentation, speakers include Andrew Burnett, Pierluigi Debernardi, Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, Maria Cristina Molinari, Pierre Assenmaker, Reinhard Wolters, David Biedermann, Bernhard Woytek, Florian Haymann, Wilhelm Hollstein, Clare Rowan, Martin Jehne, François de Callataÿ, Elio Lo Cascio, and Fleur Kemmers.

For the program with details for the venue and the subjects to be presented, click here.

It's a Conspiracy!

The antics of the dealer lobby know no bounds.  It is now being alleged by the group's lobbyist that numismatists in favor of the protection of ancient coins have ghost-written each others comments to CPAC.  As absurd as the notion is, I suppose it is not unexpected from those quarters.  Conspiracy theories are endemic among the dealer lobby's leadership, which is quite indicative of the desperation of their position.

And yes, there is something seemingly duplicitous in one lobby leader's acknowledgment of ancient Egypt's closed currency system before the lobby's founding, and then later pretending it did not exist when commenting on the potential MOU with Egypt.  These intellectual changes of heart also speak to the desperation of their argument that coins do not merit or warrant protection.

Update, 5/27.  Digging the hole deeper, the paid lobbyist, Peter Tompa, assumes I sent comments to CPAC  on the potential MOU with Egypt and now demands that I make these presumed comments public.  I am not sure who he thinks he is to make such demands.  Nonetheless, whether or not I elected to exercise my right to make a comment is my decision alone and the CPAC allows comments to be submitted any number of ways. 

He attempts to qualify his unusual interest in the matter: "CPO [Peter Tompa] does not question Elkins' (or anyone else's) rights to express their views to CPAC, just his unwillingness to let others assess for themselves their accuracy."  I must say past actions do not bear this out. 1. The dealer lobby's leadership and its lobbyist do not rely on logic and facts to construct arguments, as the recent episode regarding circulation patterns in Egypt illustrates.  2. I recall multiple instances in which the dealer lobby (and yes, the lobbyist in question) have attempted to intimidate and perhaps even to undermine the employment of those who have voiced support for MOUs and advocated the protection of coins.  And finally, it is not up to agenda-driven lobbyists to "assess for themselves the accuracy" of comments submitted to CPAC - that is up to the respective members of CPAC, appointed by the President.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The CCPIA and the Circulation of Coins and Other Ancient Objects

The dealer lobby is irritated that people who have expertise on ancient coins  have written in favor of a potential MOU with Egypt.  One commentator and dealer is outright resentful that any specialist should support an MOU and goes so far as pronounce that the protection of coins in the MOUs is "extralegal."

The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) mandates that protected objects be "first discovered in" the State Party.  From the point-of-view of the dealer lobby, coins should not be protected since they circulated.  They demand that it be proved beyond a doubt that each individual coin coming into the United States was found in a particular State Party, a task made nearly impossible when a coin is dug up, smuggled, cleaned, and sold by a dealer.   The act of looting and smuggling destroys this information.

The dealer lobby asserts that coins are a special case since they "circulated widely" and are "common."   But are they such an exception?  Some coins circulated very widely and some circulated on a more local or regional level.  Apart from static monuments, many ancient objects, in addition to coins, moved around to greater and lesser degrees.  Ceramics are a prime example; they could circulate widely and they are "common."  Even local wares are sometimes found far afield, although the majority are found locally.  These, like circulating coins, are a testament to trade, economic conditions, and the movement of peoples and populations.  The Etruscans were avid consumers of Greek painted pottery.  The MOU with Italy protects Attic and Corinthian painted ceramics since these are frequently found in Etruscan tombs, even though they were made in Greece and can be found in other countries as well. 

With Egyptian coins, the dealer lobby is reasserting the notion that coins "circulated widely" and should not be protected because they could be found anywhere.  Yes, there are examples of Egyptian coins found outside of Egypt, but Egyptian coins are found primarily in Egypt.  In contesting the potential protection of Egyptian coins, the desperation of their argument is apparent as they refuse to acknowledge long-standing scholarship on ancient Egyptian coins and Egypt's closed currency system, which caused Egypt to retain much of its currency in antiquity.

One commentator points to the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as evidence that Egyptian coins can be found as far away as England.  Interestingly, what he does not acknowledge is that the majority of these are late Roman bronze coins from the mint of Alexandria; late Roman bronze coins have not been included in any MOUs thus far as they circulated widely and certainly they were not the subject of any comments sent to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee by advocates for the protection of coins.  Again, that commentator refuses to acknowledge the closed currency system in Egypt and the fact that the majority of Egyptian coins will have been found in Egypt, just as a great many Attic and Corinthian ceramics will be found in Italy.

Finally, the protection of coins is extralegal only in the dealer lobby's opinion.  Thus far, the lobby has been unsuccessful in undermining import restrictions in the courts.  In fact, import restrictions on coins have been upheld by the courts as legal.  In fact, the federal district court wrote:
“[I]nterpreting the ‘first discovered in’ requirement to preclude the State Department from barring the importation of archaeological objects with unknown find spots would undermine the core purpose of the CPIA, namely to deter looting of cultural property. See 19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(1)(A)” (p. 35)."
 The court further notes that the “ACCG’s argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, could bring into question the import restrictions on every, or almost every, item on the designated lists" (p. 36).

Indeed, it would.  And business as usual in the antiquities trade seems to be the intent behind the strategy.

Update, 517/2014:  One lobbyist now insists that scholarly evidence cannot be produced that Egyptian coins are found in Egypt.  I do look forward to a book from the lawyer/lobbyist that subverts decades of archaeological and numismatic understanding Egypt's closed currency system.

And apparently lobbyists/lawyers can declare what is legal and what is not - forget the courts.  But I do not remember it working that way in civics class in grade school...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Import Restrictions and Coins: Lobbying, Duplicity, and Ancient Egypt's Closed Currency System

The inclusion of ancient coins in various Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the U.S. and other countries is a debated issue.  Many academics, archaeologists, and numismatists are in favor of the inclusion and protection of coins in these agreements.  Many coin dealers and collectors are not.

The ancient coin dealer lobby, primarily the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), consistently makes an effort to dissuade CPAC from the protection of coins each time a request for an MOU is made.  Their arguments have been repeated recently since the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) has asked for public comment on a potential MOU with Egypt that would place limits on imports of cultural and archaeological items into the U.S. that lack documentation prior to the date of enactment of that potential MOU. Namely, the lobby says coins are "common" and therefore do not warrant protection because they are not culturally or archaeologically significant, or they say it is impractical to protect coins since they circulated widely, and so one cannot say where a coin came from since dealers and suppliers do not record or track find spots.  A few commentators have been so bold as to assert that there is no evidence that looted material from Egypt has made its way to American markets.

Those assertions are problematic.

1. The fact that coins were widely produced is precisely what makes them archaeologically and culturally significant.  Coins communicated civic identities and/or political ideologies, whether "high art objects" or not, although the ancient understanding of "art" was very different from our modern understanding.  And in Greek and Roman period excavations, coins are often one of the most common types of small finds, apart from pot sherds.  Coins are vital chronological indicators and also speak to economic conditions at various sites.  When one removes them from a site without record, what can be said about that site and the ancient people who lived or conducted activity there is greatly diminished.  Imagine if there were a lobby attempting to exempt ancient ceramics from protection in MOUs; these are equally significant as coins, even though they are exponentially more "common" than coins.  And their removal from sites is equally destructive to archaeology and the writing of history.  Coins are both archaeologically and culturally significant objects; it is clandestine digging, looting, and smuggling of coins that neutralizes their potential archaeological value and diminishes their cultural value.

2. One of the most recent cases that demonstrated that Egyptian material is being smuggled into the United States is that of U.S. v. Khouli et al.  In addition to Egyptian sarcophagi smuggled into the U.S., two of the involved defendants have also sold ancient coins in North America: Khouli and Alshadaifat.  Alshadaifat operates a wholesale business and has supplied Egyptian and Middle Eastern coins to dealers and collectors in the United States.

3. It is true that a great many coins in Greek and Roman antiquity circulated very widely, such as Athenian tetradrachms or Roman Republican and Imperial denarii.  But the blanket assertion that ancient coins circulated widely and therefore cannot be attributed to a country in which they were found (as mandated by the Cultural Property Implementation Act) is untheorized.  Many classes of ancient coins circulated on local or regional levels, such as the Roman provincial coinage.  A Roman provincial bronze coin from Cyprus, for example, will most probably have been found in Cyprus.  Coin circulation is a much more nuanced subject than the lobby acknowledges in its dealings with CPAC, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs. 
In the public comments on the potential MOU with Egypt, it is remarkable that a number of coin dealers are asserting that coins ought not be protected because they circulated widely.  This is, of course, a strained argument to make in view of the fact that ancient Egypt famously had a closed currency system in both the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.  This does not mean that Egyptian coins are not found outside of Egypt - they are.  But the vast majority of Egyptian coins are found in Egypt.  One reason for Egypt's closed currency system may have been Egypt's need to retain silver since there were no silver resources in ancient Egypt; topography also isolated Egypt.  In fact, Egypt's closed currency system is perhaps the best-known instance of locally or regionally circulating coinage in the ancient world and it is widely discussed in both collector and scholarly literature.  A few examples include:

  • E. Christiansen, Coinage in Roman Egypt: The Hoard Evidence. (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004, 40-46, 98, 133, 136-137, 140-141. 
  • E. Christiansen, The Roman Coins of Alexandria: Quantitative Studies. (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1988), 11.
  • J.W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt. (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), ix-x. 
  • R.A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors. (Toronto: Kirk & Bentley, 1995), 71 et passim.    
  • J.G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), xv-xvi.     
  • S. van Reden, Money in Ptolemaic Egypt. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 33.

One popular book with ancient coin collectors, written in the 1990s , made note of Egypt's closed currency zone (W. Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting IV: Roman Provincial Coins. (Iola, WI: Krause, 1998), page 87.).  The author of that book is Wayne Sayles, the executive director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), although he made reference to Egypt's closed currency zone before he founded and took on the leadership of the lobby group in 2004.  Interestingly, in his comments to CPAC concerning a potential MOU with Egypt, incongruous with what he wrote 16 years before, he proclaims: "Coins struck in Egypt during antiquity traveled widely then, and since then, as instruments of monetary exchange and of cultural interest."  He refers also to Peter Tompa's letter, which addresses examples of coins of Egyptian type found outside of Egypt and characterizes Egyptian coins as circulating widely (Tompa is the ACCG's attorney and lobbyist).  Both Sayles and Tompa overlook the fact that these foreign finds are exceptions, not the rule, and that the vast majority of Egyptian coins are found in Egypt, which had a closed currency system in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. 

Fortunately, the distinguished members of CPAC take account of the substance of comments and evidence presented to them during the period of public comment.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Open-Access Publications (Numismatic, etc.) from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

I have just heard from a colleague at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens that the publications committee recently voted to place ASCSA's out-of-print monographs on the Athenian Agora, Corinth, and the Hesperia supplements on its website.  The publications have been made freely available in consultation with JSTOR, which provided the scans.

Some important references on coin finds in Greece are included and have been placed online.
In addition to the monographs on the coin finds, there are of course several other important reports on various objects and monuments (ceramics, architecture, sculpture, etc.).  A complete list of the ASCSA's open-access monographs can be found here.