Monday, December 23, 2013

Lysimachus

Lysimachus, once the bodyguard of Alexander the Great, briefly unified Thrace after Alexander's death,  ruling the kingdom for forty-two years. His gold and silver coins as King bear the portrait of Alexander as Zeus Ammon.

In 281 bc Lysimachus, attacked by Seleukos, died fighting at the battle of Korupedion. His kingdom perished with him.

Tetradrachm of Lysimachus depicting the deified Alexander

Lysimachus' coinage depicts Alexander as wearing the horn of Zeus Ammon, signifying his deification. His father Philip II before him had asserted divine honors, as did Persian kings and some other Hellenistic kings.

As Pharaoh of Egypt, Roman emperors were worshipped as gods in that province, and this became one of the origins of deification by decree of the Senate.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ancient Cultures and their Attractions

It is not possible to endeavor upon any serious inquisition into ancient cultures without being influenced by their attractions.

The inquisitor must always recognize this, and be aware of the nature and significance of these attractions. They vary between cultures, in the case of ancient Greek or Roman civilization being oriented toward visualization of historical subjects and study of the contemporary literature.

In studying other ancient cultures, it may be necessary to shift one's perspective very far back toward spiritual aspects. In antiquity life was governed by spirituality to a degree almost impossible to imagine now. No one then ever did anything without giving thought to how the spirits would receive it. That was an incredibly ancient perspective dating back to the far distant times when our ancestors were not classified as being "homo sapiens" but instead as our much earlier ancestors.

Perhaps the first evidence of human culture that then emerged, apart from the use of tools and the effect that had upon daily life, was cohabitation. Our remote ancestors gathered together in their lives to survive and to prosper,  They also evolved communications skills for those purposes.

Eventually the sum of their skills became noticeable in the historical record. In European history this trends to being the transition from "hunter gatherer" to pastoral society. At some point after 8000 b.c. humanity, in certain areas, started to effectively cultivate the land and in that process began civilization.

Ancient civilizations in the Near East centered in the rivers of the Tigris,  Euphrates and the Nile. These defined a "fertile crescent" whose cultivation supported their societies.

These societies became noticeable as a result of their activities,  beginning recorded history. Ultimately and through many milennia, that has resulted in history significant to us.

These ancient societies of the "fertile crescent" and nearby areas coalesced into urban centers important  under the Roman Empire. They became the cities of the Roman Provincial Coinage.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Linguistics: a special numismatic treat

When I was young, I greatly enjoyed studying Latin and Greek under the classical studies regime of the Jesuit fathers. As I matured I found occasions to study other languages: German for its scientific importance, Spanish for its relevance to my Californian lifestyle, French for its importance to my European business interests, Irish for relevance to my ethnic heritage, and Italian for its significance in numismatic and musical literature.

There are also languages which are now considered extinct but nonetheless historically important, which my interest in numismatic inscriptions attracted me toward. One could catalogue many extinct scripts that appear in legends in ancient coins, however most of them are related and for numismatic purposes, the principal ancient languages other than Latin and Greek were:
Gaulish
Italic (other than Latin) dialects
Persian, especially Middle Persian (Pahlavi)
Paleo-Hebrew
Coptic
Aramaic (the language of the New Testament)
Phoenician
Punic, the Phoenician dialect of Carthage
Karosthi (the Indo-Greek language of Alexander's successors)

I did not, of course, realize what a vast linguistic adventure I had embarked upon until I was far advanced in the study and recreation of these ancient languages and their scripts. Then it became an intense exploration which proliferated into studying tonal Greek pronunciation, Homeric bardic singing, and perhaps above all else Zoroastrian religious literature in Sanskrit and Pahlavi.

Whilst I am not setting out to win converts to the Zoroastrian religion, where converts are not now welcomed, I must admit to being impressed by their immense sacred literature.

The linguistic aspect of my numismatic studies has offered many important insights into history as well as numismatics. That statement could justifiably be extended to cultural aspects and even to comprehension of the daily lives of ancient peoples.

It is difficult for me to describe the many rewards of these antique linguistic studies. For me they were never onerous nor demanding, instead I always felt that I had gained by the effort expended.

This, I suppose, is the perspective of the compulsive scholar for whom the amount of knowledge still to be acquired is always infinitely greater than what one knows.



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Collecting Ancient Coins: a Noblesse Oblige

Collecting ancient coins has been since since the days of Augustus Caesar, a respectable and beneficial social avocation for those in the nobility who found that they had time on their hands. Some of their collections, such as those of the de Este family, became world famous.

Present times are justly criticized for retreating from and abandoning once socially respectable avocations, among which collecting ancient coins must rank at the very forefront.

To this observer it seems clear that the archaeological blogosphere, infamously personified by Paul Barford, has never yet nor ever will advance any argument credibly maintaining that collecting ancient coins is in any way a threat to archaeology.

Thus this observer believes that it is important that we should celebrate historical collectors of ancient coins,  beginning with state banquets of Augustus Caesar in which these coins were awarded as party favors.

This observer will conclude with a philosophical observation:

The study of ancient societies is in every respect honorable and socially beneficial. The study of their artifacts, including  their coinage, significantly contributes to knowledge of their cultures and history, and is likewise honorable and beneficial.

Pseudo-archaeologists (without recent active field excavation credentials) who maintain that the study of ancient artifacts - including coinage - threatens archaeology lack credibility, and have no factual basis for their opinions which should be discounted.

Whilst pseudo-archaeologists will no doubt continue to campaign against the socially beneficial avocation of collecting ancient coins, it is sensible and pertinent to inquire as to exactly what their activities have uncovered that (in their opinion) supports their negative assertions.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Billon and Potin Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt

David Sear, author of the "... Coins and their Values" handbooks which are the essential collecting references for Roman, Greek, Greek Imperial, and Byzantine coins once observed that in his opinion one of the most neglected and undervalued series of ancient coins was the billon and potin tetradrachm issues of Egypt under the Roman Empire.

Roman Egypt is a numismatically complex subject whose structure was inherited from Ptolemaic Egypt. Under the Ptolemies, Egypt had a coinage system deliberately structured so as not to be freely convertible to Greek or Roman monetary standards. Egypt had its own monetary system and its government profited from all currency conversions.

Without going into the fascinating complexities of Ptolemaic and Roman Egyptian bronze issues, it can be observed that Ptolemaic silver tetradrachm issues were eventually continued under the Roman Empire as debased silver or billon (less than 25% silver) tetradrachms. Their nominal silver content equated to that of a Roman denarius, which defined the exchange rate.

When the tribulations of the late third century impacted this coinage, billon was replaced by potin, an alloy dominated by copper and lead with a nominal but small silver content.

Potin tetradrachm issues from Alexandria, beginning with the reign of Claudius II (268-270) and extending until the end of Provincial issues in 305, were prolific and despite the fact that they lasted only 37 years, form a very fascinating subset of numismatic history.

The issues of Roman Egypt are collected here:

http://www.classicalcoins.com/page124.html

Attractive potin tetradrachms are featured which will interest collectors of this subject.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is the Latest Bulgarian Bust for Real?

http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2013/12/is-latest-bulgarian-bust-for-real.html
by Peter Tompa

Despite the uncritical coverage in the archaeological blogoshpere, one has to wonder about the accuracy of recent press reports that claim Bulgarian police have smashed a ring of  Thracian tomb raiders.  Though admittedly the photo that accompanies the story is not very clear, from what I can tell it only shows bright, regularly shaped modern coins and artifacts.  One would expect instead to see darkly colored patinas associated with long burials if this is really a major bust of "tomb raiders."

During CPAC's consideration of the proposed Bulgarian MOU, it was revealed that Bulgaria's corrupt police all too often hype such seizures in order to make it appear that their efforts are far more effective than they truly are in reality.   The picture accompanying this story raises the question if the Bulgarian police are still more interested in looking good rather than doing good in their jobs.  Hopefully, there will be some clarification of whether the image is that of the actual seizure and, if so, whether the coins are of ancient or modern origin.


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COMMENTARY
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Tompa's critical examination of the latest "Bulgarian bust" highlights a major issue affecting law enforcement in "source states." Corruption is pervasive and so is deceptive publicity seeking, often to present a misleading impression that the authorities are taking effective action against looting and smuggling.

US law governing implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which provides for import restrictions on artifacts, also requires critical examination of law enforcement activities in states requesting such restrictions.

To date there is absolutely no evidence indicating that the State Department has done anything at all to research and examine law enforcement in states requesting import restrictions.

Instead, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, directed by archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, routinely rubber stamps such requests without any genuine investigation or questioning regarding the bona fides of requesting states or whether the restrictions would really be in the best interests of US citizens.

That policy impresses this observer as dangerous and counterproductive. If the US - the  state with the largest antiquities market - instead actively pursued the research and examination of foreign law enforcement required by the 1983 CCPIA, many requests for restrictions would be denied. That would inevitably motivate requesting states to clean up corruption and sham activities pervading their law enforcement organizations.

Cleaning up the sham activities pervading the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will however probably have to wait until Maria Kouroupas retires.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Greek Imperial Coins: A Neglected Treasure

One of the most puzzling aspects of ancient coin collecting is the lack of collecting interest in Greek Imperial Coins, also known as the Roman Provincial Coinage.

This is an immense and very absorbing subject. Greek Imperial Coins were mostly struck by Greek=speaking cities which became incorporated into the Roman Empire, and also by Roman colonies (many of which were originally Greek cities) whose coins bear Latin legends.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is a subject well worthy of a lifetime of study and discovery. All of these coins are rare by comparison to their Roman Imperial counterparts.

Because collectors inexplicably neglect this coinage, it offers tremendous collecting bargains in comparison to Roman Imperial coinage. Attractive portraits of emperors, portraits of personalities such as Sabinia Tranquillina which are extremely rare in the Imperial series, sought after reverse types and just about everything else that a collector could desire are available at prices much lower than those commanded by the Imperial series.


Collectors interested in exploring this fascinating coinage should consult http://www.classicalcoins.com/page120.4.html, http://www.classicalcoins.com/page123a.html, http://www.classicalcoins.com/page123b.html, and http://www.classicalcoins.com/page124.html.


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Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Hamilton Collection

A terrible tragedy during the Napoleonic Wars


Sir William Hamilton and the wreck of the HMS Colossus
Ian Jenkins, curator, British Museumhttp://blog.britishmuseum.org/2013/12/


Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), if remembered at all, is primarily known as the person who shared his second wife Emma with Admiral Lord Nelson in the late eighteenth century. Their ménage a trois was a notorious target for British satirists of the time. It ended with the death of Sir William in 1803, and two years later in 1805 the tragic death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Jasper ware portrait plaque of Sir William Hamilton, by Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Bentley, Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, AD 1779
Jasper ware portrait plaque of Sir William Hamilton, by Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Bentley, Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, AD 1779
Hamilton is celebrated in the British Museum for his collection of Greek and Roman artefacts, which acquired by the Museum in 1772, changed its course from its origins as a rather old-fashioned cabinet of curiosities to starting it on the way to becoming the great collection of world cultures it is today. The founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane had very few ancient objects of merit, but Sir William’s vision for the Museum would change that and for this reason he has his own showcase in the Enlightenment Gallery.
The story of the wreck of the HMS Colossus and the loss of its cargo occurred in the dramatic last years of Sir William’s life. He had been British Ambassador to the court of the king of Naples and Sicily for 34 years. However, when Napoleon’s army occupied Rome in 1796, Sir William was forced to evacuate Naples and return home with Emma to Britain.
One of his last acts was to oversee the packing of his vase collection. But back in England, Sir William not only had to suffer the wrench of his sudden departure from his beloved Italy, but also had the appalling news that his vase collection was lost at sea. It had been packed in an unfit vessel, which grounded off the Scilly Isles where it broke up, and the packing cases washed overboard.
Red-figured wine bowl (volute-krater), attributed to the Baltimore Painter, Greek, around 325 BC
Red-figured wine bowl (volute-krater), attributed to the Baltimore Painter, Greek, around 325 BC
But fortune smiled on the old knight as by accident his finest vases were not on the HMS Colossus. When another vessel arrived laden with Sir William’s property, he discovered the collection he thought he’d lost, and he delighted in preparing them for sale.
Sir William died in 1803 with Emma and Nelson at his bedside.

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COMMENTARY
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Admiral Nelson, the most outstanding naval commander in the history of the British Empire, survived Sir William Hamilton by two years before he was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, which ended Napoleon's hopes for a military conquest of Britain supported by successful unison of the French and Spanish navies.

Hamilton was one of the greatest antiquities collectors in recorded history. The love affair between Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson was one of the most intriguing and interesting affairs of the times, extending its effects even to royal disapproval.

Sir William Hamilton's Greek vase collection originated in the first excavations of Pompeii, and while loss of the HMS Colossus cargo remains tragic, the survival of his finest specimens did much to enrich our knowledge of Greek ceramic art.


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