Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.10.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.10.43

Frédérique Duyrat, Catherine Grandjean (ed.), Les monnaies de fouille du monde grec (VIe-Ier s. a.C.): apports, approches et méthodes. Scripta Antiqua, 93; Hors collection.   Bordeaux; Athens:  Ausonius Éditions; Ecole française d'Athènes, 2016.  Pp. 359.  ISBN 9782356131706.  €25.00.  

Reviewed by Ruben Post, University of Pennsylvania (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book, the proceedings of a conference held in Athens in 2014, presents current scholarship on excavated coinage from the ancient Greek world. It is the spiritual successor to a two-decade-old volume of conference proceedings that marked the first concerted effort to discuss Greek “archaeological numismatics.”1 But while that book, focused mostly on the Aegean, compiled a variety of contributions that did not quite create a cohesive whole, this volume, which also covers the Hellenistic Greek states of Egypt and the Near East, presents a much more focused vision. The editors’ stated ambition is “de marquer un étape dans la réflexion méthodologique sur l’apport des monnaies de fouilles” (15), and in this respect it succeeds.

The book is divided into four parts. After a general introduction (11-15), Davies opens the first part, “Monnaies de fouille et histoire,” with a rumination on the pitfalls of using numismatic evidence as an economic historian (19-34). Despite highlighting the many problems with past assumptions about the sorts of information that can be derived from coin finds, he ends on an optimistic note, emphasizing that with the right interpretative approaches and enough information on the context in which coins were found it is possible to draw substantial conclusions from such finds. Next Duyrat (35-50) explores regional trends in the Levant, covering in an abbreviated format much of the material examined in her recent book.2 It is particularly interesting that, as she notes, the distribution of Seleucid and Ptolemaic coinage matches almost perfectly the Levantine boundaries of the two kingdoms. Grandjean’s chapter on Argos provides welcome new information on a large quantity of still largely unpublished coinage recovered from this major polis (51-63). Particularly interesting is her observation that 60% of coins found at Argos were foreign, a far larger proportion than in comparable corpora from Athens, Corinth, and Thasos. Grandjean’s concluding hypothesis that foreign bronze coinage was allowed to circulate within some Greek cities because it was recognized that shortages of small change could cause social unrest is provocative and worthy of further consideration. Picard’s chapter on Thasos presents an impressive model of what can be accomplished with the careful analysis of large quantities of excavated coinage (65-81). In particular, his discussion of the ages of different issues and their rates of preservation highlights the possibilities and hazards inherent in attempting to infer political and economic developments from such material. Notably, he concludes that there is an inverse relationship between the age of an issue and the quantity of specimens of that issue found, indicative of the removal of old coins from circulation through re-striking. Finally, Gatzolis and Psoma compare the profiles of the coinage excavated at Olynthos and Stageira, both members of the Chalkidian League “destroyed” by Philip II (83-96). While the finds from Olynthos reflect its extensive contact with Makedonia and the broader Aegean world, the material from Stageira, first published here in its entirety, illuminates its more parochial political history.

The second part, “Traiter les données,” is the most focused on practical matters, with three short chapters dealing with best practices for handling excavated coinage. Ariel outlines the conventions of the Israeli Antiquities Authority Coin Department, the largest collection of provenanced coins in the world (99-111). Faucher traces the history and nuances of producing numismatic maps (113-122). Finally, Fadin and Chankowski showcase the online GIS interface used by the École française d’Athènes for finds from Delos (123-130).

Part three, “Faciès,” comprises five chapters, including the bulk of the site-specific case studies in the volume. Meadows begins with an exposition of the coinage from Thonis-Herakleion, a now-submerged ancient city at the mouth of the Nile (133-145). This site presents unusual opportunities and challenges: the considerable quantity of numismatic material found had lain largely undisturbed for the last 1300 years, but inundation by seawater has both removed any stratigraphy that once existed and rendered many of the coins illegible. The following chapter by Tselekas, dealing with coin finds from Hellenistic and Republican Roman shipwrecks, addresses many similar issues (147-156). As he notes, shipwrecks are useful in that they represent objects deposited in a specific moment in time and offer the opportunity to tie numismatic material to fairly restricted tranches of society, such as merchants, soldiers, and sailors. Meadows’ and Tselekas’ methodological reflections demonstrate the importance of analyzing submarine numismatic finds differently from terrestrial finds.

The next three chapters are united by their treatment of material recovered from important sites in Hellenistic kingdoms. Kremydi and Chryssanthaki-Nagle (151-176) and Akamatis (177-201) analyze the substantial numismatic material from Aigeai, Amphipolis, and Pella to elucidate political and economic developments in Makedonia. They shed light on a variety of topics, ranging from the mints and chronologies of numerous royal Makedonian bronze issues; to the dating of the construction, renovation, and abandonment of various structures, including the palace at Aigeai and the public baths at Pella; to the shift back to “civic” minting in the wake of the final defeat of the Antigonids. It is striking that the modest quantity of foreign bronze coinage found at the royal capitals of Aigeiai and Pella appears to testify more to the diplomatic and military movement of individuals than to commerce. Marcellesi likewise examines the evidence from Pergamon and environs, highlighting some of the difficulties produced by its long history of excavation (203-222). Interestingly, in contrast to the major cities of Makedonia, excavated coinage from Pergamon sheds little light on the chronology of bronze issues, but its foreign coinage does indicate a shift from contact mainly with the northern Aegean to mainly western Asia Minor following the expansion of the Attalid kingdom.

The fourth part, “Masses monétaires et contextes,” includes four chapters loosely related to the analysis of large quantities of excavated coinage, both deposited piecemeal and hoarded. In the first, Butcher turns to coinage recovered from Late Roman Near Eastern sites to explore how numismatic material can testify to social relations (225-237). Departing from the observation that most currency found in excavations was “token coinage,” the cheapest medium of exchange, he intriguingly proposes the idea that much excavated bronze coinage may in fact have been demonetized and discarded. The following chapter by de Callataÿ is the most insightful in the book, bringing the author’s usual catholic approach to bear on the state of Greek archaeological numismatics (239-261). He emphasizes that while the body of excavated coinage continues to grow, there has been little reflection on associated problems and methods. De Callataÿ turns to Roman numismatics, which generally deals with much larger quantities of excavated coinage, and studies of more recent monetary history to explore the bounds of what is possible within Greek archaeological numismatics. He concludes from these surveys that we must exercise considerable caution in approaching Greek excavated coinage. In particular, he asserts that the evidence derived from the excavation of most individual poleis sites is too limited to be of much analytical use, and cannot testify in most cases to, for instance, local periods of prosperity or long-distance commercial links. He argues that only in the case of the large, centralized Hellenistic kingdoms can we study patterns of monetary circulation, but that even then much excavated coinage is in fact more closely connected with military than commercial activity.

The chapter by Iossif presents a large-scale quantitative analysis of Seleucid coinage (263-296). The breadth of the data collected is impressive but the methodology raises some questions. Perhaps the most contentious assertion is that the makeup of large numismatic collections can be used to test the representativeness of bodies of excavated coinage taken in aggregate; this is a claim with major implications for the study of large bodies of monetary evidence, but should be tested rigorously before it is applied broadly. Nonetheless, Iossif’s use of statistical analysis to address important topics such as the denominational system of Seleucid bronze coinage is commendable. His finding that large quantities of bronze issues can be connected with military activity reinforces recent findings from elsewhere in the Hellenistic world. Finally, Duyrat provides a useful chapter on the best practices for publishing excavated coinage (297-302), which is followed by a brief concluding reflection by Kroll on the most important themes discussed by contributors (303-5).

One point that emerges repeatedly in this volume is that scholars must be prepared to move back and forth between coinage and context in order to extract meaningful interpretations from this material, though this is often easier said than done. Another common thread is the insistence that, despite the temptation to mine excavated numismatic evidence for economic information, we must be extremely cautious in doing so, and that in fact coinage has much more to offer scholars of social, cultural, and political history than is often realized. The general consensus appears to be that in the current state of Greek archaeological numismatics the Hellenistic kingdoms offer the greatest scope for sophisticated study. This may leave scholars interested in the world of the polis disappointed, but it does offer hope that with future methodological developments considerably more light may be shed on the histories of smaller Greek states.

A few shortcomings are notable. One of the foremost is that, while contributors are concerned with the contexts in which excavated coins were found and the synthetic analysis of all coinage recovered from archaeological sites, they tend to pay little attention to the spatial distribution of coinage within sites and between different kinds of sites. Thus, in spatial terms, the stated focus is generally on the individual site in the abstract, rather than on the archaeological contexts that comprised it and the information they yield when examined at different scales. Analyzing distribution patterns between different spaces within a site, such as houses, public structures, and sanctuaries, promises to tell us much about socio-economic trends that are otherwise difficult to discern, such as the distribution of different kinds of vendors. Likewise, there is little coverage in this volume of coinage excavated from rural sites. This material is especially important because of the light it can shed on the diffusion of coinage beyond cities, and because it appears generally to represent circulation patterns very different from those seen in urban centers.3

Structurally, the division of chapters between the four parts is odd in places: Duyrat’s chapter on guidelines for publishing excavated coinage, for instance, surely fits better in the more practical second part than the more theoretical fourth. The volume could also have benefited from more thorough copy editing to address the typos and errors found throughout, though these are unevenly distributed among the chapters. Nonetheless, the inclusion of summaries in French and English for all chapters is laudable.

This volume handily demonstrates that archaeological numismatics has much to offer archaeologists, numismatists, and historians alike. Not only can such research date more accurately the phases of a structure or clarify the chronological sequence of a series of issues, but it can also reveal behaviors that would otherwise remain obscure, like the willingness to hide hoards underwater in some situations, or an apparent reluctance to stash coins in sanctuaries. With the emergence in recent years of archaeological numismatics as a distinct subdiscipline, heralded by the creation of a journal devoted to this topic (The Journal of Archaeological Numismatics), one hopes the many crucial issues raised in this volume will continue to receive the attention they deserve.

Authors and Titles

Frédérique Duyrat and Catherine Grandjean, Avant-propos (9)
Catherine Grandjean, Introduction (11-15)
John Davies, “An Economic Historian’s Agenda” (19-34)
Frédérique Duyrat, “Les monnaies de fouilles au Levant. Une approche régionale” (35-50)
Catherine Grandjean, “Les monnaies grecques des fouilles de l’EfA à Argos” (51-63)
Olivier Picard, “Les monnaies de fouille du monde grec: l’apport de Thasos” (65-81)
Christos A. Gatzolis and Selene E. Psoma, “Olynthos and Stageira: Bronze Coinage and Political History” (83-96)
Donald T. Ariel, “Coins from a Small Country: How Excavated Coins are Managed in Israel, from the Dig to the Bookshelf” (99-111)
Thomas Faucher, “Cartographie des monnaies de fouilles (1950-2050)” (113-122)
Lionel Fadin and Véronique Chankowski, “Monnaies de fouilles et SIG: l’exemple de Délos” (123-130)
Andrew Meadows, “Coins from Underwater Excavations. The Case of Thonis-Herakleion” (133-145)
Panagiotis Tselekas, “Treasures from the Deep: Coins from Hellenistic and Roman Republican Shipwrecks” (147-156)
Sophia Kremydi and Katerina Chryssanthaki-Nagle, “Aigeai and Amphipolis: Numismatic Circulation in Two Major Macedonian Cities” (157-176)
Nikos Akamatis, “Numismatic Circulation in the Macedonian Kingdom. The Case of Pella” (177-201)
Marie-Christine Marcellesi, “Territoire, institutions et rayonnement de Pergame: l’apport des monnaies de fouilles” (203-222)
Kevin Butcher, “Coin Finds and the Monetary Economy: the Good, the Bad, and the Irrelevant” (225-237)
François de Callataÿ, “De quoi les monnaies grecques trouvées en fouilles sont-elles le reflet? Propos diachroniques de méthode” (239-261)
Panagiotis P. Iossif, “Using Site Finds as Basis for Statistical Analyses of the Seleucid Numismatic Production and Circulation. An Introduction to the Method” (263-296)
Frédérique Duyrat, “Some Recommendations for Publishing Coins from Excavations” John H. Kroll, “Conclusions” (297-302)


1.   Sheedy, K.A. and Ch. Papageorgiadou-Banis (edd.), Numismatic Archaeology, Archaeological Numismatics. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1997.
2.   Duyrat, Frédérique, Wealth and Warfare. The Archaeology of Money in Ancient Syria. New York: The American Numismatic Society, 2016.
3.   Grandjean, Catherine, “La monétarisation de l’astu et de la chôra des cités grecques (VIe s. av. n.è.-Ve s. de n.è.) en questions.” Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sillographie 161 (2015): 3-15.

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