Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.05.50 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.05.50

Alejandro G. Sinner, La ceca de Ilduro.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2017.  Pp. 189.  ISBN 9781784917234.  £30.00.  


Reviewed by Robert Knapp, University of California, Berkeley (rcknapp@berkeley.edu)

Sinner’s book is a fine contribution to the understanding of Iberian coinage and the role it can play in our understanding of larger historical and societal issues. Because its influence may be limited by the fact that it is written in Spanish, I have included a fair amount of summary as well as critique as I review his work.

Chapter 1: Historiography of a mint. Sinner carefully recapitulates the contributions and (numerous) errors that came with the study of Iberian coinage from the sixteenth century on. It was not until the nineteenth that any real progress was made in understanding the Iberian inscriptions on local coins. Even then, readings varied wildly, as did the location of cities and towns unattested in Greco-Roman sources such as Ilduro, the subject of this volume. Celestino Pujol i Camps (in 1887) made some fundamental breakthroughs, but old errors died hard and even the great epigrapher and numismatist Emil Hübner did little to further the understanding of Ilduro’s mint. But at least virtually all the types of the coinage had been discovered and documented by then. Much more progress was made in the twentieth century. Joan Ribas i Bertrán first identified a newly discovered (1916) Iberian oppidum (a native, fortified settlement) at Burriac, in the vicinity of Mataró on the Catalan coast, as the most probable location for the mint, instead of the previously favored location in the area of Valencia far to the south. Jürgen Untermann confirmed both the name of the city found on the coins (Ilduro) and, on the basis of site finds, the location of the mint at Burriac.1 Finally, in the progression of scholarly effort, Leandre Villaronga’s important work on types and metrology established the basic chronological outline for three issues of coins from Ilduro. Villaronga also saw that there were two closely related mints, both of which he called Ilturo, in Burriac and Mataró (to use their modern place names). In giving an account of the history of study of the Ilduro mint, Sinner offers an insightful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of his predecessors and sets the stage for his own advances in the study of the mint.

Chapter 2: Location of the mint. By the late twentieth century the names of the towns found on Iberian coinage had been deciphered reasonably well. Sometimes these or similar sounding names could be found in surviving Greek or Roman texts. But just as often, the readings were misleading or there were no obvious correlations between the Iberian names found on the coins and names from Greco-Roman literary sources or inscriptions. In the case of Ilduro, the lack of a Greco-Roman equivalent as well as no comparanda among known native tribal names made the mint’s location especially problematic, as Sinner outlines well in chapter 1. After a brief summary of well-known facts in general about the minting of coins, Sinner notes that the main issue to be resolved is whether the mint was located at the Iberian site up the hill at Burriac or at the late-Republican settlement lower down the valley to the southwest at Cabrera. There is clear evidence of metallurgical processing at the Can Rodon de l’Hort (Cabrera) and at the site of Cabrera there as elsewhere lead/tin objects were obtained, melted down, and used not only to make the piping used in the local bath complex, but also as part of the process to create the required copper-lead-tin combination that occurs in the Ilduro coinage. Cabrera as the site of the mint seems certain. From an Iberian settlement at Burriac to a coeval late-Republican, heavily Italic-influenced town at Cabrera, then to a completely new, firmly ‘Roman’ establishment seven kilometers away at modern Mataró, the coinage of Cabrera provides evidence of the political and cultural progression during the period ca. 150-75 BCE.

Chapter 3: The legend on the coinage. The difficulties of the Iberian language affect the reading of the settlement’s name. Sinner makes the case for –ildur rather than –iltur based on the generally recognized equivalence of ‘ildur’ with ‘town’ and the suffix ‘o’ meaning ‘in the’. The various legends, spelling out Ilduro, use differing forms of Iberian letters, and the known development of these forms can then be used to place the Ilduro issues in chronological order and to date them.

Chapter 4: Typology. The interpretation of coin typology is always an interesting process. In the case of Iberia, our extensive lack of knowledge about the culture, important symbols, and political organization leaves room for a range of opinions about the meaning of what appears on Iberian coins. In the case of Ilduro, the main obverse and reverse types—a bare or laureate male head facing right and a horseman with lance charging right—mimic a typology common in a wide range of Iberian local coinages, a typology itself probably derived from types appearing on coins used to pay Iberian mercenaries in their foreign service, especially in Sicily. Other less frequent types carry iconography that is similarly generic and so unlikely to be of special importance to Ilduro. In fact, Sinner points out that the types in general bear a great resemblance to those of Kese (Tarragona), a leading town of and one of the most prolific producers of coins in the area. Therefore, whether the types had any particular meaning to the minters at Ilduro other than the simple, ‘this is a coin so it needs an image of a head on the obverse and the value and where it was minted on the reverse’, remains a mystery. 2 The identity of the head relies on nothing more than analogies from other ancient coins (a god? Hercules? a city founder?), while the relationship of the iconography of the rider to that of the head, if there is one, is uncertain. Many of the coins also carry a secondary symbol on the obverse. For example, some of the largest denomination have a boar as a secondary image. Sinner rightly rejects the almost irresistible temptation to attempt to relate similar minor design elements among and within mints to political units or social relationships, although he does succumb once when he relates the change from an un-cloaked rider to one with chlamys as an indication of a change of municipal status (p. 56). Traveling minters or designers account for the similarities among mints and completely unknown vagaries account for many minor detail changes. The only likely exception is that the addition of the secondary symbol of a human ear behind the obverse head consistently marks the latest issues of the mint.

Chapter 6: Technical aspects of production. Sinner carefully describes the methodology he uses to determine the composition of the coins. His conclusions regarding the coins analyzed are interesting: the composition of Ilduro’s coins fit well within the established norms not only of nearby issues, but also of Iberian bronze coinage generally. Rounding out the chapter is a careful study of the orientation of the obverse to reverse die as the coins were struck. While some mints in the ancient world clearly worked hard to keep the same orientation between the obverse and reverse dies (usually 0° or 180°), coin after coin, in other cases mint officials just did not care. Useful histograms and careful analysis of Ilduro’s coins indicates that there was no such concern at Ilduro. In fact, as Sinner notes, the variability of composition, weight, and die orientation point to mintings that were not controlled in any serious way by any authority beyond the local rulers of the town.

Chapter 7: Metrology and denominations. Numismatists are in the habit of focusing on coin weight to determine both value and function of coins. Sinner pursues this aspect of Ilduro’s coinage with great care. The umbrella theory of Iberian coin weights is that they should decrease in weight as time goes by. This theory is well grounded in the behavior of silver issues. But Sinner shows that this is not the case with Ilduro’s bronze issues (there is no silver coinage). Ilduro and other Iberian towns seem to issue coins weighted according to unknowable internal decisions rather than any lock-step attempt to keep their coinage in sync with Roman or any other weight standards. As Sinner notes, the diameter of a coin combined with systematic type differentiations is the most obvious way to tell its value to a user. He points to a few asses that are ‘squished out’ around the perimeter of the edge of the dies. This shows that the intent of the minter was a particular diameter, not weight. When, either by carelessness or not, a blank of too great a volume was struck, the metal was forced out beyond the intended diameter. But the diameter of the struck image, not the weight, was the goal.

Chapter 8: Production and volume of issues. Sinner considers the latest statistical and methodological possibilities for calculating how many coins Ilduro struck during the approximately 75 years of the mint’s production. These are all very uncertain, not to say unreliable in any larger sense, but the attempt needs to be made, and Sinner brings all the necessary evidence to bear. Assessing the number of dies and applying common estimates of coins struck per die, Sinner calculates (p. 93) that perhaps, on average, one-third of a talent per year in value was minted during the 50 or so years of most activity. This is not much, but, as Sinner repeatedly points out, the purpose of small change was to facilitate exchange, not to be a store of wealth. Among the minting towns of the area, Ilduro stands about in the middle regarding the size of its coin issues.

Chapter 9: Circulation of Ilduro coinage. Sinner relies on the established fact that bronze coinage circulates locally much more than at a distance. His study of the finds perfectly fits this model of local circulation. His contribution is to use the coinage to assert with strong evidence that there were pathways of communication between coastal Cataluña and the interior toward Ausa (Vic) that have been heretofore unknown or undervalued. An interesting conclusion is that the coinage was inspired by interaction with Italian-based commercial activity that was used to using bronze coinage (p. 102). The fact that coins follow commerce is well illustrated by the coincidence of a decline in wine-containing amphorae from Ebusus (Ibiza) in Ilduro and the disappearance of Ilduro’s coins in finds from Ebusus (p. 106).

Chapter 10: Chronology of the Ilduro coinage. While hoards help to define the mint’s chronology, the mint of Ilduro offers an almost unique opportunity to use archaeological evidence to sequence the issues. As such, Ilduro’s coinage is an excellent example of how archaeology and numismatics can interact to elucidate each other. Sinner teases out a very convincing chronology using his experience as an excavator at Cabrera.

Sinner’s catalog of Ilduro’s coins is impressively complete—he has ferreted out examples from a very wide range of excavations, collections and publications. The information on each coin in clear and complete, with die links indicated where possible. The images of coins here, as throughout the book, are very good.

There is a brief but very good English summary of the book’s main points at the end of the volume. Production is admirably free of typographical errors. Maps and illustrations are exceptionally clear and useful.

Sinner has taken a relatively obscure Iberian mint and created an admirable account that at once shows the importance of archaeological discoveries to numismatics, and of numismatics to the evolution of economy and society in Roman- dominated Cataluña.


Notes:


1.   Jürgen Untermann, Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum. Bd.1, Die Münzlegenden . Wiesbaden: L. Reichert, 1975.
2.   Whatever the exact reason to chose a type, at Ilduro the largest coin (usually referred to as an as) has the horse and rider noted above along with the name of the city on the reverse, the half as also has the horse and rider on the obverse, the one third as has two dolphins, the quarter as has Pegasus, and the sixth as has a single dolphin.

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