Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.12.15 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.12.15

P. P. Iossif, Fr. de Callataÿ​, R. Veymiers (ed.), TYPOI. Greek and Roman Coins Seen through their Images: Noble Issuers, Humble Users? Série histoire, 3​.   Liège​:  Presses Universitaires de Liège​, 2018.  Pp. 526; lxxi p. of plates.  ISBN 9782875621573.  €42,50 (pb).  


Reviewed by Christian Niederhuber, Lincoln College, Oxford (christian.niederhuber@lincoln.ox.ac.uk)

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

The reviewed volume contains the proceedings of an international conference on the iconography of Greek and Roman coins held in Athens in 2012. Beside a concise and well-expressed introduction by François de Callataÿ that sets out some pertinent questions associated with the main topic, the publication consists of twenty-two articles that are organised under several thematic and chronological headings to be found in the table of contents (see below). In date they span from (late) archaic Greece to imperial Rome, and geographically from the Iberian Peninsula to the eastern edges of the Greco-Roman world.

The volume covers a wide range of subjects, and most of the articles have an excellent introduction that gives a brief overview of previous research and references to the relevant literature. The contributions explore the possibilities and limits of reading coin images and the methodology involved, with a strong focus on issuers and audience, intent and reception. Different strategies and approaches for the interpretation of the iconography on coins are outlined, offering new ideas and encouraging further discussion. It is beyond the scope of this review to discuss all the articles separately, and the methodological approaches are too varied to summarise here. Instead, a few contributions have been chosen to exemplify some of the main aspects of coin iconography and its reading covered by the book.

The importance of a broader perspective on coin iconography is demonstrated in two articles, by Olivier Picard (pp. 115–30) and Maria Beatriz Borba Florenzano (pp. 97–114). Picard argues for a wider institutional reading of coins: a comprehensive study of the administration, from the issuing of the coins to their control, one that also takes into account the users or recipients (pp. 126–27). Borba Florenzano goes beyond the strictly economic and political roles of the iconography of Greek coin types and contends that for a broader understanding of the societies behind these images and their shared beliefs, a wider range of functions of the iconography on coins has to be considered, such as, for example, the protective efficacy of imagery in the Greek world (pp. 104–06).

How cautious one has to be with the interpretation of coin iconography is well exemplified by Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert’s article on the imitation and remodelling of Sicilian coin types (pp. 133–41), which argues that in some cases such imitation may have had a political meaning, as when Himera adopted the reverse type of Akragas, the crab, and the Attic weight standard after Theron, the tyrant of Akragas, annexed Himera to his domain in 483 BC. The author concedes, however, that for the most part such coin types probably do not make political statements.

Caution is also advisable when interpreting divine attributes of royal portraits on Hellenistic coins, as P. Iossif Panagiotis clearly demonstrates (pp. 269–95). The common scholarly opinion is that such attributes express certain divine qualities and powers that are to be associated with the king (p. 272). The author suggests that these attributes could also be understood as ‘gifts’ offered by the gods, as an expression of divine favour attributed to the king (pp. 272–73). I would suggest, however, that the difference between these two approaches is probably founded more upon modern theory than the ancient perception of these types.

Of more far-reaching importance is the quantification of the coin data in relation to the relative frequency of coin types featuring royal portraits with divine attributes: it emerges that these attributes are not as common as one would suppose, just accounting for about one-third of all data quantified (p. 285). ‘The king, the noble issuer par excellence of his times, is rarely depicted bearing divine attributes’(p. 288). The ‘noble’ issuers of the Hellenistic period employed divine attributes in connection with the royal portrait only discreetly and preferably on bronze coinage, mostly used for everyday transactions (pp. 288–89). This finding is significant and exemplifies the importance of the quantification of coin data.

The lesson that clearly emerges from the majority of the articles is that images on coins are often ambiguous and one has to be careful not to postulate a specific meaning that was not intended by the issuer(s). All sources available have to be taken into consideration. One of the ways this can be achieved is demonstrated in the excellent article by Andrew Meadows (pp. 297–318). He examines civic coin design in Greece and Asia Minor in the second century BC and explores ways these coinages can be interpreted in both their local and wider historical contexts. He detects a paradigm shift in Greek coinage in the second century BC that manifested itself in a new view of communal identity, which can also be observed in other aspects of civic behaviour in that period (pp. 297–98).

In Athens, for example, the production of the New Style coinage with its conspicuous change in design started in 164/63 BC. From that point onwards, the obverse of the tetradrachms featured a much more elaborate head of Athena than that seen on preceding issues, and the reverse for the first time showed the owl standing on a (prize) amphora, encircled by an olive wreath. In combination, these are clearly references to Athena’s great games and festival, the Panathenaia, and to her temple on the acropolis (pp. 298–99).

A comparable pattern of an elaborate depiction of deities and a distinct association with a specific local cult or the issuing city has been identified by Meadows on almost forty civic coinages in Greece and Asia Minor (pp. 299–301). These issues form part of a much broader shift in civic self-representation, as the author points out. In the 170s and 160s BC the political environment in these regions changed: Rome was arriving while the traditional models of monarchy were weakening, cities becoming independent, and local civic identity being revived (pp. 307–08). However, while the phenomenon of this ‘great transformation’, as the author labels it, has to be seen against the background of the general historical circumstances, the decisions with regard to coin design were still fundamentally local (p. 301). We do not know who the designers of these coinages were, but most probably the wealthy and influential strata of the civic societies were involved in these decisions. As Meadows shows (p. 311), the audience for this coinage, however, was never singular.

With Bernhard Wojtek’s article (pp. 355–87) we move to Roman Republican coinage and its contemporary audience, and to the relationship between the message conveyed or intended and the Roman ‘coin user’ or ‘recipients’. From the 130s BC onwards we observe a radical change in Roman Republican silver coinage from a limited number of types to a bewildering variety of coin images. They commemorate the historical achievements of aristocratic families – the family history of the tresviri monetales, the magistrates who chose the coin designs and oversaw the production of the coins – and have to be understood in the broader context of the display of status by the Roman nobilitas (pp. 361–64). Furthermore, the author rightly perceives these types as a medium of political communication and sees these coins as preparing the ground for the modes of visual communication employed under imperial rule (p. 365).

In contrast to the issuers, the audience of these coins is difficult to determine on an objective basis. We should not expect that the people responsible for these issues were not at all concerned with their reception, as Wojtek convincingly points out (p. 369). The major evidence for the visual impact or reception of Roman Republican coin types, however, is actually found in the imperial period: Trajan, for example, restored about fifty different Republican and Augustan silver coin types (p. 370). The current interpretation of these Republican issues as aiming at the urban nobilitas is still widely accepted. It goes back to Tonio Hölscher’s understanding of Republican (numismatic) art as a kind of ‘Insider-Kunst’ (pp. 371–73). We should probably reassess this view and consider that wider social classes had a reasonable level of civic consciousness and political knowledge, as Wojtek cautiously suggests (pp. 370–71). He correctly concedes, however, that ‘the ancient evidence… does not allow for too many reliable conclusions’ (p. 374).

The author’s finding that the typological development of Roman coinage has to be viewed and examined as a whole is also important. The division into Republican and imperial coins creates an artificial ‘break’, as the strong typological and structural dependence of Roman imperial coinage on pre-imperial models clearly demonstrates (pp. 379–80).

Finally, the article by Laurent Bricault and Richard Veymiers on Isiac imagery on intaglios and their relationship to the iconography of coins (pp. 491–513) demonstrates to what extent different media can influence one another. A certain correspondence between the iconography on coins and in glyptic art has long been recognised, but the present case study clearly illustrates the extent of this mutual influence.

If we focus on Egypt in the second and third centuries AD, the Isiac iconography of quite a considerable number of reverse types of Alexandrian coins was ‘copied’ on intaglios, as these images with their crystallised design were easily accessible and applicable for the stone engravers (pp. 494–96). On the other hand, some types appeared in glyptic art before being adopted by the Alexandrian mint (p. 497). Of course, these images may either have already emerged in different media before they first appeared on coins or in glyptic art, or they may have been influenced by these media (pp. 497–98). Of interest here is also a short discussion of the dissemination of Isiac iconography. In contrast to Alexandrian coins, which predominantly circulated in Egypt alone, the distribution of glyptic works with Isiac imagery was widespread and their manufacture was not restricted to Egypt. One would like to know upon which models (coins, glyptic works or even two-dimensional models such as drawings?) these non-Egyptian examples were based (pp. 499–501).

To conclude: the present volume is an important contribution to the study of the iconography of Greek and Roman coins. The varied research in different fields, periods and areas brought together in one publication makes it at some points not an easy book to read. However, precisely this variety is probably the main strength of a volume that proposes, in the editors’ words (on the back cover), ‘an original methodological synthesis of what has been done or has still to be done in numismatic iconography’.

Table of Contents

Preface (p. 11)
List of abbreviations (p. 13)
Robert Laffineur, ‘Léon Lacroix (1909–2016): hommage au maître’ (p. 19)

Introduction
- François de Callataÿ, ‘L’iconographie des monnaies grecques: brève historiographie et présentation des principales problématiques’ (p. 29)

The KIKPE Collection
- Vasiliki Penna & Yannis Stoyas, ‘Some Rarities from the KIKPE Numismatic Collection’ (p. 59)

Image on Coins and Methodological Approaches: A Broader Perspective
- Maria Caccamo Caltabiano, ‘Image as Word and Decoding Coin Images. The Lexicon Iconographicum Numismaticae Classicae et Mediae Aetatis (LIN)’ (p. 77)
- Maria Beatriz Borba Florenzano, ‘In God We Trust. Gods and God-like Entities on Ancient Greek Coins’ (p. 97)
- Olivier Picard, ‘Le type monétaire de la cité: pour une lecture institutionnelle’ (p. 115)

The World of the Greek Cities: Towards a City of Images
- Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, ‘Imitations and Remodelings of Sicilian Coin Types: Fashion or Politics?’ (p. 133)
- Mariangela Puglisi, ‘Greek Coinages of Sicily: War and Typological Choices’ (p. 143)
- Selene E. Psoma, ‘From the Odrysian Sparadokos to Olynthus: Remarks on Iconography’ (p. 173)
- Sergei A. Kovalenko, ‘Monetary Imagery in the Northern Black Sea Littoral: Remote Area, Familiar Trends?’ (p. 189)
- Anne Destrooper-Georgiades, ‘Signification et destinataires des images et légendes monétaires de Marion du Ve au IVe s. av. J.-C.’ (p. 219)

The World of Hellenistic Kingdoms: Toward Kingdoms of Images
- Thomas Faucher, ‘Les types monétaires chez les Legides’ (p. 239)
- Oliver D. Hoover, ‘The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Imitation and Counterfeit Coins in the Seleucid Empire’ (p. 255)
- Panagiotis P. Iossif, ‘Divine Attributes on Hellenistic Coinages: From noble to humble and Back’ (p. 269)
- Andrew Meadows, ‘The Great Transformation. Civic Coin Design in the Second Century BC’ (p. 297)

The Transition from Hellenistic to Roman: Punic Coinages and Alexander’s Image
- María Paz García-Bellido & José Ángel Zamora, ‘Codes iconographiques de la monnaie punique en Hispania, avec un appendice épigraphique’ (p. 321)
- Karsten Dahmen, ‘King into Legend. Varying Perspectives of Alexander. Issuer and Audiences of Coins Bearing the Image of Alexander the Great’ (p. 341)

The World of Rome: Toward a Republic of Images
- Bernhard E. Woytek, ‘The Depth of Knowledge and the Speed of Thought. The Imagery of Roman Republican Coins and the Contemporary Audience’ (p. 355)
- Pierre Assenmaker, ‘Monnaies grecques, images romaines: un aperçu des références au pouvoir romain dans les monnayages de Grèce aux IIe-Ier s. av. J.-C.’ (p. 389)

The World of Imperial Rome: Toward an Empire of Images
- Arnaud Suspène, ‘Entre la Grèce et Rome: les traditions iconographique du monnayage d’Octavien-Auguste’ (p. 409)
- Johan van Heesch, ‘Coin Images in Imperial Rome: the Case of the Emperor Nero’ (p. 429)
- Yannis Stoyas, ‘A passage to Asia: Crossing the Hellespont on Roman Provincial Coin Issues from Abydos’ (p. 447)

Coins and Gems: A Fertile Dialogue
- Dimitris Plantzos, ‘“For good ye are and bad, and like to coins”: Why Bother with Seal-impressions’ (p. 481)
- Laurent Bricault & Richard Veymiers, ‘Gens isiaque et intailles. L’envers de la médaille’ (p. 491)
Index (p. 515)
Plates (p. 527)
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