Review of Presveis: International Coinages in Antiquity

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Presveis: International Coinages in Antiquity

The introduction of a single European currency on January 1, 1999, was an important step toward the unification of Europe and also offered an opportunity for the examination and assessment of previous efforts in monetary union. In this context, the electronic site under review, the result of a happy collaboration between the Athens Numismatic Museum and the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum, offers a retrospect on the history of common coinages from antiquity to date.

This web page took the name "Presveis," the Greek term for "Ambassadors," from the important role that coins have played throughout history as conveyors of political propaganda and representatives of the culture, history, and folklore of the issuing state, union, or alliance.

Anyone who is interested in numismatics, ancient history, archaeology, or the history of European integration will benefit from this effort. It is accessible to teachers and students of secondary school onward, college professors and students, scholars, and laymen alike. One of its major strengths is the incredibly high quality of the images of the numerous coins that are illustrated, the majority of which have been scanned directly rather than photographed first.

The initial home page is very attractive with an impressive image. It is also organized in frames. An introductory text in the main frame discusses "international" coinages in antiquity, focusing mainly on the mints of Hellenic states prior to the Roman conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean. In it important issues of circulation, popularity, and purpose for minting are brought up. At the bottom of the text, the six links of the Table of Contents lead to a presentation of some of the most important "international" ancient coinages: The powerful Hellenic coinages of the Archaic and Classical periods are treated first, followed by Aigina; Corinth and its colonies; Athens; Philip II of Macedonia; and Alexander of Great. Important terms regarding coin types, numismatic jargon, weight standards, and historical periods, are highlighted as links, leading to a useful glossary which appears to the right of the text.

To navigate through this site, one has to follow the links of the Assistance Directory, the frame that is located to the right of the introductory text of the main frame. This comprises six links: Presveis Reference; Introduction Page; Acknowledgements; Bibliography; Technical Guide; Contact Us, of which, the first, fourth, and sixth were still under construction at the time that this review was written (May 2000). In all of them there are important links explaining numismatic jargon. The Introduction Page leads to the Prelude which sums up the importance of coinage throughout the ages and mentions the most important "international" currencies. The Exhibition Entry link at the bottom of this page leads to a chart which highlights the various periods that are discussed and offers links to pages which analyse them in depth. These links are: The Presveis Project; Money before Coinage and the Invention of Coin; Common Currency from Antiquity to the Modern Age; International Coinages in Antiquity; Federations and Alliances in Antiquity; Ancient Coinages in an International Financial System; Imperial Coinages in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages; and Modern International Money.

The Presveis Project link offers an overview of the project's aims, the structure of the web site, and of the wider historical, political, and social context. Important information on the creation of the single European currency and the process of European Monetary Union is given as well.

The next link involves a discussion of "pre-coinage" societies, the invention of coinage around 650 BC, and its transfusion in the Mediterranean. Common currencies, federations and alliances, as well as the "international" coinages of antiquity are explored in the next three links which also offer historical background in a number of links that are associated with each individual page. The fact that coinage is not treated independently of its true historical context is an important achievement of this project, because it also allows one to follow easily the socioeconomic and political changes over time.

A discussion of the Imperial coinages in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages offers a good summary of the transformations of the society and economy in the Roman and Byzantine empires. The retrospect is wrapped up in the interesting overview of modern international money, reviewing the policies of the British empire (18th-20th centuries) and the empress Maria-Theresa of Austria (1740-1780), as well as exploring the introduction of the Latin Monetary Union and the French franc (in the 19th century) and of the American dollar.

Navigation to this site seems to be also possible via the "virtual" buttons above the main frame of the initial homepage. These are entitled: Aethoussa, Choros, Selis, Exodos, Chartis, and Chronos. As they stand at the moment, they do not function well, as they seem to open pages at random. Last, but not least, technical assistance for optimum navigation is provided by the Technical Guide link located in the Assistance Directory. This is an unusually thoughtful and especially refreshing addition which offers lay people details and support on how to access and enjoy the site.

This is a most welcome electronic site which provides accurate information and insights on the history of monetary unions. The texts have been written with the specialist and the non-specialist in mind by some of the most prominent scholars in the field of numismatics that are affiliated with two of the largest numismatic collections in the world. It is also generously illustrated with high quality photographs and scanned coins, maps, and important artifacts. A first-class job!

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