BMCR 2019.11.28

Sculpture and Coins: Margarete Bieber as Scholar and Collector. Loeb Classical Monographs 16

Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Martin Beckmann, Sculpture and Coins: Margarete Bieber as Scholar and Collector. Loeb Classical Monographs 16. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018. xviii, 148; 24 plates. ISBN 9780674428379 $30.00.

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

This collection of essays contains seven papers delivered at the Ilse and Leo Mildenberg Symposium, held at the Harvard Art Museums on April 28-29, 2011, which I was fortunate to attend.1 Harvard’s acquisition of Bieber’s coin collection served as the inspiration for the symposium.

Margarete Bieber (1879-1978) was a pioneering figure in Classical Archaeology who influenced archaeologists trained in America after she fled Nazi Germany in 1933.2, where she had been the first woman to receive a Reisestipendium from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in 1909 and the first female professor in Germany, at the University of Gießen. In 1936 she joined Columbia University’s faculty. The chapters in this book elaborate on her contributions to scholarship, especially as they relate to sculpture and coins, or are inspired by subjects in her collection. Often remembered primarily for studies of sculpture and, specifically, her work on Roman copies of Greek subjects, this book brings to light her strong interest in numismatics, to which she also made contributions.

In Chapter One, Arnold-Biucchi treats Bieber’s coin collection. Bieber built her collection “to present characteristic specimens from the Classical Greek to the Late Roman period,” which Arnold-Biucchi connects with her scholarship on contemporary sculpture (5). Nancy Waggoner took classes from Bieber, including a seminar on Greek numismatics, and received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1968; in 1969, she became Curator of Greek Coins at the American Numismatic Society. Bieber no doubt influenced Waggoner’s trajectory and is credited in Bieber’s notes as helping her with the typed catalog she made of her collection, now part of the materials at Harvard. She formed her collection of coins in the United States up until 1974. It is comprised of 67 Greek coins, many of which are representative types, but the focus of this group is on Hellenistic ruler portraits, signaling her interest in portraiture. The remaining specimens are Roman, with emphasis on the Flavian, Antonine, and Severan periods and on portraits of the imperial women. The collection was largely unpublished, although some of her articles on Roman Republican numismatics were illustrated with items from her collection.

In the second chapter, Larissa Bonfante focuses on her own personal engagement with Bieber when she was a student at Columbia. She regularly visited Bieber for tea at her apartment, where she was essentially housebound. Bonfante provides much insight into her personality and disposition as a scholar.

Matthias Recke, who has published much on Bieber’s career, expounds on her academic influence in chapter three. This chapter contains a detailed timeline of her biography and scholarly works, as he examines four areas in which Bieber impacted scholarship: historical restorations of ancient sculpture, the use of archaeological material to illustrate cultural history, the study of Roman copies as relates to chronology of originals, and methodologies for the study of Classics. One of the more important aspects of this chapter is the argument that Bieber was the first scholar to evaluate cultural history from an archaeological perspective (29-35), as illustrated by her studies of dress and Greek painted pottery—a topic that might have been pursued further.

The fourth chapter presents a detailed study in imperial coin iconography by Peter F. Mittag. The subject takes inspiration from Bieber’s essay on a similar topic, where she noted that the costume of Honos changed to civilian dress in the reign of Antoninus Pius.3 Mittag’s argument, based on changes of attire and patterns of representation on the coins of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius as Caesar, is that Honos does not have military connotations in this context but signals the attainment of high office, as he is linked with Marcus Aurelius’s first consulship. Virtus appears separately on Pius’s coins.

In the fifth chapter, Metcalf surveys the topic of coins celebrating deified emperors, associating them with monuments and the topography of Rome (63-67). He examines the unusual series of Trajan Decius (r. A.D. 249-251), who struck types recalling several deified emperors from Augustus through Severus Alexander. Metcalf suggests the reason for the series is “in fact banal, a reflection of mint activity and history” (68); the antoninanus replaced the denarius and led to the withdrawal of old coinage; the mint therefore struck coins of deified emperors that had gone out of circulation. Another possibility he allows is that Decius was a “religious conservative;” he built a monument to the deified emperors in Milan and attempted to restore the old religion.

The emphasis on imperial women in Bieber’s collection and the relation of coins to sculpture in Martin Beckmann’s contribution make an appropriate homage to Bieber.4 Both Faustina I and II witnessed unparalleled numismatic representation under Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, with their coin types making up to one-half of the coinage of this period. Coins for Faustina I visualized honors and illustrate the dialog with sculpture, specifically through the example of the statue found in the area of the Stazione Termini in Rome, where she is portrayed as Concordia. Beckmann orders Faustina II’s portraits by die, elaborating on work by Fittschen on sculpture. He claims that the emphasis on Faustina in Pius’s reign is an indication of direct agency by the emperor in the selection of messages. It would have been helpful to develop the idea; a competing theory is that outside agents, such as the Senate, formulated imperial coin designs to praise the emperor and his house, in a way not dissimilar to poetry, panegyric, or honorary monuments —a model into which these coinages could also fit. 5

In the final chapter Annetta Alexandridis argues that Bieber identified with the Severan women. She examines their representation with special attention to Julia Domna and her diverse portrayal as wife and mother, and the honors dedicated to her in coins and sculpture. The text includes a catalogue of coin types for the Severan women.

This book will be essential to anyone interested in the life and career of Margarete Bieber. The numismatic essays will be of importance to those who study imperial coin iconography of the second and third centuries CE, or who are interested in the relation between sculpture and coins. This sturdy book has black and white illustrations and charts throughout the text; coin images and some sculptures for all chapters appear as color plates, pulled together in the midst of Beckmann’s chapter.

Authors and Titles

Foreword, Barbara Borg
Preface, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi and Martin Beckmann
Acknowledgments, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi and Martin Beckmann
Introduction, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi
1. The Relation between Sculpture and Coins: The Collection of Margarete Bieber, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi
2. Remembering Margarete Bieber in New York, Larissa Bonfante
3. The Impact of Margarete Bieber on Twentieth-Century Scholarship, Matthias Recke
4. Honos and Virtus: Marcus Aurelius and Antoninus Pius, Peter F. Mittag
5. Dead Emperors, William E. Metcalf
6. Faustina the Elder and Younger in Coins and Sculpture, Martin Beckmann
7. The Women of the Severan Dynasty: Coining Female Power? Annetta Alexandridis


1. Not included in the publication are Barbara Borg’s keynote address (on “Emperor among the Crowd: Form and Format in Roman Imperial Portraiture”) and Karsten Dahmen’s talk on “King in a Small World: Depictions of Alexander on His Shields and Armor.”

2. On Bieber’s life and accomplishments, see R. Winkes, “Margarete Bieber zum 95. Geburtstag,” Gießener Universitätsblätter 1 (1974): 68-75; E.B. Harrison, “Margarete Bieber, 1879-1978,” American Journal of Archaeology 82 (1978): 573-575; L. Bonfante, “Margarete Bieber (1879-1978),” Gnomon 51 (1979): 621-624; L. Bonfante, “Margarete Bieber (1879-1978): An Archaeologist in Two Worlds,” in C. Richter Sherman and A.M. Holcomb (eds.), Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), 239-274; H.G. Buchholz, “Margarete Bieber, 1879-1978: Klassiche Archäologin,” H.g. Gundel, P. Moraw, and V. Press (eds.), Gießener Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts (Marburg: Elwert, 1982), 58-73; M. Hinterberger “Margarete Bieber: Eine Archäologin in zwei Welten (1879-1978), in A. Kuhn, B. Mühlenbruch, and V. Rothe (eds.), 100 Jahre Frauenstudium: Frauen der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (Bonn: Edition Ebersbach, 1996), 140-145; E.-M. Felschow, “Schwieriger Anfang, jähres Ende und ein Neubeginn in der Ferne: Das Schicksal der Margarete Bieber,” in C. Horst (ed.), Panorama. 440 Jahre Universität Giessen (Frankfurt: Societäts Verlag, 2007), 278-273; H.P. Obermayer, “Margarete Bieber im Exil,” in H.P. Obermayer (ed.), Deutsche Altertumswissenschaftler im amerikanischen Exil. Eine Rekonstruktion (Berlin, De Gruyter, 2014), 35-107. Multiple relevant works by Matthias Recke are cited in his chapter in the volume under review.

3. M. Bieber, “Honos and Virtus,” American Journal of Archaeology 49.1 (1945): 25-34.

4. This chapter draws from Beckmann, Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces (New York: American Numismatic Society, 2012) and provides some preview content for id., Faustina the Younger: Coinage, Portraits, and Public Image (New York: American Numismatic Society, forthcoming).

5. E.g., B. Levick, “Propaganda and Imperial Coinage,” Antichthon 16 (1982): 104-116; A. Wallace-Hadrill, “Image and Authority in the Coinage of Augustus,” Journal of Roman Studies 76 (1986): 66-87.