I don’t really have time to write here, but as with Captain Beefheart and talking about his women, I’m gonna do it anyway.1 If you’re reading this you’re probably aware I’m working against two backlogs, one of reports of my academic life and the other in reporting my academic achievements, and we just had one of the previous so now it’s time for the latter, because I still have unreported successes to report, which I suppose is good. This time it’s a publication, what turned out to be my last one of 2018 in fact though it happened very early on, in February, and has a 2017 date on it. (I currently have four things in press, one more awaiting the editor’s word that it’s in press, and four more under review, some of which have been there a very long time, so it’s not for want of trying, but my life’s bibliography is going to have another gap in it for 2018, sometimes it’s just the way it goes.2)
So this piece! This goes back to my time at the Barber Institute, which on looking back was an immensely productive year. Somewhere in it, realising that I was now technically a Byzantine numismatist, the editor of the Numismatic Chronicle lit upon me like a cheery bird of prey, brandishing two books for which he didn’t have a reviewer, extensive studies of the Byzantine gold coinage of Constantinople by a retired professor of architecture by the name of Franz Füeg.3 I thought this was a relatively good way to advertise my participation in this field—and at the time, of course, I didn’t know how long I’d be in the field—and agreed, and then once I got reading realised that I’d let myself in for more than I’d bargained. The two books are complex, brilliant in places and questionable in others, and by the time I had a full stock even of the first volume, my draft review was nearly 4,000 words and also late. I sent it in in March 2017 and the editor kindly but firmly suggested that if it was going to be like this, I might as well do both volumes properly and call it a review article, and use it to comment on the state of the field a bit more broadly as well as these books.
Now even that took some time, because of course the job at Leeds had started by now and as you’ll have noticed that has kept me busier than I’ve been before. It also meant some more reading in this field I technically no longer worked in, very largely the works of Cécile Morrisson, and it wasn’t till November 2017 that that text finally went in.4 That was calculated to work with the timetable of the Chronicle, however, and I knew it would be in time; and therefore, it emerged in February 2018 and looks like this.
I am quite pleased with this article. I’m not really sure I have the experience or expertise that should let me comment on Byzantine numismatics like this, even over a constrained period, but it does seem to me that Füeg’s books, while problematic in a huge range of ways, show up problems with our current paradigms over some things, most especially the organisation of the Constantinople mint (and especially officinae, for those who care), artistic seriation of coinages (though that should have looked like a problem already), who the die-cutters were and how many of them were at once, how we define obverse and reverse in the Byzantine coinages, how effective coins could have been as imperial propaganda (a point I’ve been teaching with ever since), and the nature of a possible demonetisation under Emperor Michael III, as well as some more of my points about the reasons for the production of concave coins already discussed.5 In other words, it’s quite wide-ranging—it even takes a few stabs at the literature on the bronze coins while it passes, though my suspicion is that Andrei Gândilá will sort that out before I get round to intervening there—and I think it’s quite clever in places.6 So, if you’re interested in any of those issues, you might want to have a look at it. I can’t post a PDF for two years, that’s the agreement, but obviously as a numismatist you should be subscribing to the Chronicle anyway, right? And if you do, then you’ve already seen this and I didn’t need to tell you, but I am still quite pleased with it.
(Statistics, such as they be given that this isn’t quite the normal peer-review process we’re talking here: one-and-a-half drafts over a period of two years two months; and time from first submission of a full text to print a mere three months, which is kind of amazing. As I said, timing was first bad then crucial…)
1. Cited from Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, ‘Long-Necked Bottles’, on idem, I’m Gonna Do What I Want to Do (Live at My Father’s Place, 1978) (Rhino Records 2003), since you ask.
2. Just to tantalise you, the things actually in press, that I therefore have some certainty will actually come out—and as we’ll hear soon, that’s never guaranteed—are as follows:
- Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Coinage in the Western World at the End of the Roman Empire and After: Tradition, Imitation and Innovation’ in Journal of Ancient Civilizations Vol. 33 (Changchun forthcoming)
- Jonathan Jarrett, ‘La fundació de Sant Joan en el context de l’establiment dels comtats catalans’, transl. Xavier Costa i Badia in Blanca Garí and Costa (edd.), El monestir de Sant Joan: Primer cenobi femení dels comtats catalans (887-1017) (Montserrat forthcoming)
- Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Outgrowing the Dark Ages: agrarian productivity in Carolingian Europe re-evaluated’ in Agricultural History Review (Reading forthcoming)
- Luca Zavagno, Rebecca Darley and Jonathan Jarrett, ‘”Not the Final Frontier”: The World of Medieval Islands’ in al-Masāq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean, ‘Not the Final Frontier’: The World of Medieval Islands (Abingdon forthcoming)
But which one first? And when? That’s the thing no-one knows…
3. Franz Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Anastasius II to John I in Constantinople 713–976: Structure of the Issues; Corpus of Coin Finds; Contribution to the Iconographic and Monetary History, transl. H. Thomas Hofmänner, ed. Italo Vecchi (Lancaster 2007); Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Basil II to Eudocia 976–1067: Corpus from Anastasius II to John I 713–976 with Addenda; Structure of the Issues 976–1067; The Concave/Convex Histamena; Contribution to the Iconographic and Monetary History, transl. H. Thomas Hofmänner, ed. Italo Vecchi (Lancaster 2014).
4. I would recommend Cécile Morrisson, G. Schaaf and Jean-Michel Spieser, Byzance et sa monnaie, IVe–XVe siècle: précis de numismatique byzantine. Catalogue de la collection Lampart à l’Université de Fribourg, Réalités Byzantines 15 (Paris 2015), in which pp. 7‒104 are a ‘Précis de numismatique byzantine’ that somehow encapsulates much of her expertise, with shiny new diagrams.
5. On which last issue, of course see now Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Why did the Byzantine Coinage Turn Concave? Old Suggestions and a New One’, in Maria Caccamo Caltabiano (ed.), Proceedings of the XV International Numismatic Congress, Taormina 2015 (Roma 2017), PDF Addendum pp. 1-4.
6. I’m thinking here especially of Andrei Gândilá, ‘Heavy Money, Weightier Problems: the Justinianic reform of 538 and its economic consequences’ in Revue numismatique Vol. 169 (Paris 2012), pp. 363–402, online here, but he’s been busy and there’s lots more I need to catch up with.