Category Archives: Byzantium

Name in Print XIX

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)

Cover of 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 (Lancaster 2007)

Cover of 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
(Lancaster 2007)

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.

The Numismatic Chronicle for 2017

The Numismatic Chronicle for 2017 in all its glory

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.

Jonathan Jarrett, 'Middle Byzantine Numismatics in the Light of Franz Füeg’s Corpora of Nomismata’, Numismatic Chronicle, 177 (2017), 514–35

First two pages of Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Middle Byzantine Numismatics in the Light of Franz Füeg’s Corpora of Nomismata’ in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 177 (London 2017), pp. 514–35

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.

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Name not in Print I

Somehow, as we near the very end of 2018, I still haven’t told you all about my last publication of 2017. Let’s not talk about why that is—words like ‘term’ and ‘marking’ would feature large in such a talk, and now neither of those things pertain—but instead I’ll tell you its story, which is one of those that probably shouldn’t have happened, but since it did it needs explaining. You will remember, I imagine, that I was at the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina in 2015, because I did eventually recount it all here. You may also be aware that the proceedings from that Congress are published, and if you’re very up in the numismatic news loops and could afford the substantial cost of the volumes you may have got them, and realised I’m not in them. And if I’m very lucky, or unlucky, you may have thought: what happened there?

Cover of Maria Caccamo Caltabiano (ed.), Proceedings of the XVth International Numismatic Congress, Taormina, 2015 (Roma 2017), vol I.

Cover of Maria Caccamo Caltabiano (ed.), Proceedings of the XVth International Numismatic Congress, Taormina, 2015 (Roma 2017), vol I.

Well, I wondered that myself when a colleague who was also there mentioned that they’d had proofs some time ago, that being the first I’d heard since I sent in my text. So, at that point I got in touch with the editors and asked if I’d been rejected and if they could send me feedback at least. And a week or so later I got a short, but slightly shame-faced e-mail explaining that somehow, the editor of the Byzantine section had missed my paper. Well, by this time the volumes were not just in press but some had been sent out. All that could be done was to format my paper as a PDF addendum and include it as an extra with all future sales. So if you now look for the proceedings you will see that their format is advertised as ‘2 voll. + PDF addendum’, and ladies and gentlemen, that PDF addendum is all me, all 4 pages of it. I had extra fun explaining this to my university library when they had to decide what file to put in the open access depository; first I had to convince them it even existed. But it does, and so, I commend it to your notices, and also wish you all a happy 2019.1 There will be more from me in it.


1. 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), Addendum pp. 1-4.

Introducing the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

I am buried in marking, so have to resort to stored content for this week, in the hope of more progress later in the week. This is a post that I’ve had stubbed for so long to complete, indeed, that I have just repeatedly forgotten that it should come next on quite numerous occasions. Now, however, its turn in the sun finally comes! For lo, it was in the year 2015, in the January of that year, while I was still residing in the settlement of Beormingaham, that word reached me of a new digital venture by two of my by-then-bosom colleagues, Dr Rebecca Darley (now of Birkbeck, University of London) and Dr Daniel Reynolds (still, but now establishedly, at Birmingham), called the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive.

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

If I have my memories right, and I seem to, this came about because while those two had been in charge of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts coin collection (in which of course they preceded me), they had found in the coin room several cardboard boxes of photographs and ephemera, which on inspection turned out to be nothing less than the photographic archive of the Byzantine excavations of Professor David Talbot Rice, eminent art historian and archaeologist at Edinburgh. Apparently his widow thought the Byzantine materials would be best homed with Birmingham’s famous Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies of which I once had the honour to be part. It was quite the little hoard, anyway, as most of his photographs had been taken before the Second World War, so he had, for example, pictures of Istanbul (where he’d dug the Great Palace of Constantinople) which showed it completely different to its current state, with things that are now long gone, built over, or otherwise inaccessible visible and inspected with an academic’s precision. And this being our modern digital age, the immediate thought of our bold curators was to get this stuff online.

Pages from David Talbot Rice's notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaeon in Istanbul in the 1920s, image Myrelaion 006 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Pages from David Talbot Rice’s notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaion in Istanbul in the 1920s, image 386 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Now, those who know these two will also realise that no plan of theirs ever stays small. After all, though this was a special one, there are a lot of academics with photo archives, and what happens to them usually? If we’re fortunate, they go to a museum collection which may or may not have time to catalogue and/or display them; if we’re not, they either wind up in someone’s attic (or a coin room) or they go to landfill or recycling. What if someone set up a digital archive that could guarantee upload and preservation of such things? And thus was the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive born.

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0.

Buy-in was pretty rapid. Dan contributed his own photos straight away, and their (indeed, my) then-colleague Matthew Harpster gave a load of his, but these were born-digital and in some ways easy pickings. Rather more of a coup was to obtain the promise, then the delivery, of the photos of Birmingham’s founder Byzantinist and then-living legend, Anthony Bryer, who had also trodden or ridden many a road no longer recognisable. Work to upload those is ongoing, and other scholars’ archives have been promised. But this is work that can use your help! To be maximally useful, these images need tagging. That’s a fair labour in itself, and both Rebecca and Dan now have full-time high-demand jobs that don’t leave much spare effort for tinkering with photographs, but there’s also the basic problem that some of them are unrecognisable, or at least unfamiliar to anyone but the seriously expert. By way of an example: can you identify this church? Because as far as I know, we/they can’t, as yet…

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

So I, and Rebecca and Dan, invite you to have a look at the archive as it now stands and see what you can find. Please note their terms and conditions, and their careful statement of limitations, but also please note the possibilities, and if you think you can help, I’m sure that they’d love to hear from you!

Gallery

Site of a Byzantine Last Stand

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Having thus celebrated some achievement, it’s time to go back into the past again this post and pick up the story of the 2015 trip to Sicily. As you may remember, I had got through my report of the International … Continue reading

An awful lot of numismatists in Sicily, I

The progress of this blog continues surreal. I returned from India yesterday, and am nearly three years overdue in writing the next post, about going to Sicily. Nothing loath, here goes, in an attempt to write maybe my shortest ever conference review about one of the largest conferences I ever went to, the Fifteenth International Numismatic Congress, which was held in Taormina, already mentioned, from the 21st to the 25th September 2015. It is too large for one post, in fact, and there is a very obvious break-point in the middle, so this will be part I of II.

Logo of the XVth International Numismatic Congress

Logo of the XVth INC

I travelled to the INC in a sort of party of people one way or another connected to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and its coin collection, which I’d still been in charge of when I signed up. We arrived the night before, I think, bussed in from Taormina’s delightfully, er, unreformed airport, past those Byzantine graves already mentioned, and stayed in a tiny but charming hostel room for the duration. The papers were split across four different venues in the town, all splendid and close by each other; it was easier and quicker getting between sessions here than at Kalamazoo, for example, than whose campus the whole town might even be smaller, but one had to resist buying tat (or just coffee) between each one in a very definite way. Proceedings began the next morning with a series of welcoming addresses, but I’ve no memory of those and no notes on them, and one was by someone I know, so I think that for one reason or another I didn’t get going until later. The best way to record what I did go to seems to be to list the papers for each day, then make remarks, but that still winds up fairly long. So I shall put it behind a cut, but encourage you to look even if only for the pictures, which are not what you’d expect from the average academic conference. Continue reading

Funding the study of medieval islands

It is by now long custom that I start my posts here with an apology for delay, and on bad days also some kind of explanation for it. Today I’ll keep that to, “I think the problem is establishing ownership of my weekends”, and muse on it in a footnote, but at the top I should just get on with it, I think.1 At the moment there are four kinds of post I want to be putting up here: firstly ones in the declared Chronicle series where I just tell you what was happening in my academic life in the period under discussion, secondly posts stubbed long ago during those actual periods which I should finish and get up here, thirdly posts arising from those Chronicle posts where there were just things that needed more explanation, and fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, out-of-sequence announcements of my various and brilliant successes! Only you may also remember that I have got backlogged even with those

So, this post is one of the self-publicity ones, and I’ll follow it with one of the stubbed relics, all of which is largely because I’m not enjoying the prospect of writing up the International Numismatic Congress in a single post. But why am I apologising? Surely the whole point of blogging is to make yourself more famous, right? So look, here’s something I’m proud of: in April 2017 I got given about £5,000 to fund a collaboration with a colleague in Turkey on a project called ‘Not the Final Frontier’: the World of Medieval Islands.

Dr Luca Zavagno of Bilkent University

Dr Luca Zavagno of Bilkent University, looking very cheerful for reasons that are about to be explained!

The backstory to this is quite happenstance, which is so often the best way for things like this to happen. Dr Luca Zavagno is a historian of the late antique Mediterranean who had at the time of writing lately been given a permanent job at Bilkent University, at Ankara in Turkey, but his Ph.D. is from Birmingham’s Centre of Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, in association with which I had worked between 2014 and 2015. We also have important people in common, and I can’t actually remember right now how we met, but Birmingham seems likely to explain it somehow or other. Luca, with a ridiculous amount of publication already behind him, was then (and is now) writing a book about how scholars have misunderstood the active rôle played by Mediterranean island communities in the Byzantine Empire after the emergence of Islam, and how we need to put them back on the map, as a kind of third space next to the Anatolian plateau and Ægean seaboard that have otherwise been determined as its major zones.2 And because Luca is a cautious scholar, he decided he needed help getting this right. That was precondition one.

The Newton Fund logo

Precondition no. 2

Precondition two was the existence of Newton Mobility Grants. These are run together by the British Academy, the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, and are fundamentally about establishing links from the academy in Britain with scholars further afield than our usual spheres of collaboration. At the momemt, they’re focused particularly upon China, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey. You can see where this is going…

So it was Luca’s idea really, but we put in together for a three-part extravaganza, in which first of all Luca would come to Leeds and meet people there and run a graduate seminar, then to Birkbeck in London where our most important mutual friend, Rebecca Darley, is based, for similar activities, at each stage honing Luca’s project agenda and identifying its key areas of importance and difficulty, and finally ending up with a workshop for us all in Ankara. It was surprisingly easy to get, though I’m not going to say that without making all due obeisance to Rebecca and to the Leeds Humanities Research Institute for making the application better and easier, respectively, without whom I doubt we would have been as successful. But nonetheless, successful we were, and actually that was already so long ago that we have now done all the activities we promised. Indeed, you can see some of the details on our dedicated website, which is all the work of Luca and his excellent intern Harun and for which I can take no credit.

So, how did it all go? Well, Leeds went OK; we wound up doing it at such short notice that attendance at the events, especially the graduate seminar, was not what it could have been, but it did what was needed, which was to get Luca project feedback from many different levels and interest people here in his project. Learning from this, the London events were constructed more ambitiously and were more about Luca leading other people through his learning, and I wasn’t there but understand they went excellently. Somehow, however, none of this had cost as much as we’d expected. Once I had convinced Luca that this was actually a bad thing, due to the weird perversity of UK grant economics, he stepped up with a will and the Ankara workshop suddenly inflated from being just a project meeting to being a small but fully-fledged international conference! I will talk about that in its due season, but the programme details are visible here.

Now in theory it could have ended there, as we’d really done all that we promised, but we were so pleased by how the conference had gone that Luca was determined to do something with it, and the obvious thing to do with a seven-paper conference seemed to be a themed journal issue that we co-edited. And that is what we’re doing! Now, this is a publication in process, and I am always superstitiously worried about talking about those until they come out—what if they get rejected after I’ve told you all about them?—but we have had two of the eventual six articles accepted already, so probably something is going to happen. Mine isn’t yet one of them, though, so I still won’t tell you what or where, just that as you can tell the timing for that to all have happened so soon was really quite tight, and I had to put aside or postpone a number of other important things to get it done on time. It is also my first time co-editing a journal, and managing the peer review has been a weird experience, though doubtless very useful. For anyone other than Luca I might not have put myself through all this; but as it is, gods willing, it’s an extra article and co-written intro that may be out next year that I wouldn’t otherwise have, on stuff I’d never otherwise have looked at, all because Luca thought we could do some good trying to get money to make his book better. I’m rather proud of it all. See how great a matter a little fire kindleth!


1. What do I mean? Well, in the great work crisis of 2016-17, I was basically working every weekend to stay afloat, just on the stuff that needed to happen next week, let alone research. At that point blogging was a long way out of the realm of possibility, but when things got easier, as they now are, it was still hard to see where it fitted. There was still, and likely always will be, more to be done than would fit in any reasonable time, but I’d begun to realise the importance of taking time off as well. (Yes, I was late to that party, I know.) The trouble since then has been finding where blogging can fit. It’s not that I think my bosses would get angry at my blogging on work time, but I certainly don’t think they’d see it as a core task. As it is, I have a work triage list: blogging sits at no. 10 on it and so far, in the entire history of my employment at Leeds, I have not made it below no. 9, and in an ordinary week even out of term won’t usually see no. 7. So it has to be done outside work time, but I struggle to allocate that, and usually succeed only by going out or doing something entirely non-academic. If I’m in and have a computer up, I’m probably working. Today, I made a deliberate decision to blog instead of whatever my other tasks might be, but that’s what it has taken. The problem is that blogging is no longer a habit for me, and there isn’t really room for it to recover that status. I will work it out, but I’m not there yet. Saying to myself, ‘it’s Saturday and nothing’s in crisis; today they don’t own me’, is a start, however.

2. Key texts here might be Telemachos Lounghis, Byzantium in the Eastern Mediterranean: Safeguarding East Roman Identity (407–1204) (Nicosia 2010); Filippo Burgarella, “Bisanzio e le Isole” in Paola Corrias (ed.), Forme e caratteri della presenza bizantina nel Mediterraneo occidentale: la Sardegna (secoli VI-XI) (Cagliari 2012), pp. 33‒42; Dominique Valérien, “The Medieval Mediterranean” in Peregrine Horden and Sharon Kinoshita (edd.), A Companion to Mediterranean History (Chichester 2014), pp. 77‒90; and most of all, Elizabeth Malamut, Les îles de l’Empire byzantin, VIIIe‒XIIe siècles, 2 vols (Paris 1988). For the two zones of Byzantium see Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400‒800 (Oxford 2005), pp. 29‒37, though the idea didn’t start with Chris. Luca’s own answers begin to be set out in Luca Zavagno, Cyprus between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (ca. 600–800): An Island in Transition (London: Routledge, 2017) and Luca Zavagno, “Islands: not the Last Frontier: Insular Model in Early Medieval Byzantine Mediterranean, c. 650-c. 850″, in Giuseppe D’Angelo and Jorge Martins Ribeiro (edd.), Borders and Conflicts in the Mediterranean Basin, Mediterranean, Knowledge, Culture and Heritage 2 (Fisciano 2016), pp. 37‒50, and more is coming, evident not least in the fact that I have stolen all these references from draft versions of it!

15,000 more coins to play with

This post is a step or two out of order; I originally stubbed it in December 2015 and would, if everything were normal, have intended it for seven or eight posts down the line. But it occurred to me that I had also referred to various successes with publications and grants that I probably ought to mention while they’re still even near fresh, rather than queue them out of my usual dogged commitment to chronology; and then I totted up the grants and realised that the ones I had to start with were to do with the Brotherton Library Coin Collection, and that without this post you, dear readers, would have no idea what that was. So here we are!

The Reading Room in Special Collections, the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, including readers

The Reading Room in Special Collections, the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, including readers, photo from Leeds’s website

So obviously you will remember, because I am still writing about it, that between 2014 and 2015 I was Interim Curator of Coins at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which involved me doing exhibitions, outreach and general work with a collection of just over 15,000 coins and items of paranumismatica. But I put all that behind me, excepting lagging publication commitments, when I came to the University of Leeds, who had hired me as a historian of the early Middle Ages, not as a numismatist. Admittedly, I had tried to set up an undergraduate module using the coin collection in Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, but due to staff shortage there that was never possible. But just as I thought I might be through with numismatics again, someone here asked me, “has anyone told you about the coin collection in the Library?” And it turned out, wouldn’t you know, there is a collection here of just over 15,000 coins and paranumismatica, just waiting for someone to do exhibitions, outreach and general work with…

A copper-alloy sestertius of Emperor Nero struck at Rome in 65 AD, Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds, uncatalogued

A copper-alloy sestertius of Emperor Nero struck at Rome in 65 AD, Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds, uncatalogued; obverse…

A copper-alloy sestertius of Emperor Nero struck at Rome in 65 AD, Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds, uncatalogued

… and reverse, photographed by me for teaching last year

Now in some respects the timing of this was perfect: not only did it mean that I could in fact run that module the next and indeed this year on local resources alone, it also came a short while after the collection, which had for a long time been without a clear place in the University’s organisation, had been definitively placed in the care of the University’s Special Collections team. But they had no numismatics expertise in-house, and then there came I, a man who had quite literally written the book(let) on the care of coin collections (with really quite a lot of uncredited help).1 And so, while I couldn’t do much for the Library myself, not alongside my other responsibilities, one thing I could do was apply for money for someone else to do that work.

A copper-alloy forty-nummi of a type which has been suggested was struck by the occupying government of the Syrian provinces of the Byzantine Empire during their occupation by the Persians at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries

I think this is an unusual one, a copper-alloy forty-nummi of a type which has been suggested was struck by the occupying government of the Syrian provinces of the Byzantine Empire during their occupation by the Persians at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries. Here the obverse, fairly normal but a bit blocky and unclear of identification…

Copper-alloy forty-nummi struck during the Persian occupation of Syria 615-27

…and reverse, unobjectionable except for a jumbled mint-mark that just can’t be Byzantine. Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, no. not available to me but it does have one now. This is one of the cases where I’ve been able to improve on a previous identification. There aren’t many!

Now, I will talk about that in a future post, but first, how come the University has an orphaned coin collection at all, and what’s in it? Well, it’s not quite unknown: expert diggers in databases could already find out something of its history and the early British and English portions have even been published, although more was acquired after that was done.2 And in fact the history is composite, as these things so often are; while Lord Brotherton himself, the man behind our oldest library and the extremely significant collections therein, did not dally with coins, in 1918 the then-Department of Latin acquired itself a small set for teaching purposes, in 1949 the Yorkshire Archaeological Society presaged the eventual donation here of all its collections with a Roman coin collection, and in 1954 the rather fabulous Winchester Collection, which is where the funding story will come in, arrived here. Substantial anonymous gifts followed thereafter but the real difference was made by Mr Paul Thackray, of the same Thackrays as our local Medical Museum, who added 11,000 or so coins to our holdings in the early 1990s. Now, probably two-third, maybe even three-quarters, of all this is Roman, and almost all base-metal, although it’s an extremely good collection as far as that goes, with lots of varieties. There are also good representations of Chinese coins, including some genuinely rare items I am told, and of local merchants’ tokens, and a good set of modern world coins I want to convince my modernist colleagues to start using too. But there is also a small but precious selection of medieval and Byzantine items, and on them I have built my course. There is, indeed, more than I have fully discovered and some very interesting Eastern and Indian stuff, all of which is out of my competence, and two cabinets of Roman Provincial, which should definitely interest somebody, even if not me.3 Thankfully, even now we have actual hired help in place for cataloguing, though they won’t be able to do it all. But the potential is definitely here for people to do lots more with it, and it is a potential on which, as I shall describe in that near-future post, we have already started to deliver…


1. Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: their care and use (Cambridge 2009), now sadly out of print and unobtainable but obtained, thankfully, by Leeds just before that became true.

2. In Elizabeth Pirie, Ancient British and later coins to 1279 in the Yorkshire Museum, York, the City Museum Leeds and the University of Leeds, Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 21 (London: Oxford University Press, 1975).

3. That Roman Provincial coinage should be interesting more people has recently become clear partly because of the ever-growing database of it at the Ashmolean Museum but also because George Watson, “The system of coin production in Roman Asia Minor: new thoughts on an old problem”, in Maria Caltabiano et al. (edd.), XV International Numismatic Congress Taormina 2015: Proceedings (Messina 2018), pp. not yet known to me, has started to make it clear that there are systems to its production about which we had previously not suspected, making it a key to the administration of the Roman East we didn’t know we had. So I want someone to do something with our boxes of it… Any would-be research students, do get in touch