Category Archives: numismatics

All That Glitters, Experiment 5

Fittingly in some ways, given the distressing news of the last post, this post takes me back to Birmingham (which continues to happen, with a trip there on Wednesday coming that I will delight in telling you about before long if all goes to plan…). In fact, this is the last of the posts promised in my second Chronicle round-up, which means that we are now progressed in the story of my academic life to December 2015… It doesn’t look a lot like blogging progress, but let’s ignore that and instead tell the next part of the story of my project to zap Byzantine gold coins with X-rays, All That Glitters.

Bruker S8 TIGER XRF analyser open for business

The maw of the S8 TIGER XRF analysis machine in the Department of Chemistry, University of Birmingham, already much featured in these posts

It’s getting a little silly now to re-summarise the project every time I do one of these posts, however far apart they may be, so I’ll invite you to look here for the premise and just say where, by December 2015, the project had got up to. In brief, we had started from a belief that we might be able to find out about sources of metal for the Byzantine coinage and how those changed and maybe why by analysing them using a technique known as X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF). We got money to investigate this possibility in April 2015, and either before that or thereafter moved through the following developmental steps:

  1. finding out that the lightweight, energy-dispersive kit that we had hoped to use just wasn’t going to get the information we needed;
  2. finding out that the big, stationary, wavelength-dispersive kit we had to use instead (by kind courtesy of the Department of Chemistry, University of Birmingham) would get us the best results only on its longest cycle, cutting the number of things we could test in the time we could pay for down considerably;
  3. finding out that the results we were getting apparently included quite a lot of invisible surface deposits that seemed most likely to be leftover soil;
  4. discovering that, against all expectations, cleaning the coins in acetone actually made this problem worse, if anything;
  5. deciding, along the way, that we could not, as we had hoped, test different areas of coins for comparison of homogeneity either, because the results were just too darn variable to interpret;
  6. establishing that despite all these limitations, we could still distinguish between mint practices sometimes, but that only in the most difficult of cases was this telling us anything a competent numismatist couldn’t have seen by thmselves;
  7. and, although this was my colleague Dr Rebecca Darley, not myself, presenting these initial findings at the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina and at the Joint British Museum/Institute of Archaeology Seminar at University College London.1
  8. At the former of these presentations we got some pushback from the numismatists whose work we were implicitly questioning, which was understandable, but in the latter we got lots of pushback from one or two archaeometallurgists who felt that we were not people properly trained to do such work and that in fact it was pointless, which I saw as one of those ivory-tower problems; people are out there doing such work badly anyway, so would you rather just let them publish it and be accepted or shall we aim to do at least a bit better?2 Admittedly, we were having trouble doing much better, but that was what we now set about solving…

On 17th December 2015, therefore, three of us brought our test set of coins back to the Department of Chemistry, but this time with a difference. We’d already tried cleaning the coins in acetone, as said, so we had decided that we needed to try harder. But how hard should you try to clean a relatively soft precious-metal object of considerable value? Thankfully, this was a question that the team working on the Staffordshire Hoard had already faced, and since I’d been able to talk with one of them earlier in the year, we had a kind of answer, which was, berberis (or barberry) thorns: tough enough to shift surface dirt, soft enough not to scratch the metal!3 So before the test, Maria Vrij, by now in post succeeding me as Interim Curator of Coins at the Barber following my move to Leeds, had taken the coins and more acetone down to the Barber’s most suitable room for the purpose and, with the windows wide open, had laboriously worked over their surfaces with thorns under a magnifying glass.4 I can only say that this made me very glad to have moved jobs before this could have become my task, and I remain very grateful to Maria for doing it, but of course the real question was, what difference did it make? And the answer was, sadly, ‘a bit’: the levels of presumably-surface material that shouldn’t really be in the coins (calcium, silicon, potassium, aluminium) dropped, but were not gone.

A gold solidus of Emperor Heraclius struck at Constantinople in 613-616, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B2762, in a WD-XRF sample cup

A gold solidus of Emperor Heraclius struck at Constantinople in 613-616, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B2762, in its WD-XRF sample cup for testing

This was, in many ways, not the answer we wanted, as with so many of the findings thus far. We would much rather not have had to use the big, fixed machine to which the coins had to be brought, rather than one of the portable ones we could have taken to other collections; we would rather have been able to use a shorter test cycle and thus test more things in the time we had; we’d rather not have had to clean the coins at all; but if we had to clean the coins, we’d rather it had been possible just with a wash and a rub in acetone, not with hours of picking at them with thorns with your face close over a bath of solvent. If we had (and by we, I really mean Maria, sorry Maria), to do all that, however, we’d at least have liked it to produce good results. What it actually produced, however, was only measurably less bad results, which was not the exciting scientific conclusion for which we might have hoped. But it might be a bit more like actual science, and sadly, it’s a lot more like real life; messy, never quite sorted out, but still interesting…


1. The former of these papers is now published, in fact, as Rebecca Darley, “All that glitters…: the Byzantine gold solidus, c. 300-1092″, in Maria Caccamo Caltabiano (ed.), XV Internationa Numismatic Congress, Taormina 2015: Proceedings (Rome 2017), II, pp. 982-985. A cite for the latter would be Rebecca Darley, “What does the science mean? Interpreting metallurgic analysis of Byzantine gold coinage”, unpublished paper presented at the British Museum/Institute of Archaeology Joint Seminar, University College London, 15th December 2015.

2. It seems mean to point fingers, but once it’s being cited it is probably fair game and, on the basis of our experiments, I might raise questions about Rasiel Suarez, “A Metals Analysis of Silver Roman Imperial Coins using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy”, online here, whose precision just seems impossible with the equipment he used despite his checks (which were not carried out against a standard), and one would like at least to be able to ask more questions about the methods and reproducibility of the tests in Monica Baldassarri, Gildo de Holanda Cavalcanti, Marco Ferretti, Astrik Gorghinian, Emanuela Grifoni, Stefano Legnaioli, Giulia Lorenzetti, Stefano Pagnotta, Luciano Marras, Eleonora Violano, Marco Lezzerini and Vincenzo Palleschi, “X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis of XII–XIV Century Italian Gold Coins” in Journal of Archaeology (2014), pp. 1–6, online here. Note that we are not the only researchers wondering about things like this, by now: see also V. Orfanou and Th. Rehren, “A (not so) dangerous method: pXRF vs. EPMA-WDS analyses of copper-based artefacts” in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences Vol. 7 (Basel 2015), pp. 387–397, DOI: 10.1007/s12520-014-0198-z, and E. S. Blakelock, “Never Judge A Gold Object by its Surface Analysis: A Study of Surface Phenomena in a Selection of Gold Objects from the Staffordshire Hoard” in Archaeometry Vol. 58 (Chichester 2016), pp. 912–929, DOI: 10.1111/arcm.12209.

3. See ibid.!

4. Of course, she is no longer Interim, but now actually properly Curator of Coins, and much better at it than ever I was, despite the acetone fumes!

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OK, I admit, this is not a temple

I often hark back to much older posts on this blog, which I suppose is part of having been blogging for more than a decade. Still, you would have to have a special kind of memory to remember my theory about the so-called ‘tomb type’ deniers of ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona, which is just as well as I think I now have to admit that it was wrong.1 So, I probably ought to explain a bit, and then show you why it’s wrong and wonder what’s right now.

So, when the Frankish kings took over in what’s now Catalonia, they set up mints in four towns, Girona, Barcelona, Castelló d’Empúries and either Roda de Ter, Roda d’Isàvena or Roses, with the balance of likelihood for now on the third.2 These mints struck the regular Carolingian coinage of silver pennies, which Simon Coupland has called the ‘medieval Euro’, which under the rule of Charlemagne (768-814, here 785-814) and his son Louis the Pious (814-840) was standardised pretty much across their empire.3 The principal design of that is the so-called ‘Temple’ type, which you see here.

'Temple' type denier of Emperor Louis the Pious

‘Temple’ type denier of Emperor Louis the Pious, uncertain mint, 822-840. Image by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The reverse design is fundamentally Roman, the closest resemblance being to a coinage of Emperor Antoninus Pius, but as befitted their new dispensation the Carolingians converted the once-pagan temple into a Christian space by adding the cross at the centre and the legend, PXISTIANA RELIGIO, with the first two letters being Greek, the chi-ro monogram meaning Christ, so, ‘Christian religion’. Visually, it’s fairly clearly a design in three registers, the pediment, the pillars and cross, and the fundament. This type continued to be struck in the West under Louis the Pious’s son Charles the Bald (844-77), but at a decreasing standard until in 864, at the Council of Pîtres, Charles ordered a reform and brought the coinage back up, more or less, to the standard of his grandfather, whose KAROLVS monogram he also reinstated on the coins.4

'Temple'-type denier of King Charles the Bald, struck at Reims 840-864

‘Temple’-type denier of King Charles the Bald, struck at Reims 840-864. Image by By Numisanticahttp://www.numisantica.com/, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, somehow or other the Catalan mints don’t seem to have got that memo. There’s no specimen of a post-Pîtres coin so far known from any of them—although as this post shows, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one waiting to be found—and it seems therefore that coinage in Catalonia either ceased to be made for a while or they carried on making the previous issue. I favour the former, simply because Charles stayed in fairly close touch with his distant province in his later years, but it’s possible an exception was made.5 The real difficulties for numismatists however start after Charles’s death, because while we have one or two not very good temple-type coins in his name from Barcelona, we don’t have any clearly in the names of his successors. What we have instead is a set of three types of coin, all rather below even pre-Pîtres standard in size and weight, all lettered in more or less junk characters, As, Vs, lozenges and triangles, and all with a small cross in a circle on one face. They’re distinguished by the other face, which carries either another such small cross in a circle, a triangle of three annulets in a circle, or a blocky design in three registers which we know as the ‘tomb’ type, and which has been guessed to represent the then-recently-discovered tomb of Saint Eulalie of Barcelona. Here is a typical example of such a coin.

Silver transitional denier struck at Barcelona in 865-1018, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.345-2001

Silver transitional denier struck at Barcelona in 865-1018, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.345-2001, image by your humble author

As you can see, that’s not a lot to go on. You may remember me being sceptical here about our ability to date the supposed rediscovery of Eulalie’s tomb, and of course we can’t independently date the coins except by hypothetical seriation, so neither one thing can be used to date the other, though people still do of course. The three known coins of Count-Marquis Ramon Borrell (992-1018) use the triple annulet device, so it seems likely—no more—that the anonymous ones with the annulets come before his. Eulalie’s tomb was supposedly found by Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, who was around in the 870s, so we usually put the ‘tomb’ type first, and the cross type has to fill the gap. Braver souls than I have even assigned each type to a known ruler, Bishop Teuderic of Barcelona for the ‘tomb’ type, Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona (911-947) for the cross and my own favourite, his son Borrell II (945-993), for the annulets.6 That could certainly be, but equally, we don’t know from what we have that they weren’t all issued simultaneously in a fifteen-year splurge under Count Guifré I the Hairy (870-898) and then just used till they wore nearly blank, and then a century later Ramon Borrell decided to revive his great-grandfather’s coinage, on a current standard, as a sign that he was taking up the fight against the Muslims anew. That could just as easily have happened from this evidence.

Anyway, whenever it dates from, this post is about the ‘tomb’ type. It is very rare to have a clear, unworn specimen of any of these coins, and all the ones I’ve seen hitherto of the tomb type have left me quite dubious about its iconography. It’s often no more than three raised rectangles, the uppermost slightly domed, and the repetition of the triple register has made me wonder before now whether it’s not in fact just a rather degraded recollection of the temple type that the revelant mint, wherever it is (we usually assume Barcelona, but again don’t actually know), had probably once struck. And, as I now know, that’s where I’m wrong, because in April of 2014 (and why, yes, I have had this post stubbed for a while), there passed through the sale-rooms of Aureo & Calicó in Barcelona this example:

Silver denier struck in Barcelona, probably in the late ninth or early tenth century. Aureo y Calicó, Ramon Muntaner sale, April 2014, lot 211

Silver denier struck in Barcelona, probably in the late ninth or early tenth century. Aureo y Calicó, Ramon Muntaner sale, April 2014, lot 211

Now, they attribute it to Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona, but you know from the above how much that’s worth. It probably is very early in the possible timeframe, at least, because its weight is high (1.36 g), the obverse legend is still legible as +CARLVS REX rather than being pseudo-literate and the cross is longer than on the later ones. The reverse legend is pretty clearly +BARCINONA, Barcelona, too, even though whoever engraved the legend on the die didn’t realise it needed to be in mirror-image and so it has come out, as the numismatists say, retrograde. That implies that they were copying a Carolingian-era denier, however. So perhaps this is the earliest tomb-type denier we have so far, and in that respect maybe it could be Frodoí or Teuderic (or Guifré the Hairy or his son Guifré II Borrell). Mainly, though, it’s really clear, even though someone apparently put a knife point right through its middle at some point in its history. The device on the reverse does have three registers, though the top one is subdivided vertically into two or three. But they plainly aren’t the temple. I’m not saying I know what it is. It could be Eulalie’s sarcophagus, but I’ve seen that myself and it’s not an obvious resemblance to me, plus which I don’t see how anyone who hadn’t seen it could possibly be expected to recognise it.

Crypt of Saint Eulalie in cathedral of Santes Creu i Eulàlia de Barcelona

Seen but not photographed, alas. The thing you’re looking for is not the raised-up Gothic box in the middle but the rougher-cut one lurking between the pillars and behind the railings at the back, almost invisible from any available angle of approach. Image by Bernard Gagnonown work, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

But it’s not the temple. The omission of the vertical elements when the horizontal ones are so clear is impossible to explain. So, I have to retire that theory and another one is needed. But this is the fun thing about medieval coinage, and I suppose material culture more widely except that coins were produced on such a scale; our understanding can genuinely be transformed by one new find. I would love to know where this coin came from, which I probably never will. Its pedigree is likely to be dubious, but that it got to a sale-room and they photographed it gives us more than we would have known otherwise. In this case, what we now know is that my idea doesn’t work, but that’s OK; now, whatever idea we come up with will have to work better than that. This is how scholarship progresses, and I have plenty of other progress to make, I hope.


1. Not least, I think I actually first expressed the theory in print, in my “Currency Change in Pre-Millennial Catalonia: Coinage, Counts and Economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), pp. 217–243, online here, at p. 220, though I was then less dubious about Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona’s rôle than I am now (and below).

2. See Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 70-73.

3. See Simon Coupland, “The Medieval Euro” in History Today Vol. 54 no. 6 (June 2002), pp. 18–19, or in a bit more depth Coupland, “Money and Coinage under Louis the Pious” in Francia Vol. 17 (Sigmaringen 1990), pp. 23-54, online here, repr. in his Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: Studies on Power and Trade in the 9th Century, Variorum Collected Studies 847 (Aldershot 2007), chapter III.

4. See Philip Grierson, “The Gratia Dei Rex Coinage of Charles the Bald” in Margaret T. Gibson and Janet L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: Court and Kingdom, 2nd edn. (Aldershot: Variorum, 1990), pp. 52–64.

5. He issued all of Ramon de Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 75, facsimile reprint (Barcelona 2007), Arles IV, Banyoles III & IV, Particulars XXVI, XXVII & XXVIII, Sant Andreu d’Eixalada I, Sant Julià del Munt I, Sant Llorenç del Munt I & Sureda III & app. VII & VIII to recipients in the area of modern Catalonia after the date of P&icrc;tres.

6. Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “La moneda barcelonina del segle X. Altres novetats comtals” in Acta numismàtica Vol. 38 (Barcelona 2008), pp. 91–121, modified by Crusafont, Balaguer & Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, pp. 74-76.

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.

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.

Chronicle II: October to December 2015

Somewhat to my surprise, I have now reached the second of the what-was-going-in-my-life round-ups I was promising to use as the anchor of the new blogging programme here at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, back in, er, February. It wasn’t supposed to take eight months to record what had happened in three, but as you’ll have observed there was a fair bit of hiatus and strife in there, and I hope that we can pick things up a bit now. There’s only one way to find out, anyway, and thus we now reach the point where I try and give some impression of my first semester employed at the University of Leeds. The first thing that needs to be said about that is that my new colleagues were absolutely lovely, and guided me through new offices and routines with cheerful generosity; it all unrolled a great deal more easily than it could so easily have done while I found my feet. To try and explain what I was actually up to, however, probably needs breaking down into headings, and the obvious ones would be teaching, what we might generally class as extra labours, seminars and similar, research work and, lastly, life more widely; I’ll say the least about the last, but it holds the rest together. So here we go. Continue reading

Medieval European Coinage update (Name in the Book Somewhere III)

I have time for only a short post this weekend, but happily, I was just asked a question here that can be answered in such a post, and which also fits into the pattern of alternating what we might call ‘historical’ content with a recounting of my various and dubious scholarly achievements. So, this post, let me bring you up to date with that well-known scholarly series, Medieval European Coinage!

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the Medieval European Coinage series

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the series

Now even my part in this could be a long story, but at least a short version of the full story is worth telling. It begins with the late Professor Philip Grierson, who somewhere towards the last third of his long career decided it would be a good idea to pubish a monographic series of accounts of the coinage of the European Middle Ages, using his own excellent collection as the illustrative basis. Originally, supposedly, he reckoned to write them all himself, figuring that one every two years would keep him busy till retirement, but predictably, it turned out to be a bigger project than that, and before long he had enlisted co-authors for several of the volumes, then assigned several of them to other people entirely, and eventually it was a whole British Academy-funded project which could afford a small staff. The first actual volume, covering the whole of the continent from the fifth to the tenth century, was co-written by Professor Grierson and his Research Assistant, Mark Blackburn, then freshly poached from the legal profession by the museums world and eventually, of course to be my boss.1

Cover of Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986)

Before that time, the team had squeezed out a second volume, co-written by Professor Grierson and Lucia Travaini, and covering Southern Italy from the tenth to fifteenth centuries, but since the first had come out in 1986 and it was now 1998, it was clear that this was all taking longer than initially planned.2 The next volume was supposed to be that on the Iberian Peninsula, and it was because the team needed a copy-editor who knew some peninsular history that I first got into the Fitzwilliam. It’s hard to emphasise now how important that job was for me. Not only did it basically keep me alive during three quite difficult months, but it made me a lot of friends in the department, established in Mark Blackburn’s mind that I could work databases, and thus set me up for what would turn out to be five years’ paid employment, several virtual exhibitions you can still see (and some you can’t), my first numismatic publications and some quite important personal ramifications to boot; I am still reaping the benefit of getting involved with the project, and indeed I still sit on its committee. But when I left the employment of the Fitzwilliam in 2010, the Iberian Peninsula volume was still not yet published, and I have to admit, it was not quite clear then if it would be.

Cover of Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6: The Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

Now, that story I’ve told elsewhere and obviously it did emerge, finally, in 2013.3 That was a great achievement, celebrated in two countries indeed, but it left open the question of which volume would emerge next; we had several under work, and obstacles in the way of them all. As with the legendary London bus, however, you wait four years for one and then two turn up at once, or nearly. The volume covering Northern Italy, by William R. Day Junior, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, which we were already celebrating at Taormina as described, finally left the presses in November 2016, and very shortly afterwards, in April 2017, it was joined by Rory Naismith’s volume on Britain and Ireland 400-1066, covering some ground already covered by the Earlier Middle Ages volume again simply because the finds pattern has changed our understanding of the way money was being used in early medieval Britain so radically in the, well, thirty years since the project had last offered any thoughts on it.4 And I’m happy to celebrate this as in some small way my achievement as in 2008 to 2009 I copy-edited as much of the Northern Italy volume as then existed, and though I’ve no idea how much of my work remains visible in the finished volume—I certainly don’t have the files against which to check—nonetheless, this is something I had a hand in and now it exists where people can use it, so I’m happy.

Cover of William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage 12: Northern Italy (I) (Cambridge 2017)

So that is where we are, but where are we about to be? Well, obviously, given our pedigree, absolutely the last thing I should do is offer any predictions, and indeed I might seriously offend some of our authors if I were to guess here who will publish next! What I can do is tell you what is currently under work. The volumes actively under work are those on Germany, by Peter Ilisch, on the Low Countries, by Philip Grierson, Peter Spufford, Serge Boffa and now Marcus Phillips and Sue Tyler-Smith, on the British Isles 1066-1279, by Martin Allen, on ‘the Nordic Countries’ by Jørgen Steen Jensen and Elina Screen, on Central and Eastern Europe, by Boris Paskiewicz, and on the Latin East and Crusader States, by Julian Baker, Richard Kelleher and Robert Kool. Other volumes are also under work, but I think it is probably OK to say that they are currently moving more slowly. It will also probably not have escaped the keenly numismatic audience that the Low Countries volumes have also lost two of their authors and gained some others, and indeed when the first of them (Philip) died it was still being conceived of as only one volume, so a lot has happened there but it has not necessarily advanced that much closer to its finish line. I honestly wouldn’t like to guess which of these is closest to the finish line, but if I were to predict anything at all, it would be that although we can’t hope to maintain the current one-volume-a-year output, it should not be, say, 2021 before another volume has emerged, and by then again quite probably two. I’m just not sure which or when…


1. Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986).

2. Philip Grierson and Lucia Travaini, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 14: Southern Italy (Cambridge 1998).

3. Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013).

4. William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 12: Northern Italy (Cambridge 2016); Rory Naismith, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 8: Britain and Ireland, c. 400-1066 (Cambridge 2017).

An awful lot of numismatists in Sicily, II

So, after that bit of numismatic self-congratulation, let me take you back for the last time to September 2015 and the town of Taormina in Sicily, where I was then one of many gathered for the 15th International Numismatic Congress. You’ve seen some of the local antiquities, heard about the first two-and-a-half days of papers and visited a local castle, now it’s time to return to the thick of the academic fray. But first, a party!

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano

Indeed, the first thing on our calendar after descending from Castelmola and eating was not an academic session but a party put on by the Medieval European Coinage project, to celebrate its resurgence into activity since the previous INC in the form of the publication of the series’ volume on the Iberian Peninsula and the near-completion of that on Northern Italy (which, much though I often doubted it, has in fact now also emerged, something I should probably announce separately too).1 By now you may well not remember that I am a part of that project still, but I am, so I was there to share in the glory. There were speeches, there was a strictly limited quantity of free wine, but mainly there was a superb setting.

Medieval European Coinage authors by the Cambridge University Press stand at a party in the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

MEC authors Bill Day Jr and Martin Allen looking very relaxed by the Cambridge University Press stand inside the Palazzo

It was a good way to wrap up the day. The next day was the last day of papers, however, and with certain obligations among them, and so for once I was up and ready right at the beginning. Here’s how it all unrolled. Continue reading