Tag Archives: Franz Füeg

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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Minute details of minting in Constantinople

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I had, “for my sins or for whatever reason”, been reading A Corpus of the Nomismata from 713-976 in Constantinople by Franz Füeg.1 This was not leisure reading, I should probably say, I had been asked to review both it and its partner volume covering 976-1067, which of course meant I had to read it in detail, of which there is much in the books.2 What they actually are is a number of corpora of Byzantine gold solidi of Constantinople (not just one corpus each, as you might imagine) and a series of attached essays dealing with the design, political æsthetics and production of the coins. Füeg is not a numismatist by training—there are, after all, almost no places that one can acquire such training—but a retired professor of architecture, and this may be one of the reasons this book goes to some strange places. It seemed to me in reading it, though, that the author doesn’t always recognise where his argument, or even in happy moments his data, take him, and that the true worth of the book is in deductions which it requires like the one I want to set out in this post.

Six denarii of Emperor Septimius Severus, all struck from the same obverse die but different reverse ones, and collected by Doug Smith

Six denarii of Emperor Septimius Severus, all struck from the same obverse die but different reverse ones, and collected by Doug Smith, on whose website this image is located (and which is linked through it)

The great strength of Füeg’s work is that he has a huge sample die study. For those not already speaking fluent numismatist, this is a thing one can particularly do with pre-industrial coinage because each of the dies with which the coins were struck were, of course, hand-carved and therefore unique in detail. Thus, if one has enough of a certain issue of coins, one expects to see individual dies turn up again and again, and someone with sharp enough eyes and short enough sight can recognise them.3 There are various things one can do with this information, but the simplest thing one can do is to count the dies one observes, and this Füeg has done. That is data we didn’t have before, whatever its quality may be, and my brain started to fire where he observes that there is a drop in the number of reverse dies being used at the Constantinople mint at the point where the coinage ceases to distinguish between officinae of the mint on its gold coinage.4

A copper-alloy forty-nummi coin of Emperor Justin II, struck at Constantinople in 565-566, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B1208

A copper-alloy forty-nummi coin of Emperor Justin II, struck at Constantinople in 565-566, in the Alpha officina, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B1208

So, OK, you may fairly ask at this point, what’s an officina? And the answer is that we don’t really know. In the mid-fourth century the Roman coinage, which was basically uniform across the whole Empire but with frequently varying codes that identified the issuing mint of each coin, began to add letters to reverse designs in use at certain mints that seem to have distinguished issues within their production; Lyons is especially complex, for example. By the time we can sensibly speak of Byzantine coinage, this system had settled into a sequence of Greek letters for each mint.5 Most mints ran to only two or three letters, alpha, beta, gamma, sometimes delta and epsilon, or more confusingly nothing and theta, but Constantinople could get up to iota in some issues. On the copper-alloy coinage these letters appeared below the main denomination mark on the reverse, as you see above and on the gold they appear at the end of the reverse legend as below. These, we call officinae, largely because some of the early Roman instances actually use the letters OF and a number for them.

A gold solidus of Emperor Maurice struck at Constantinople in 583-601, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B1810

A gold solidus of Emperor Maurice struck at Constantinople in 583-601, in officina Eta (H), Barber Institute of Fine Arts B1810, not to scale with previous. Note how the officina letter is bigger than and out of line with the letters of the legend (VICTORI-A AVCC), suggesting that the die was marked for an officina only after it had been completed elsewhere.

As I say, we don’t really know what these divisions within the mint were. Some obvious suggestions have been made—different workshops (as implied by the word we use for them), teams within the mint, markers of different commissioned officials or even companies making the coin—but we don’t really have the means to test these theories. Or we didn’t, until now. But Füeg notices that when this marking of officinae ceases (under Emperor Leo III, some of whose coins you can see here) the count of reverse dies drops noticeably. He doesn’t do anything with this fact but it’s part of the answer.

Copper-alloy follis of Emperors Leo III and Constantine V struck at Constantinople between 717  and 741, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4530

As mentioned, the officina-marking only stopped on the gold at this point; here is a copper-alloy follis of Emperors Leo III and Constantine V, struck in Constantinople in 717-741, and about the clearest thing on it is the mark for officina Beta. Not to scale with previous coins; Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4530

In case you’re not with me, consider. If the way that the mint worked was that there were up to ten separate workshops or even teams turning out coins at full capacity, they would go through dies at the same rate whether those dies were marked for them or not. But production seems to have stayed up and reverse die use went down. That can only mean that prior to the change, reverse dies marked up for officinae weren’t being used to capacity, which means in turn that there must have been a point in a minting cycle or design lifetime at which each officina stopped work. That’s not simultaneous striking under each mark, therefore; the officinae must have been sequential, switching over at intervals we don’t know. That’s where Füeg’s observation leads, even if he hasn’t taken it there. It’s not a big deal, perhaps; but no-one’s been able to figure it out before, it affects millions of pieces of evidence that passed through millions of people’s hands and if he won’t figure it out I am happy to do so instead.

A gold solidus of Emperors Leo III and Constantine V struck at Constantinople in 717-741, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4510

A gold solidus of Emperors Leo III and Constantine V struck at Constantinople in 717-741, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4510. Not to scale with previous coins. The alert will notice that this coin has a Theta at the end of the reverse legend instead of the old officina mark. These have long puzzled people. Füeg has an explanation for them, of course, but that would be another and much longer blog-post…6


1. F. Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Anastasius II to John I in Constantinople 713-976: Structure of the Issues, Corpus of Coins Finds, Contribution to the Iconographic and Monetary History, ed. Italo Vecchi & transl. H. Thomas Hofmänner (Lancaster PA 2007).

2. 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, ed. Vecchi & transl. Hofmänner (Lancaster PA 2014), reading the which is what has held up the review. But it will get done, after another project that I haven’t yet told you about is off my desk for a bit…

3. For explanations, as well as Doug Smith, “Die-Links: a tool for the numismatist” in Celator Vol. 9 (Lancaster PA 1995), pp. 12-17, as linked above, see Philip Grierson, Numismatics (Oxford 1975), pp. 142-144.

4. Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Anastasius II to John I, p. 11.

5. R. A. G. Carson, P. V. Hill & J. P. C. Kent, Late Roman Bronze Coinage (London 1960); Philip Grierson, Byzantine Coins (London 1982), pp. 20-24.

6. The short of it is that he thinks the mint switches to using indictional dates here for a few years, which lets him do all kinds of magic with reattributions and so on (Füeg, Corpus of the Nomismata from Anastasius II to John I, pp. 13-18). The long of it, explaining all of that, would be oh so much longer…