first thing to notice about the subject of sovereignty as it is
expressed on coinage is that there has been relatively little written
on the topic. The next is to note that, in the Chinese monetary
tradition, the idea of national sovereignty is not closely connected
with the issuance and design of coins, nor is there a tradition
of image use on coinage, whereas the Indian tradition incorporates
concepts of coinage largely similar to those of the Greek tradition
(due probably to the close contacts with Greek coinage traditions,
first through Persia and then via contact with the succesors of
Alexander the Great.).
Liberty walking with torch and olive
branch from a pattern Saint–Gaudens
gold high–relief double–Eagle, 1907.
Most general numismatic histories include a section on coin types
in which topics such as propaganda on coins and the details and
meanings of the images on the coins is discussed. This is not the
same as discussing the history of the iconography used on coins
to proclaim individual and national sovereignty, and how the act
of coining or producing currency has been synonymous with an expression
of independence since the earliest years of coinage in Ancient Greece.
Another point to make
in the discussion of the following authors and their works (with
the exception of some of the economists) is that they are overwhelmingly
modern (as opposed to post–modern) in their approach to numismatic
history, mostly due to the nature of their evidence. Coins are among
the most solid and enduring of primary documents and generally provide
fewer problems of interpretation than comparable documents in other
media. This is in part due to their small size, which limits the
extent and complexity of their content, and also to the fact that
so many coins survive, allowing for comparison and checking of interpretations
over large numbers of objects, something impossible in most other
forms of written documentation because of their low survival rate.
This is not to say that controversy and rival interpretations do
not exist, but that they are largely concerned with what appears
on the coins as opposed to applying post-modernist ideologies to
them. The changes which have occurred over the last century in Numismatic
historiography have been concentrated in the area of technical knowledge
of the coining process and the application of that knowledge in
the form of die studies and the analysis of hoard evidence. The
research conducted in these areas has provided previously unavailable
precision and insights into the dating of coins and their relationship
to political and economic events testified to in other sources,
as well as allowing for statistical analysis to illuminate otherwise
opaque aspects of history.
A major reason for
the lack of interest on the part of post-modernists in numismatics
per-se appears to be the fact that the issuance of money has always
been an “elite” activity performed by governmental authorities or
large-scale merchants. There is little scope for re-interpretation
of the purpose and use of money in the modern sense in money as
invented by the Greeks, Indians, and Chinese.
Iron ‘manillas,’ used on the Gold
Coast of West Africa as money for
centuries. Their value depended
on their size and metallic quality.
On the other hand, there is plenty of room for the interpretation
of the uses and purposes of “traditional” money as used in sub-Saharan
Africa, Oceania up until the mid–20th century, and the
rest of the world prior to the invention or introduction of modern
monetary forms. This is reflected in the virtual explosion of works
on the subject of the symbols and forms of traditional money. This
research has been appearing most frequently in anthropological journals
and books since the 1970s, as well as in some economic journals.
| Alfred R. Bellinger’s
(1893–1978) article “The Coins and Byzantine Imperial Policy” includes
a useful discussion of the iconography of the Byzantine coinage and
its purpose. Bellinger distinguishes iconography of the court and
that of the church on the Byzantine gold coins. Particularly interesting
is his identification of the audience for the political and religious
messages of the coins as the Byzantine bureaucracy and aristocracy.
These audiences were the only part of Byzantine society to regularly
deal with gold coins, and the rest of the coinage is largely static
for long periods, reflecting a general indifference on the part of
the Byzantine government in the opinions of the general public, a
situation vastly different from that of the early Roman Empire. The
bulk of the article discusses Byzantine history, using the coinage
to highlight and illuminate imperial policy and pointing out where
coinage anticipates the appearance of policy changes in other media.2
|Andrew Burnett is the
Keeper (head of Department) of the Department of Coins and Medals
at the British Museum. Burnett’s book Coins: Interpreting the Past
includes a useful discussion of the designs of western coinages through
history. The book is primarily aimed at illustrating the importance
of coins in the reconstruction of history through interpretation of
their designs, inscriptions, physical characteristics, dating, and
their find spots. Burnett begins with a definition of money and a
discussion of the difference between simple lumps of metal (bullion)
and coins. This difference is that coins are issued “with a recognized
value by a competent authority.”3
This definition serves as a jumping off point for discussions of state
control of coinage systems and the purposes to which coins were put
as a background for their potential as historical resources.
Frank van Dun is a
Belgian philosopher who has written extensively on the subject of
the principles of law and issues of taxation. He has a Ph.D. in
the philosophy of law and legal theory from the University of Ghent,
and is a lecturer there as well as at the University of Maastricht
in the Netherlands.
Dr. van Dun’s article
“National Sovereignty and International Monetary Regimes” is a philosophical
tract dealing with the theoretical basis for National Sovereignty
and how it is challenged by the development of supranational organizations
such as the EEC. The article is set within the context of a book
produced in order to combat what Dowd and Timberlake (the editors
of the book) identify in their introduction as political interference
in the national financial systems. The argument is that individual
politicians through government powers enact misguided legislation
for their own benefit that tends to undermine the stability of money,
and thus the interests of the mass of people. The goal of the book
is to advocate a monetary system constitutionally prescribed, operating
under the rule of law and not subject to the whims of individual
states or politicians.4 Given
the timing of the book, it is clearly aimed at influencing the development
of the EEC’s financial institutions.
Michael Grant (1914–) is a renowned and prolific ancient historian
with his early roots in the numismatics of the Roman Empire. He
was born in London, England and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Among his many memberships and awards, Grant was President of the
Royal Numismatic Society from 1953 to 1956, and has received the
prestigious Royal Numismatic Society Medal. Grant pursued a career
in academics and administration until 1966, when he began his career
as a full-time writer. He currently lives in Italy.
Roman History From
Coins is essentially a discussion of how numismatic data can
be used to augment and broaden more traditional historical sources.
Discussions include portraits of Augustus and Nero and why one should
be remembered as the “pater patriae” of Rome while the other has
been vilified by history. The discussions include useful information
on the types of Roman coins and their relationship to state propaganda
and glorification of the autocrat. The work is written using a modernist
methodology; coins and primary documents are “facts” which can be
used to illuminate or even discredit each other, thus Grant’s initial
comparison of Nero and Augustus from evidence of the coins and from
documentary and architectural remains—truly broad based research.
Philip Grierson was
born in Dublin, Ireland in 1910 and received his M.A. from Gonville
and Caius College at Cambridge. Grierson’s historical specialty
has been Byzantine and Medieval European numismatics. He worked
as an academic professor in England and Brussels before retiring
in 1978 to pursue his own writings and research. Grierson is a past
president of the Royal Numismatic Society (1961–1966) and a member
of numerous other prestigious academic societies and organizations.
Coins includes information on iconography, both religious and
political and is considered to be a standard reference for the history
of Byzantine coinage. It is a good source for the identification
of symbols of sovereignty that influenced medieval Europe and the
Grierson’s discussion covers the design elements of the images on
Byzantine coins in depth, such as the meaning of the different types
of costume and insignia worn by the emperors on their coinage. The
book is profusely illustrated and well annotated allowing the researcher
to see the changes in the coinage directly and to follow up on Grierson’s
conclusions. The most useful portions of the book for this exhibit
appear between pages 27 and 42 in the discussion of Byzantine coin
Gold solidus of Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor from
527–565 A.D. Notice the globus cruciger held by the
emperor himself and by the male ‘angel’ only
recently converted from the female goddess Nike,
who also holds a staff with the chi–rho symbol,
just to make sure the Christian association of the
figure is made.
| Sir George MacDonald
(1862–1940) was the Honorary Curator of the Hunterian Coin Cabinet
of the Fitzwilliam Museum. His book, Evolution of Coinage,
is a concise discussion on the development of coinage. The book contains
separate chapters for “Coinage and the States” (of particular relevance
for this study) and for “Types and Legends” of coins up to the time
of the book’s publication, though most of the examples are taken from
the ancient world, MacDonald’s specialty. This book represents a refinement
of the author’s previous thinking as presented in Coin Types: Their
Origin & Development 700 BC to 1604. Numismatic historiography
had not yet advanced to the stage of using die studies and horde analysis
to date otherwise undated coins, but these techniques were in the
first stages of development and were to come into their own over the
| George McDonald’s book
Coin Types: Their Origin & Development 700 BC to 1604 is
a collection of essays on the subject of coin designs delivered in
the form of six lectures during 1905. The lectures were designed as
an introduction to coinage design and represented a break from earlier
thinking in numismatic literature because McDonald stressed that designs
on early Greek coins owed more to identifying their place of origin
than any to any commercial or religious connections. This debate reopened
the problem of locating the mint cities of these ancient coins, thus
focusing scholarship on an area that has made many of the advances
in numismatic knowledge since 1905 possible. Mint identification using
the designs of these early coins was complemented by the advent of
professional archaeology based on scientific principles. Archaeology
provided site finds of coins and hordes of coins associated with known
and newly identified city-sites, plus the discovery of previously
unknown city sites. All of this served to reinforce the political
aspect of the production of coins.
Coins: An Illustrated
Survey contains a wealth of images and articles by a variety
of authors about coinages from all over the world—several of which
have useful information on iconography. John Porteous is a numismatist
well known for his general survey of numismatics entitled Coins:
Pleasures and Treasures. Coins: An Illustrated Survey
is based on the coin collection of the British museum, the foremost
collection in the world. Martin Jessop Price, the editor, was the
Deputy Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals of the British
Museum and a noted numismatic scholar of ancient coins as well as
the Secretary of the Royal Numismatic Society. The authors of the
book were selected for their expertise in various numismatic geographic
and temporal specialties. John Porteous’ article serves as the introduction
to the volume as a whole. The article has a concise discussion of
the development and uses of money from its invention to the modern
day, emphasizing the continuity over time of certain aspects of
overall design and purpose.
Paul Romanoff (1899–1943)
was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America with
a background of studies in the Talmud and Mishna and a serious interest
in numismatics. Dr. Romanoff was an alumnus of the Dropsie College
for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. Jewish Symbols on Jewish Coins
is a specialized work on an area of numismatics rarely covered in
such detail and is considered to be a classic in its field. The
approach toward history in the book is modernist in that the author
attempts to describe the types of Jewish coins as contemporaneous
Jews understood them. He views coins as another source of information
with which to reconstruct the psychology of the people of the past.5 Despite
conscious limitation of the scope to Jewish symbols on Jewish coins,
Romanoff’s book goes beyond the specialized Jewish uses and meanings
of the symbols covered, making it invaluable as a research tool
for interpreting the ancient meanings for a host of types from palm
trees to trumpets.
C. H. V. Sutherland
was born in London, England in 1908 and earned a doctorate in literature
from Oxford University. His professional career has encompassed
numismatics primarily at the Ashmolean Museum as their Keeper of
Coins but also included work as a lecturer at various institutions
in the U.K. and the U.S. His major contribution to numismatics has
been his editing and contributions to the first nine volumes of
the Roman Imperial Coinage, the standard reference for the
coins issued in the name of the Roman emperors.
Art in Coinage
is mainly concerned with the artistry that appears on coinage from
its invention to the present day (1956), as one would expect, but
it also includes discussions about the purposes for the designs
and inscriptions found upon coins. Sutherland states that the art
appearing on coins is “a preeminently social art.” As such, he believes
they reflect the spirit of their times and especially important
as they are much more available than other sources of history. The
primary characteristic of coins is their economic and social function,
which requires that they constantly move through time and space.6
Thus they are particularly suited for a specialized form of art
and propaganda, which Sutherland elaborates as new aspects develop
over time, from the first use of identifiable images associated
to particular cities through the development of symbols with generally
understood meanings and the use of inscriptions to convey political
and religious messages.
Lawrence H. White
is an associate professor of Economics at the University of Georgia.
He earned his doctorate from UCLA in Economics. He is a prolific
writer on the subjects of finance, market economies and banking.
Paul D. van Wie is
Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science at Hofstra University
and is Commissioner of Landmarks and Historic Preservation, Town
of Hempstead— Long Island, New York. Image, History, and Politics
is an in-depth discussion of the coinage of modern Europe for the
last two centuries beginning with the French Revolution in 1789.
Van Wie covers each of the major European countries in seven chapters
with discussions of the coin types and their symbolism. The questions
of sovereignty and national identity and their representation on
national coinages are dealt with as a central part of the book.
The book is written in a straightforward modernist style, stressing
evidence from the coins to illustrate the major political events
of the times. The detailed discussion of the images on the coins
makes this book particularly useful for the background of this exhibit.
|1 Mattingly, Harold, Roman
Coins: From the Earliest Times to the Fall of the Roman Empire,
London: Methuen & CO LTD, 1962. p. 48.
2 Bellinger, Alfred R., “The
Coins and Byzantine Imperial Policy,” Speculum, Vol. 31, No.
1. (Jan., 1956), pp. 72–73. Bellinger identifies the re-appearance
of Christ on the coins of Theodora a decade or more prior to the re-introduction
of icons into mosaics.
3 Burnett, Andrew, Coins:
Interpreting the Past, Great Britain: University of California
Press/British Museum, 1991. p. 10.
4 Dowd, Kevin and Timberlake,
Richard H. Jr., Money and the Nation State: The Financial Revolution,
Government and the World Monetary System, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
Publishers, 1998. pp. 1–2.
5 Romanoff, Paul,
Jewish Symbols on Ancient Jewish Coins, Philadelphia: The Dropsie
College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1944, pp. 5–6.
C. H. V., Art in Coinage, New York: Philosophical Library,
Inc., 1956. p. 17.