Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Daily Record: Five years on, test case on coins tries USAO's patience

The Daily Record, a news service for Maryland based business and legal professions, ran an interesting report about the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild forfeiture case in its July 13, 2014 issue.  This test case is described in numerous news items at the guild website.  The Daily Record piece by Legal Affairs staff writer Danny Jacobs is apparently available online only by paid subscription.  The headline is catchy, to say the least: "Five years on, test case on coins tries USAO's patience".  The essence of this balanced report is distilled from a recent filing in Baltimore by federal prosecutors. Jacobs describes the document as a harshly worded motion complaining of the "waste of judicial resources" expended by the US Attorney's Office.  The USAO lays responsibility for that claimed waste of resources squarely on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.  In their motion, the government attorney states “We are still here — in the fifth year — for only one reason: Claimants’ refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer,”.   There is actually one other reason, justice has not yet been served.

The wasted resources are real enough, and they are not borne by the USAO alone.  The cost to ancient coin collectors, not only in financial terms but in the burden of extralegal and repressive regulation has been considerable.  The whole issue begs an important question: Why did it take five years for the ACCG to end up in a Forfeiture Hearing if that was their original intent in 2009?  There are standard timely procedures and milestones in place for any property forfeiture.  The answer, quite simply, is that the government would not file a forfeiture complaint.  One can't help but wonder if this aberration was intentional and a means to avoid the expected litigation.  In any event, Customs and Border Protection officials seized the coins and failed to adhere to the governing statutes and regulations on processing.  After nearly a year of administrative appeals for due process, ACCG was forced to launch the string of litigation that DOJ is now complaining about.  If anyone should be suffering from a lack of patience it should be ACCG for having to forego these hurdles just to have a day in court.  The facts of this case would raise a lot of eyebrows if they were ever allowed to be litigated—and that may well explain the government's intransigence.  The USAO is right about one thing, coin collectors will not take NO for an answer when they seek the protection of existing law to save their hobby, avocation and constitutional rights. 

Despite the fact that this test case has been in progress for five years, there has yet to be a judgement on the merits of the ACCG complaint.  In the first litigation, the court ruled that the issue was not judiciable, in other words not within the discretion or power of the court to hear.  ACCG appealed that decision, believing that it was not only within the power of the court but was the duty of the court to determine what constitutes legal or extralegal action in the administration of law.  The Appellate Court affirmed the District ruling, stating that this question should be addressed in a Forfeiture Hearing (what ACCG had sought from day one).  Having legitimately brought the initial case before the District Court, after futile attempts to gain a forfeiture hearing, ACCG challenged the Appellate Court ruling in a petition to the Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari.  When the case was not selected for hearing by SC, the government was (finally) committed to initiating the long-awaited forfeiture action.  For USAO now to complain about the time wasted is ironic.

Worse than that, the representation in USAO's reply to the court stretches the bounds of credibility.  “At each turn, Claimants have been rebuffed in their effort to turn a simple civil forfeiture case against a handful of ancient coins into a test of the ability of the United States of America to honor its treaty obligations and to protect the cultural patrimony of countries from which objects of antiquity have been looted and sold to collectors...”.   First of all, ACCG sought and was denied that "simple civil forfeiture case".  Secondly, there are no "treaty obligations" involved here.  There is only a Memorandum of Understanding that is clearly and specifically limited by law.  That law, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, includes very precise language intended to prevent the bureaucratic overreach that launched ACCG on this journey.  Anyone who reads the plain language of the law cannot help but understand how that law, both in letter and intent, has been perverted.  Finally, the implication that ACCG's imported coins were seized because they were "looted" is made without one shred of evidence nor reasonable suspicion.  The law mandates that import restrictions can be applied ONLY to objects first found in and subject to export control of the State Party to a Memorandum of Agreement.  The USAO has presented no such evidence nor even made that claim before a court.  How can such a baseless assumption be presented as fact?

It remains to be seen where the road will go from here, but one thing is certain—Ancient Coin Collectors will not give up an avocation with a laudable history more than 600-years-old without exhausting every possible resource.  If that means wasting the time of someone in Washington, then so be it.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Shot in the Foot

Archaeologist Paul Barford, a self-appointed spokesperson for the archaeological lobby and crusader for the views of Cultural Property Nationalists, is well known to those who follow cultural property matters in cyberspace.  The typically outrageous behavior of "Mr." Barford (he apparently lacks academic position or institutional affiliation) is routinely challenged by those he targets, but is rarely commented on publicly by the archaeological community outside of a small circle of troll enablers.  The posts on Mr. Barford's blog and in his comments elsewhere online are not normal forms of communication.  As one who is frequently targeted by Mr. Barford, I can offer an example from his current blog.  He alludes there to comments appended to a recent Biblical Archaeology Review article.  A comment by David Knell stated

"That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world." 

I'm not sure in this case who "the rest of the world" is, but Knell's statement did not seem all that obvious to me, and does not comport with scholarly opinions that cite poverty as the primary cause of cultural property looting.  Eliminating the private collecting of ancient coins clearly would not eliminate looting.  Some scholars have said as much publicly and at least one did so in the recent Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearing in Washington DC.  One reason is that the trade is truly worldwide and repressing one market would simply divert the flow to another.  Should American collectors be disenfranchised simply to make a meaningless point?  Universal market repression is simply not going to happen.  The other reason is that those who loot ancient sites will inevitably find precious metal objects that can be melted down for bullion if not sold intact.  Many who are familiar with Middle Eastern bazaars know very well that this is precisely what happens to many coin finds irrespective of national or international laws.   I submitted a comment (which I thought was pretty tame) regarding the Knell statement:

"I think that is an inaccurate characterization. The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt, for example, if one believes the media reports. Does that mean there are many more (or more voracious) collectors of Egyptian artifacts than there are of Romano-British or Celtic objects? If so, the ancient coin market does not reflect that. A rational person might conclude instead that the differing degrees reflect differing cultural property laws and societal concerns over perservation in the two countries. "

Taking the debate off of the BAR site page, Mr. Barford chose to make it the subject of a post on his own blog.  He starts by introducing a string of preposterous analogies to the words of Knell.  Here are the comparisons Mr. Barford makes to ancient coin collecting:

"(so, I'd say that's like the fact that paedophiles buy the stuff provides most of the motivation for the production of kiddie porn, or the fact that people buy pirated DVDs is the reason why criminals produce them, or that people pay bribes to get what they want is the reason why corrupt individuals ask for them). These things are blatantly obvious to the rest of the world, but  veteran dealer and campaigner Wayne Sayles is not having any of this."

Well, the last seven words at least are factual and relevant.  The rest is typical Paul Barford.

Barford then launched into a tirade against the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Britain, seeming to imply behind a very thin veil of "anti-defamation-suit" verbage that the PAS is a laundering operation for some 16,000 legal metal detectorists in Britain who in Barfordian Twist get their coins from Munich elves (illicit coin dealers). 

Finally, Barford suggests the term "collection driven exploitation" as an alternative to "looting" that should in his view be used "irrespective of what the law says about it."  He says, "This is a conservation issue, not one of collectors' rights by law or anything else."  I beg to differ.  It is ALL about law.  In a situation that is driven by law, how can anyone propose to act irrespective of what the law says?  America has a law that is clear and reasonable, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Collectors and dealers are therein held to a clear legal standard.  Everyone else in America, including those administering the law, should be held to that same standard of compliance with the precise letter as well as historic intent of the law. 

So, what is the point of this blog post?  Simply that this sort of nonsense is not doing Archaeology any good.  Collectors are not going to "fade away" because they are harangued by someone like Paul Barford, or repressed by bureaucratic regulation.  If archaeologists really believe that a war against private collecting is a remedy for looting, they have a serious problem.  As we near the end of a decade with coin restrictions in place, how much good have they accomplished?  On the other hand, how much harm has been done to the image and support for Archaeology as a discipline?  Or for State Department administration for that matter.  And why?  Because of a misguided concern about common coins that are sold legally worldwide and that archaeologists have traditionally ignored?  Those who have turned the castigation and vilification of collectors and dealers into a crusade have shot Archaeology in the foot and the pain will sooner or later become obvious.  Sadly, those doing the shooting will have moved on to trolling other waters by then.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Vested Interests

In the comments section of a recent Biblical Archaeology Review article there is a post that some with an interest in Cultural Property management might find interesting.  The article has generated 56 comments from the public and still counting.  The author of the article being discussed, and of the comment in question (#12), is Professor Nathan Elkins of Baylor University.  Elkins says "it merits pointing out that some of the negative commentators have affiliations that inform the nature and tenor of their comments".  He goes on to identify those he is referring to as dealers or lobbyists for the numismatic trade.  The gist of his comment is that people with a vested interest (profit) in cultural property management have no business commenting on that issue—or at least should not be taken seriously.  In a broader sense, there is an implication in the tone and context of the comment that vested interest somehow leads to immoral or unsavory action.  This is admittedly a paraphrase, but I think a fairly accurate one.  Others can read the link above and decide for themselves.

Of course coin dealers and lobbyists do have vested interests.  Many are very passionate about ancient coins and independent scholarship, though I sense that Elkins may be referring to a more pecuniary interest.  In any debate between archaeologists and collectors (or dealers) both sides will certainly have vested interests.  The archaeologist invests a considerable amount of time, money and energy climbing the ladder of success in academia that will ultimately provide financial security and peer acceptance.  In no lifetime endeavor that I know of does one encounter more hurdles and submit to greater repression of individuality than in an academic career.  In a field where one is measured constantly, a vested interest in peer acceptance is inescapable.  For an archaeologist, that means adhering religiously to the party line.  Show me a working archaeologist in America who publicly opposes the official position of AIA on cultural property issues and I will show you an archaeologist with a very limited future.  If that doesn't create a vested interest, what does?  But really, what's wrong with vested interests? 

Does Dr. Elkins really think that people who profit from their education and experience should not form or express vested opinions about the nature of their work?  His vested interest is arguably greater than that of many ancient coin dealers who do not rely on the sale of coins, or any other cultural property, for their primary means of support.  In reality, Professor Elkins probably earns a higher percentage of his income from cultural property related activities than many in the numismatic trade do.  In any case, he has little room to rail about vested interests.  It is fairly clear that his own affiliations "inform the nature and tenor" of his comments.    To attribute that to others, with a negative connotation, is described by some as a form of psychological projection.  Personally, I think vested interest is a good thing.  It helps guide us from one milestone in life to the next.  The U.S. President, the Queen of England, the Pope in Rome all have affiliations with vested interests that "inform the nature and tenor" of their public discourse.  Does that devalue their thoughts and words?  Hopefully, Dr. Elkins does not seriously think that his vested interests are more legitimate or on a higher plane than those of others. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

State Department MOU hearing leaves room for optimism

The public session of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearing to consider a potential Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt (June 2nd) has drawn considerable interest among the regular pontificators on both sides of the issue.  Being one of that group, not necessarily by choice, we probably ought to add a few comments here about the experience.

This was the seventh CPAC hearing that I have personally presented oral comments before, and the eighth hearing in which the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has done so.  Kerry Wetterstrom represented the ACCG at the Bulgarian MOU hearing.  At virtually every hearing, the ACCG position has been that the guild took no stand on the MOU itself, but argued that coins should not be included in any restrictions consequently imposed.  Those arguments have consistently centered on points of law.  The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (1983) is the governing statute under which CPAC is convened and empowered.  Among other protections for collectors and the trade, that act specifically states in words of very plain meaning that import restrictions may only be imposed on an object that is "first discovered within, and is subject to export control by, the [requesting] State Party."  The law also states very clearly that only objects of cultural significance may be considered for import restrictions.  Several of these protections have been ignored in regard to ancient coins where broad-based restrictions have been applied as the default response in country after country.  This, ACCG maintains, is "Extralegal" and contrary to the letter and intent of law.  That belief is the basis of the ongoing test case in federal court where ACCG has challenged the actions of US State Department and Customs and Border Protection.

In 2007, when ACCG first commented on a CPAC hearing, there was already a precedent relating to coins.  Although earlier Memorandums of Understanding had imposed import restrictions on other categories of antiquities, coins had always been exempted.  During the CPAC deliberations over the request from Cyprus in that year, the committee discussed the question of whether coins ought to be included and again voted in favor of exemption.  Breaking with tradition, State Department did not follow that guidance of CPAC and included coins in the MOU in spite of the CPAC recommendation.  Since that action, every MOU where ancient coins were a consideration (any country where they were produced) has resulted in import restrictions on coins.  Before long, the prevailing attitude among many interested parties was that it was a foregone and inescapable conclusion.  In fact, the discussion about coins rarely consumed very much of the time allowed for public comment.  The time alloted for each presenter being only five minutes, and followup questions by committee members typically being very limited in scope, coins were not a prominent part of the public discussion.

The CPAC hearing of Egypt's recent request was clearly different.  Peter Tompa has posted a useful summary here.  Although the argument for exempting coins was made by only two of the eleven presenters of oral comments (Tompa and Sayles), the discussion about coins was much wider and essentially dominated the hearing.  Carmen Arnold-Biucchi supported inclusion of coins, but indicated restrictions should only be applied to "looted" coins.  Several representatives of the archaeological community expressed their view that coins needed to be included in the MOU.  The general interest in coins far exceeded that of any prior CPAC hearing and was a welcome, if not rare, opportunity to engage in legitimate dialogue.  The committee members asked many probing and insightful questions about coins.  The nature of these questions was in many cases indicative of some concerns about coins being included in the MOU.  Between questions posed to Peter Tompa and myself after our brief presentations, the committee kept us engaged for nearly 30 minutes.  Many members of the committee had questions, and often more than one.  Some questions were raised about mandatory registration, but until there is a fair and rational way to deal with the "orphans", widespread collector support is impossible.  Commendably, the Chair allowed ample time for detailed responses.  That has to be a record for numismatic consideration in a public CPAC hearing.  It was a refreshing change and leaves some room for optimism that CPAC will carefully consider the elements of law that guide their deliberations. 
 

Friday, May 16, 2014

New School Archaeology

As the State Department hearing on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Egypt approaches, comments have appeared online espousing divergent points of view.  Readers of this blog will naturally be most familiar with the views of private collectors and independent scholars.  The archaeological community is the opposite pole in almost every respect.  Today, academic archaeologists control their discipline and its many institutions.  They are almost exclusively anti-collector, anti-trade and politically proactive.  These folks (they would resent the word, but it sounds better than pedantics) might be characterized as "New School Archaeology".  They effectively dominate any dialogue within their venerable industry.  Oddly enough, some art historians are also sycophants to this mindset.  Two online comments about the MOU that appeared recently raise some serious questions.  They are the comments of Professor Jane DeRose Evans (Temple University) and Assistant Professor Nathan T. Elkins (Baylor University).  Both support the imposition of import restrictions on ancient coins struck in Egypt, which is not any great surprise.  Professor Evans posted a comment to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) on the State Department segment of regulations.gov.  Dr. Elkins posted a comment on his personal blog.  I will address both.

Professor Evans signs her comment with professional titles and her elected position as a Fellow of the American Numismatic Society, clarifying that she does not speak for the ANS.  For some reason it never occurred to me that I might sign my own CPAC comment as a Life Fellow of the ANS.  That honor, though very much appreciated, does not make my comment, nor that of professor Evans, any more valid.  The facts must stand on their own, not on the strength of one's CV.  Facts are the bread and butter of academia and the rigor that goes into verification and proper sourcing of facts in Peer Review is legendary.  To her credit, Professor Evans avoided the standard party-line assailing collecting and private ownership as immoral.  Instead, she commented on what she apparently believed was factual data that CPAC should consider.  Unfortunately, the "facts" of her argument are inaccurate, unprofessional and reflect poorly on academia in general.

 This is especially troubling when an advisory committee of differing backgrounds needs to rely on expert "testimony" to properly weigh the facts being presented.  Who could fault members of CPAC for relying heavily on the statements of a PhD with a background in Numismatics and tenure in a major university as opposed to the statements of someone held to a lesser standard?  The fault lies not with the committee for having faith in academia, it is with academia for losing faith with its own principles and concluding that truth is secondary to corporate ideology.  When a guardian of the public trust (which every educator must by definition be) abandons truth for a "greater good" justice is under attack.  In an email to Professor Evans, Dr. Alan Walker (PhD, Classical Archaeology) completely demolished those purported "facts" about the nature of coins from Egypt and how they circulated in antiquity.  The assumptions Evans made and presented to CPAC as fact are very badly mistaken and one must wonder how a person of her stature could have committed so many basic errors. Did Professor Evans abandon truth for the greater good?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps she did what members of CPAC are likely to do — relied on the integrity of a colleague who should be held to the same ethical standard.  Let me explain:

It happens that Professor Evans cited me by name in her argument. "A prominent dealer explains to his potential customers that, “Due to the closed economy of Egypt, neither imperial [that is, coins minted in Rome or western mints] nor other provincial issues were permitted to circulate within its borders”(W. Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting IV, Iola, WI, p.89)."

1. The quote is not on page 89, it is on page 87. That is a minor quibble, but will be seen below as a telling error.

2. The quoted words are not mine. They are those of Kerry K. Wetterstrom, who is a recognized expert far better versed in the coinage of Egypt than I am. The section of ACC IV that deals with Egypt starts on page 84 with a bold by-line indicating that it was written by Mr. Wetterstrom as a guest contributor. Anyone who actually read the material, let alone a professional academic, could not have missed that fact.

3. The quoted text does not say ANYTHING about Egyptian coins circulating outside Egypt, it is ONLY about coins from other lands entering Egypt. So, as much as I respect Professor Evans, I fear there was not a very rigid adherence to scholarly standards in making this point as she did. Or, maybe she did not make the point at all.


That takes me to the blog post by Dr. Nathan Elkins. The title of that post is "Import Restrictions and Coins: Lobbying, Duplicity, and Ancient Egypt's Closed Currency System." Actually, I read the post by Elkins on his blog before I had read the CPAC comment by Evans. So, I was rather surprised when I saw in both of them the same citation to ACC IV and realized immediately that it was not coincidental. The same false attribution and the same errant page number clearly point to a common source. One or the other of these scholars simply cribbed the words, mistakes and all, in their haste to discredit me—or maybe they both lifted it from the writing of a third, as yet unknown, party. The headlined "Duplicity" in the Elkins blog title obviously was a slur against me for supposed conflicting comments that were in fact a pure fabrication. For people who regularly tout their high standards of research and criticize "amateur" interloping in their scholarly fields, this is a pretty condemning faux pas. Did either of them even read the pages they cited? If so, it would be interesting to know who that was and why they erred so badly.

The statement by Elkins that "Coin circulation is a much more nuanced subject than the [coin] lobby acknowledges in its dealings with CPAC, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs." is really cryptic. Either coins did circulate beyond the borders or they did not. In any case, the issue is not how to quantify coin circulation in antiquity, but whether the clear and unmistakeable provisions of CCPIA regarding the "First Found" requirement must be satisfied or is simply to be assumed. The latter would be a nuance beyond legislative intent. I have yet to see a law where a nuanced general interpretation was intended by Congress. Maybe Dr. Elkins should learn a bit about the law that he supposedly supports. If he read the law closely he would probably oppose it because of the clear protections it includes for collectors and the trade—protections that are blatantly ignored today by CPAC and DOS. Instead of supporting the law, what Elkins actually supports is the "extralegal" State Department administration that has led to widespread calls for reform from the public including academics, investigative reporters and even former CPAC members and Chairpersons.

Elkins closes his blog post by chiding, "Fortunately, the distinguished members of CPAC take account of the substance of comments and evidence presented to them during the period of public comment." I sincerely hope they do, because the substance in these two comments above is really disappointing.

P.S.

Subsequent to publication of this blog post, it has come to our attention that another error in citation is common to both the Elkins and Evans documents.  Professor Sitta von Reden, Professor of Ancient History at Freiburg University and author of Money in Ptolemaic Egypt: From the Macedonian Conquest to the End of the Third Century BC, is cited by both as "S. van Reden" rather than von Reden.  Again, not a glaring error, but a very telling one.  The letter to CPAC written by Professor Evans, which included this citation, was in a serifed font throughout.  The blog post by Elkins was written in a sans-serif font - all except the "van Reden" (sic) citation which was copied and pasted from a serifed font source and remained in that font.  Did Dr. Elkins copy and paste the citation from the work of Professor Evans or did both copy it from some source other than the original?  In any case, there is an obvious lack of integrity and some question as well about the citation's relevance.  It seems all the more tactless in light of the charge of Duplicity levied by Elkins in his post. 
Professor Evans cited von Reden as follows:
 “the circulation of coins produced both within and outside of Egypt was at first very limited” (S. van Reden (sic), Money in Ptolemaic Egypt, Cambridge, 2007, p.33, my italics).  Is this a fair characterization of what was actually said, or simply a convenient clip out of context?  It is true that those words do appear at the beginning of a chapter about the development of coinage in Egypt, and do have some relevance to the first 20 years of Ptolemaic rule therein being discussed.  However, in the conclusion to this same chapter (see p. 56) the author, referring to the "closed-currency system" and Gresham's Law, writes, "[it] must rather be seen as a response to the danger of driving foreign coins into hoards.  Yet, as a consequence it led to an enormous volume of Ptolemaic coins circulating in the Ptolemaic sphere of influence and beyond."  Professor von Reden elsewhere discusses the extended Ptolemaic authority in Cyprus, Cyrene and the Levant as well as military action, international commerce and other factors that had some influence on the monetary system.  It is unreasonable to presume and inaccurate to suggest that the so-called "closed-currency system" kept coins struck in Egypt from leaving the confines of what is the modern state.  Professor von Reden actually makes that quite clear if you read all of what she wrote. 

One would hope, as Dr. Elkins suggested above, that the distinguished members of CPAC will take into consideration the substance of these comments and the veracity of the evidence presented.  But, sadly, they may be inclined to take these statements as matters of fact.  By the way, anyone who uses a blog platform online can easily understand the font issue, the same thing happened here.  The font is not the issue, the citation and how it was used is the issue.



Open Letter from Dr. Alan Walker to Dr. Jane DeRose Evans

Dear Professor Evans,

I was recently sent a copy of the letter you sent in support of the proposed MOU with Egypt.

I wonder if I might ask you for some clarifications?

You speak about the "Coinex Hoard" of Egyptian AE (published and commented on by Cathy Lorber et al.), which was particularly important because it was studied and was only composed of bronzes. As you know the major hoard of silver dekakaipentedrachms (previously termed 'dodekadrachms') as well as what must have been a rather massive hoard ending with portrait tetradrachms of Ptolemy IV from Phoenician mints have never really been published (though considerable information was sent to both the BM and the ANS at the time). It is worth pointing out that at no time whatsoever did the Egyptian government ever protest or attempt to claim any of the coins from these hoards (and remember, they did absolutely nothing about Asyut). So yes, you are quite right, the numismatic heritage of Egypt might be said to be under siege, but until recently, if at all, the Egyptians themselves haven't cared in the slightest.

Where do you get the idea that the earliest Egyptian "silver coins were debased" and thus "rarely circulated out of the country"?  Or that the earliest coins were "minted in Alexandria?"  I had always thought that the earliest coins minted in Egypt were imitations of Athenian tetradrachms (as studied by Buttrey and others) which did, in fact, circulate quite widely (i.e., in Sicilian hoards etc.) - they certainly were not intended to serve as internal currency. Presumably they were used to pay for foreign trade and for mercenaries - as were the Pharaonic gold staters and named imitative Athenian tetradrachms. This also includes the issues of the Persian satraps of Egypt who also issued named tetradrachms of Athenian type. As for your suggestion that they might have been issued at Alexandria, surely that is a slip for Naucratis or Memphis! And do you have any evidence at all that these coins were debased? Surely that's not true, is it?

You then go on to say that "gold and some bronze coins were minted in Alexandria." REALLY??? What about all the silver of Ptolemies I-III, Arsinoes, Berenike et al.? You cannot mean that! Or do you believe, contra Morkholm, Svoronos, van Reden and virtually everybody else, that Ptolemaic silver was only minted on Cyprus? I seem to remember that some coin dealer in the US published a book propounding this theory that was given a very thorough trashing by Oliver Hoover in the ANS Magazine for Winter 2005. You then imply that Ptolemaic coins were not found outside of Egypt - isn't that rather waffling a bit? What about all that Ptolemaic material from Attica from around the time of the Chremonidean War? Or the Ptolemaic coins found in the Agora (AG XXVI, 1004-1019), or those from, among other places, Bodrum/Halikarnassos (K. Konuk, The Ptolemaic Coins int he Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum (Halicarnassian Studies Vol. IV, 2004)? Yes, of course, most Ptolemaic coins were used solely in Egypt, but the idea that none circulated out of the country is clearly incorrect.

As for the coinage of Roman Egypt, I find it perplexing that you say that no silver was minted apart from "one small issue": what about, just referring to RPC I, those tetradrachms produced by Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho and Vitellius? Or do you consider all of them to be solely copper alloy? Denarii and aurei were minted there during various periods of strife in the late 60s and in the 190s, and certainly Roman gold was used there: note the enormous Karnak Hoard of Roman Gold coins from 1905.

In any case, the fact is that throughout the Roman period Alexandria functioned as one of the great mints of the Roman Empire (BMCRE V, p. xv), second only to Rome. It produced an enormous amount of coinage, with dated issues known for virtually every year from AD 1 through 294 or so. In fact, if you check museum collections, dealers' lists and so on, it should be clear that the Roman coinage struck at the mint of Alexandria is the most commonly surviving coinage from Roman times after that produced in Rome. As you say, it is often found very well used - thus, while it can certainly be used as a help in dating excavations, how can a worn coin of Hadrian minted in his 10th regnal year tell us anything more than that it was dropped sometime considerably later than 127 (perhaps well into the 3rd century)? How often are coins found in excavations in Egypt actually of real importance for dating the objects found with them (as compared to the pottery)?

You are right that the Roman coinage of Egypt is rarely found outside of Egypt: in the Agora we only had a few pieces, which must have simply been occasional souvenirs.

I note that you break off with the end of the 3rd century CE - is that because it is quite clear that all subsequent coinages produced in Egypt (Roman, Byzantine, Islamic) were used over such a widespread area that there can be no question of their being solely designed for internal Egyptian use?

I do not doubt your concern for the destruction of sites in Egypt (and elsewhere of course), but is a MOU banning the import into the USA of virtually everything made in Egypt from Prehistoric times through 1914 even a vaguely rational answer? As for the coins, hundreds of millions of coins were produced in Egypt from the later 5th century BCE through the end of the 3rd c CE (the period you discussed) and they are, today, among the most common coins surviving from ancient times. As a result, up until very recently vast numbers of these coins were sold unillustrated because they were so cheap that photographs were an unjustifiable expense. So how can we prove a coin being sold today, with the comment "from the collection of a professor who died in 1967", is actually true (even though we know it is since people do not falsify provenances for coins worth $25)?

Finally, while the looting that has gone on during the past few years is certainly serious, do you maintain, as do a number of commentators, that this is due solely to the activities of greedy collectors sitting like spiders in the US, Europe and the Gulf, rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of treasures for them to hoard? Has not much of this looting been caused by a combination of Islamicist hatred of a pagan past seen as being supported by the Army and its intellectual urban followers, and by the endemic rural and urban poverty that makes people desperate to find anything they think they can sell to maintaint their family? And, of course, decent rewards for honest finders do not exist.

As a Fellow of the ANS and a serious scholar I think you should have been more nuanced in your support for this MOU.

With all best regards.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Walker
Fellow of the ANS
ex Agora Numismatist (following Jack Kroll and Fred Kleiner)






Just a quick addenda. The hoard I was referring to is:

A. Davesne, G. Le Rider, Le Tresor de Meydancikkale (Paris 1989).  It was deposited in c. 240/235 and contained 5,215 silver coins, of which 2,158 were Ptolemaic (13 decadrachms, 4 octodrachms and the rest tetradrachms). These were found in a Ptolemaic base in Cilicia - not bad for coins that supposedly only circulated within Egypt.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Some things never seem to change



James Taylor Lewis (1819-1904) was born in Clarendon, New York and moved to Dodge County, Wisconsin in 1845.  As a young lawyer, he served as District Attorney and County Judge before entering state politics.  During a productive and popular political career, Lewis served in the Wisconsin State Assembly, in the State Senate, as Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and as Wisconsin's ninth Governor at the end of the Civil War.  On September 23, 1857, he addressed the members of the Columbia County Agricultural Society at Wyocena, Wisconsin during their Annual Fair.  Before today, I had never heard of Governor Lewis even though I was born and raised in Wisconsin not far from his home.  The Wyocena text came to me completely by accident.  Many years ago, while living in Lodi, Wisconsin, I purchased a nondescript packet of old papers at a local garage sale.  They were mainly farming documents and financial records of a farmer in the Wyocena area—curiosities, but not very compelling.  The packet sat untouched for some 30 years until I happened upon it this afternoon.

Amidst the papers, I came across a small booklet titled "Proceedings of the Columbia County Agricultural Society for 1857".  Along with a few pages of general information about the status of agriculture in the county was included the text of the address by James Lewis on that day in September.  The speaker opened with a general discourse about the value of agriculture to health and welfare and the value of labor to the "happiness of the human race".  How do we assure health and happiness?  Here are his words from more than 150 years ago:

"We answer that labor, exercise, is one of the most important avenues to both.  And here I shall meet some of the errors of the present day, and some too that are doing more harm, doing more to sap the foundations of society, to destroy the happiness of the race than perhaps all others combined.   I refer to the opinion thas seems to obtain at the present day, more particularly in our large towns and among the younger portion of the community, that happiness lies in ease and idleness and that labor is dishonorable.  Hence so many throng our cities and towns seeking to live without labor.  Hence so many thieves and robbers.  Hence so much dishonesty and so many pests to society.  Hence the necessity of so many poor houses and prisons......."  

At this point, taking a page from Horatio Alger, Lewis expounded at some length upon the nature of all life on earth, that it prospers in motion and dies in stagnation.  Getting back to humans, he said,

"Go, watch the course of that young man who has no useful employment for either his body or his mind; see him saunter along through life with no end or aim, no point in view, but ready at any moment to turn aside from the path of rectitude.... His mind is uninformed, hence from ignorance he falls into the misfortunes which necessarily befall ignorance and folly.  

"If you wish your children to be wise and happy, train them to habits of industry.... Place before them some useful employment and give them such inducements as will make their task a pleasant and a joyous one, and you are certain to promote virtue."

The world has changed in many ways since 1857, but the fundamental Puritan ethic that molded people like James Taylor Lewis is still regarded by many as a pathway to success.  The labor-intensive family farm of the 19th century is no longer the backbone of American industry, but the value of a strong work ethic and a solid basic education is as important today as it was back then.  Without it, society marches backward.