RNS Medallist: Lutz Illisch 2017

This is part of a series of posts about recent recipients of the RNS Medal.

In awarding the medal at the Ordinary Meeting of the Society on 19 December 2017, the President, Andrew Burnett, said:

Lutz Ilisch (r.) receiving the Society Medal from Andrew Burnett (l.) 2017.

Dr Lutz Ilisch is the leading academic specialist in Islamic numismatics today, as well as a generous and helpful colleague and teacher. His accomplishments as a scholar are matched by his achievements as curator of the Tübingen University collection of Islamic coins, which now ranks as the most comprehensive in the world.

The collection of Islamic coins which he has curated for twenty-five years in the Forschungsstelle für islamische Numismatik Tübingen (FINT) is larger and more representative than any of the great museum collections. It totals 76,000 pieces, and covers all regions of the Islamic world, with particular strengths in Yemen, Greater Syria, the Jazira and the Iranian lands. It is strong in the unfashionable field of late medieval coinage; and it has a consistent coverage of most areas and periods of pre-machine-struck coinage, and indeed some of machine-struck coins. It is a unicum: and now, with his recent retirement, Lutz has supervised its transfer to the Orientalisches Seminar in Tübingen, thus guaranteeing its curation and further integration into the field of Islamic studies for the indefinite future.

Nine volumes of the Tübingen Sylloge of Islamic coins have been published under Lutz’s editorship to date, two of which were written by him. These catalogues are not only of the highest quality, with excellent plates, but have established the principle, long accepted in classical and medieval numismatics but until the 1990s a novelty in the Islamic field, that die studies are a fundamental requirement for the study of monetary history. The Tübingen sylloge series has been taken as a model for catalogues of smaller collections (Oxford and Jena) which followed the Tübingen initiative.

After periods working in the British Museum and Swedish Royal Coin Cabinet and elsewhere, Lutz was subsequently appointed Kustos of the FINT collection. He put his expertise at the service of the academic community. He organised two ground-breaking symposia in Tübingen in the 1990s; he has organised annual meetings of the German branch of the Oriental Numismatic Society from 1987 to the present day; he is famous for being helpful to all; and he has taught a number of younger German scholars, and has had particular success in mentoring and supporting colleagues from beyond Europe, notably from Syria, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Azarbayjan.

His own publications include seminal contributions to the field of early Islamic coinage (in which he was a pioneer of the study of pre-reform copper coinage); a series of ground-breaking papers on Islamic donative coinage in the 1980s; a leading role in a major project of XRF analysis of Islamic and non-Islamic silver coinage; publications of Viking-Age silver finds from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern; many other hoard publications in Coin Hoards and elsewhere; publication of coins and weights from Santueri, Mallorca; surveys of Islamic numismatic research for the International Numismatic commission; as well as a host of shorter articles generated by his work on the Tübingen collection and his knowledge of the history of Islamic numismatic collections.

Lutz Ilisch is very much the doyen of the field of Islamic numismatics today. The Tübingen collection has been shaped by him and will continue to be of unparalleled significance in coming generations.

For these reasons and many more, I am delighted today to present Lutz with the medal of the Royal Numismatic Society.

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