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RNS Research Grant Award: coin hoards from Palermo

by Antonino Crisà

In February 2016 I made an application to the Royal Numismatic Society to request funds in order to study two coin hoards found in Palermo province during the second half of the nineteenth century. The first eighteenth-century Sicilian coin hoard, discovered at the railway construction site in Cerda (Palermo) (1869), was supposed to be preserved at the Archaeological Museum ‘A. Salinas’. Following an accurate survey in the museum storehouse, the hoard has not been found there. However, I have already published archival records on the Cerda hoard (A. Crisà, ‘An eighteenth-century Sicilian coin hoard from the Termini-Cerda railway construction site (Palermo, 1869)’, American Journal of Numismatics, 26 (2014): 339-62).

I therefore focused all of my research on the second hoard, found at ‘Via Maqueda’ in Palermo (1872). The hoard currently includes 76 silver coins, dated to the sixteenth century and minted in Sicily (scudi, tarì, etc.), Spain (8 reales, 4 reales, etc.) and Malta. Issuers are mostly Charles V (1516-56), Philippus II (1556-98), Jean de la Vallette (1557-68) and Jean Levesque de la Cassiere (1572-81). Antonino Salinas (1841-1914), who was the Museum Director at that time, had supervised the huge construction site at Via Maqueda. He finally acquired the hoard in 1872 and performed preliminary cataloguing, although the hoard is still entirely unpublished.

The hoard is extremely interesting and is certainly worthy of publication. In fact, it sheds new light on the archaeological context, the history of Sicilian archaeology, and coin circulation and hoarding trends in sixteenth-century Sicily.

Philippus II (1556-98), AR 10 tarì, Messina (1571) (inv. 68331, Museo ’Salinas’, Palermo)













I carried out my work in Palermo in stages in September 2016 and 2017, as follows:


1. Palermo Museum: preliminary coin cataloguing: all coins measured, weighed and analysed.


2. Palermo Museum: further coin analysis: all coins studied accurately.

3. Palermo Museum (Archive): archival research: I found 15 crucial records relevant to the hoard discovery.

4. Palermo City Council: archival research at the local historical archive. The institution holds 10 records on the construction site at Via Maqueda.


5. Palermo Museum: lastly, after having obtained a special authorization by the Museum Director Francesca Spatafora, I photographed all of the coin hoard.

Following this promising research, I am currently working on a paper regarding the Via Maqueda Hoard (1872) and all relevant archival records, to be published in an international journal. Documents offer crucial data to reconstruct the hoard’s discovery, its acquisition by the Palermo Museum and the interaction between museum and state authorities dealing with casual archaeological discoveries.

Lastly, I want to thank the Royal Numismatic Society for granting this award, which allowed me to perform my research in Sicily successfully.

Aksumite coins at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

by Rebecca Darley

Obverse of a gold coin of King Ousanas, fourth century AD, 17mm. Used from Vincent West’s ‘Aksumite Numismatics‘, West 319.

Those with an interest in Aksumite coinage were fortunate on 6th September had a chance to attend a lecture in London organised by the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and presenting some of the foundational research of Prof. Wolfgang Hahn, of the Institut für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, Vienna, into Aksumite Numismatics. Prof. Hahn gave an engaging and detailed talk concerning the date of the conversion of Aksum to Christianity, using coins and archaeology to offer a compelling re-interpretation of dates traditionally derived from textual evidence alone. The effect of this was to suggest a re-dating of some thirty years, placing the conversion around AD 360 rather than in the 330s. The work to date, catalogue and publish the coins of the Aksumite empire of East Africa, which issued coins between the fourth and seventh centuries, owes much to the decades of work done by Prof. Hahn. It has brought to increased public and scholarly attention a state which was involved in diplomatic, commercial and, at times, military relations with the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Byzantine Empire and which has much to tell us about the history of the Indian Ocean, East Africa and the world of Late Antiquity.

The talk was also an excellent opportunity to promote the recent publication of the sylloge of Aksumite coins in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. This invaluable new publication, including discursive sections and beautiful colour images, expands markedly the body of Aksumite coinage which can now be accessed via high-quality publication. It was created by Prof. Hahn, in collaboration with Vincent West, another prominent scholar of Aksumite numismatics, and keeper of the incomparable internet bibliography of Aksumite Numismatics.

It will soon also now possible to see some of the coins of the Ashmolean collection on display in a new exhibition, ‘Aksum: a Late Antique Empire of Faith in Africa’, which opened in Gallery 7 of the museum. The exhibition, showcasing the museum’s extremely good selection of gold coins, opened on 26th September and runs until 31st January 2018. Exciting times for those of us already fascinated by Aksumite numismatics, and a great opportunity to for exploration if you have not already discovered the coinage and culture of this powerful and dynamic Late Antique state!

Lecture programme for 2017/18 now available and first lecture, 'Stories of the City'

The programme of lectures to be delivered at Society meetings in 2017/18 is now available here. Unless otherwise specified, these meetings take place at 6-7.30pm on the third Tuesday of each month at The Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WCIH 0AB and are open to all.

Beginning the lecture programme this year is Jennifer Adam from the Bank of England, who will be presenting on the title Stories from the City: Bank of England in Literature. This paper links to the Bank of England exhibition, Stories from the City, which opened on 19th July 2017 at the Bank of England. Further information about the exhibition, including visiting times, can be found here. The lecture will take place on Tuesday 17th October at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. 

Lecture Abstract:

In September 2017, the Bank of England issued a new £10 note, featuring Austen on the reverse. This presented an ideal opportunity to explore the theme of money in Austen’s work. Her discussions of money are more than drawing room gossip – they provide witty social commentary that captures the social, political and economic reality of her time.

Stories from the City is an exhibition that celebrates the launch of the new £10 note, and explores the Bank of England’s literary connections – from its appearances  as a setting, an inspiration, and – as an institution – a kind of character in itself. 

 Austen is not the first writer to appear on a Bank of England note – the display features the William Shakespeare £20 and artwork from the Charles Dickens £10 note. Dickens had accounts at the Bank of England, and wrote about the institution in both his fiction and journalism. Robert Browning narrowly escaped a career here; Kenneth Grahame, author of the Wind in the Willows, spent his working life as a Bank of England official. Elsewhere in the City, Charles Lamb, PG Wodehouse, and TS Eliot both worked and wrote. Other writers, from Jules Verne to Neal Stephenson, imagine thefts from the Bank; real-life frauds and counterfeiters have also inspired writers to tell their tales. Meanwhile, from Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot, to David Hare and John Lanchester, literature continues to provide an outlet to explore the impacts of financial crises.

 These and more will be discussed in a lecture that explains how the Bank of England, its currency, buildings and reputation gained a presence in the literary world as well as that of economics.

ICS Ancient History Seminar 2017: Finance in the Greek and Roman worlds

The Institute of Classical Studies, Bloomsbury, runs an annual Ancient History Seminar in the Autumn Term. This year the theme, Finance in the Greek and Roman worlds, will be of particular interest to RNS members, with a number of papers tackling numismatic and monetary themes. Seminar meetings take place on Thursdays at 4:30 in South Block, Senate House, Malet Street, London. Seminar conveners for this season are Philip Kay of the Roman Society and Dominic Rathbone, King’s College London.

Lecture Schedule:

5th October: Jean-Jacques Aubert, Neuchâtel, ‘Law and financing trade’ (Room 349, South Block Senate House)

12th October: Manuela Dal Borgo, Cambridge, ‘Military finance during the Peloponnesian War: state vs household’ (Room 349, South Block Senate House)

19th October: François Lerouxel, Paris-Sorbonne, ‘Loans in kind and loans in cash in Roman Egypt’ (Room 349, South Block Senate House)

9th November: David Lewis, Nottingham, ‘‘Money’ and the supply of slaves in archaic Greece’ (Court Room, South Block Senate House)

23rd November: Sitta von Reden, Freiburg im Breisgau, ‘Currency exchange in the Greek and Hellenistic world’ (Room G35, South Block Senate House)

30th November: David Hollander, Iowa State, ‘Debt relief in the late Republic and early Empire’ (Room 349, South Block Senate House)

7th December: David Johnston, Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, ‘Law and commercial life of Rome’ (Room G35, South Block Senate House) [Joint event with Roman Law Seminar]

14th December: Michael Crawford, London, ‘Metal and coinage’ (Room G35, South Block Senate House)

Internship at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

by Samuel Oer de Almeida,

Main entrance of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford

I am currently an undergraduate student of Classical Archaeology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. In August 2017, I completed an internship at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the Heberden Coin Room in Oxford. During my two-week stay I participated in the Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project, which aims at collecting information about all coin hoards in the Roman Empire between 30 BC and AD 400 and making it publicly available for further studies through a digital database. The project intends to fill the major lacuna in digital coverage and documentation of ancient coin hoards.


Me while working on the coin hoards of Pompeii

During my internship I mainly devoted myself to the coin hoards of Pompeii, which are of particular significance since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 forms a fixed terminus ante quem for the dating of these hoards. Furthermore, the good state of preservation of the city allows the investigation of the largely undisturbed archaeological contexts of the deposited coins. Pompeii therefore provides an authentic picture of the deposition behaviour of its inhabitants, which can be placed into a broader perspective, for example in comparison to the coin hoards of other Campanian cities, like Herculaneum. I completed the processing of the hoards of Pompeii regio IX and several hoards of regio VI at the level of the individual coin, and made them publicly available online through the project’s web application (for an example of a presumed coin hoard of Pompeii found in regio IX, insula 14, in an atrium of a Roman residential building, click here). In addition, I helped to review the data of over 80,000 coins of the Reka Devnia hoard from northeastern Bulgaria, as well as improving the project’s guidance for contributors.

Finally, I got the possibility to attend a lecture of this year’s holder of the Kraay Travel Scholarship of the Heberden Coin Room, Dr Jack Nurpetlian of the American University of Beirut, about a die study of Caracalla’s Emesene tetradrachms.

I would like to thank the Royal Numismatic Society, which made my internship at the Ashmolean Museum possible by a grant of the Classical Numismatic Group Roman and Byzantine Fund, Professor Christopher Howgego and Dr Stefan Krmnicek for giving me the opportunity to work at one of the leading international coin cabinets and the academic staff at the Heberden Coin Room, especially Dr Simon Glenn, who kindly introduced me into the department and helpfully accompanied my work.