Friday, May 16, 2014

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.

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