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All Posts Tagged With: "Greek coins"

Using Ancient Coins to Map Trade Routes in Mediterranean Europe

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton have launched a research project in which nuclear radiation is used to identify changes in metal content among ancient Greek and Roman coins held in a world-class collection amassed at the university since the 1940s.

By probing the metal content of coins exchanged thousands of years ago in Mediterranean Europe, the scientists have discovered a new way to map ancient trade patterns, to retrace economic ups and downs at the dawn of Western Civilization and even to shed new light on the collapse of the Roman Empire.

“As we determine what the coins are made of, we are then able to reconstruct ancient trade routes, understand the development of economies and even determine the extent of counterfeiting,” McMaster archeologist Dr.Spencer Pope states in a project summary issued Tuesday. “This research will help us link the archeological to the historical to understand how we, as a society, got to where we are today.”

A joint project between the university’s classics department and its department of medical physics and applied radiation sciences, the ancient coin initiative involves x-ray analysis and a “proton microprobe” to determine how much silver, bronze or gold is contained in each piece of money.

“We use multiple systems to look for a number of metals — gold, copper, silver — present in the outer layer of the coins,” said radiation scientist Michael Farquharson. “Then we use the McMaster Nuclear Reactor to penetrate deeper into the coin to determine whether or not the coin was plated with a different material than it was actually made of.”

“For the Roman period, there are many crises that can be recognized in the numismatic record,” said Pope, describing one “budget crunch” during Punic Wars of the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was battling Carthage — centred in present-day Tunisia — for control of the Mediterranean world.

“We can see metal coins begin to have more base metal — junk metal — added to ‘debase’ the coins,” he noted. “As Rome and other cities fall into crises and get into economic trouble, more bronze coins appear (rather than silver), and even these are diluted by tin or lead.” So far, about 20 coins have undergone this “deep probe”. (more…)

The Widow’s Mite Coin

By Stewart Huckaby
Every week, my church sends me an e-mail about the upcoming Sunday service — what the sermon will be, what some of the related activities will be, and so on. Part of this message includes a mention of the verses of the Bible that will be covered during the service.

I’m in the habit of cheating a little bit and reading the appropriate verses a bit early. My iPhone has a very nice (and very free) application that allows the user to read the Bible in his choice of translations; it even provides a selection of reading plans. So, when I receive these e-mails, I take advantage.

Recently, one of these e-mails mentioned the passage in Mark 12:41-44, the parable of the widow’s mite. The New American Standard Bible translation reads as follows:

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about the meaning of the passage; I prefer to leave the theological discussions for Sunday. However, coin weenie that I am, I noticed the following (Mark 12:42): “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.”

Stop right there. The concept of a cent didn’t exist until about the 18th century; never mind that the value of a cent changes both over time and depending on who issued it. Something clearly got lost in this translation. How much were the widow’s mites really worth?

Most of the additional translations were unrevealing. The King James version states, “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.” Other available versions of the Bible translate the value of the coins as: (more…)

2,500 year-old Greek coin anchors ancient offerings in Heritage Boston ANA auction

Coin originated in Rhegion region – modern day Reggio, Italy – was struck between 415 and 387 BC; offered as part of Heritage ANA World Coin event

A nearly 2,500-year old silver coin of Rhegion, an ancient Greek city located in would become Italy, is expected to bring upwards of $25,000 at the Heritage Signature® Auction of Ancient and World Coins at the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Boston, Thursday, Aug. 12, starting at 6 p.m..

The silver tetradrachm – lot number 20007 – a coin about the diameter of a quarter but much thicker and heavier, depicts the stylized head of a lion on the obverse and a profile portrait of Apollo, Greek god of wisdom and enlightenment, on the reverse. It was struck between 415 and 387 BC, a time when the Greek cities of Italy and Sicily were competing with each other and with Carthage in North Africa for control of the western Mediterranean.

“Simply stated, this piece is an artistic masterwork,” said David S. Michaels, director of Ancient Coins for Heritage. “The artist who engraved the dies was a supremely talented individual who employed a host of sophisticated techniques in creating an image of unique power and beauty.”

The lion’s head on the obverse uses foreshortening and compression to create an illusion of extreme depth, while his piercing gaze is shifted slightly to the left, as though zeroing in on his prey. The image of Apollo on the reverse is also created with such lifelike distinction that, were he to walk into a room, he would be instantly recognizable from his image on the coin.

Rhegion, modern Reggio, Italy, also called Regium, is located on the “toe” of Italy, just across the Straits of Messina from the island of Sicily. The second-oldest city in Italy, it was founded by Greek colonists from two cities on mainland Greece, Chalkis and Messenia. According to legend, the Chalkidians set forth after a famine in their homeland. The citizens appealed to the god Apollo for help, who replied through an oracle that a large body of colonists should seek a fresh start in fertile southern Italy.

Rhegion (meaning “it breaks away”) prospered and built a temple dedicated to Apollo, who appears prominently on the city’s coinage. The Messenian component worshipped the demigod Herakles. The lion on the obverse likely refers to the Nemean Lion slain by Herakles as one of his Twelve Labors.

Rhegion grew rich and powerful by controlling trade through the Straits of Messina.

“During its heyday in the fifth century BC, Rhegion produced coins as beautiful as those of the great contemporary Greek cities of Sicily, including Syracuse, Akragas, and Messana,” said Michaels. “There seemed to be a competition among these cities to produce the most attractive coins in commerce. Now it’s one of the highlights of one of our best-ever offerings of ancient coins.” (more…)