Almost exactly 100 years ago, the second edition of Barclay Head's Historia Numorum appeared in London. It provided a comprehensive guide, arranged along geographical lines, to the Greek coinage, with an emphasis on coins of the archaic and classical periods. Shortly before, Ernst Babelon's Traité de numismatique grecque had appeared in France, based—as far as it went—on the best scholarship that had been generated to date, which was summarized in a treatment that has not been surpassed in the first volume. The surrounding years would see the appearance of the British Museum catalogue of Roman Republican coins, the first serious attempt to present the whole of a major collection in a historical way but, it is fair to say, without serious treatment of Continental and particularly German scholarship.
All these treatments depended ultimately on style for their arrangement. Head hardly mentions hoards, and the elaborate tables that decorate volume 3 of BMCRR are no more than lip service; for the “historical” arrangement is based on the work of De Salis, whose almost exclusive criterion was style. He had been entitled to rearrange the British Museum collection, but at his untimely death left no notes about his principles of arrangement, and the ultimate volume displays Grueber's reluctance to step outside this framework.
It was in Germany, largely under the influence of Mommsen, that serious study of Roman coinage had begun in the 1850s, finally to manifest itself in the advent of Max von Bahrfeldt; and in the hands of Fürtwangler the Berlin cabinet became a leading repository of Greek coins that would provide food for scholars for generations to come.
Just before Head published, a new figure appeared on the scene—Edward Newell, an American with limited academic training and a massive appetite for acquisition. Newell revolutionized the study of Hellenistic coinage; his study of dies undermined everything that had been thought about the coinage of Alexander. Nor did he ignore hoards; he had access to many of the largest and most important ones to be recorded, and he used them to refine attributions. His attention to detail was unrivaled, and style, too, played its part; but it is fair to say that his successful application of other concrete methods, which entirely lacked the subjective element, led to their extension to other areas of coinage, particularly the Greek at first but, in the last few decades, the Roman as well.
Two great icons of twentieth-century numismatic study were British—E. S. G. Robinson and Harold Mattingly. Robinson's keen eye and fertile mind produced many insights, almost all published in article form. He never produced a book, but was a motive force behind the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Mattingly was a man of many parts—his Man in the Roman Street remains in print, and he translated some (p. xviii) of the works of Andreas Alföldi—but his monuments are the first editions of Roman Imperial Coinage and, more fully argued, the first five volumes of BMCRE. The introductions to the latter are mandatory reading for students even today, and the catalogues make accessible the riches of imperial coinage to nonnumismatists as well.
One cannot fail to mention the work of the German scholarly community, which is to be credited almost single-handedly with the revival of interest in what is now called Roman provincial coinage (replacing the tired “Greek imperials”). At the head of this community was Konrad Kraft, whose own monument—the System—underlies much of the work done on the late second century and after; and his students and others laid out for scrutiny the magnificent collection of Hans von Aulock in SNG format.
These and many other scholars have made this book appropriate. Numismatics has moved far beyond the standard reference works, yet its literature, which exists at many levels, is difficult to navigate even for the advanced student. In the proposal to Oxford University Press, I argued that “a new handbook ought to provide a systematic overview of the raw material as well as an annotated discussion to support the arguments and to facilitate further inquiry. … It should be useful to an academic and a lay audience, and above all it must be written in accessible fashion, making no assumptions about prior knowledge on the part of the reader.”
In attempting to fulfill this daunting mission I engaged the willing help of leading scholars in their fields. Though there was a nominal limitation on the size of the essays, in the end this was relaxed to accommodate a higher level of detail, a deeper or fuller discussion, or the sheer size of the topic undertaken. In other areas, where there is no easily accessible standard treatment, fuller discussion seemed apt; and in any case it seemed appropriate for the real experts to write what they wanted to write. For all this, there are some gaps in coverage (notably North Africa and Bactria), but the result––a book that is somewhat different from its conception––should provide most students and scholars with the necessary background to engage with material of relevance to them.
The book has been subject to considerable delay, and the contributors have been understanding in this regard. Along the way many debts have been incurred. John Dillon, formerly a student in the Department of Classics at Yale, contributed his linguistic skills in the handling of German-language manuscripts, and Sarah Cox of New York assisted with French. Lea Cline and Tyler Griffith cheerfully helped with the proofreading. Particular thanks for his patience are due to Stefan Vranka, who inherited this project and willingly undertook shepherding it through the press; Sarah Pirovitz of Oxford New York; and particularly to Christina S. Kraus, who made available funding from the Tarbell Fund of the Classics Department at Yale in support of publication. The illustrations are produced at 1:1 except where otherwise noted.
During the course of editing, Ann Johnston died after a long illness (January 2, 2010). The last publication from her hand appears here, and it is a source of satisfaction to all who knew her that she lived to see her book Greek Imperial Denominations through the press. In the hope that she would consider the work worthy, I willingly offer in her memory my own role in the creation of this work.
William E. Metcalf
New Haven, March 2010