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Egyptian Coins and New School Archaeology

By Wayne Sales….

As the State Department hearing on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Egypt approaches, comments have appeared online espousing divergent points of view.  Readers of this blog will naturally be most familiar with the views of private collectors and independent scholars.  The archaeological community is the opposite pole in almost every respect.  Today, academic archaeologists control their discipline and its many institutions.  They are almost exclusively anti-collector, anti-trade and politically proactive.

These folks (they would resent the word, but it sounds better than pedantics) might be characterized as “New School Archaeology”.  They effectively dominate any dialogue within their venerable industry.  Oddly enough, some art historians are also sycophants to this mindset.  Two online comments about the MOU that appeared recently raise some serious questions.  They are the comments of Professor Jane DeRose Evans (Temple University) and Assistant Professor Nathan T. Elkins (Baylor University).  Both support the imposition of import restrictions on ancient coins struck in Egypt, which is not any great surprise.  Professor Evans posted a comment to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) on the State Department segment of regulations.gov.  Dr. Elkins posted a comment on his personal blog.  I will address both.

egypt2Professor Evans signs her comment with professional titles and her elected position as a Fellow of the American Numismatic Society, clarifying that she does not speak for the ANS.  For some reason it never occurred to me that I might sign my own CPAC comment as a Life Fellow of the ANS.  That honor, though very much appreciated, does not make my comment, nor that of professor Evans, any more valid.  The facts must stand on their own, not on the strength of one’s CV.  Facts are the bread and butter of academia and the rigor that goes into verification and proper sourcing of facts in Peer Review is legendary.  To her credit, Professor Evans avoided the standard party-line assailing collecting and private ownership as immoral.  Instead, she commented on what she apparently believed was factual data that CPAC should consider.  Unfortunately, the “facts” of her argument are inaccurate, unprofessional and reflect poorly on academia in general.

This is especially troubling when an advisory committee of differing backgrounds needs to rely on expert “testimony” to properly weigh the facts being presented.  Who could fault members of CPAC for relying heavily on the statements of a PhD with a background in Numismatics and tenure in a major university as opposed to the statements of someone held to a lesser standard?  The fault lies not with the committee for having faith in academia, it is with academia for losing faith with its own principles and concluding that truth is secondary to corporate ideology.

When a guardian of the public trust (which every educator must by definition be) abandons truth for a “greater good” justice is under attack.  In an email to Professor Evans, Dr. Alan Walker (PhD, Classical Archaeology) completely demolished those purported “facts” about the nature of coins from Egypt and how they circulated in antiquity.  The assumptions Evans made and presented to CPAC as fact are very badly mistaken and one must wonder how a person of her stature could have committed so many basic errors. Did Professor Evans abandon truth for the greater good?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps she did what members of CPAC are likely to do — relied on the integrity of a colleague who should be held to the same ethical standard.  Let me explain:
It happens that Professor Evans cited me by name in her argument. “A prominent dealer explains to his potential customers that, “Due to the closed economy of Egypt, neither imperial [that is, coins minted in Rome or western mints] nor other provincial issues were permitted to circulate within its borders”(W. Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting IV, Iola, WI, p.89).”

1. The quote is not on page 89, it is on page 87. That is a minor quibble, but will be seen below as a telling error.

2. The quoted words are not mine. They are those of Kerry K. Wetterstrom, who is a recognized expert far better versed in the coinage of Egypt than I am. The section of ACC IV that deals with Egypt starts on page 84 with a bold by-line indicating that it was written by Mr. Wetterstrom as a guest contributor. Anyone who actually read the material, let alone a professional academic, could not have missed that fact.

3. The quoted text does not say ANYTHING about Egyptian coins circulating outside Egypt, it is ONLY about coins from other lands entering Egypt. So, as much as I respect Professor Evans, I fear there was not a very rigid adherence to scholarly standards in making this point as she did. Or, maybe she did not make the point at all.

That takes me to the blog post by Dr. Nathan Elkins. The title of that post is “Import Restrictions and Coins: Lobbying, Duplicity, and Ancient Egypt’s Closed Currency System.”

dosActually, I read the post by Elkins on his blog before I had read the CPAC comment by Evans. So, I was rather surprised when I saw in both of them the same citation to ACC IV and realized immediately that it was not coincidental. The same false attribution and the same errant page number clearly point to a common source. One or the other of these scholars simply cribbed the words, mistakes and all, in their haste to discredit me—or maybe they both lifted it from the writing of a third, as yet unknown, party. The headlined “Duplicity” in the Elkins blog title obviously was a slur against me for supposed conflicting comments that were in fact a pure fabrication. For people who regularly tout their high standards of research and criticize “amateur” interloping in their scholarly fields, this is a pretty condemning faux pas. Did either of them even read the pages they cited? If so, it would be interesting to know who that was and why they erred so badly.

The statement by Elkins that “Coin circulation is a much more nuanced subject than the [coin] lobby acknowledges in its dealings with CPAC, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs.” is really cryptic.

Either coins did circulate beyond the borders or they did not. In any case, the issue is not how to quantify coin circulation in antiquity, but whether the clear and unmistakeable provisions of CCPIA regarding the “First Found” requirement must be satisfied or is simply to be assumed. The latter would be a nuance beyond legislative intent. I have yet to see a law where a nuanced general interpretation was intended by Congress.

Maybe Dr. Elkins should learn a bit about the law that he supposedly supports. If he read the law closely he would probably oppose it because of the clear protections it includes for collectors and the trade—protections that are blatantly ignored today by CPAC and DOS. Instead of supporting the law, what Elkins actually supports is the “extralegal” State Department administration that has led to widespread calls for reform from the public including academics, investigative reporters and even former CPAC members and Chairpersons.

Elkins closes his blog post by chiding, “Fortunately, the distinguished members of CPAC take account of the substance of comments and evidence presented to them during the period of public comment.” I sincerely hope they do, because the substance in these two comments above is really disappointing.


moneyptolemaicSubsequent to publication of this blog post, it has come to our attention that another error in citation is common to both the Elkins and Evans documents.  Professor Sitta von Reden, Professor of Ancient History at Freiburg University and author of Money in Ptolemaic Egypt: From the Macedonian Conquest to the End of the Third Century BC, is cited by both as “S. van Reden” rather than von Reden.

Again, not a glaring error, but a very telling one.  The letter to CPAC written by Professor Evans, which included this citation, was in a serifed font throughout.  The blog post by Elkins was written in a sans-serif font – all except the “van Reden” (sic) citation which was copied and pasted from a serifed font source and remained in that font.  Did Dr. Elkins copy and paste the citation from the work of Professor Evans or did both copy it from some source other than the original?  In any case, there is an obvious lack of integrity and some question as well about the citation’s relevance.  It seems all the more tactless in light of the charge of Duplicity levied by Elkins in his post.

Professor Evans cited von Reden as follows:

“the circulation of coins produced both within and outside of Egypt was at first very limited” (S. van Reden (sic), Money in Ptolemaic Egypt, Cambridge, 2007, p.33, my italics).

Is this a fair characterization of what was actually said, or simply a convenient clip out of context?  It is true that those words do appear at the beginning of a chapter about the development of coinage in Egypt, and do have some relevance to the first 20 years of Ptolemaic rule therein being discussed.  However, in the conclusion to this same chapter (see p. 56) the author, referring to the “closed-currency system” and Gresham’s Law, writes, “[it] must rather be seen as a response to the danger of driving foreign coins into hoards.  Yet, as a consequence it led to an enormous volume of Ptolemaic coins circulating in the Ptolemaic sphere of influence and beyond.”

Professor von Reden elsewhere discusses the extended Ptolemaic authority in Cyprus, Cyrene and the Levant as well as military action, international commerce and other factors that had some influence on the monetary system.  It is unreasonable to presume and inaccurate to suggest that the so-called “closed-currency system” kept coins struck in Egypt from leaving the confines of what is the modern state.  Professor von Reden actually makes that quite clear if you read all of what she wrote.

One would hope, as Dr. Elkins suggested above, that the distinguished members of CPAC will take into consideration the substance of these comments and the veracity of the evidence presented.  But, sadly, they may be inclined to take these statements as matters of fact.  By the way, anyone who uses a blog platform online can easily understand the font issue, the same thing happened here.  The font is not the issue, the citation and how it was used is the issue.

Wayne Sayles
Wayne Sayles
Retiring in 1982 from the U.S. Air Force, Wayne earned a MA degree in Art History at the Univ. of Wisconsin. In 1986, he founded The Celator — a monthly journal about ancient coins. He co-authored "Turkoman Figural Bronze Coins and Their Iconography" (2 vols.) and wrote the six vol. series "Ancient Coin Collecting" (3 are in expanded 2nd ed.), the monograph "Classical Deception" and the exhibition catalogue for the Griner collection of ancient coins at Ball State University. He wrote the "Coin Collecting" article and revised the main "Coins" article for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wayne is a Life Fellow of the ANS; Fellow of the RNS (London); Life Member of the Hellenic Numismatic Society (Athens); Life Member of AINS; and member of numerous other numismatic organizations including the American Numismatic Association and the Numismatic Literary Guild. He is the founder and current Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, has lectured extensively, written more than 200 articles about ancient coinage, and is a recipient of the "Numismatic Ambassador" award from Krause Publications. He is a biographee in Marquis, "Who's Who in America" and in "Who's Who in the World".

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