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Volume 1, Issue 3
By: Georges Depeyrot

It is important to remember that the Roman Empire was a very large Empire, larger than what is considered traditional Western Europe, in fact, it was closer in size to Western Europe and all of the countries formerly belonging to Eastern and Central Europe combined. If it was difficult (or nearly impossible) to have access to the collections and materials found in excavations in these Eastern European countries during the communist regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union opened new fields and new possibilities of scientific collaboration.

This collaboration was an absolute necessity. First, it was important for the publication of new information concerning the material found since the end of World War II (WWII) and, in general kept in secret in the collections of some national or regional museums. Second, it was very important to organize the scientific preservation of the data due to the introduction of the metal detector, the looting of some public collections and the destruction of scheduled archaeological sites, records and materials due to natural disasters, wars and other reasons.

Since the mid-90s, I have organized several collaborative programs with museums and academic institutions in order to preserve, study and to publish coin finds.
The work began in Transcaucasia with a collaborative program in Armenia and Georgia. Within a few years, a team composed of various numismatists from all of the countries, were able to list, inventory and publish the complete corpus of coin finds in Armenia. In this specific case, we decided to include not just Ancient coins, but also all the Byzantine, Sasanian, Islamic and modern hoards found in the Republic of Armenia, up to the 19th century. This documentation gives for the first time the complete data concerning such a country, opening the way to new research in history, economics, and social studies concerning the history of the region. During the development of the Armenian program, we were asked by our colleagues at the National Museum of Tbilisi to develop a similar collaborative program. In a few years, we have been able to give, in cooperation with the curator of the Coin Cabinet, not only publications of the Sasanian hoards but also publication of the Byzantine and Parthian coin finds.

In 2002, after a meeting in Paris, we were asked to organize a similar operation for some Eastern European countries including Romania, Moldova, Poland, and Slovenia. In these cases, the goal was to organize support for the national teams and to organize the publication of the numismatic finds. The excellent numismatists from these regions were looking for a way to develop their work. In just a few years with the support of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France) and of the National Museums and National Academies, we have been able to organize the publication and the studies of large parts of the coin finds and collections.

All the programs include development of the libraries, the publications, cross-invitation of scholars and participation in conferences. They give opportunities to those that wish to work to receive the minimum support that is required in order to undertake numismatic studies. Within a few years, all of them had the opportunity to present their studies at various conferences not only in Europe, but also (for some of them) in the United States and even in Argentina! What a change for those who were not even able to take part to academic meeting or lectures within their own countries!

The basic goal is to support work and to facilitate publication, these publications being the way to "bring to light" the collections and works of our colleagues and then to give them the opportunity of joining the international community of numismatists. Of course, because of this project, they are being given the tools necessary to develop numismatic studies in their own countries and of becoming intermediaries between their institutions and foreign scholars.

More or less these operations will recreate the international networks that were so useful during the 19th/20th centuries: letters, mail, and even internet cannot fully work without the personal relationships between scientists and scholars developed through personal discussion. These collaborative projects are increasingly useful as we are again confronting new periods of crisis which especially affect museums and which lead to the closure of numismatic collections.

So, some years later, what are the main consequences of these efforts? I said some words on the Armenian series. In Georgia, we have been able to publish amongst some other books, the inventory of the Parthian and Byzantine coin finds. Considering the actual situation in Georgia, this work is now useful and could not be done again.

In Central Europe, we have focused our efforts on the Greek-Roman-Byzantine period.

In Romania, for example, the coin finds of issues of the Greek mints of Romania is available. In a few weeks the publication of the collection of coins issued in the mints of the Black Sea (mainly composed of coins from the collection of Grand-Duke Alexander Mikhailovski, a relative of the last tsar Nikolas II) will be available, as well as the Byzantine gold coins from the Romanian Academy. Several volumes have been published given the large inventories and studies of the Roman coin finds.

One example from Romania are the coins of Koson, which had mostly been found as isolated finds and which some scholars had believed were perhaps medieval issues, as the large gold coins of Lysimachus which we know had been struck during medieval times. For some years, the list of coin finds increased and some new issues of silver Koson coins were found, giving new light on the issues of this king. A hoard of gold Koson staters was discovered in Central Romania and was divided among several institutions (a local museum, the National Museum, the bank of Romania). The analyses clearly show that the gold used for the Koson coins was from local ores, mainly from rivers. This source of metal was not used during the medieval times and we can now date these issues to approximately the mid-1st century BC.  

In Poland, the team of the Institute of Archaeology published the first volumes of the general inventory of  Roman coins found in Poland, giving a new understanding of the interactions between the Romans and the Barbarians.

Several similar works are in progress in the Republic of Moldavia, in Slovenia. Aside from the main official program, we are trying to promote similar research in other countries. Next year will be publishing a similar inventory of Roman coins in the Czech Republic. I myself organized the translation and publication of the inventory of Roman and Byzantine coin finds in the former Soviet Union.

What we are expecting from these programs is to get a better view of coin circulation in the Roman Empire, and primarily between the Roman Empire and the Barbaricum (sometimes even including the Greek period). The concept of national borders was not as rigid as we can imagine in comparison to modern nation-states. Except for some types of objects such as weapons, iron and anything that can be used as military equipment; there were not many limitations placed on international trade. Coins were largely exported, whatever the reason: trade, salaries for mercenaries, etc. On the other side, the Greek/Roman Empire imported goods, slaves, mercenaries, etc., including peace that was bought from Barbarians with payment in gold and silver.

But regions outside of the boundaries of the Roman Empire were also regions where coins were buried after they were “exported”. The study of the intensity of these exports is a very good way to study the economic life of the Empire, similar to the study of carbon density in the ice of the North Pole is being used to help us understand the industrialization of the northern hemisphere.

All the catalogues, studies, etc. are published, mainly in the Moneta collection Moneta (Moneta bvba) http://www.moneta.be

Centre de Recherches Historiques, CNRS, 54 boulevard Raspail, F-75006 Paris; georges.depeyrot@orange.fr



Copyright notices: Article and photographs Copyright 2009 by Georges Depeyrot

Copyright 2008-2014 Alfredo De La Fé