Friday, 4 December 2015

The silver coins of Taras: conclusion

Taras, ca. 280-228 BC, diobol
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc. 
I started this series with a diobol and I am finishing it with another. Collectors of ancient Greek coins have limited choices on obtaining a coin depicting the facing head of Athena. The most famous example being a tetradrachm of Syracuse by Eukleidas, but at half a million Swiss francs it is out of reach for most collectors. The example on the right fetched a hammer price of only $202 US. While it was circulating in Italy, Archimedes was running naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting "Eureka". The coins of Taras are very popular with collectors because of their attractiveness and the fact that you do not need to be wealthy to collect them. The people of Taras, at that time these coins were issued would have been overjoyed that their coins were being appreciated in a world far larger than they knew more than two thousand years later. Most of those issues (and the same is true for all Greek city-states) bore designs to promote their city and culture. Today, we call this "branding".

The mythological types of Greek coins reveal how mythology was reinterpreted anew for each place and time and that is the nature of cultures. What is current, now, is obsolete tomorrow; new deities are constructed from the remains of old deities. If cultures are to survive at all, in minds, they have to connect in a very personal manner. I connected with the sea monster Skylla on a fishing trip off the coast of British Columbia and that event will be in my mind each time I see Skylla on a helmet design. Had I not bought a corroded Celtic coin from Seaby in London when I was about fifteen years old, I would never have written my book, nor put the Celtic Coin Index on line. Not once, though, did any visit to a museum ever change my life. Locked away in cabinets; behind glass, or with museum staff making sure that you do not touch, the cultures are killed because we can no longer connect with them in a personal way.

Even this series would have been impossible without CNG's policy of allowing the use of their many photographs to be used as I have used them here. Most museums will charge exorbitant sums for such use. A few, like the British Museum and a couple of American museums do allow such usage but others, like the Museum of London will not even allow you to sketch something. The sterilized remains of culture are being held for ransom.

So I will end by saying that if you have enjoyed this series and would like to have a coin of Taras of your very own then take a look at CNG's current Triton Auction which closes in New York on January 4th. There are a number of Taras coins up for bid including this very nice stater from the Vlasto collection.

I will be back on Monday with something new. Have a (personally) culturally significant weekend.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hi John:
    Presumably there are no 'new coin types' coming onto the market? That is, legal coins from excavations and similar sources. Bearing in mind Greece's draconian heritage laws, there are no 'new coin types' coming onto the market place as a result of amateur metal detecting treasure hunters?

    Great series mate.

    John Howland

  2. Hi John,

    Ah, I see that your problem here is that you are applying thought to the "cultural heritage/property" situation. The cultural content of a coin with the head of Athena on one side, an owl on the other, and an inscription (legend) in Greek would be Greek. It does require thought (albeit very little) to come to that conclusion.

    With cultural heritage/property, you have to avoid thinking even in the simplest fashion. To start with, these cultures do not exist anymore, and if any of their things are our "heritage" and yet we cannot own or use them, then we have inherited nothing.

    "Cultural heritage" and "cultural property" are illiterate terms (in the way they are used). "Cultural heritage" is synonymous with population thought control based on specially selected parts of history, and "cultural property" is "State ownership of anything deemed valuable for "Cultural heritage". Both are Orwellian doublethink:

    Anything that is repeated enough gets believed by a huge percentage of the population. When Orwell wrote 1984, he evidently wanted to title it 1948 as he saw the mechanics of how such control was already being used.

    So Athena/Owl/Greek appears on diobols of Taras (now in Italy); tetradrachms of Athens (now in Greece, but many of them were actually made in Egypt and they are found in all manner of places) and Dekadrachms of Athens (which are never found in Greece, only in Turkey) are all the cultural property of wherever they are found. You see how this is not only illiterate, it is illogical. If we accept this and then try to think about it, we are drawn to the idea that Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey are all of the same culture.

    The people who are not victims of Orwellian doublethink, and yet support these terms do, indeed, think -- about nationalism and the control of populations. UNESCO itself, was founded on the principles of a single world government and the use of eugenics. This is not science fiction, it is in their foundation speech by Julian Huxley (1946):

    Google: Orwell UNESCO and at the top of the list is:

    for another example in the same topic.

    The methods used are well defined by writers such as Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent:

    and media specialists like Phil Agre:

    (you might especially recognize this style ;-))

    But, back to new types. There are a number of Greek coins of cities yet to be discovered. If they are of a local coinage, and people were allowed to metal detect and record such finds, the locations of such might well become known. New Greek coin types do show up as both illicit discoveries where the locations are of course withheld, or as just coins that had not been noticed before -- this is far commoner than you might think for all sorts of items, not just coins: One of the earliest, largest, and best examples of Yuan Dynasty underglaze red and blue porcelain was found in an English house being used as an umbrella stand -- It had been above ground and unrecorded since it was manufactured in the thirteenth century.

    Greek numismatics is "light years" behind British Celtic numismatics, and it does not take too much though to see why.



  3. Hi John:

    It disturbs me greatly to know that UNESCO was founded on the principles of eugenics. I am even more disturbed to realise there are people 'out there' who support it. Then when I examine some of them in close-up it sends a shiver through me to know that some these UNESCO disciples really do have disturbed minds.

    That these people could ever take political power is a sobering thought, but ironically perhaps, is in itself an illustration of the class of human being liable to selective elimination.


    John Howland

    1. Hi John,

      With a single question to a politician, I started a process that put an end to eugenics here in Alberta (Sexual Sterilization Act of 1928)and this also resulted in the largest compensation ever paid out by the government to its victims. Details here:

      UNESCO also has promoted standardization in education, a practice that impedes original thought and innovation according to Aaron Lynch:

      "Practical implications may follow from the above model of population creativity for ideas. For example, proposals to make education highly uniform and enforced by nationwide testing may tend to limit creativity by reducing the variability of combinations of important ideas. Creativity in an organization or a society might alternatively be enhanced by encouraging the acquisition of highly unusual combinations of ideas and fields of learning. Cultural, educational, and experiential diversity might turn out to increase population creativity by increasing the occurrence rates for extremely rare combinations of ideas that could lead to the formation of new ideas. In particular, this might result in higher creative output for universities, research institutions, and other organizations that deliberately strive for a culturally diverse mix of people. Yet even a 1000-fold increase for an idea combination that exists at a prevalence of 10-9 only involves one person in a million, representing only a tiny dent in the prevalence for extremely common combinations of ideas that would form the mainstream of a society or a subculture. Factors such as that might even be investigated as sources of different creativity rates in different countries. Such practical implications also warrant separate papers in their own right. The focus here is on the role of quantitative processes in a population affecting population creativity, and thus the evolution of ideas."

      From the complete picture, I think a good slogan for UNESCO would be: "UNESCO, picking up where Hitler left off"