Before Americans toss out the use of coins in everyday transactions, numismatic scholars want people to know how important coins really are.
An example of that is the discovery of an ancient kingdom traced through the study of old coins, as detailed in a new book called, "Lost World of The Golden King - in search of Ancient Afghanistan," by University of Houston history professor Frank L. Holt.
"Coins are a historical document," said RyAnne Scott, communications coordinator for the American Numismatics Association. Yes, numismatics is a difficult word to pronounce and according to the dictionary it is the collection or study of money, both in coins as well as paper notes.
"If there is not a lot of surviving artifacts, coins can tell a great deal about the culture that produced it," Scott said. When this reporter called the American Numismatics Association in Colorado Springs, the intent was to get comment on professor Holt's book. While she had not heard of the book she pointed out, "we have thousands of books for our members and it sounds like the professor's book would be one that we would want to add to our library." The ANA also has a museum with over 250,000.00 coins. And, their goal is to help people understand and appreciate coins. Coins are one way scholars and researchers can learn a lot about ancient cultures throughout the world.
From the book, "Lost World of The Golden King," courtesy of Frank L. Holt.
This coin depicts Eucradites The Great and was circulated in and around the ancient region of Bactria. It is said that Eucradites ruled over a thousand cities during his reign.
Holt is a Hellenistic scholar who has written three other books all focused on the rediscovery of the ancient world, especially in remote places often neglected and forgotten. In his most recent book, "Lost World of The Golden King," Holt was able to locate the ancient civilization of Bactria in what is now part of Afghanistan.
Despite the current violence and upheaval that presently scars that part of the world, Professor Holt got his research done. He sheds light on the fact that for centuries Bactria was a center of culture and commerce.
"I am acquainted with Frank's other book,"Into the Land of Bones, Alexander The Great in Afghanistan," said ANA Museum curator Douglas Mudd. "I am also familiar with the ancient kingdom of Bactria, it is very interesting because it is part of Alexander The Great's conquest," said Mudd.
From 336 to 323 BC Alexander The Great conquered and ruled a vast area of the ancient world, from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. Most notable to us Westerners are cities like Alexandria (his namesake city) in Egypt.
Yet as Mudd explained, Bactria was just as powerful and important. Yet when Alexander died much of his empire was divided and portioned off by his generals and other military leaders under his command.
While Bactria was in essence a Greek outpost or colony eventually over time it became isolated from the Western world. "It existed on its own as new rulers and kingdoms took over, rising and falling to nomadic invaders. Some of these rulers are little known to contemporary students of Western Civilization, names like Eucradites The Great, Meander, Euthydemus, and and others."
Mudd also noted that the coins which helped Holt to trace his rediscovery of Bactria were actually part of "a hoard of coins of Eucratides The Great in the region." The more coins are found in various places and can be dated, then scholars and archaeologists can extrapolate and pin-point the geographical lines of a kingdom or empire."
from the book, "Lost World of The Golden King" courtesy of author Frank L. Holt
The detail on these coins of Eucradites The Great are examples some of the finest quality of craftsmanship of the ancient world.
"Frank uses numismatic knowledge and writes for a general public." Yet as Mudd explained, the use of "numismatics has gotten much more scientific over the years (with the addition of carbon dating and forensics) helping researchers work layer by layer; we can date ancient coins more precisely," he said.
Mudd reiterated that "a hoard of coins gives us more clues than just only one coin." The number of coins gives indication of commerce, how far and wide trade was and also how long various coins were in circulation. "This can tell us how long the ruler or kingdom was in power."
Interestingly, coins are a pretty good indication of what a ruler actually looked like. "Usually coins were fashioned after an official sculpture of a ruler and then given to coin makers," said Mudd. As Scott noted, coins could be used as propaganda to help promote a ruler. True some times renderings could be touched up a bit. Yet as Mudd clarified, usually the depictions, especially from the Romans were realistic.
For as Scott noted that when we today think of Cleopatra we imagine someone like the actresses who have portrayed her on film. Legends in themselves such as Elizabeth Taylor or Joan Collins, stand out in most people's minds. "But the few coins that survive of her reign perhaps say otherwise. Cleopatra had a large nose and was actually Greek in features not Egyptian."
It is also written in accounts of the time-period that Cleopatra had a voice like a bell and could speak several languages. Cleopatra learned the customs of the people and used make up and perfumes. "She was quite a diplomatic and was very intelligent, noted Scott. So, it is no surprise that even if she in real life was more like Barbra Streisand in features, Cleopatra had the ability to charm and persuade people," said Scott.
Mudd agreed as he said, "numismatics is so important in gaining details of a time period or part of the world that goes beyond a basic sketch." He considers Holt's work as important because while Afghanistan has been placed in the media spotlight for the last 10 to 12 years, "there is still so much we do not know," said Mudd. Hopefully at some point when the wars and conflicts in that part of the world cease then more can be studied and understood.
"It would be wonderful, if historians, scholars and diplomats could put together a comprehensive exhibit, he added; the influence of ancient Greece through Alexander the Great and then Buddhist influences (as there are records on both sides, Greek and from India)." "The implications are fascinating," said Mudd. Afghanistan was among the early receivers of the Buddhist message before it became more established,later on in Asia. (Try to imagine what if there were instances of) "Plato with Buddhist thinking, it makes one wonder, said Mudd, doesn't it?"