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Sylloge Numorum Arabicorum Tübingen.
Hamah. IVc Bilad as-Sam III
by Lorenz Korn. Tübingen, Ernst Wasmuth, 1998, 58 pp., including 21 plates. ISBN 3 8030 1102 7.
ISSN 0945-4020

       The present volume illustrates and describes 708 coins from the mint of Hamah in the University of Tübingen collection, struck between the 570s and the 830s of the Hijra (roughly AD 1175-1430), by far the largest group of coins from that mint ever assembled, much less published. The book is in folio format, comprising a short foreward by the general editor, Lutz Ilisch, a five-page introduction packed with historical and numismatic information, 21 superb plates matches with 21 pages of coin descriptions, and finally a concordance of catalogue and inventory numbers, where provenances are given when known.

       Coins are arranged in chronological order, with the one exception that for each ruler, silver coins are listed first, then copper. This was necessary because the coppers are usually undated, the silvers dated, so that the relative dating of the copper to the silver cannot be determined. Silver coins without dates and with uncertain or unread dates are inserted into the chronological list where the author felt they would best fit, so as to maintain as accurate a sequence as possible. Uncertain and undated pieces are clearly described as such in the catalogue.

       The collection includes virtually every type of silver and copper coin known from Hamah; only the gold, of which fewer than half a dozen specimens are recorded, is omitted. Because of the overall completeness of the collection, reference is made to types not represented, either in the introduction or in the catalogue. This was not feasible for other volumes of the Sylloge so far published.

       There is also a very full bibliography of just 20 items, a detail that says everything about the amount of research done on the subject over the past 200 years.

       Descriptions in the catalogue are kept brief, as befits a sylloge publication. Inscriptions are written out in Arabic, without trancriptions or transliterations. The layout and format of the catalogue is generally quite clear, though I have three small criticisms. It would be useful to repeat rulers' dates each time the ruler is given, not just for the first mention of that ruler; this is a simple change that would not add lines to the text. Secondly, the coin dates are given in italics, but bold italics would make it easier for the reader to scan the page when looking for specific dates. Finally, the method of noting die-linkage is very cumbersome. For example, it takes quite some time to determine that for coins 132-139, the die links are for the obverse: 132=133=134=135 (if the comment to the reverse die of 135 were correct) and for the reverse 132=133=134, 136=137(=129=130=131) and 138=139. If indicated in this notation as a short comment after coin 139, the comment would have been clearer and space would have been saved. There are four typos in the text to nos. 132-139, all of which refer to die-linkage. For coin 132, the descriptions says the obverse is die-identical with coin 132, an obvious tautology, though with careful reading, it becomes clear that 132 is a typo for 133. Secondly, it is not clear from the text whether the obverse die for 132 and 133 is really the same as that for 134 and 135. Fortunately the plates are so good that one can readily see that the two dies are distinct, and that the comment to 135, "Av. stempelgleich mit den drei vorhergehenden" is an error for "Av. stempelgleich mit der vorhergehenden". Thirdly, for 136 and 137, the correct reverse die identity is with 132-134, not 129-131. Moreover, in the description to 138 and 139, the obverse marginal inscription is as nos. 132-135, not 129-132. These typos would likely have been averted had the die-linkage been presented as follows: Stempelgleichungen: Av.: 132=133, 134=135. Rev.: 132=133=134=136=137, 138=139.

       Despite what I have found for coins 132-139, typos seem to be few and far between. However, I have not checked other die identities, nor have I examined the photos to determine whether the listed die-linkages are indeed correct.

       My only other criticism is one which applies to all the volumes of the Tübingen sylloge thus far published, and that is the cumbersome folio size. In my opinion, A4 is the best size for a sylloge, insofar as it constitutes a good compromise between, on the one hand, maximising the number of coins on a plate, and on the other hand, ease of use and storage. Morover, packing and shipping thin, folio size books is tedious, and there have been a significant number of copies destroyed or damaged in shipment. It is no surprise that, after about more than 50 years of folio size publications, the Sylloge Numorum Graecorum went over to A4 in the early 1980s.

       Despite these few flaws, Korn's work is truly a masterpiece of numismatic cataloguing. There is no doubt that for anyone interested in the coinage of Hamah or in the coinage of the Ayyubid and Mamluk kingdoms, this volume will remain indispensible for many, many decades. Of course, there will be new discoveries, perhaps some of them even spectacular, but the basis established by Korn will forever remain one of the greatest steps forward in Ayyubid and Mamluk numismatics.

       Because the volume under review contains the coins of just a single mint, the question of whether coins should be arranged dynastically or geographically is moot. Perhaps for that very reason, the present review is an appropriate place to discuss this question, for it remains one of most controversial aspects of the sylloge format, which was first developed for ancient Greek numismatics, the first volume appearing in 1931. Because coin-issuing entities in the archaic and classical Greek period were city-states, a geographical arrangement was natural and perfectly suitable, though for the Hellenistic period, the dynastic arrangement was often adopted (British Museum catalogues). Thus the arrangement of coins in most Greek sylloges has been a hybrid of geographical and dynastic principles, though in recent years, the purely geographical arrangement has emerged paramount.

       The big question is whether the geographical arrangement can successfully be carried over to Islamic coinage, where a dynastic arrangement, as originally established by Fraehn, Sachau and others in the early 19th century, has become the norm for museum catalogues, general studies, auction catalogues and sale lists. The answer depends to a large extent on the intended audience of the publication. Specifically, collectors and dealers are generally more comfortable with the dynastic approach, in the British Museum catalogues of the 1880s or my 1998 Checklist of Islamic Coins. On the other hand, historians are much more interested in the continuity of coinage at a particular location. Thus, in my recent study of the anonymous Barakzay coinage in 19th century Afghanistan, published in 1999 as a supplement to this journal, I chose to organize the study by mint, in order to show political and monetary developments in each of the major subdivisions of the Barakzay lands. It is also the principle that has made George Miles' 1938 study, The Numismatic History of Rayy, so valuable for the political history of early Islamic Iran.

       There can be problems with the geographic arrangement, as is apparent to anyone who has ever tried to make use of the ANS publication of the Arthur Houghton collection of Seleukid coins. The coins are arranged by mint, moving rougly from west to east. But the mints are noted only by symbols or isolated letters, whose meaning would be known only to those perhaps already well-versed in the coinage. To a collector or dealer trying to identify a coin, this is inconvenient, especially as there is no index of issuers or symbols. For the volumes of the Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean, the general editor has insisted that a proper index of all names and titles be included with each volume, a feature with which I am in complete agreement. There is no index in any of the Tübingen sylloge volumes thus far published, and I would hope that one will be included in all future volumes, even those, such as the present volume, that are devoted to a single mint.

       The main purpose of any sylloge is to make available for research the entire holdings of a public or private collection in book format, with each coin briefly described and carefully photographed. Their principal function is to facilitate research by averting the need for long and costly visits to collections scattered throughout the world. An important secondary function is to provide access to quality illustrations, thus reducing greatly the burden on museum curators who would otherwise be spending a lot more time supervising visitors. For the researcher, the convenience of the sylloge format goes far beyond convenience, for it allows him to ask questions and begin research before investing time and money in visits to museums and other collections, perhaps not so much a problem for someone living an hour's journey from London, but what about someone working in Arizona or Adelaide? The large number of sylloge volumes in Greek coinage (I believe over 250 volumes have so far been published) has meant that one can ask a question, examine the sylloges (and for more expensive coin types, auction catalogues as well), and come to some sense of whether the question or research is feasible or whether it leads down a blind alley.

       Although collectors and dealers probably represent a majority of buyers of sylloge volumes, the books are only tangentially intended for their use. Of course, collectors and dealers should be encouraged to use them, and their purchases certainly help reduce the amount of grants and other subsidies needed for their publication. Sylloge volumes are a very specialised and rather expensive endeavour; no volume will ever run the risk of making The New York Times's bestseller list.

       To some extent, the arrangement of a sylloge volume may depend on the relative completeness of the collection being catalogued. For most of the Islamic world, Tübingen probably has the densest representation of silver and copper coins of any major collection, especially for Iran. For such collections of relative completeness, the story of the mint's history is closely reflected in the coins held at Tübingen. That is clearly apparent for Hamah, just as for most of the Palestinian mints, places like Ghazna or Kabul, etc. For smaller collections, such as that of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge (somewhat over 3000 coins), the mint arrangement would seem less appropriate. Indeed, Mark Blackburn and Patrick Novak have chosen a dynastic arrangement for the Fitzwilliam sylloge, following more or less the order of my Checklist of Islamic Coins. I understand that a full index of mints will be provided for the Fitzwilliam volume(s).

       Personally, I find it much simpler to come to an understanding of the general nature of a dynasty's coinage than to determine how the coins of a single mint or region fit together during times of political instability or dynastic change. Thus, by observing the sequence at a given mint, the history of the location is illuminated in a way that I would find much more difficult to reconstruct were I forced to look separately at each dynasty or ruler.

       If we agree that sylloges of large collections should be organised geographically, what about medium and small collections? If they are specialised collections of specific regions or dynasties, then definitely so. However, smaller general collections, such as that of the Fitzwilliam, are probably more amenable to a dynastic listing, so long as a good mint index is appended. For middle size collections, say those which would fit into roughly four to a dozen volumes, I would prefer the geographical arrangement.

       Of course, there is no dictum from on high telling each author or editor how to organise a sylloge volume. Different authors and editors will surely take different approaches. Not all will prefer the arrangement by mint, not even within the pulication of a single collection. Some volumes of the Ashmolean Museum sylloge will be arranged dynastically, because the authors of those volumes find it more appropriate or more convenient.

       Steve Album

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