Sunday, December 7, 2014


Richard Hobbs, Currency and Exchange in Ancient Pompeii: Coins from the AAPP Excavations at Regio VI, Insula 1. BICS supplement, 116. London: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2013. Pp. x, 283. ISBN 9781905670413. £48.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alejandro G. Sinner, York University (

Version at BMCR home site

Pompeii — amongst the best-known archaeological sites of the ancient world — is still capable of providing surprises. Before the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius dramatically stopped its evolution, Pompeii had long been an active harbor in the Western Mediterranean. Recent excavations by various international teams have brought more and more of its pre-AD 79 material culture to light, and the numismatic evidence is particularly intriguing. This monograph publishes 1,512 coins from the excavations of the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii (AAPP), between 1994 and 2006, reaching back into the 2nd c. BC. It is the largest group of coins from under the 79 BC eruption level so far published.

The book is in two sections. The first (chapters 1-5), presents the find contexts and discusses the coins generally. The second (catalog, appendixes I-II and the plates) describes the coins individually, with indications of their archaeological context.

Chapter 1 introduces the AAPP project, describes the size and the importance of the assemblage, and discusses the use of coinage, at the time of the destruction (what Hobbs calls "live coinage") and under the AD 79 level ("dead coinage"). He briefly describes the excavations, over most of Regio VI, Insula 1, at the Porta Ercolano (figure 1, a map of the area excavated, is small and not very detailed; a larger plan of each plot studied would have been useful).

Chapter 2 focuses on the coins recovered, in three sections: regional and "foreign" imports (22, Table 2, and 23, Figure 5, a useful tool for future studies), "the local coinage of Pompeii", and Roman coinage. It compares the imported coins to finds at various other sites and areas, in particular, Morgantina,1 Lattes and southern France,2 and to the list of foreign coins from Rome, Minturnae and Pompeii and the area, published in Stannard and Frey-Kupper 2008;3 Hobbs wrongly believes that their list of coins from Minturnae is exhaustive, whereas it in fact only lists mints also present at Pompeii, which leads him to mistaken inferences when mints are not listed. The assumption that there is a single "Mediterranean circulation pool" is very sweeping.

Hobbs' handling of the local coinage is controversial. Over the years, Stannard has described a large group of coins that copy and mix the types of Ebusus, Massalia, Rome, Athens and probably other mints. He and Frey-Kupper have characterized the phenomenon as a "pseudomint". They suggest that the coins were struck at Pompeii, where they are the largest component of the pre-AD 79 monetary stock. Stannard has also shown the enormous quantities of the Ebusan prototype present at Pompeii, and argued that they were imported as a block to Pompeii, early in the second half of 2nd c. BC. Hobbs does not discuss this substantial body of research, and does not use Stannard's classification of the pseudomint's issues, which differentiates the genuine coins of the mints imitated from the imitations.4 He therefore does not distinguish the prototype issues from the imitative issues, and considers them together, under the headings of "Massalia and Campanian Massalia", "anomalous local types" (e.g., Roman types muled with Ebusan and Massaliot types), and "Ebusus and Campanian Ebusus". This conflation of imitation with prototype also leads to the coins of Massalia and Ebusus not being considered under imported coins, of which they are, in reality, by far the largest component. Hobbs proposes a typology of these coins, as lumped together, with an inaccurate set of drawings (38), where, for example, the ligate Α/Π behind the head of Apollo (types 1, 2A, 2B and 2C), on some of the Massaliot prototypes and the imitations, is reduced to a squiggle, and where the reverse ethnic on all the imported Massaliot coins (types 1 and 2A), except those with ΔΑ in exergue (type 2B), reads ΜΑΣΣΑ above and ΛΙΗΤΩΝ below. A glance at the photographs shows that this is not the case. The error is repeated in the catalog (133–135). Hobbs then comments unsystematically on whether individual issues are prototypes or local imitations (37-50). The Roman Republican and Imperial coins in the assemblage are then described.

Chapter 3 attempts to date the local imitations, using three approaches. It first compares the AAPP assemblage with the few other assemblages from pre-79 Pompeii (63-68). It then discusses the different coin types, using the archaeological data (68-89). Hobbs works through the plots of the Insula, presenting the different phases, and the number of coins from each. The linking of the coin evidence with the site stratigraphy is a strong point of the book, although only three parts of the site have yet been phased (68). A clear Sullan war level divides coin finds into pre- and post-89 BC. Finally, a contextual association, of well-dated coins with imitative types, is given (89-96; 95, Table 13).

At the same time, Chapter 3 also has problems. The failure to distinguish prototypes from imitations makes it impossible to date the two independent phenomena: the arrival of the prototypes, and the beginnings of the pseudomint. There is no mention of relevant papers where a possible chronology is suggested, in particular, Stannard 2013, which Hobbs cites for other purposes (e.g., note 331).5

The useful and well-illustrated Chapter 4 focuses on coin distribution (coins per archaeological plot, per square meter, and distribution by broad type), which makes possible a consideration of coin distribution across the Insula, and the relationship between plot function and coin use. Most coins are from commercial and industrial spaces, and few from domestic areas. Once again, a plan showing coins per plot and phase, and the distribution of coins within plots during the different phases, would have been made analysis easier.

Chapter 5, Conclusions, summarises the earlier chapters. It recognizes that "The primary purpose of this book is to provide a catalog of the 1,512 coins recovered from the excavations conducted from the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii…", and this is what makes the book's second section the most interesting for scholars.

The catalog (127-181) lists the coins by group: regional imports, "foreign" imports, Massalia imports and Campanian Massalia, anomalous local types, Ebusus and Campanian Ebusus, Roman Republican, cut fractions, Imperial, and illegible. The information given is: mint (for foreign), summary description of obverse and reverse, suggested date, reference, catalog number, metal, diameter, weight, find spot and stratigraphic unit, and comments. Die axis is not given. This simple tool, combined with appendixes I and II and the plates, gives scholars full access to the AAPP assemblage.

Appendix I (183-210) is one of the most useful parts of this book. It presents, by archaeological phase: description, context, phase, date, coins found by catalog number, and the dating evidence of other materials, the descriptions of which are unfortunately very generic (black-gloss ware, italic sigillata, etc.). There is no information on ceramic typology and forms, or illustrations. Some contexts relevant for the date of the beginning of the pseudomint are 182.117 and 127.091 (127.082, it is noted, may be a later phase) in the Inn, said to be "early 2nd c. BC", on the basis of black gloss ware in 127.091. If correct, this may push back the date that Stannard suggests — shortly after 140/130 BC6 — on the basis of the dating of the prototypes and the Spanish excavations in the House of Ariadne.7

Appendix II and plates present and illustrate in full for the first time the Bathhouse purse-hoard from Regio VIII, 5, 36.

The 41 plates (233-273) show the importance of illustrating this type of worn and corroded material from casts. Almost all coins are illustrated, numbered as in the catalog. This makes for easy consultation. The illustrations are of good quality.

Although it is fine to have this monograph devoted to the extensive publication of this intriguing material, the book suffers from a number of methodological weaknesses. The gravest is to ignore the extensive earlier work of Stannard and Frey-Kupper, which first identified and opened up the understanding of these strange issues. The failure to distinguish prototypes from the coins of the pseudomint weakens the analysis, and the failure to cite by Stannard's typology hinders future study. The author argues against their proposals, without presenting or considering their arguments regarding the distinction between prototypes and imitations, dating, and how the genuine Ebusan coin arrived at Pompeii (e.g., 32, 35 and 110). For Hobbs, the "local coins" were not struck at Pompeii. No block of Ebusan coins was imported, despite the evidence in favor:8 the huge number of Ebusan coins (probably at least tens of thousands) in Pompeii; the fact that not one of the pseudomint's coins has been found in Ibiza/Ebusus (which seems to invalidate the close commercial contact he suggests);9 the structure of the Ebusan issues at Pompeii, which are largely of Campo's rather uncommon group XVIII,10 which suggests that this reflects a particular point in time; and the fact that Campo's following group XIX is very rare in Italy. One may of course disagree with these and other arguments, but scientific methodology requires that they be considered and refuted, particularly in a monographic study in which almost half the assemblage published consists of the coins of Ebusus, Massalia and the pseudomint (prototypes, Campanian Ebusus, anomalous local types and Campanian Massalia).

There are a number of mistakes and imprecisions. For example, no. 800 is listed as RRC 217/2; it is in fact RRC 479/1, an as of Sextus Pompeius, like the cut coin, no. 817, listed as Pompeiis Magnus (sic). Millstones from the Isla Pedrosa shipwreck are said to be from "the Naples Region" (35); they are from Olot, Agde and Etna. In 48, fn. 23, some "Campanian Ebusus types" are referenced by Campo, but Campo lists no types as imitations.

Despite some flaws, Currency and Exchange in Ancient Pompeii: Coins from the AAPP Excavations at Regio VI, Insula 1 will be, without any doubt, an invaluable resource for scholars interested in Pompeii, its economy and numismatic history. The data in the second section of the book and the plates will be an obligatory source for any numismatist interested in late Hellenistic central Italy. In methodological terms, the systematic publication of whole, illustrated assemblages from excavations, made from casts, is a model to be followed.


1.   Buttrey, Theodore, et al. (1989), Morgantina Studies, Volume II: The Coins (Princeton).
2.   Py, Michel (2006), Les monnaies préaugustéennes de Lattes et la circulation monétaire protohistorique en Gaule méridionale, (Lattara 19; Lattes).
3.   Stannard, Clive and Frey-Kupper, Suzanne (2008), '"Pseudomints" and small change in Italy and Sicily in the late Republic", AJN, Second series 20, 351-404.
4.   Most recently Stannard, Clive (2013), "Are Ebusan and pseudo-Ebusan coin at Pompeii a sign of intensive contacts with the Island of Ebusus?", in: Alicia Arévalo González, Darío Bernal Casasola, and Daniela Cottica (eds.) (2013), Ebusus y Pompeya, ciudades marítimas.Testimonios monetales de una relación (Cádiz: University of Cadiz), 125–155. See 148–155.
5.   Stannard 2013.
6.   Stannard 2013, 139–141.
7.   Ribera, Albert V., Salavert León, Juan V., and Stannard, Clive ,"La moneda en la Casa de Ariadna (vii,4,51-31) de Pompeya. El contexto arqueológico de las monedas de Ebusus y de las series imitativas de la pseudo-ceca de Pompeya", in: Arévalo et al 2013, 181–204.
8.   Stannard 2013, 134–139.
9.   Ripollès, Pere Pau, et al. (2009), "La moneda en el área rural de Ebusus (siglos IV-1 a.C.)", in: Ús i circulació de la moneda a la Hispània Citerior. XIII Curs d'Historia monetària d'Hispània (Barcelona), 105-35. See 115.
10.   Campo, Marta (1976), Las monedas de Ebusus, (Barcelona), 127–132.

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