Essays in Honour of Roberto Russo

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by Ursula Kampmann

June 19, 2014 – He was one of the bigwigs of the international coin trade, Roberto Russo, the coin dealer that has died in 2012, of Neapolitan descent and famous for his impressive auction sales in Zurich, the heart of the numismatic world. He was not only the founder of Numismatica Ars Classica but a keen scholar as well who liked to occupy himself with the mysteries of Republican numismatics. That is why some of the most influential numismatists pay him homage by contributing to his festschrift entitled “Essays in Honour of Roberto Russo”.

Peter G. van Alfen, Richard B. Witschonke (Hrsg.), Essays in Honour of Roberto Russo. Numismatica Ars Classica AG, Zurich, 2013. 30,5 x 21,4 cm, 408 p., fig. in black and white. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-88-7794-837-3. $150.

The content is divided into three parts, Greek, Roman and Medieval numismatics, with the emphasis on the Republic while the Middle Ages are represented by a single article.

Keith Ruttner starts with his essay on the early coinage of Sicily, Cyprus and Crete. With the aid of a comparison of the coin series of these three islands that all lacked silver, he wants to take a step forward in regard to the question as to what end the very first coins were produced. Christof Boehringer honours the deceased by writing his article on the “Maestro dalla foglia”, who owes his nickname to his famous die for the city of Katane, in Italian. The contributions of Alberto Campana und Giovanni Santelli are likewise in Italian. The first deals with an enigmatic emission of fractions that lack any ethnikon but display the heads of Hermes and Pan – both are identified by inscriptions – on the obverse, and he arrives at the conclusion that they might be associated with Hermocrates who gained control over the territory of Himera in 408/7 for a short period of time. Giovanni Santelli chose a Sicilian topic, too. He looks at the counterstamps with the head of Zeus Eleutherios of Syracuse. John Morcom presents a short miscellaneous note first on a couple of fractions from Eryx and Segesta, to link in a similarly short second part two small gold coins that were hitherto associated with Tauromenion and Panormos, respectively, with Tarentum instead. Haim Gitler concludes the Greek part with his contribution focusing on Samarian coin types influenced by Athenian iconography.

Much more comprehensive is the second part of the book, dealing with Republican coins. An article written by David Vagi opens this second section, in which he proposes the date of 326/5 for the earliest minted Roman coins and connects the depiction on the reverse with the sacrifice of the October horse. Andrew Burnett, too, examines this first emission, or more specifically, some stylistically highly unusual specimens that might constitute something of a subtype of this group. At the end of the day, he cannot really provide an answer to the question if it is a new group or a counterfeit of either contemporary or modern times, because there are simply too few original pieces preserved. The lengthiest essay, comprising of more than 170 pages, is contributed by Andrew McCabe. The author puts forward a new chronology for all of the minted bronze coins of the Roman Republic and therewith covers the main collecting area of Roberto Russo. The latter had restricted himself to that field after Moretti, the known collector and close friend of Russo’s, had pointed out to him once that the job of a coin dealer doesn’t go well together with him always offering his customers second-rate quality. Consequently, Roberto Russo first sold his Greek coins and – after his customers that were particularly interested in Roman denarii had grown more and more in number – then his collection of Republican coins as well.
Richard Schaefer introduces the reader to a small coin hoard find from Ampurias in Spain where Cn. Cornelius Scipio led the first Roman army to set foot on Spanish ground in 218. Andrea Pancotti studies the depiction of Attis on Republican coins. Another essay, now published posthumously, has been written by Roberto Russo himself. He tries to explain the disappearance of the Roman bronze coinage and its re-introduction under Augustus with the abbreviation SC with a re-appraisal of the denarius. T. V. Buttrey deals with the inscriptions on Republican coins, and on almost 60 pages, Richard Witschonke presents a large number of Republican specimens hitherto unpublished. He is supplemented by Bernhard Woytek who introduces unpublished hybrid coins. Clive Stannard occupies himself with quartered and counterstamped asses that he dates to the 90s and 80s. Michel Amandry applies himself to the emission of L. Sempronius Atratinus, while Frank Kovacs addresses the municipal coinage of Eusebeia – Caesarea at the time of the late republic.

Lucia Travaini contributes the only Medieval article that deals with a tari of Conrad IV.

The festschrift in honour of Roberto Russo is not only a memorial to the many academic friendships he managed to build over the years. First of all, it is a standard work of reference on the coinage of the Roman Republic. The contribution of Andrew McCabe in particular is likely to replace Crawford in catalogs with a scholarly focus as reference for the minted bronze coins of the Roman Republic.

The book can be ordered from the NAC branch in Milan as exclusive distributor at the price of 150 $. If you would like to order a copy please send an email.