Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734-1815)

Rafael Arnold, Michael Busch, Hans-Uwe Lammel, Hillard von Thiessen (eds.), Der Rostocker Gelehrte Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734-1815) und seine internationalen Netzwerke (The Rostock scholar Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734-1815) and his international networks). Wehrhahn Verlag, Hanover 2019. 304 p. hardcover, 15.5 x 23.2 cm. ISBN: 978-3-86525-699-7. 29.50 euros.
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Numismatists are not only coin enthusiasts. They are also people who interact with other people, who occasionally deal with other things and who sometimes have effects on history. Unfortunately, all these aspects are often missed out if only one field turns its attention to a certain person. That is why things become far more interesting if scientists from different fields deal with a certain person – in this case the Rostock scholar Oluf Gerhard Tychsen.

Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734-1815)

Portrait of Tychsen at the main building of the University of Rostock. Picture: KrummesHaus / CC-BY 4.0.

Oluf Gerhard Tychsen was a Protestant. Why that matters? Well, even in the Age of Enlightenment it was quite surprising that a young man born in a small town in Denmark did not only study at the conventional educational institutions but at a Yeshiva – a Jewish university that focused on the study of the Torah and the Talmud. He studied there because he was interested in the language of the Bible, and, moreover, in all oriental languages. He did not only learn Hebrew but also Yiddish, the language used by the German Jews of his time. Originally, Tychsen studied all these languages to become a successful missionary. But at some point, he must have understood that it was more important to understand the cultures of the ancient Near East than to convert Jewish believers. In doing so, he became one of the earliest representatives of the field of oriental studies and, additionally, the founding father of Islamic numismatics.

You get a very good impression of Oluf Gerhard Tychsen’s character if you think about the fact that the man who had started his studies with the intention of converting Jews received Semikhah, the ordination of a rabbi, and was therefore authorised to take valid decisions regarding the Jewish religious law.

Network – Jews – Numismatics

The collection of scientific articles about Tychsen is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the scientific network that enabled Tychsen to establish the field of oriental studies. The second part focuses on the “Jewish question” as it was understood at the Age of Enlightenment. Even if it has nothing to do with numismatics, this long-forgotten part of the Jewish history is incredibly fascinating. Here, I want to point out a single article that virtually captivated me because it enabled me to see things from an entire new perspective. Jan Doktór describes the pietistic mission with which well-intentioned clerics tried to lead the Jews to the “true faith”. And he points out how this mission is connected to the emergence of Frankism, the movement founded by the Tzadik Jakob Frank that stands out for the fact that rabbis as well as the Catholic church deemed it as heresy.
The third part of the book focuses on the numismatic aspects of Tychsen’s life. And the fact that most articles are to be found in this part is quite characteristic of the current status of research history in our field.

Tychsen and numismatics

Let’s make this easy for ourselves and name the authors and the titles of their articles. That should be enough reason for all those interested in the research history of numismatics to purchase this fascinating publication for their own library:

  • Lutz Ilisch, Die Sammlung orientalischer Münzen des Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (Oluf Gerhard Tychsen’s Collection of Oriental Coins)
  • Niklot Klüßendorf, Oluf Gerhard Tychsen als Numismatiker (Oluf Gerhard Tychsen as a Numismatist)
  • Anna Pontani, The Presence of Tychsen in the Correspondence of Simone Assemani
  • Lucia Travaini / Arianna d’Ottone Rambach, Tychsen, Vella, Adler and Borgia: The Italian Connection in Islamic Numismatics
  • Konstantin V. Kravtsov, O. G. Tychsen’s Contribution to the Study of Tabaristan Drachms


This book is available for the modest price of 29.50 euros at Wehrhahn Verlag, which focuses on publications about the Age of Enlightenment.