by Helmut Schubert
translated by Annika Backe
June 9, 2016 – What purpose should numismatics serve?, asked Maria R.-Alföldi at the end of her introduction to the collection of essays “Methoden der antiken Numismatik”. Numismatics translating as the study of coins meant to her that she had to remain faithful to herself and present coin editions lege artis. But stopping right there, she would deny herself the “multiple methodological options and perspectives” that “numismatics as a source of great importance” offer. This has been the motto of hers throughout her entire life.
Her comprehensive oeuvre reveals a focus: Late Antiquity, particularly the era of Constantine the Great. It all started with her professorial dissertation on Constantinian gold coinage in 1963. With the contribution “Der Name, nicht das Symbol” (translates as “The name, not the symbol”) published in the Festschrift Hans Reinhard Seeliger, she returned, after more than 50 years, to an important testimony, the silver multiple from 311 which features the helmeted bust with the christogram.
Maria R.-Alföldi loves a clear and plain style which must be suitable to express more complex facts as well. She constantly stresses how vital it is to not lose sight of the source. If this source is buried underneath a flood of secondary literature and a discussion that takes a dynamic of its own, she “skins” her source until she gains a clearer vision. But then the time has come for her to ask her questions sine ira et studio. The often amazingly simple answers which she finds are reflected in Mephisto’s response to Faust “Grey, dear friend, is all theory, and green the golden tree of life”.
Of Hungarian origin, Maria R.-Alföldi, after an escape that was not without danger, arrived at Frankfurt am Main in 1956, via Vienna and Munich. Between 1973 and 1991, she held the double chair of History and Culture of the Roman Provinces as well as Ancillary Sciences of Archaeology at the Goethe University. She contributed to the research project “Fundmünzen der römischen Zeit in Deutschland” over which she then presided after the early death of Konrad Kraft. After 1989, she also served as head of the “Griechisches Münzwerk” which Theodor Mommsen had initiated. The fact these two major projects, funded by German academies, are no longer continued, gives rise to the question of how important coins as a source are currently rated.
Who happens to encounter Maria R.-Alföldi in her previous institute is impressed by the dignity of age and the wisdom she emanates. On June 6, pupils, colleagues, and friends think of her and send her good wishes for her well-being and a fulfilling time.