J.N. Svoronos’ classic work on Ptolemaic coinage, Ta Nomismata tou Kratous ton Ptolemaion (Athens, 1904), has long been inaccessible to the majority of numismatists. It is a rare title and commands a daunting price whenever it comes up for auction. Furthermore, it is the only major numismatic reference that has never been made available in reprint despite years of crying need. The obstacle is its language, modern Greek, in a literary version that is now slightly archaic even in Greece itself.
In summer of 1991 I began my study of Ptolemaic coinage by making a “fast and dirty” translation of the catalogue sections of Svoronos. This document was intended solely for my private use, as the first step in a process of extensive updating and revision. I dispensed with careful proofreading as unnecessary at this first-draft stage. Other shortcuts included truncating the lists of specimens that followed each catalogue description, substituting Roman letters for the Greek alphabetic numerals that identified those specimens, and condensing or even dropping discursive notes in the catalogue. As I produced second and third drafts incorporating more modern scholarship, the initial translation was set aside to gather dust.
When Ed Waddell told me of his plan to post the Svoronos plates on his web site as a public service, I thought that my old translation might be a fitting accompaniment. Ed and his staff have invested many hours correcting typos and other mistakes that caught my eye in a cursory proofing. They have also inserted dozens of monograms that I neglected to draw into the first draft. If the document proves useful to numismatists, Ed and his staff deserve much credit for these improvements as well as for their technical work in publishing it electronically—monograms, Greek inscriptions, and all.
Though it approaches its centenary, Svoronos remains the preferred reference for Ptolemaic coinage. The catalogue offers remarkably comprehensive coverage. The new varieties that I have been able to add amount to no more than 10–15% of the total, and most of these are minor variants or missing denominations from a well-documented series. (The most notable new discovery, in no way prefigured by Svoronos, is the Yehud series of silver fractions with commemorative portraits of Ptolemy I and his wife Berenice, struck at Jerusalem in the early reign of Ptolemy II.) Indeed, Svoronos cast his nets so wide that he caught up some coinages that were Ptolemaic in sentiment, but issued by non-Ptolemaic authorities. Still other entries do not belong at all in a catalogue devoted to the Ptolemies.
Of greater concern, Svoronos cannot always be relied upon for the accuracy of his classifications. Mint attributions are frequently wrong, reign attributions sometimes so; and bronzes may be wrongly associated with one another. Svoronos imagined dating systems in the early Ptolemaic coinage of Alexandria where they did not in fact exist. Appended is a bibliography listing the principal works where these errors are corrected. A quick perusal of the annotations should alert the user when to be skeptical.
There is evidence of editorial carelessness throughout Svoronos. This is of scant importance in the details of the corpus, but becomes a considerable inconvenience with respect to the plates, which do not necessarily follow the order of the catalogue. A concordance from the plates to the text is included here to facilitate information retrieval.
The preceding list of caveats is demanded by conscience, but should not be understood as denigrating Svoronos. His was a monumental achievement that stands to this day, merely broidered round the edges by subsequent scholarship. I hope that opening it to a broader public will stimulate interest in Ptolemaic coinage and encourage yet deeper study of the series.
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