Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Langyao bottle vase

Langyao bottle vase, late Kangxi
period, with uneven, subtly
crackled copper -red glaze
and a white base. 19.1 cm tall.
One of the most famous glazes in Chinese porcelain of the Kangxi period (1661-1722) is the copper red glaze called Langyao, and named after Lang Tingji, the master of the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, who then became the governor of Jiangxi Province (1705-1712). The glaze was developed to imitate the lost monochrome red glaze of the Ming Xuande period. Here is another bottle vase of different shape sold by Christies in 2013.

The following description of this ware comes from R. L. Hobson, Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, 1916, Vol 2, p.124:

  1. A brilliant red varying in depth and sometimes entirely lost in places, but always red and without any of the grey or grey blue streaks which emerge on the flambe red and the modern imitations of the sang de boeuf.
  2. The faint crackle of the glaze.
  3. The stopping of the glaze under the base and in the interior of vases varied from green or buff crackle to plain white.
Base and footrim
My example has the white glazed base with just a couple of imperfections that is typical on Kangxi porcelains. The crackle is very subtle and does not show in the photograph. The tiny white specks are artifacts of the photograph and not imperfections in the glaze. The biscuit is slightly burnt brownish along the edge of the glaze on the base. The outer edge of the footrim is bevelled, after firing, to fit a stand, but this bevelling avoids the lowest drip of glaze. The shape of the vase is pear-shaped  and subtly uneven. This same shape is often seen on blue and white vases of the period. The foot rim is as smooth as well-worn marble without any grittiness to the touch.

The langyao bottle vases are never marked with the emperor's reign title, I was told, because of its connotations with the gall-bladder, blood and life ― if the name appeared and the vessel was broken, it would have been a bad omen for the emperor. The smaller than usual size might indicate that this was displayed on a scholar's desk. The white zone at the top of the vase is shorter than most that are seen and is very similar to this slightly later example of a different shape.

It was bought at a garage sale in Calgary's Chinatown by a picker who had no idea what it was. He sold it to the antique dealer from whom I purchased it. It could easily have been in Calgary since the nineteenth century. Although the secret of getting the glaze to stop just before the bottom of the foot rim has recently been rediscovered (earlier copies had the glaze ground down where it flowed right off the pot), such modern versions are actually quite expensive themselves, and do not show up in garage sales for a few dollars (the antique dealer paid the picker $130 for several pieces of porcelain including this one).

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part nine

Frans Francken III, 1581-1642
A collectors cabinet, oil on panel,
Collectors have been looking for bargains since the first antique shops and auction houses opened their doors. It seems to be only the very wealthiest collectors who are not driven by the idea of finding such bargains. Such people often like to pay record prices for things for reasons of status. The legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen would even refuse to buy a painting if the price was not high enough:
"A titled Englishwoman had a family portrait to sell. Duveen asked her what she wanted for it. Meekly, she mentioned eighteen thousand pounds. Duveen was indignant, 'What?' he cried. "Eighteen thousand pounds for a picture of this quality? Ridiculous, my dear lady! Ridiculous!' He began to extol the virtues of the picture, as if he were selling it ― as, indeed, he already was in his mind ― instead of buying it. A kind of haggle in reverse ensued. Finally, the owner asked him what he thought the picture was worth. Duveen, who had already decided what he would charge some American customer ― a price he could not conscientiously ask for a picture that had cost him a mere eighteen thousand pounds ― shouted reproachfully at her, 'My dear lady, the very least you should let that picture go for is twenty-five thousand pounds!' Swept off her feet by his enthusiasm, the lady capitulated."
          S. N. Behrman, Duveen, London, 1953

When Duveen's customers were getting rather old, he was worried that their heirs might sell off their collections at prices far lower than he had originally charged. He encouraged them to build museums (in their names) and to leave their collections "to the nation". He thus avoided a "bubble-burst". For a long time after his death, important Old Master paintings were one of the best art investments to be had. I remember reading (in the eighties) that this category of art was realizing annual interest rates of 25%!

Most collectors, though, love a bargain. It is not a matter of being cheap or greedy, it is all part of the game. Collectors, who are not billionaires, boast of getting something for a song. The super rich boast about paying more than anyone. If you attend an important opening at a gallery, you will notice that most of the elite in attendance will be huddled together in small groups, sipping their wine and talking of their last world cruise. The paintings are mostly neglected. Important exhibitions are only usually seen where the wealthy congregate. There are even countries who cannot afford to host such exhibitions as they cannot attract enough ticket sales.  These exhibitions are not about education or encouraging the spread of culture ― they are social gatherings. Many museums perpetuate this exclusivity by high prices for tickets and by charging exorbitant rates for reproduction rights.

The private collector, contrary to the image of someone sipping brandy in their vault while gazing at a lost masterpiece, is usually a person of rather limited means and with a far more democratic philosophy about sharing their collection with the world. But it is not just about sharing data, as I and many other collectors do with our websites and blogs. We also like to share the stories as well. Most items in a collection have a story that goes with them and sometimes the story can be more interesting than the object. Collecting, like any culture, develops in its own way. Too bad that many extraverts see only the object. Besides stories, such as this one, about finding something genuine labelled as a fake, the eye of the collector is always reflected in the collection. Museums too often neglect this aspect of their collections ― individual collectors, and their own culture, can get lost when everything is lumped together in museum collections and the stories can be lost for ever.  

Monday, 28 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part eight

Time Warp
photo: Craig Sunter
Synchronicity, as the word would indicate, is most commonly understood as a psychic and a world event occurring at the same time and acausally linked through their significance to the observer. Upon investigation, the two events appear to be generated when part of the unconscious becomes stimulated and the phenomenon can be used successfully in the treatment of neuroses.

Jung also used the term synchronistic whenever there were differences in time and space, but included such manifestations under the broader term of synchronicity.

Skeptics pretty well assign all examples to random coincidences and say that there is no evidence that synchronicity even exists  as anything apart from this. You will notice that the primary source (C,G, Jung, Synchronicity) is not included in the bibliography at the above link, that there is an emphasis on the skeptic point of view, and that the lead quote is from Steven Strogatz. If you are, by nature, a skeptic and are unfamiliar with Steven Strogatz then you will be thinking something like that his quote (and the title of his work given in the bibliography) indicates that synchronicity is merely seeing patterns where none exist. Strogatz' work on synchrony is, at first glance, a different model of what Jung saw as synchronicity but the two are not irreconcilable. Before going in that direction, watch this video of a presentation by Steven Trogatz:


So, let's take Strogatz' example of the metronome pair linked by a platform exhibiting synchrony as a "Newtonian" example and compare this with quantum entanglement. The Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Paradox and subsequent research has established that the properties of pairs or groups of particles are linked and that changes in one particle are instantaneously seen in the other(s). Speed is not a factor here, not even the speed of light. In the original thought experiment, it was particle spin that was considered, but it also works for all other particle properties.

We can see, through the bridge example in the video, that there is a compensatory phenomenon happening here between the movement of the bridge and the step of the people on the bridge, and this creates the synchrony. It is a well-known phenomenon and soldiers do not march in step on bridges in order to lessen the probability of it happening.Yet, in quantum entanglement, synchrony also occurs but there can be no physical communication as the phenomenon is instantaneous. We cannot say "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" because that statement includes time, and from time, we infer causality. The idea is already being expanded into "epistemic entanglement". Coming from a similar direction, transdisciplinarity shows how different realities are linked in a state defying classical logic where something can be both A and non A. The famous example being the wave/particle duality which meets these requirements.

Jung demonstrated the compensatory function of the unconscious ― at least in the "upper" areas where the unconscious impinges on the conscious (dreams are the best-known example). But Wolfgang Pauli pointed out that the bulk of the unconscious, of course, is not observed by the person who has it. Thus, the unconscious must contain a great measure of objectivity because there is no subject present. In other words, the observer is not present to affect anything. "Below" the personal unconscious, lies the collective unconscious with its archetypes. This "stratum" (I use these spatial terms as metaphors for what we cannot actually perceive) is already moving away from the individual to the collective and it will later lose all traces of mental imagery and language. We cannot possibly know if volition is inherent in the unconscious, or is a result of its function in its "upper levels", but the compensatory actions of each part of the Jungian model of the psyche is well researched and has practical and successful application.

So time differences in synchronistic phenomena should really not matter too much in the model as we only really understand time/space in relative terms where there is an observer. It becomes virtually impossible to imagine a reality without including the location of an observer, let alone perform much in the way of experiments. Pauli was very interested in numbers and randomness. Have a look at Harald Atmanspacher, Pauli’s ideas on mind and matter in the context of contemporary science.He criticized Neo Darwinism for its insistence on random mutations when the numbers just did not work out at all, and he had some interesting ideas about physical and mental time.

Tomorrow, the conclusion.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part seven

Five antiquaries look through magnifying
glasses at objects. Coloured lithograph after
L. Boilly, 1823. 
The first thing that must be said about strange coincidences in obtaining rare collectibles is that those who have such an interest frequent places where collectibles are offered for sale. Collectors go to shops, markets and auction rooms, and these days also do a lot of online shopping. The collector must also know what he or she is looking at. Already, the collector is far ahead of the general public in finding bargains.

Yet, amazing coincidences do happen where the odds against such seem overwhelming. When I bought my Syracusan dekadrachm, a couple of events were in close time proximity and I had wanted that particular die combination although only two of them were known to exist and both were in public collections.

An event that would have seemed highly unlikely before it happened is known as a "Black Swan". As I said before, rarities and even the unique are actually very common provided that we do not try to specify them before they happen. It is far easier to expect any bargain than to try and custom order one. I have also noticed that finding something frequently echoes a thought that I had about that same thing, but that thought was only rarely about being to obtain such. In fact, the thought I had when I saw the photograph of my favorite Syracuse dekadrachm was that I would not be able to get one because of their great rarity. Obviously, it was not a case of positive thinking.

The main defining quality of synchronicity is that a thought within the upper levels of the unconscious is paired with a meaningful event in one's life. When the thought and the event take place at the same time, Jung called it synchronicity, but he also said that the phenomenon was not always synchronous, and when there was some time between the psychic and material events, the incident was called "synchronistic". Randomness, too, can deliver such strange occurrences: many people will have noticed how frequently seen is an adjacent number set on winning lottery tickets. I don't usually pay too much heed to these synchronistic events, but in the case of the dekadrachm, the coincidental events were numerous and linked by certain psychic themes:


  • The dekadrachm of Syracuse was a "Holy Grail" to many collectors of Greek coins, myself included.
  • My father did not understand my interests and wanted me to get into the oil business, and this was reflected in the mental image of a boy being sold into slavery by his father for the same sort of coin.
  • The dekadrachm type I picked as my favorite was exceedingly rare and yet I fairly quickly obtained it.
  • A friend had brought the book on these coins when visiting me, but had no specific knowledge that they interested me.
  • An auction cataloguer had misread the same book and thought that the author believed the type was a fake, and this made it possible for me to afford one.
  • Suffering financial hardships after the death of my wife, I was able to sell the coin and "obtain my freedom" which "corrected" the significance of the mental image. (the unconscious has a distinct compensatory function).
Also, the person who purchased my dekadrachm was an oil millionaire and his intention is to leave his Greek coin collection to the museum at the same university as his education, there, was instrumental in his later wealth. Here's a life-lesson: if I had got into the oil business, I might  have been able to afford the same coin if its genuineness was known at the time (of course I might also have ended up dying in a well blow-out!). The same destination might be reached through a multitude of routes.

Jung called a set of such events a constellation, which is defined as, "activation of a psychic personal complex or an archetypal content." In On the Nature of the Psyche, he writes much on the existence of complementarity in psychology as well as in physics and concludes (para. 418):
"Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them. Our present knowledge does not allow us to do much more than compare the relation of the psychic to the material world with two cones, whose aspices, meeting in a point without extension ― a real zero-point ― touch and do not touch."
It was undoubtedly Jung's association with Wolfgang Pauli which developed, even if not originated, this line of thought and Jung and Pauli were not the only pair of people with shared interests in the psyche and matter. Later, the British physicist David Bohm discussed similar things with Jiddu Krishnamurti  and their relationship is studied. Bohm complements Jung's words with his own:
"We have got to see that thought is part of this reality and that we are not merely thinking about it, but that we are thinking it”. (On Creativity, p. 141)
Yet, I can find no information that David Bohm also studied Jung, and he seems to have come to his related ideas through a different route. Theoretical physics, more than any other science has crossed the "boundary" between science and religion, even though its significances are frequently misused by creationists.

The unconscious, as its name implies, can never be fully comprehended by the consciousness, yet the two act jointly and we can see much evidence of this through dream states, active imagination, and the synchronicity phenomenon and more. Furthermore, these connections can be utilized by a therapist to very successful ends. While we cannot have an exact and knowing connection with the contents of our unconscious, its "upper levels" can be shared and we can build theoretical models of how some of this works. The depths of the unconscious contains no language and no mental pictures. Below these, and below the archetypes (in which Jung connected alchemy with psychology in his monumental Mysterium Coniunctionis) he saw some connections with mathematics and geometry. At some point, moving "downwards", we come to a realm where the observer does not  appear to us to be present, but this is the fault of our limited perception and not, obviously, the lack any truth to the matter. Without an observer, we must have pure objectivity because the subject is not (consciously) present. As time and space are relative, and this is provable, the "zero-point" appears to us to have neither and we might see some sort of connection in this idea to Planck's Constant. Perhaps we might go even further and incorporate the ideas about synchronicity with the Greek ζωή (as infinite life). Who knows? Perhaps future theoretical physicists will be searching for a "life particle" rather than a "God particle".

On Monday, he problem of the "synchronistic" in synchronicity phenomena; How it is is resolved, and the connection between synchronicity and transdisciplinarity (which was also developed through knowledge taken from quantum physics). Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part six

Pyramid structure of the psyche
adapted from Carl Gustav Jung
  1. self (subjective)
  2. consciousness
  3. personal unconscious 
  4. collective unconscious
  5. unknowable (objective)
(Derived from by Lily)
"If the subjective consciousness prefers the ideas and opinions of collective consciousness and identifies with them, then the contents of the collective unconscious are repressed. The repression has typical consequences: the energy-charge of the repressed contents adds itself, in some measure, to that of the repressing factor, whose effectiveness is increased accordingly. The higher its charge mounts, the more the repressive attitude acquires a fanatical character and the nearer it comes to conversion into its opposite, i.e., an enantiodromia. And the more highly charged the collective consciousness, the more the ego forfeits its practical importance. It is, as it were, absorbed by the opinions and tendencies of collective consciousness, and the result of that is the mass man, the ever-ready victim of some wretched "ism"."
C. G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, (paragraph 425)

Introversion and extraversion, in Jungian personality typing such as the Humanmetrics Jung Typology Test™  will be expressed in percentages, as will the other characteristics of the personality. Moderately expressed extraverts and introverts will likely have an easier time discussing a problem than if that characteristic is very strongly expressed.  In emotional relationships, we often hear that opposites attract and usually, on popular personality testing websites, opposites are given as the "ideal relationship". While opposites are naturally attracted, this does not mean any such relationship is ideal. It is really talking about chemistry. While I am not advocating a return to arranged marriages initiated by professional matchmakers, the latter do have an advantage in that chemistry is always second to more practical matters of compatibility. Divorce lawyers, on the other hand, really like the idea of chemistry, as the higher its emotional charge will be for the couple wanting a divorce, the higher, too, will be the charges on the lawyers invoices. Through enantiodromia, love turns to hate and it keeps only its intensity.

So lets set aside the emotional sort of relationship, and think about the relationship that an archaeological researcher has with his or her chosen subject. The extravert is all about the material and cause and effect, and if this is too strongly expressed, anything of the past which has to do with belief, aesthetics, and abstract principles which can traverse disciplinary boundaries will become so difficult (and uncomfortable) that they will be substituted with something with an action. Thus, instead of explaining religious ideas and how they are expressed in the evidence, you will see the word ritual and its underlying psychology will never be explained.

The "New Archaeology" of the seventies put great faith in science, but whenever these ideas were too strongly expressed, a resulting repression of the unconscious occurred and the "scientific" became the "scientistic". You see this in the wording used by extreme skeptics: "There is no scientific evidence that..." is my favorite. What it really should mean is that no science was performed, or the results of scientific testing was inconclusive. Too often, though, it becomes an expression of faith in the material, and that which is not material is thus unscientific too such people. Postmodernism was a necessary reaction to modernism, and in archaeology, the two philosophical outlooks were expressed by processualism and post processualism, and like many "ism's", they sometimes took on a fanatical nature quite apart from any real merits of either.

It became even more problematical in academia because of a tendency of students to be followers whether through some sort of hero-worship, or through "brown nosing" for career advancement. An original researcher might find a particular method useful for a specific application, a follower, however, will sometimes interpret the method as a law and then apply it inappropriately and with considerable fanaticism.

If you really want to upset an atheist skeptic, then tell them that atheism is a religious belief. Religion is something that lies outside of science but is not "unscientific". Most science has nothing to say about it one way or the other. Curiously, though, eastern religious ideas have crept into quantum physics with the realization of the importance of the observer, and with such conundrums as complementarity, the wave/particle duality and the Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen paradox.

The best researchers will be found around the middle of the Introvert - Extravert scale, but with a fairly strong leaning to one or the other. There also has to be an expressed Intuition, because, as you see from the above chart, the fully conscious  is pure subjectivity and the unconscious is pure objectivity. The pathological skeptic although always touting "scientific objectivity" does so in a religious manner using faith in the "science deity".

You can see the two methods  at play with someone researching an object's authenticity: one will have a "gut feeling" but not know the specifics, while the other will have to rely on various tests to determine the answer. The best, though, will flip back and forth between knowing and knowing why. Good researchers  will, similarly, employ both inductive and deductive reasoning often flipping back and forth to achieve their ends.

From what has been mentioned, so far in this series, you might have a few insights about some details of the dekadrachm story. For example, a skill in detecting fakes is a thing that some people have. The real expert, like David Sear, will look very carefully at the object and will back up intuitive knowledge with material evidence (like the incrustations). I have seen previously respected authenticators fall into the temptation to rely too much on their developed intuition. Sometimes this is just showing off -- I once saw a curator condemn what seemed to me to be a perfectly genuine Athenian "archaic style owl" tetradrachm as a fake after merely glancing at it for about a second without the use of a loupe or magnifying glass. Some sort of enantiodromia had apparently taken place. It was probably initiated by a shift from the importance of the skill to the fame of the skill.

What I have not mentioned yet, is the "'mechanics" of how I could have wanted something "impossible" and then get it. It is an area of synchronicity that I have only recently been able to consciously understand to any degree and I was, at first, rather reluctant to venture there because I was afraid that such an unconscious process might be endangered by looking at it. The answer involves the interaction of psychology and physics that came about with the communications between C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli and you will have to wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part five

Yard Sale
photo: Ildar Sagdejev (Specious)
To the right is a photograph of a very typical yard sale. If you are out, one weekend, hunting for lost treasures then you might not give this sort of sale a second look ― obviously, this is an ordinary household goods sale, perhaps the result of some spring cleaning. You might take a quick look at the framed prints, but they are most likely to be modern reproductions. Such thoughts go through the minds of thousands of people every weekend (weather permitting).

Yet, stories of discoveries of legendary status abound. My favorite of all is about the Chinese Yuan Dynasty underglaze red and blue vase bought at a house where it had been used as an umbrella stand. Worth half a million dollars (plus auction fees) at the time, its current value would be many times that figure: Underglaze blue and white porcelain is thought to have originated in the Yuan dynasty and is scarce enough, but underglaze red and blue is something else ― rare and extremely difficult to produce on account of the different temperatures needed for each colour: most early underglaze red and blue shows the red burnt almost completely brown, and not the vivid red you see on this Imperial vase. I, myself, bought a Kangxi Langyao vase (not that example, but similar quality and a rarer variety) that had been discovered in a local garage sale and bought, probably, for only a few dollars (I'll make a blogpost of it one day).

During a recession in the mid-eighties, my wife and I made a living by buying things at yard sales (and from dealers) and then selling them at a flea-market every Sunday. We would start hunting down things at the sales each Friday with (usually) about $50 to $200 to spend. The Sunday proceeds would always cover our living expenses with a bit left over for the next week's purchases. We would rent six tables and sold just about everything imaginable from cutlery and dishes for the student renting his first apartment to a Danish Chalcolithic flint dagger bought by the owner of an oil company (he spent $200 with us every weekend as part of his Sunday routine). We kept our prices low and was thus able to keep the stock fresh and that made for good sales. Most people tried to get far too much and sat there glumly, with the same tired-out stock, week after week. Presumably, it was a retirement hobby for them.

We would always be on the look out for attractive bowls in which to display coins and military cap badges etc. but people would often ask "How much for the bowl?" and we would have to tell them it was just for showing other things and not for sale. This happened so frequently that, early one Sunday morning, I was already fed up with hearing that question three times that I took a blue glass bowl that was being used to display some "cigarette silks" and I replaced it with an ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom alabaster bowl. Now, anyone in the know, seeing an ancient Egyptian bowl being used to show off "cigarette silks" might expect to get an amazing bargain (nowhere near as good as the umbrella stand, though). It would have been a mean trick if anyone had noticed it, but for the rest of the day no asked for the price of that bowl.

People see (and hear) what they expect. Once, when I was working at jewelry store, a bored fellow employee who had noticed the almost unconscious way that customers would say "I'm just looking" when approached, started saying to each customer, "Good morning, Can you help me?" and got the "I'm just looking" answer each time. He said "help me", they all heard "help you". More than once, I have seen an unusual-looking piece of jewelry fail to sell for a long time. Usually, it goes on sale (with the original price mentioned on the sign or label) and it still fails to sell. A few clever retailers, though, have discovered that when something is not selling, if you raise the price, it then sells quickly. When something is on sale, people can think that there is something wrong with it, or that others might think it ugly, even if it looks just fine to that person. If someone sees something go up in price, then it must be considered very desirable, right?

The observation of something unusual can have an even stranger effect. Once, some sort of strange sight appeared in the sky somewhere in Spain. It was seen by hundreds of people ― some reported seeing an image of the Virgin Mary, others told of seeing a UFO. I suppose, hearing this, there might be a few people who think that aliens aboard a flying saucer implanted the vision of the Virgin Mary on the crowd, but probably everybody saw something that was outside of their sense of reality (it might even have been just a rare form of lightning) and replaced the image, in their mind, with something that made sense to them. Police understand that many "eyewitness" reports are considerably flawed, even for commonplace questions like "What colour was the car?".

People are frequently susceptible to an "ad hominem" phenomenon whereby the title or position of a person is assumed to be a reliable indication of their knowledge. It is as if by merely becoming a cataloguer in a museum or at an auction house, the entire knowledge of what is displayed there becomes imprinted by some sort of osmosis. Thousands of people must have read the auction listing of my dekadrachm of Syracuse, and most of them would have been experienced collectors. After reading the description as a nineteenth century forgery, most of them would have moved on, a few might have thought, "That's the best forgery of one of those I have ever seen".

Archaeologists can be influenced by their expectations as easily as anyone else, it is just that their expectations are usually more detailed than were the observers of the strange phenomenon in Spain. I frequently read (even from other archaeologists) that archaeologists always find what they are looking for. This did not mean that they have intuitive powers, rather, that their learned theories were overriding the evidence of their eyes. Most of these unobservant archaeologists are probably extraverts even though many people might think that they are introverts because they are looking inward (at the theories) rather than outward (at the material evidence). I will explain this anomaly tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part four

Picture of the concept of synchronicity by C.G. Jung
Much of the circumstances concerning my obtaining and later selling the Syracusan dekadrachm revolves around Jung's concept of synchronicity. Just about everybody will have heard of this theory, but very few will have a very accurate or comprehensive knowledge of it. In what follows, I will treat such knowledge as a given. There are also a few prerequisites to understanding synchronicity so reading the following linked articles might be necessary. These are: Neils Bohr's Complementarity and Einsteinian Spacetime. If you have read these, or do not need to read them, the following two links will take you directly to detailed information about Jung's Synchronicity and his Personality Typology. I should mention that the article on synchronicity, under the subsection Time  references a work that is less familiar than the Princeton volume, so the corresponding references can be found in the latter from pages 98 - 110, or paragraphs 963-986. An expanded version of the chart pictured above is at the start of the Princeton reference I give: to causality is added "Constant connection through Effect, and to synchronicity is added "Inconstant Connection through Contingence, Equivalence, or "Meaning". The other two parts of the quaternity are as given in the chart without further clarification.

Mostly, whenever I speak of synchronicity, I refer to incidents in the unconscious having an acausal relationship in the present to an event within the localized space of the person experiencing it. Jung calls this "synchronous". If the thought and the event are at the same time, but at remote points in space, or if the events are at different times, but in the same space, he calls it "synchronistic". The latter category is easiest to criticize because the phenomenon can be seen by many to have possible causes within the realm of possibility outside of that which is reserved by quantum physics. In a practical sense, of course, the "same space" is considered to be upheld when the unconscious event is taking place inside the head, and the physical event is taking place in the room, although, technically, these are different spaces by our observation. We cannot separate space and time, but spacetime is distinct from matter. You will also see, in the Personality Typology link, that the same quarternity diagram is adapted: Synchronicity being Intuition and Causality being Sensation. How these four are all aligned depends on which type is being discussed.

Archaeology and numismatics attracts a higher percentage of extraverts than introverts. We can understand this better by saying that extravert is Logos/Matter and introvert is Mythos/Mind. Depending on the effect of other functions, an extravert archaeologist will likely see Context as the relationship between material objects in an archaeological site, and the Archaeological record  as a real-world phenomenon that is not dependent on the observer.. An introvert archaeologist is fairly rare as archaeology is all about material remains, and materialists are extraverts. An introvert archaeologist will see Context as the relationship between the material objects and what and by whom is thought about them, and the Archaeological record as a psychic manifestation created by an interaction between the psyche and matter. Another way to look at the dichotomy at its most extreme is to consider hostilities between modernist and postmodernist archaeologists. Sadly, it is an internecine war that can never be resolved without the use of transdisciplinarity which allows for multiple realities as a resolution of Bohr's complementarity problems, just as psychological complementarity is resolved by positing the existence of an Unconscious with a large measure of objectivity (Wolfgang Pauli).

The "divvy" in antique jargon, is going to be one of Jung's Introverted Intuitive types ― an INTJ (about 2.5% of the population) or an INFJ (about 1% of the population). I would guess that a "divvy" in the antique trade is more likely to be an INFJ, and a "divvy" in archaeology is more likely to be an INTJ because the INTJ is more drawn to the sciences (which archaeology often purports to be), and the INFJ is more drawn to the arts. As an INFJ, I was first drawn to the antiques trade but came to archaeology later in life (which is also an expectable phenomenon factoring the effect of age on thought processes (e.g. young mathematicians an old philosophers).

In the West, science is heavily toward the Logos end of the spectrum, while the arts are heavily toward the Mythos end. The situation will be at least somewhat different in the East, depending on cultural influences. Modern academia is overwhelmingly toward the Logos end, even within the arts. Genius, in any subject, will have a tendency to be well-balanced between Logos and Mythos, and "think tanks" (whether aware of the fact or not) strive to collect a mix of people to achieve a balanced set of minds in order to solve their problems. Academic qualifications are nearly always worked out by logos types of decisions and are increasingly finding it difficult to adapt to modern "real world" needs for transdisciplinary approaches. Personality types are virtually ignored in academia while they are now often considered paramount in business.

When it comes to the two ancient Greek terms for "life", βίος is "Spacetime Continuum" on the chart ― a series of finite lives, and ζωή is "Indestructible Energy" or "infinite life" (Dionysos). Western ideas of reincarnation or resurrection are about the entire person (βίος)"coming back", while Eastern ideas are more about the essence (ζωή) ― apart from the physical manifestation (as in the "Clear Light" in Tibetan Buddhism). If you include both, you get the Chinese Taoist "Yin-Yang" as a convenient model of wholeness.

So, yesterday's post was about the playing field, and today's post is about the players. The game will start tomorrow.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part three

Messiah Stradivarius
photo: Pruneau
If  you watch programs like the Antiques Roadshow, you will likely have seen someone bringing an imagined Stradivarius violin to get appraised. I will always have some label inside with the Stradivarius name on it and it will always be a copy worth very little. The disappointed person is then told that all Stradivarius violins have been recorded.

At the other end of the spectrum is the common belief that anything old and extremely rare or unique must be very valuable, or even "priceless". Some people even believe that if an object is very old then it must be valuable, regardless of any imagined rarity. It might seem a paradox or an oxymoron to say that the unique and the rare is very common, but it is a true statement. For something to be valuable, supply and demand comes into play, but if some old object is something that has never be seen before, then there is no established market, and no one has been eagerly awaiting for such an object to show up.

Only by defining the object as a rare part of a much commoner whole, does the object acquire great value. Collectors need a number of examples of the sort of things they collect to be available. Very few people will want to collect a category where something might show up every decade or so, and the market for such an object will accordingly be very limited and this will be reflected in its value.

Then, fashion and popularity comes into play ― some of the most valuable collector coins are American. If you find an American coin type known only from five examples, you are about to become very wealthy. However, if you find an ancient Greek bronze coin in well-circulated condition that no one has ever seen before, then the sale of it might only buy you dinner. More valuable would be another, far commoner type of ancient Greek bronze coin made rare because of the unworn condition of that example. The numbers of the type, itself, creates the market and the arrival, on that market, of  "the finest example known", will make it quite valuable. But there are very few collectors of ancient Greek bronze coins so even the best example in existence would be nowhere as valuable as a fairly worn American dime of which only a few are known.

My dekadrachm of Syracuse was an example of something made valuable by its popularity, but there are a limited number of collectors who have the financial resources to specialize in these things, so the market for a rare variety is actually not that great. Most collectors of ancient Greek coins would like to just own one of them, and the exact variety is of  little importance. My example was made less valuable because of its condition issues than more valuable because it was a variety known from only two other examples. Compare this with an 1893 S Morgan dollar: about 10,000 of them are thought to now exist. A poor one will likely cost you more than $6,000 and the best of them more than half a million.

Prevailing fashions can have dramatic effects on the values of collectables, but most people only become aware of the fads whereby something dramatically increases in value and thus becomes newsworthy. When the market falls in some category, few get to hear about it. Most people have heard that the general antique market is not very strong right now and that the prices are low.  The rarest and best, though, continues to rise in price.

It can get even more complicated: modern restrictions on coins and antiquities, in some countries, have lessened the desire of a number of dealers to trade in such items as they worry about even greater restrictions in the future. This makes such things become less valuable. Then, as so much more becomes economically available to a wider market, more people are encouraged to become collectors in the first place. Eventually, the price will rise to meet the new demand and potential restrictions might even become a selling ploy ― "Get one while you still can!".

The market in these things always goes in cycles, it is just the reasons for the rises and drops that will vary each time. For investment purposes, alone, only long-term investments are seriously considered in this category, and such investments are usually profitable only when other investments are doing badly and no one is keen on holding too much in currencies, metals or stock shares. Most collectors have little concern about the investment value of what they are buying, and most investors do not have the knowledge needed to be very good at it.

I was quite surprised to discover that a number of  Bronze Age gold torcs found in the nineteenth century had been recorded, and then melted down to recover the gold. This was done because there were not that many collectors for such material back then, and the average person had a far lower standard of living than is the case today. In countries where the economy is going into a nose-dive, and restrictions on owning antiquities are getting even more draconian, we can expect to see gold and even silver objects being melted down without any recording at all. Such actions are virtually risk free and collector markets, there, are already depressed.

Before more stringent controls were placed on pre-Columbian art, examples were being dug up by local farmers and sold to visiting tourists, little of it was actually getting out because the tourists were not too numerous in the more remote areas, and the farmers were not traveling to the larger cities. As the restrictions increased, organized crime became attracted to that material as they could buy off, or threaten local officials, giving protection to those who dig things up. Of course, the farmers were paid far less than the tourists had paid them previously, so they had to dig up much more to maintain their income. I heard that, in one of those countries, a full cargo plane was leaving each week.

As is commonplace in drug trafficking, the more oppressive the laws become, the more there is to be made from breaking such laws. A number of the bigger players will actually turn in interlopers in their business to the authorities as they can eliminate their competition without having to resort to more violent methods.

So this brings us to a Jungian term enantiodromia ("the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite"). I was rather surprised just how succinct is the Wikipedia entry, so I won't explain it any further and recommend that you ponder its ramifications and think of other examples.

This installment is just an introduction: the background material, if you like for what will start tomorrow. It is important to understand this background, however, because it is the stage on which very different personalities are acting in a rather surreal play. I will leave you with just one thought: The greater the numbers and intensity of laws that are applied to any commodity, the greater will be the cost to small businesses and the public, and the greater the profit will be to large companies and organized crime.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part two

Forgery of a coin of Ambrakia by Carl Wilhelm
Becker, 1772-1830. Becker went to great lengths to
get his surfaces to look right
After about thirty years my main collecting interest had shifted from the Greeks to the Celts. One day, a friend came to town and brought with him a copy of Syracusan Dekadrachms of the Euainetos Type by Albert Gallatin, 1930. I was looking through its plates and fantasizing about which one I would pick if I had my choice and when I saw RXIII/FVI, I knew I had found my favorite. I wondered how many had been recorded and, looking at the catalogue, discovered that only one coin was known to Gallatin and it had been in the Danish royal collection since about 1845. "So much for that idea", I thought. Gallatin also reported that because of  certain strange features in its design, some had thought it to be a forgery, but he also said that through looking at a cast and a die linked coin he was sure it was genuine, and besides, a few other dies also had some strange features.

I did not think much more about it until, a couple of months later I received an auction catalogue from London in the mail and, to my great surprise, one of the lots was another example of RXIII/FVI. The auction house was a bit of a newcomer on the scene, and perhaps one of the cataloguers had been in a hurry that day, because it was dscribed as a 19th century forgery struck on a curious wedge-shaped flan and that Gallatin had condemned that die pair.  I knew that this was a misreading of Gallatin, but more importantly, I was sure that all of them were real. I also discovered that, since Gallatin, another example had appeared and was purchased by Arthur S. Dewing (whom, as I said yesterday, had owned more of these dekadrachms than anyone). His collection had gone to the American Numismatic Society Museum and he was no slouch on the subject of Greek coins. Furthermore, I had seen a lot of fakes of Syracusan dekadrachms and knew that the head on the reverse of the coin was noted to be one of those things that forgers just never got quite right on their dies. I was always able to spot the fakes with no difficulty at all.

To be sure, though, I got a copy of Gallatin and the Arthur S. Dewing Collection of Greek Coins, and spent a few days studying that die pair. I also compared them to the example in the auction catalogue. While my "gut feelings" have never failed me, I always subject things to more scientific scrutiny. Sometimes. though, I just don't see, exactly, what makes something a fake. A few years ago, I saw a Celtic gold stater on a dealer's list that I knew was fake, but didn't know why. After looking at some other dealer lists, I saw that the same dies appeared there too. This, alone, is not enough to condemn, a coin ― many coins are known only from a single die pair, and many Celtic coins were very small issues. A friend of mine, Robert Kokotailo, of Calgary Coin Gallery collects, and is very knowledgeable on ancient coin forgeries. He has a reference guide to them on his website. I showed him the photos of the suspect Celtic coin, and he spotted what made it a fake: when cutting the legend on many ancient coins, holes are drilled at the end of each letter and then are connected by lines to make the letters. On the Celtic fake, however, the die cutter had not understood that and had cut the lines first, and afterwards had drilled the holes. I suppose that one can unconsciously see that, and all that is revealed to the conscious mind is a feeling of wrongness. If a collector or dealer handles enough coins over the years, and does not have to rely just on photographs, this can become second nature. Even then, though, mistakes can sometimes happen.

The public at large (poor dears) believes that if you want something authenticated then the best place to take it is a museum. If you happen to pick something that is a specialist and published interest of a museum worker and show it to that person, you will almost certainly get the right information. Unfortunately, such people are quite rare, and most museum cataloguers have a more general knowledge pertaining to everything in their department. Not only that, but they usually do not see enough examples and the details of your object can also be forwarded to someone who actually knows almost nothing of the subject. My decorated Celtic spindle whorl was utterly misidentified by a Roman specialist at the British Museum as Roman and commonplace, but the Ashmolean Museum had picked the right person and had forwarded the details to Martyn Jope, who was at Oxford at the time. Even so, I cannot understand the BM error. Perhaps it was a busy day and  someone had told that person "I have a query about a lead spindle whorl" and got a reply like "Oh, those are so common, I'll send him a note".

When I was satisfied that the dekadrachm was either genuine or the best die cut forgery in existence I placed a bid double that of the high auction estimate and won it (at a slightly lower price). It cost me about $350 in all. When it arrived, I started to study it in greater depth. It was slightly double struck so the legend actually appeared twice. You would think that a forger would just try again on a new blank, as this would reduce its value, but perhaps he thought it might add some authenticity to the production, so it was not a definitive feature. What was more definitive, though, was that all of the details of the figure of Nike above the driver (who is mostly off the flan) were not present on the other two specimens. That is one thing that a good forger never does. If a detail is missing on the coins he is copying, he never then adds them. He only copies what he can see. It is too easy to make a mistake with such a cavalier attitude. (I had noticed on the Celtic coin, that the same details were visible on each of the fakes  ― no more, no less.) Now, if the fake had been produced before Gallatin's study, the forger would not have known that the Nike was perfectly cut for coins of that variety, alone. Although only two obverse dies  were shared,there were a few others of that part of the production which shared details not visible on the specimens in question.

I also noticed that the coin appeared to have been cleaned, on the higher surfaces with a metal brush, and I knew that this was a typical bad habit before the twentieth century. The auction cataloguer had likely seen the same thing and had accordingly, after misreading Gallatin, labeled it as a 19th century forgery. There was also a little harder cleaning on Arethusa's neck that fell just short of tooling. The edges were fine, though, and the weight was correct.

Among my knowledgeable friends, opinions varied and no one was absolutely certain. This did not come as a surprise, because so few people have handled many of this type of coin because of its great value. After the death of my wife, I had run up a few debts and my expenses had increased so I decided to sell it. This was a problem, though: any coin that has once been condemned as a fake, regardless of the expertise of  that person, becomes a difficult sale.  This made it a problem for one auction house. I decided to let David Sear have a look it it  ― He is considered by most to be the world's premier authenticator of ancient coins, and when at Seaby in London, wrote all of the catalogues that are given as references by dealers and collectors. Few people in the world have handled as many ancient coins as David. Robert, was going to the U.S. and suggested that he take the coin with him to give to David Sear for certification. David kept it for a couple of months as he knew the history of this die pair and wanted to make sure of it. He issued the certificate including the statement that the incrustations were perfectly characteristic for other Syracusan dekadrachms.

Robert sold it for me to one of his customers (an oil man), and my $350 investment turned into thousands of dollars and I became debt-free.

But this is not the end of my story, the dekadrachm is but one of my very successful purchases such as important pieces of Celtic art and even the hitherto unknown example of the seal of Alexander the Great and more. Things come to me. In the antique business, such a person is called a Divvy. But what does that term really mean? Why does this phenomenon even exist? I have a few ideas about that from my studies of Jung, and I will share them with you on Monday.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part one

Sicily, Syracuse. Dekadrachm of the Euainetos type
405-380 BC, dies: Gallatin RXIII/FVI
One of three known of these dies, ex. my collection.
(click to enlarge) 


“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

― Mark Twain


I really should have heeded Mark Twain's words when I was in an English class and wrote a short story in which coincidences was the theme: my teacher took off marks because the story was not believable.

What follows is even stranger than that short story I wrote many years ago. It all began when I was thirteen years old and had just started to collect ancient Greek coins. To a new collector of Greek coins, whether young or old, the dekadrachm of Syracuse is "the Holy Grail". They are not particularly rare as a general type, but being a large denomination and considered by many to be the most beautiful coin designs ever created, they do not come cheap. While many numismatists dream of owning one of these coins, Arthur S. Dewing owned more of them than anyone else, including one of the same three die pairs as my own. I give a link to a philosophy site for Dewing. If you would prefer to see him as a prominent numismatist, then go here. He was also a member of the Archaeological Institute of America, but gets no mention on their website, possibly because he was a private collector, and they hate those. A similar discrimination happens with the Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie, who is considered to be one of the fathers of modern archaeology. You will have to look long and hard on archaeological websites to discover that he started collecting (and selling) ancient coins when a boy in London, much as I did, myself. Sir John Evans gets better treatment, and it is commonly known that this other father of modern archaeology was also a coin collector. It fact, he was the father of British Celtic numismatics. I love telling people (especially archaeologists) that modern archaeology is the offspring from a marriage between numismatics and geology. Organizational IQ's are, of course, fairly low compared to that of certain individuals and the former frequently prop themselves up with the latter.

Like Dewing, I also have an interest in philosophy. In my case, it started with Bertrand Russell when I was sixteen years old. Now, a sixteen year old philosopher borders on the pathetic ― philosophy is for old men.
These days, at almost 65 years of age, my philosophical outlook is strongly influenced by Jungian psychology, which is a long way from the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, although connections have been made. By my late teens I was casting my net a little wider: looking into eastern religions (it was the sixties), I even had a short stint joining a cult which made quite a lot about reincarnation. Once, during "regression", I saw myself in ancient Greece as  a boy being sold into servitude by my father who received a dekadrachm of Syracuse in payment. Besides being young and gullible, I had yet to develop my interest in Jung so I believed it was all quite real and that one could walk off the street into a room and become immersed in one's past lives in lucid detail. The Dalai Lama, when asked if he recalls all of his previous lives, often says "I can't even remember what I had for dinner yesterday."

Indulging in a little Jungian self analysis, I think that the image of being sold by my father for a dekadrachm is more due to my own father wanting me, like himself, to go into the oil and gas business ― and to start as an oilfield worker. To me, it sounded both boring and dangerous which is a combination that, without the promise of high pay, would not be chosen by anyone. But I did not have a great interest in accumulating wealth, either. My father was not terribly supportive of my interests, although he once showed a few of my ancient coins to some of his workmates. Later, my wife told me that her own parents used her many abilities mainly for bragging to their friends. Being really supportive is quite different -- it takes a little criticism too. How many would-be singers have failed to make the grade because everything they sang was met with "That's very good, dear" from a parent. I suppose they mean well.

So the famous dekadrachm of Syracuse had become part of my personal mythos. The strange story of how it became material will have to wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Celtic art in Europe: making connections. Essays in honour of Vincent Megaw on his 80th birthday

Vincent Megaw's eightieth birthday is being honoured with a FestschriftCeltic art in Europe: making connections. Essays in honour of Vincent Megaw on his 80th birthday, Gosden, C. Crawford, S. and Ulmschneider, K. (eds), Oxbow Books, Oxford, (forthcoming) and a celebratory "do" at Oxford.

His publication history of more than half a century follows an interest in artefacts going back to when he was eight or nine years old and no one who has an interest in early Celtic Art (academic or public) is unfamiliar with his work.  He is one of the giants on whose shoulders we all stand. He also has a keen interest in music (violin) and Australian Aboriginal art.

One of the problems faced by many academics is the communication of their ideas to the public, but Vincent is not a member of such a group. Neither is he a "popularizer" -- all of his work is of the highest academic standards and yet can be understood by all. This, I believe, is the mark of a great scholar.

I first heard from Vincent Megaw in the mid nineties -- I had just written my very first post to an archaeological discussion list about looking at the evolution of Celtic art through their coinage and was suffering from a "flame war" from a number of academic Celtoskeptics. The only person to raise their head above the trenches to come to my defence was Vincent Megaw. I honestly do not know whether I would have published my subsequent book had that not been the case.

It must be a bittersweet time for him after the passing of his wife Ruth. They had worked together and she got first mention on their best-seller Celtic Art: From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells, Ruth and Vincent Megaw, Thames and Hudson, New York and London, now in its second (revised and expanded edition). Vincent's son, however is being very supportive of his father at this difficult time. Having lost my own wife and partner, I know how life can become very different after such tragedy.

I wish that I could give you all more information about the Festschrift, but Oxbow Books has yet to announce it. I am sure that this will soon happen, however, and I will pass on the details as soon as they become available.

Happy Birthday, Vincent, and congratulations on a well-deserved Festschrift!



Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Sego legend on coins of the Catuvellauni -- part six

Silver "unit" of the Sego type, VA 1851-1
found at Thurnham parish, Kent
Braughing, Hertfordshire -- or to give it its more precise archaeological designation: the Braughing- Puckeridge complex, is one of the most interesting areas for Celtic coin finds in Britain. Numismatically, it is especially interesting for the numbers of non-local coin finds, with coins of the Cantii (Kent) dominating all other "foreign" coins.

Especially interesting, are the numbers of ceramic tray moulds for coin blanks found at Ford Bridge.

It seems to be the location of an unenclosed oppidum, but there is also a hillfort there at Gatesbury. Skeleton Green seems to have had a number of rectangular buildings dating to the period in question. An undefended oppidum with some degree of "sprawl" suggests that its occupants were not terribly militant and the area shows signs of having a population more interested in trade. It seems to have gone into a decline during the early years of Cunobeline's reign, which is not too surprising.

Hertfordshire was where Cassivellaunus "surrendered" to Caesar, and Cassivellaunus' stronghold is thought (without any real evidence) to have been at Wheathampstead, just north of St. Albans, so we will start with what Caesar had to say (V,21):
"When they saw that the Trinovantes had been protected against Cassivellaunus and spared any injury on the part of the Roman troops, several other tribes, the Cenimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci, and Cassi, sent embassies and surrendered. From them Caesar learnt that he was not far from Cassivellaunus' stronghold, which was protected by forests and marshes and had been filled with a large number of men and cattle."
There has been speculation that the Segontiaci  were a tribe in north Wales because of the presence, there, of a Roman fort called Segontium, but the fort takes its name from Afon Seiont (Segon's river?), and because Sego- is ubiquitous, the connection is little more than seeing horses in the clouds. We would really expect that those tribes mentioned by Caesar were fairly local. Similarly, the Cenimagni are often thought to have been the Iceni, but speculating about tribal identities based only on similarities of names is hardly an efficient method (Aulerci Cenomani -- a tribe around modern Le Mans, France, would seem to be even closer by that method!). Tribal names based on widespread deity names is likely to see many variations and perhaps some exact duplication between distant regions.

The sego- root appears soon after in Caesar's account (V,22):
"While these operations were proceeding in his territory, Cassivellaunus sent envoys to Kent ordering the four kings of that region, Cingetorix, Carvillus, Taximagulus, and Segovax, to collect all their troops and make a surprise attack on the naval camp."
Again, Segovax would be a name deriving from the sego- deity name root, and this, unfortunately, is the problem with Celtic tribal and personal names -- we need only add the Celtic Uer- to Cingetorix to get Vercingetorix, but no one would claim that they are the same person! When we translate many Celtic names we get statements like "fit to rule" (Antethirig), and ANTED as a coin legend can be found on both Dobunni and Iceni coins. Evans thought they were the same person, but that claim is certainly not made today. We also have a couple of Dubnovellaunus names in British Celtic coins. Remember too, that Dubno- or Dumno means "the deep" (the Celtic underworld). For a while, "world" was the given translation, but Delamarre has restored its darker meaning (tenebrae).  We might modernize Dumnorix in English to mean "The King from Hell" -- it would probably convey a closer meaning to the original impression upon hearing that name. We would hardly expect that these names were given at birth and it seems probable that they were more like Chinese emperor's reign titles.

Silver coin of the Cantii, VA 171-1
excavated by Ian Stead at Broughing
While it is rash to assume identities as given above, the Sego- element appears in Caesar and on the coinage coming from the same vicinity; The Sego coins are also found in Kent; A number of Cantii coins are also found at Braughing, and a "son" of Tasciovanus comes to rule at Silchester where Hercules Saegon is worshipped.

From Lucian, we hear that Ogmios was the local god of eloquence and that he is a "Hermes" given an identity of Herakles based on the strength of his words. Rhys tells us that Sego- really means strength and Delamarre gives "victory" and "strength". Incidentally, there is also a war god called Segomo from continental inscriptions (Rhys, op cit) and he would have been a Mars, rather than a Herakles or a Hermes. We must also seriously consider that abbreviating a king's name which incorporates the sego- element to that element alone would confuse just about everyone at the time, and we have no example of where such a thing was done.

Certainty is a luxury often denied to those who study the ancient Celts, but these Peircean cable threads add more weight to my argument than merely seeing similarities in names and making assumptions without any evidence whatsoever. It would seem that the Sego coins refer to a tribe or place rather than a ruler, and that tribe or place could well be at Braughing. The god in question would be a Hermes and about trade and money. The Cantii connection is easy to understand -- it was the tribe positioned at the most important shipping route at the time between Gaul and Britain, and even Roman ships could make the passage fairly easily.

Tomorrow, a new book on Celtic Art is about to appear, and it has a really terrific unifying theme...

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Sego legend on coins of the Catuvellauni -- part five

Gold stater of Verica showing a vine-leaf
The use of a vine-leaf as a sole coin type as is seen on this coin of Verica of the British Atrebates has no precedent in the ancient world, appearing only on later Jewish coins. On Greek coins, it appears, sometimes, as a subsidiary element when a bunch of grapes is depicted. There seem to be no Roman coins where even a bunch of grapes is depicted as a main type. It seems most likely that the design had been borrowed from an intaglio gem where it might have been a pun on a name or, more likely, to have been considered to be suitable device for a wine-trader. On coins of the continental Averni, however, the wine trade seems to be represented by an amphora as a subsidiary element, and trade in commodities that would have been shipped in amphorae are similarly depicted on many Greek coins, usually as a main type. Other Greek coinage references to wine include the kantharos

As gold staters were used, by the Greeks, for the hire of troops and served as the main prototypes for the earliest Celtic coins (which had exactly the same function), it is no surprise to see warrior imagery as on the reverse of this coin and many others. However, in Britain around this time, we start seeing a proliferation of types just north and south of the Thames that speak of a growing market economy. In the case of  the Trinovantes/Catuvellauni and the Cantii, this is emphasized by the appearance of a copper alloy coinage in addition the gold and silver, and with the Atrebates, the use of very small silver coins ("minims") in addition to the standard "unit" (these are all names given to the denominations in modern times).

Verica uses the vine leaf on gold quarter staters and a silver coin, but he also has other types indicating the promotion of the new market economy, such as the cornucopia (for plenty), and the kantharos (wine cup). It has long been suggested that Verica's vine leaf is a response to Cunobeline's ear of barley (which was, afterward, brought to Atrebates coinage by Epaticcus). The association of cornucopiae with a sceptre on another coin of Verica suggests that the king was politically promoting this new economy, and all of these "commercial" types indicate that this was an important part of his image-making.

There still might be a few people around who think that the Celts mindlessly copied types for their coinage, and I find it interesting that whenever this is mentioned, it is a Roman influence that is stated rather than both Greek and Roman but a kantharos is certainly a Greek icon. We can see a number of coins that do seem to be borrowed from Roman coin types, but while we might think of Roman influence, I think that a more likely answer is that, within this new economy, gem cutters trained in the Roman world were finding available work in Britain among the new merchant and middle classes. Even here, though, the types were likely to have had local significance even if we cannot positively identify the details of this. It is also very likely that Roman Republican moneyers were obtaining some of their designs from their own gem-cutters -- which was a trend that started with Greek coins (some of which are signed by people known to have been gem cutters). Besides, it would be absurd to think that anyone could make a living in the Greek world by only cutting coin dies.

It should also be no surprise that metaphor and the use of political imagery was typical for the Celts because Diodorus (V.31) tells us that "... when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another." In the last episode, the use of metaphor was explained to Lucian by a Celtic philosopher or bard to show how the power of speech was Herakles and not Hermes (Mercury). Caesar tells us that that Mercury was the god most reverenced by the Gauls, but does not mention how he was depicted.

Hermes/Mercury seems to be "the Swiss army knife" of Classical deities, being not just the popular "messenger of the gods", but concerned with poetry and oration, wealth, trade, the four seasons (which Macrobius says is represented by the four strings of his lyre), agriculture, and being a psychopomp etc.. His influence has stretched to the modern world through his importance in alchemy (Mercurius and the Vas Hermeticus) and through alchemy, to Jungian psychology -- Jung coming to his methods through his vast study of alchemy (Mysterium Coniunctionis) in which he shows that, instead of the popular "primitive chemistry", alchemy was not so much about the "transmutation of metals" as the transmutation of the alchemist, himself, to a higher state of being.

While Ogmios was the deity of the orator, his strength was that of Herakles, and it is strength that is the meaning of the Celtic sego-. So we can see the likelihood that the British Atrebates were using this aspect of Hercules Saegon, not just in the dedication to him at Silchester, but in their leaders' political emphases on trade and wealth. Of course, being so mercurial, the god is prime material for syncretism and the warrior based power is starting to yield to the more modern importance of trade and plenty for the masses.

Tomorrow, the geographical hunt for Sego in Britain.