Imitation of antique coinage

The imitation of coinage is well known in the West (Babelon 1901; Thierry 1958), as is the reuse of older coinage for contemporary exchange (Merson 1975), but both practices also exist in the East - which is perhaps curious given the Islamic interdiction on images. For example the Seljuk Turks, following Alp Arslan's capture of the Byzantine Emperor in 1071, formed their own empire, which fragmented from the twelfth century, with the Atabegs holding Iraq and Syria, and the Rum Seljuks holding on to Konya. Both dynasties used what they found around them: Thierry 1958 (plate X) illustrates a coin of Hussameddin Timour-Tasch (1122-1152) copied from a type of Antiochus VII, and another of Nedjmeddin Elpi (1152-76) imitated from the type of Roman III Argyre - viz. of Christ crowning the emperor! All the copyist has done is to change the inscription from Greek to Arabic.

Coinage also continued to serve one of the political purposes for which it had been struck in the first place, spreading far and wide the splendour of cities such as Ephesus and Pergamum and the monuments they contained. Today, indeed, coins are an invaluable aid for the study and reconstrucion of antique architecture and sculpture (Price 1977, Hill 1989).

Europeans and Turkey: Renaissance to 18th Century

In Western Europe, it is likely that the further one goes back into the past, the greater the numbers of antique monuments that were exposed to view. As population levels grew, sometimes uncovering more structures and artefacts in the process, so such monuments were used as convenient quarries for building materials and lime, with the result that what remains today is but a pale shadow of what survived in - say - the 12th or 15th centuries (Greenhalgh 1989 for discussion). Such surviving monuments formed one of the elements in the various "renaissances" that punctuate the history of European culture - the Carolingian Renaissance, the Ottonian Renaissance, the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, the Italian Renaissance. Without positing the survival of large quantities of antique buildings and objects, it would be very difficult to explain, for example, the very antique- looking bronzework in Charlemagne's Chapel Palatine at Aix-la-Chapelle, or indeed the continuing fashion in building "according to the Roman manner" (more romanorum) right across Europe.

Except for certain aspects of Byzantine work, and the popularity of domed churches/mosques, there is no such near-continuous classical tradition in Turkey. Fewer monuments have been preserved fortuitously, as it were, by being adapted to other use: in Europe, this was conspicuously the case with theatres, amphitheatres and triumphal arches - structures which in many cases the Byzantines had already converted, usually into fortresses. On the other side of the equation, however, the much lower population levels probably mean that a smaller proportion of major monuments have been lost to stone robbing in the past millenium than was the case in Europe. Again, landslips, earthquakes, general collapse and the consequent accumulation of rubble have meant that many monuments have been preserved in their sometimes collapsed state from the possibility of damage, as we shall see, for example, at Perge.

For these reasons, Western scholars in earlier centuries, interested in both architecture and sculpture, recognized how useful it was to study sites further east than Rome. Sometimes whole cities were preserved. An antiques-hungry Europe also found it much easier to buy antiquities from the Turks, who also controlled Greece, than it was to acquire material of similar quality in Europe, where competition was very fierce. Certainly, there were treasure-hunting expeditions to Turkey, by which the museums of Europe obtained "representative" pieces; but these were on a small scale compared to the spoliation of Greece.

Travellers to Turkey

Travel to Turkey was possible, if arduous, even after the fall of Constantinople (1453). Buondelmonti, the Florentine scholar, traveller and author, actually lived on Rhodes from 1414 so that he could explore the Greek islands, hunt for Greek manuscripts and examine the monuments. Cyriacus of Ancona (Ciriaco), a learned merchant and one of our best sources for the early condition of Greek architecture, explored Greece and parts of Turkey from about 1423, attempting an archaeological survey by recording inscriptions and by taking the measurements of buildings. His drawings of monuments, although none too accurate, are valuable records of structures which have now either disappeared or are much more dilapidated than they were in the 15th century (Weiss 1969, 135ff.). Both men were fascinated by Constantinople, Ciriaco actually serving as secretary to its conqueror, Mehmet II.

Bernardo Michelozzi and Bonsignore Bonsignori, both Florentines, went to Turkey in 1497/8, and wrote interesting letters back to Florence (Borsook 1973). They visited one of the great temples, that of Hadrian at Kyzikos, and were amazed by its dimensions, with 70-foot columns and Corinthian capitals nine feet in height. Borsook (1973, 165-6) surmises that this was probably the first comprehensive set of antique remains that they had seen - since ruins further West were much more fragmentary. Unfortunately, others had been equally impressed by the grandeur of this monument, so that Kyzikos' convenient location near the Sea of Marmora meant that Justinian had already taken spoils for Hagia Sophia (completed 548), and the Turks (much later) for the Suleymaniye Mosque, building between 1550 and 1557. Material was also disappearing in the 15th century as well: Ciriaco, who visited and drew the site in the middle of the century, counted more columns than Michelozzi. We do not know whether columns were still being carted off for use as columns (and, if so, to where); but Bonsignore does refer to the Turkish propensity for refashioning the drums (10 of which made up one column) into cannon balls, and Ciriaco refers to the destruction of the temple in his day by lime-burners.

Such men went to classical lands armed with a knowledge of the ancient authors, which they naturally tried to use where possible as guide books. Like their successors who travelled in the East, Michelozzi and Bonsignori tended to go around attempting to square what they saw with what the ancient authors wrote, as occurs in their comments on Halicarnassus, where they naturally expected (from the accounts of the ancient authors) to see the famous Mausoleum. This monument, well decorated with bas-reliefs, consisted of a huge cubic base surmounted by a colonnade topped by a stepped pyramid, this being capped by a quadriga containing Mausolus and Artemesia. It was almost certainly largely intact and hence visible throughout the Middle Ages, and its reliefs were evidently prized at least by some, for pieces found their way to the West.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey