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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture
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From Lydia to Byzantium: 
A Short History of Ancient Mediterranean Coins"

by Mark Lehman 

The following "performance" was written and delivered at the Singletary Center, University of Kentucky by our opera-singing numismatist ACE President Mark Lehman to students attending the National Junior Classical League Convention, August 2, 2002.   It accompanies a navigable set of coin images entitled "Images:  From Lydia to Byzantium" on the ACE CD which you can show students in your classroom.  Feel free to adapt any portion of the following presentation for your classroom use, including, if the spirit moves you, the singing! The narration features clever techniques for introducing students to basic coin concepts as well as a wealth of historical information and entertaining news tabloids befitting those colorful Roman emperors.

Some excerpts of historical information are based upon John Ryan's lecture outline "Ancient Coinage of the Mediterranean World" also available on the ACE CD.  Emperor tabloids come from "The Imperial Tattler" (http://www.joviel.com/tn/) written by Scott Uhrick. 

Image Cues in Red

1. Modern US, a few foreign, "the washer"

US Change with Washer
US Change with Washer

I've got to start this out with a question for all of you: What is a coin?  What is a coin?  Anyone?  Now, I suppose you all think you know everything you need to know about the change you have in your pockets (go in pocket to produce quarter, washer, etc - hold them up). But, can anyone tell me what is it, exactly, that distinguishes THIS, from THIS?  Look, they're both stamped metal discs, just about the same size, hey, with luck, you might even be able to stick this one (washer) in a parking-meter and get away with it, right?  Why can't you expect that the counter-person at the Donut shop would accept it too?  Sing: "There's a hole in yer quarter and it goes right through, says I, there's a hole in yer donut too", right?

Anyone?  No?  Not because there's hole in the washer- as you can see -

2. Modern coins with holes Plenty of countries have used coins with holes in them in recent years and some still do. 
Coins with holes
Coins with holes
These are all 20th century coins, the Spanish piece is 21st century. OK - Anyone want to trade me a quarter for this washer?  (wow, I should have brought more washers, they're only three cents apiece - but those quarters cost even less to produce - alternately, no? why not? They're both stamped metal discs?) - so what is a quarter, anyway, except an overpriced, defective washer? What it is that distinguishes a coin from a washer is that we all agree that this one is worth a quarter of a dollar and that this one, well, it's valuable for other reasons, very useful if you happen to need one  - but just because it's a stamped metal disc doesn't make it a coin, does it? 

A quarter is "money" because of a Social Contract we all have with each other - a mutually accepted authority - the United States government - has put its official stamp on this, otherwise fairly useless stamped disc of metal - see, no hole, you can't even use it as a washer in a pinch - It's only valuable because we agree it is - that's our social contract.