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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 52, December 23, 2007, Article 14

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ACQUIRES SARMAS COLLECTION OF MEDIEVAL GREEK COINAGE

[Alan M. Stahl, Curator of Numismatics at Princeton University 
forwarded a recent announcement, excerpted below. -Editor]

The Princeton University Numismatic Collection has acquired 
the Sarmas Collection of coins of medieval Greece, comprising 
more than eight hundred coins minted in the eastern Mediterranean 
following the fall of Constantinople to the armies of the Fourth 
Crusade in 1204. Even though the Byzantine Empire was eventually 
reconstituted and resumed its coinage, much of its former 
territory in Greece and the Aegean islands remained in the 
hands of descendents of the Crusaders and other Europeans, 
who issued coins in the traditions of their homelands. The 
Sarmas collection was purchased with matching funds provided 
by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the 
Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund.

The collection was assembled by Theo Sarmas, a London-based 
businessman who is also a noted collector of Byzantine 
polychrome ceramics. He acquired most of the coins from 
English dealers, and many can be traced back to famous 
collections, including that of John Slocum of Newport, 
Rhode Island. While late Byzantine issues are well 
represented in many public collections, until now there 
been no specialized collection of the coins of the Greek 
lands of the later Middle Ages available for study in a 
public institution.

The Sarmas collection is especially rich in coins minted 
in the eastern Mediterranean that imitate the important 
trade coins of Italian cities, especially those of Venice 
and Naples. Some of these bear the names of rulers of 
Greek territories; many are of uncertain origin. Among 
those of note with certain attribution are a silver coin 
of Chios minted by Martino Zaccharia in the period 13241329, 
which imitates the silver grossi of Venice, and a gold coin 
of Dorino Gattilusio, Lord of Lesbos and Ainos from 1400 
to 1449, which imitates the popular gold ducat of Venice. 
Seventeen imitation ducats in the collection bear the name 
of the Venetian doge Andrea Dandolo of the mid-fourteenth 
century, the most common type, but there are also imitations 
in the names of five other Venetian doges, which are much rarer.

The largest part of the Sarmas collection comprises issues 
of the rulers of mainland Greece in the thirteenth and 
fourteenth centuries, chiefly members of the Villehardouin 
family of Athens and the Angevin rulers of the Peloponnesus, 
minted on the model of the pennies of Tours in France. Of 
special interest among these deniers tournois are those 
issued by Giovanni Orsini at Arta in Epirus, Helen Angela 
at Karytaina, and John II Ducas Comnenus at Neopatras, as 
well as one of Campobasso in Italy issued by Nicholas of 
Monforte in the early fifteenth century.

Princeton's Curator of Numismatics, Alan Stahl, is quite 
excited by the scholarly potential of the new collection. 
"This makes Princeton an unrivaled resource for the study 
of a coinage about which there are many unanswered questions," 
he noted. He added, "One of the former post-doctoral Fellows 
of the Program in Hellenic Studies is planning a return to 
Princeton from Oxford specifically to study this new material, 
and a first-year graduate student in History is going to 
compare the punches used on the various imitation ducats 
to see if she can connect those of a known origin to those 
still unattributed."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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