The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 27, Number 2, January 14, 2024, Article 15


Alan Stahl's student Jenica Brown's interest in medieval and early modern Ethiopian coinage led to the growth of Princeton's numismatic collection. -Editor

Anonymous 5th-century Aksumite coin Jenica Brown, A&A graduate student interested in medieval and early modern Ethiopia, has played an unexpected role in growing Princeton's numismatic collection. Currently a student in Curator of Numismatics Alan Stahl's course CLA 548/HLS 548/PAW 548/ART 532 Problems in Ancient History: Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Numismatics, Brown was particularly interested in coins of the Aksumite empire, which existed from the first to early seventh centuries in present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea.

When the class began, Princeton's numismatic collection housed four Aksumite coins, acquired by Stahl in spring 2023. Aware of Brown's interest, Stahl not only leapt at the opportunity to grow the Aksumite coin collection when he saw the currency come up for auction, but involved Brown in the selection process. Stahl noted, Some years back graduate student Meseret Oldjira asked about working on Axumite coins for her project for this seminar, but as we had none she worked on coins of ancient Saba (Biblical Sheba). When I saw the Axumite coins for sale at a dealer's table at the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress last year, I took the opportunity to begin collection in this area.

With the help of funds from the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies and the Princeton University Library's Sanxay Fund provided by Mireille Djenno, the Global Special Collections Librarian, Stahl and Brown secured an additional 18 gold, silver, and bronze Aksumite coins for Princeton's collection. The coins are particularly crucial to the study of the Aksumite Kingdom, Brown explained, because so little primary source material has survived. In fact, we know of the lineage of kings from this period almost exclusively from the coins minted by 18 of them between 270 C.E. and 640 when the empire declined.

I'm really pleased that I had the opportunity to work on these coins and to contribute to Dr. Stahl's efforts to grow the collection, said Brown. These coins are important evidence of the culture that flourished in the Horn of Africa in Late Antiquity, and their acquisition complements Princeton's major collection of Ethiopic manuscripts.

A coinage unlike any other
Whereas ancient currency typically includes the profile of the minting ruler, Aksumite coins depart from convention in showing the ruler on both the obverse, or front, and reverse sides of the coin. Also unique to Aksumite coins, is the gilding of specific portions of silver coins. A lot of Aksumite coinage is idiosyncratic, said Stahl, pointing out that additional anomaly of the Greek term basileus, meaning king, appearing on Aksumite coins into the seventh century that would have disappeared elsewhere, replaced by the Roman rex or imperator. Aksumite coinage was not imitative, Stahl continues, It asserts itself from the beginning.

  Jenica Brown presents the Aksumite coin
Jenica Brown presents the Aksumite coin she studied

Though many of the coins were inscribed in Greek, reflecting the frequency of trade with the Greek-speaking world, later inscriptions, particularly of silver and bronze coins, also reflected the ancient Ethiopian language of G???z. Brown began the study of G???z this semester and was excited to decipher it on the coins. She found it fairly easy to read, though different from the script she's been working on.

Brown's G???z instructor at Princeton, Hamza Zafer, who has taught this classical Ethiopian language since 2021, joined her in the numismatics department to examine the newly-arrived specimens.

  Princeton Aksumite coin collection
The ever-growing Princeton Aksumite coin collection

To read the complete article, see:
Graduate Student Jenica Brown Helps Princeton Grow its Aksumite Coin Collection (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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