IMAGMA: Imagines Maiestatis. Barbarian Coins, Elite Identities and the Birth of Europe

A DFG/NCN Beethoven project


Project coordinators:

Aleksander Bursche, University of Warsaw, Poland

David Wigg-Wolf, Römisch Germanische Kommission des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Frankfurt, Germany

Kickoff meeting, Berlin, March 3rd 2016

Interaction between Rome and the barbarians who lived to the north of the Empire was to shape the face of European society after the fall of the Roman Empire in West. The contacts between the two worlds were a significant contributory factor in the formation of the new elites who were subsequently to settle in the territory of the old Empire and form the kingdoms of medieval Europe. In order to appreciate fully this transformation, it is important to understand how and why the new elites were formed, and this can best be achieved through the symbols that they employed and the objects on which these were represented.

IMAGMA will therefore investigate a specific, exemplary aspect of this fundamental, defining transition. It will access a previously neglected group of material: imitations of Roman coins produced by the developing elites right across the Barbaricum north of the Roman frontier, and used by them to demonstrate their status. These provide an unparalleled microcosm of this cultural meeting, a unique synthesis of Roman and indigenous societies. Furthermore, coins offer particularly rich potential, reflecting a wider range of functions and intentions, from official production to private usage, from economic to prestige roles, than almost any other class of material culture.

The team will analyse this representational art as a medium of expression of new social identities that resulted from the contacts between Rome and the barbarians. It considers the transfer of know-how, ideas and technology, the role of iconography, self-representation of elites and coins as symbols of power. A major role will be played by scientific metal and material analysis using state of the art technologies. IMAGMA will thus provide a significant contribution to understanding how Europe came into being after the collapse of the world of Antiquity, placing it in a long-term historical perspective. It will be conducted as an integrated multidisciplinary research programme involving the participation of (art and economic) historians, archaeologists, numismatists and material scientists, drawing on new theoretical approaches on the origins and function of coinage from the field of historical anthropology.

The project is jointly directed by Prof. Aleksander Bursche, Warsaw, and Dr. David Wigg-Wolf, Frankfurt/Main. It will collect and analyse material from a broad geographical spread from the North Sea to the Ukraine, and will also include metal analyses to be conducted by Dr. hab. Barbara Wagner in Warsaw and Prof. Sabine Klein in Frankfurt. Dr. Karsten Tolle, Frankfurt will provide competence in the field of data management / modelling and Linked Open Data, while Jarosław Strobin, Elbląg will conduct experimental work on production aspects. A 3-D scanner will be used to document material for further analysis such as dies studies, as well as to provide replicas for a travelling exhibition.

The team in Frankfurt consists of Dr. Holger Komnick; in Warsaw of Dr. Anna Zapolska and Dr Arkadiusz Dymowski. Both teams will also include a doctoral student. Additional support will be provided by Dr. Helle Horsnæs, Copenhagen, Dr. hab. Alexandra Pesch, Schleswig, and Dr. Kyryllo Myzgin, Kharkiv / Warsaw, Dr. Adam Degler, Wrocław and Marcin Rudnicki, Warsaw.