U.S. Embargoes Egyptian Coins among other artifactsby Peter Tompa
December 22, 2016 - The U.S. Government has published an extensive list of artifacts subject to import restrictions pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Egypt. The effective date of the regulations is December 5, 2016.
The Designated ListThe designated list restricts entry of all ancient coin types down to 294 AD. Roman Imperial, Byzantine and Ottoman coins struck at Roman mints after that date do not seem to be impacted. The complete list is as follows:
In copper or bronze, silver, and gold.
1. General – There are a number of references that list Egyptian coin types. Below are some examples. Most Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coin types are listed in R. S. Poole, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Alexandria and the Nomes (London, 1893); J. N. Svoronos, Münzen der Ptolemäer (Athens 1904); and R. A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors (Toronto, 1985). Examples of catalogues listing the Roman coinage in Egypt are J. G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford, 1933); J. W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt (Chicago, 1969); A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and P. P Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (London, 1998 – revised edition); and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and I. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian to Domitian (London, 1999).
There are also so-called nwb-nfr coins, which may date to Dynasty 30. See T. Faucher, W. Fischer-Bossert, and S. Dhennin, “Les Monnaies en or aux types hiéroglyphiques nwb nfr,” Bulletin de l’institut français d’archéologie orientale 112 (2012), pp. 147-169.
2. Dynasty 30 – Nwb nfr coins have the hieroglyphs nwb nfr on one side and a horse on the other.
3. Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coins – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state. Gold coins of and in honor of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a helmeted bust of Athena on the obverse and a winged Victory on the reverse. Silver coins of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a bust of Herakles wearing the lion skin on the obverse, or “heads” side, and a seated statue of Olympian Zeus on the reverse, or “tails” side. Gold coins of the Ptolemies from Egypt will have jugate portraits on both obverse and reverse, a portrait of the king on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse, or a jugate portrait of the king and queen on the obverse and cornucopiae on the reverse. Silver coins of the Ptolemies coins from Egypt tend to depict a portrait of Alexander wearing an elephant skin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse or a portrait of the reigning king with an eagle on the reverse. Some silver coins have jugate portraits of the king and queen on the obverse. Bronze coins of the Ptolemies commonly depict a head of Zeus (bearded) on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. These iconographical descriptions are non-exclusive and describe only some of the more common examples. There are other types and variants. Approximate date: ca. 332 B.C. through ca. 31 B.C.
4. Roman coins – Struck in silver or bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state in the territory of the modern state of Egypt until the monetary reforms of Diocletian. The iconography of the coinage in the Roman period varied widely, although a portrait of the reigning emperor is almost always present on the obverse of the coin. Approximate date: ca. 31 B.C. through ca. A.D. 294.
Thus far the official list.
Not all coins from Roman Alexandria have such an impeccable provenance as this one, which comes from the Dattari collection. From Künker 280 (2016), 590.Under U.S. Customs procedures, the above coin types can only be imported into the U.S. with documentation certifying they were out of Egypt before the effective date of the restrictions. As time goes on, this becomes far more difficult to do because the vast majority of ancient Egyptian coins legally available for sale and export in markets in Europe lack the necessary provenance information for legal import into the U.S.
Concerns and ControversiesThe decision raises several concerns both generally and specifically as to coins. As early as 2011, Zahi Hawass, then Egypt’s Antiquities minister, reported on his blog in a now deleted post that a “coalition [of U.S. archaeological groups] reported that the US Government is willing to impose emergency restrictions on Egyptian antiquities....The coalition will be drafting a formal agreement between the US and Egyptian governments....” Additional reports that the matter was already a “done deal” surfaced even before a 2014 U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting was announced to process the request. For example, a New York Times editorial, dated March 20, 2014, indicated that the U.S. had already agreed to import restrictions to stem the flow of objects looted during Egypt’s revolution.
Then, however, the fallout from an Egyptian military coup evidently put such restrictions on hold until late in the Obama Administration. The decision was announced less than two months after Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational Affairs (ECA), received an award from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). In the author’s view, Ryan’s acceptance of the award raises serious conflict of interest issues, if not a violation of ethics rules concerning the acceptance of gifts and awards. The AIA lobbied heavily for a MOU with Egypt, and the AIA’s award to Ryan specifically referenced ECA’s work in implementing MOU’s.
The governing statute, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), only allows the government to restrict artifacts “first discovered within” and hence “subject to export control by” of Egypt. See 19 U.S.C. Sections 2601, 2604. With regard to coins, the State Department evidently ignored evidence that demonstrates that Egyptian mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Egypt. Egypt’s so-called “closed monetary system” was meant to keep foreign coins “out” and not Egyptian coins “in.” Hoard evidence confirms Ptolemaic coins from Egyptian mints circulated throughout the Ptolemaic Empire which stretched well beyond the confines of modern-day Egypt. (And, indeed, some hoards are found outside the Empire’s territory.) The State Department also ignored finds reported under the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme that show Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms circulated as far away as Roman Britain.
However, it is the wording of the restrictions themselves that should cause the greatest concern. Despite the CPIA’s “first discovered within” requirement, the regulations imposing import restrictions are based on place of manufacture rather than find spot. Accordingly, the new restrictions appear to create an embargo on all designated coin types based on where they were made thousands of years ago rather than where they are found today. In contrast, the CPIA itself only authorizes import restrictions on coins that were illegally removed from Egypt after the date that restrictions were imposed.
Restrictions drafted with administrative convenience in mind rather than fidelity to the law cause considerable collateral damage. Due to their wording, small businesses of the numismatic trade and collectors risk detention, seizure and forfeiture of designated Egyptian coin types legally exported from Europe. Many historical coins on the market and in collections abroad simply can’t meet the law’s stringent provenance requirements for legal import.
American collectors should only purchase their coins from reputable dealers. Before importing coins from abroad, confirm that the seller abroad is able to provide the necessary paperwork for a legal import.
Going forward, the author hopes the new Administration will take a hard look at current State Department and Customs practices. Efforts to protect cultural patrimony cannot be allowed to justify the taking of private property without due process of law.