Kerstin Höghammar Kerstin Höghammar

Present work

Current research themes

  • Hellenistic coinages
  • Reading history from material remains
  • The impact of natural catastrophes on society in different historical
  • circumstances


  • Hellenistic (also late Classical)
  • Late Republican and early Imperial Roman in Greece


  • The Aegean and western Asia Minor
  • The Greek Mediterranean
  • The Hellenistic world

Present and planned research

At present (2011) I am working on two articles, one more general on the commercial and political connections of Kos and another on the Koan issue of Asklepios/incuse silver. The first gives an overview of the commercial and political contacts of the Koans in the Hellenistic period. The other treats the largest Koan coin issue of silver we know, dating to the second century B.C. I will use the results from this and previous work in two projects. The first is concerned with an in-depth history of the polis of Kos in the middle Hellenistic period. The second, recently started, treats the recuperative power of society under different historic circumstances after a major natural disaster. It will cover studies of three shorter periods in Hellenistic and imperial Kos. 


"Kos: Commercial and political interfaces of an island port".

Three different aspects of Kos as a port town in the Hellenistic period are discussed. The first concerns the basic geographic and physical reasons which can explain why Kos so quickly developed into a successful port. The second concerns what were probably mainly commercial contacts as documented in two different types of sources, the proxeny-decrees (showing proxenoi for Kos in other communities) and the funerary monuments of strangers on Kos. The third aspect concerns war. The question I ask is if there was a difference in the risk of invasion and capture for mainland and island ports; do island ports run less a risk of being invaded? If the answer is positive, then this has important positive or negative implications for the commercial strength and well-being of a port town, not only in, but also after times of war. The article is to be published in The geography of connections. Proceedings of a conference held at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala university, 23-25 September 2010, (Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations, eds. K. Höghammar & A. Lindhagen), presently 8 ms.

 "The Koan plinthophoric Asklepios/snake in incuse silver".

The issue to be treated in this study is the largest of the Koan issues both in terms of obverse dies and number of preserved coins. It has traditionally been dated to the second half of the second century B.C. , but there are strong indications that it started in the early second century and was used for to pay for the restoration work after the earth-quake of 198. Work on this article is in progress, and some preliminary results have been included in article 17. The text will be submitted to the Numismatic Chronicle.


Statecraft, war and reconstruction - Kos c.210-170/50

This project concerns the history of Kos from the late third to the middle of the second century. Fourteen Koan silver issues coined in this period will be integrated into their historical context. The historical analysis of the coin issues, the contemporary inscriptions and archaeological remains will result in a monograph, Statecraft, war and reconstruction. Kos - c.210-170/50.

I have chosen to work on these series as they represent the last of an older type of coinage, and a changeover to a new type. Most of the issues thus exhibit change and renewal in one form or another. This is in marked contrast to the previous period of almost 200 years when there was continuous use of the same iconographic symbol on the obverse, the deity Herakles, and most often the crab on the reverse. The changes in the series I am looking at bear evidence of deliberated decisions taken, either by the officials responsible for the minting or by (representatives of) the demos. The period during which the alterations occur encompasses events of the greatest importance to the Koans and their state. The numerous inscriptions, in combination with the literary sources, give us more detailed knowledge both of the Koans? part in the general historical development and of particular local events. In situating these series of coins, which display clear changes in iconography, denomination and spelling of the ethnic, in what I perceive to be their proper chronological and historical context, I aim to achieve a better knowledge of the local and regional history of these years.

Basic analyses of the separate issues and an up-to-date dating of them have been made in a series of articles; work on the last major issue has been started (see above), the others have been, or are about to be published.

Long-term resilience. The reconstruction of the city-state of Kos after earth-quakes

The purpose of this study is to investigate the resilience of the polis of Kos in the south-east Aegean, i.e. its ability to rebuild and reconstruct itself, after the event of a natural disaster. How well a society can rebuild itself in all its aspects after a catastrophe is dependent on a number of different factors. Here I will mainly concentrate on type of government and public finances in a comparative study. The overall question is: Was there a difference in the capacity of the Koan society to rebuild itself (resources allocated, length of time needed) after a catastrophe in the Hellenistic period when Kos was autonomous and in later periods when Kos was part of the Roman Empire?

The study has a long-term and comparative perspective, and I will cover the time c.200 B.C. to c.200 A.D. during which the polis and island of Kos were struck by disastrous earth-quakes on three known occasions. I will compare the length of time needed for the reconstruction work after the disasters as judged from the archaeological remains. I will further investigate what measures were taken by the Koan society to recuperate under historically different circumstances, basing myself on epigraphic and numismatic evidence.

The three different periods to be analyzed are a) c.200-150 B.C. (earth quake in 198), b) the Augustan to early Julio-Claudian era, 30 B.C.-c.50 A.D. (earth-quakes in 26/12/6 B.C.), and c) the period c.140-200 A.D. (earth quake in c. 140). The constitutional standing of the Koan city-state changed during this time. In the early second century B.C. Kos was an autonomous and democratic polis, a free agent (within the ?normal? political constraints of any smaller state) in world of numerous city-states of similar size and larger competing a kingdoms. At the time of Octavianus/Augustus, 30 B.C.-14 A.D., the polis had just been incorporated into the Roman empire, becoming a minute part of a vast empire. As the incorporation was recent, a large part of the population had spent part of their lives in the still independent city-state. The Koans in that period thus lived with the memory and thought patterns of independence still active. In the mature Roman empire of the second century A.D. Kos was a small local community of no particular importance to the central government, one of many such communities, all of which had been parts of the empire for centuries.

Theoretical approach

Here I define theory "as the set of ideas and assumptions that inform and govern historians? practices and with and through which we interpret the world". (N. Morley, Theories, models and concepts in ancient history, 2004, 3). When I think about the cultural history in the ancient Graeco-Roman world I have five points of departure which form the basis of my approach to it. But before giving them, the reader should be warned that simplifications are inevitable in this short a text.

The need for a descriptive base: The ancient remains, both material and textual, are our only points of contact with the period we study. (With "remains" I mean the actual objects/texts which exist even without our modern perception of them. They can be used as "evidence" which means that we have interpreted them and given them a context of our choosing.) These remains were made by and for the society they were created in and without them we would be reduced to myth. This means that that we must pay careful attention to the description of the remains, as an inadequate or faulty perception of them inevitably will lead to a mistaken interpretation, however sophisticated our
analytical tools and theoretical frameworks may be.

The fragmentary state of preservation: Our "knowledge" of the ancient world is provisional. What we have today is only a minute part of what there once was. This means that all our knowledge of the ancient world is fragmentary, uncertain and liable to change. What we "know" may be changed by, for instance, a different theoretical approach or by new finds.

The human factor: The third point is that each chronological horizon in a culture (by this I mean a time span of approximately one human generation), with everything that was produced (material and immaterial) in it, is the result of human minds and actions. The presence and actuality of the remains often leads us to neglect to think about what it means that they were created by humans. As a consequence, we interpret the remains without considering the processes that led to their creation. This is a simplified approach which will not produce optimum results. What we have was created by living people, and the human mind is influenced by a vast number of different factors; personal characteristics, tradition, contemporary events, professional considerations, economic considerations, private
considerations etc. We may be able to see traces of these factors in the remains, some immediately obvious, others more obscure. Different types of remains also have varying "information density". Some objects clearly contain information about a number of different sectors of the society they were created in, others only one or two.

Contextuality: History is a weave consisting of threads going backward and forward in time and threads linking different parts of contemporary society. Each historical horizon has its place in the weave and is defined in relation to both. (A historical horizon may be of different length depending on the issues studied. The historical horizon of a certain, chronologically well-defined, event can be short, that of a slowly developing process much longer.) The products, events and processes of human culture are the results of each horizon as they unfold, and they are thus interconnected with the past, the present and the future. To understand any particular part of the past we thus need to see it in its correct context.

One consequence of the contextual way of approaching the ancient remains, events and processes is that both their chronological placing and contemporary context is considered to be of major importance. Dating issues are thus central to any work I undertake. Another consequence is that a thorough knowledge of several different sectors
of a certain society is necessary to perceive contemporary influences and to achieve depth in the analysis. To concentrate contextual studies on one geographical area is then a definite advantage.

The need for models: Art and science is, to a large extent, about perceiving patterns and structures previously unknown to us. This is important also within the humanities. At all times people have created patterns according to which they live. These arrangements consist of, for instance, traditions, rules and regulations, both formal and
informal, which are there to order and simplify (communal) life and they change over time. The patterns are inherent in the cultural remains of a society. They are not always immediately obvious, but can appear as marked tendencies in a certain material (a group of remains). As the remains were created by contemporary society and part of an inherent internal pattern, they may give us valuable information about this society.

An obvious limitation to all views of the past is that we, often without thinking consciously about it, use present day thought patterns when we structure remains which are the result of an otherwise organized society with different thought patterns. To rely on models entirely based on a modern environment will thus run a high risk of being misleading. To be of maximum use, any intellectual model should be created with an awareness of the special character of the ancient remains under study. If we, as researchers, use models without proper knowledge of the remains, we impose our own patterns on the material with unnecessary force. This generally leads to intelligible and "productive" results, but they run the risk of being, more or less, the outcome of the thought patterns of the researcher and his/her society. A possible, not unproblematic, way to counteract this is to not impose a previously defined pattern on a relatively unknown material, but to get acquainted with it and allow it, at an initial stage, to be chaotic. In the process of familiarizing yourself with the remains, unexpected patterns inherent to the society which created them may appear out of the chaos. This pattern will then form the basis for an adapted or new model which will be used in analyzing the remains.

A reasonable objection to this way of working is that our own culturally conditioned subconscious will act upon us in this process, supplying our conscious selves with modern patterns rather than any inherent ancient ones. Considering the problem we have to start with choosing between two different standpoints. One is that there is a possibility of discerning patterns which are culturally external to us. The other is that we cannot go outside our culturally constructed selves and that we thus always are limited to our own thought patterns. Considering all new knowledge gained and the innovations created by humans across time, I am of the opinion that we, as humans, are able to go outside our cultural limitations and perceive foreign patterns. But how do we know that they really are culturally external and not supplied by our unconscious? I have no definite answer to this question, but if a pattern appears foreign to us this could be an indication that it is ancient. Critical evaluation of our work by other scholars in the collective academic process also provides some protection against misapprehension. Different studies on the same
historical horizon by various scholars from different cultures which produce the same patterns may, when combined, provide a more secure basis for a conclusion that the patterns are indeed ancient.


Last modified: 2022-01-27