23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 16


Thomas Braun on a truncated map and

the threat to ancient numismatic symbols of British identity

THERE is no such continent as Europe. It is a misconception of the pioneer Greek scientists of the 6th century BC. They supposed Europe and Asia to be sundered by a continuous chain of seas and waterways: the Aegean, Hellespont, Bosporus, Black Sea, Sea of Azov and, upriver from there, a mighty tributary of the river Ocean that flowed all round the earth. Herodotus, who in the 5th century had realised that Eurasia is a single landmass, dismissed division into continents as conventional, not natural.

He did not know who had named them after mythical girls. The nymph Europa is Europe's only traditional symbol. She is generally recognisable as the Greeks imagined her, in the process of being ravished by Zeus in the guise of a bull. She was picking flowers on her native Levantine coast when he carried her over the sea to Crete. Oriental savants, according to Herodotus. held her to have been no unwilling passenger. Greek artists agreed. She is depicted by the Athenian 'Berlin Painter' (490 BC) as resolutely steering a smallish, stupid-looking and nervously apprehensive bull by the right horn.

Disapproving, or perhaps ignorant, of this taurine seduction, the award-winning Austrian Robert Kalina has instead chosen to deck each new multieuro banknote with a map of Europe. But where does Europe end? The question has been disputed ever since Herodotus. William Penn, proposing a European parliament of 90 EMPs in 1690, thought it 'fit and just' to include the Muscovites and Turks with ten EMPs each (the Germans were to have 12, the English six). De Gaulle's 'Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals' is challenged by the continued existence of Russia as a unity sprawling from St Petersburg over the Urals to the Pacific. Herr Kalina, less generously than de Gaulle, has drawn Europe's eastern boundary as a straight line from Archangel (38.58 E.) on the White Sea to Odessa (30.40 E.) on the Black, thus including Smolensk but excluding Moscow. (He has added a chunk of Turkey, but not Cyprus.) If this geopoliti

cal innovation strikes you as arbitrary, please note that it has been approved, along with his other designs, by a jury of experts 'after consultation with 2,000 citizens and citizenesses of 14 European countries, many of them with occupations that require them constantly to handle money: cashiers, waiters and taxi-drivers'.

You might expect portraits of Good Europeans on the other side of the banknotes. But how could seven denomina tions do equal justice to the 12 nations of the eurozone? Moreover, the best Europeans did not live there. Penn was an Englishman; Kant, author of the treatise For Perpetual Peace, never left his native East Prussia; Dunant, the instigator of the Red Cross. was Swiss. Herr Kalina's designs are less invidious. He has provided illustrations of European architectural development: Roman (five euro), Romanesque (ten), Gothic (20), Renaissance (50), baroque (100), industrial age (200) and present-day (500). Not one of these arches, portals and windows (symbolising openness) and bridges (symbolising togetherness) was ever built, which is just as well, for the bland designs are lifeless.

'They represent elements to be found in every European country,' says the European Central Bank, sweeping to one side the classic temples and Byzantine churches of Greece, a land on which these styles, from Romanesque to baroque, hardly impinged. But perhaps only the 500-euro will give active offence. Worth six times as much as our £50 note, this boon to moneylaunderers portrays, in sullen pink, what their money all too often goes to produce: a clutter of concrete and glass structures.

Luc Luycx of Dendermonde, a 39-yearold Belgian IT officer, won 24,000 ecus for designing the obverse of the coins. The coppers (one, two and five cents) display the European Union on a mini-globe. The higher denominations (ten, 20 and 50 cents in 'Nordic gold', a yellow alloy of nickel and brass, and the bichrome one and two euros) show a map of Europe only. Luycx's vision of Europe is more exclusive than Kalina's. He has sliced Norway off the continental shelf and sunk it in the sea. The British Isles remain, but Wales is melded into England and Scotland is mutilated. Europe extends only to the Oder—Neisse line, with Greece stuck beyond it in a tiny huddle. So much for the aspirations of the Central and East Europeans. The tiny scale is not entirely to blame, for the Frankfurt mint has excelled in detailed work, reproducing many a pucker on President Heuss's brow and numerous surviving hairs on Dr Adenauer's head.

National emblems were allowed only a limited space on the reverse, whose 12 Euro-stars have displaced the inscriptions that have run round coins since Roman times. Some member states had little sense of identity to lose, but Britain would lose much.

British coins incorporate ancient symbols that indicate stable identity. The crown, lion, rose, thistle and shamrock have survived decimalisation, as has Britannia, no longer armed but, as in George III's time, scantily clad and extending an olive branch. Royal portraits have figured on this country's coins since the Roman invasion. Coin portraitists have done their best for illfavoured monarchs. In respect of royal looks, the present reign has been happy. Successive profiles of the Queen have been of classic beauty.

British coin portraits of rulers have always been surrounded by their titles. DG, Del grata (By the grace of God), meant that the monarch owed his sworn duty to God. That mediaeval designation had been taken to imply divine right by the bigoted Spaniards. Hence the quaint compromise inscribed on the Spanish coins of the more liberal 19th century: Isabella II by the grace of God and the Constitution'. Parliament did not for one moment think that Victoria was queen by divine right when it hounded Mr Sheil out of his mastership of the Mint for omitting DG, to save space, from the newfangled florins of 1849. They were recalled. DG has remained on British (though not usually on Empire and Commonwealth) coins ever since.

FD (Fidel Defensor) was a title bestowed on Henry VIII by Parliament after the Pope had withdrawn it. It was not, however, inscribed on coins until George I was made king in 1714 on strict, indeed humiliating, conditions, and was given to understand that. though not confirmed in the Church of England, he would have to play his part in defending the religious establishment of his adopted country. Two centuries later, when George V was opening an exhibition, he was visibly puzzled by a reference to this title by the curator. a Ph.D. who thought that FD was universally understood. Queen Mary nudged him: 'On the coins, dear.'

The Prince of Wales, who is better informed, wants to be not 'Defender of the Faith' but 'of Faith'. Yet that is what FD has come to mean in practice, and means in Latin anyhow. The full titulature, embodying constitutional sense as well as history and sentiment, would find no place on a euro coin. There is only enough space for a royal monogram. And British decision-makers would have to choose between a royal portrait and one or other national symbol; no room for both on the same coin.

National symbols and titulatures should not be thrown away lightly. If you throw away a cherished heirloom, you may find that you need it later. Do not follow too much the coin-devices and desires of your own hearts, and beware of worshipping strange images.

Thomas Braun is Dean and Senior Research Fellow in Ancient History at Merton College, Oxford.