Numism > For the New Ancient Coin Collector

"Corn ears"?

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David Atherton:
This question might have been asked before here on the Forvm and it might be a bit naive...but why do some descriptions of coin reverses refer to "corn ears"? I always thought corn was a New World plant brought over to Europe during the age of Discovery a 1000+ years after Rome fell.

And if it isn't "corn ears" depicted, what is it really supposed to be?

I know, kind of a dumb question but it always bothered me a little.

I think they were referring to "Barley Corn."   The ears that I have seen on coins were barley.   One reference says that the British referred to all grain as "corn."  Perhaps one the members on the other side of the pond will have more info.


This question has bothered me some time before and I have read about it. And that is, what I have found:
'Corn' is not a special plant, but usually corn is called that grain, which is the main planted grain in a special country. Therefore
in the USA corn = maize,
in the UK   corn = wheat,
in Germany corn = rye!
So 1946 when a great starving was in the post-war Germany, the Americans asked some German administrators what they should do for helping and after they answered 'Send corn', Germany was flooded with maize, a grain absolute unusual for the German people at that time and so caused some problems.


David Atherton:
Thank you both for your answers.

A matter of vernacular, I should've thought as much!

I had no idea corn had so many different meanings.

I learn something new everyday here! :)

From 'Der kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike' I want to add:

1. Hordeum, barley, was planted in Greek in the earliest time, because it was growing in this region better than the early wheat. In Attika f.e. there was in the 4th century ten times so much barley than wheat. Then peu a peu it was replaced by nude-wheat, for this has more proteins. Today in Attika there is only one third of barley and two third of wheat! Barley now ist often for feeding animals.

2. Triticum, wheat, was the main grain in Italy. There were two variants, nude-wheat and spelted(?)-wheat (with long hairs!), lat. = far. The nude-wheat slowly replaced the spelted(?)-wheat, especially when the hexaploid form of wheat was cultivated. In the Imperial times this form, called lat. siligo, was the main form for bread. So with the name lat. frumentum = corn, this hexaploid nude-wheat was meant. I think the famous 'corn-ears' hanging out of a modius are from this form too!

3. Sicale, rye: North of the Alpes mountains the weather and the climate was so cold and wet, that the growing conditions for wheat were too bad. Therefore from the North- and the Baltic Sea rye, lat. sicale or secale, spread out southwards to the Alpes. Only when winter resistent wheat forms were cultivated the area under rye cultivation goes back again to the northern parts of Europe.

Please excuse my English, I had to translate it from German and many special words I couldn't find in my dictionary!



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