Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ezekiel Spanheim




Last December I acquired at auction the last and greatest edition of Spanheim’s Disputationes de usu et pr√¶stantia numismatum antiquorum (London and Amsterdam, 1706-17) not realising that the copy I had bought was an extremely large paper printing of the work. As a consequence the two volumes remained on the living room floor until recently as there was just nowhere to put them.

The two books are comprised of thirteen discourses addressed to his friend Ottavio Falconieri, a Roman antiquary, represent the seventeenth century peak of classical numismatics. 


Spanheim meticulously (and not without digressions) records every image and inscription shown on
ancient coins that could be made out.

Each of the volumes is prefaced with a fine engraving of a portrait; one is Spanheim himself, the other is Prince George, later King George I of the United Kingdom but who was then ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-L√ľneburg (Hanover) in the Holy Roman Empire.

Ezekiel Spanheim was born at Geneva, the eldest son of Friedrich Spanheim the Elder. After 1642 he studied philology and theology at the University of Leyden, and in 1650 returned to Geneva to be Professor of Rhetoric at Geneva.

In 1656 Spanheim became tutor to the son of Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine. Political theory led him into a diplomatic career. The Elector sent him in 1661 to Rome to investigate intrigues of the Roman Catholic Electors. After his return in 1665 the Elector employed him as ambassador at various courts, finally in England where after 1679 he was charged also with the affairs of the Elector of Brandenburg. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1679. [1]

In 1680 he entered the service of electoral Brandenburg as minister of state. As ambassador of the Great Elector he spent nine years at the court of Paris, and subsequently devoted some years to studies in Berlin; but after the Peace of Ryswyk in 1697 he returned as ambassador to France where he remained until 1702.

In 1702 he went on his final diplomatic mission as the first Prussian ambassador to England. He died in London on November 7th, 1710 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.