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The Ancient World Collection

Category:  Ancients
Owner:  Kohaku
Last Modified:  3/9/2015
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Slot: Ionia, Uncertain Mint, 650-600 BC
Design Description: Ionia, Uncertain Mint Third Stater
Item Description: EL Third-Stater Ionia, Uncertain Mint form of facing lion hd(?) obv pelleted pattern in
Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Ionia, also known as the Ionian League or the Panionic League, was a group of 12 cities (dodecapolis) formed in mid-7th century BC. In the Histories of Herodotus, the member cities are grouped by their traditions and different dialects: Miletus, Myus, and Priene, all in Caria (a region in Asia Minor); Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedus, Teos, Clazomenae and Phocaea, in Lydia; the island of Chios and Erythrae (Asia Minor); and the island of Samos. In 650 BC, the city of Smyrna defected from the Aolis to join the Ionian League.

Bounded by Aeolia to the north, Lydia to the east, and Caria to the south, Ionia held an important economic and strategic location between rest of the Greeks and the Persian Empire. The very first coins appeared in this region about the time the Ionian League was formed. These coins were made of electrum, a naturally occurring gold and silver alloy.

Although of irregular size and shape, these coins were made to a strict standard of weight (the Lydo-Milesian standard): one stater weighed a little over 14 g. Coins were also minted in fractional denominations, such the denomination of this coin, a 1/3 stater (or Trite). The earliest coin designs were relatively simple, for example, with obverse displaying empty globular fields, parallel or crisscrossing lines, striations, or pellets, and the reverse containing an incuse (punched into the coin, rather than in relief) geometric mark.

Such traits are found on this very rare coin, minted around mid-7th century BC. The obverse is a globular surface with a cluster of pellets possibly representing a lion’s head. This stylized representation might be a transition between simple obverse designs and the lion’s head that would soon become popular on Ionian and Lydian electrum coinage. The coin’s reverse is comprised of two incuse squares, probably meant to signify exactly where and by whom it was minted, which, alas, has been forgotten.

Additional Reading: "Early electrum coins," R Glanfield, November 2012.

Coin Details: IONIA, Uncertain, ca. 650-600 BC, EL Trite – Third Stater (14mm, 4.66 g), Lydo-Milesian standard, NGC Graded: Ch AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: globular surface with cluster of pellets, Reverse: Two incuse squares. References: Weidauer; Traité I 3; Elektron; Rosen 253; SNG Kayhan; SNG von Aulock 7761; Pozzi 2350.
Slot: Kingdom of Lydia, 610-546 BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) LYDIA c.610-546 BC
Design Description: Croesus Third Stater
Item Description: EL Third-Stater Lydia rv bipartite incuse obv lion hd w/radiate sun
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The ancient Kingdom of Lydia was bounded by coastal Ionia to the west, Mysia to the north, and Caria to the south. According to Herodotus: “Lydia does not have many marvelous things to write about in comparison with other countries, except for the gold dust that is carried down from Mount Tmolus.” This inland region of Asia Minor was abounding in precious metals, gold and silver in particular. Some time around mid-7th century BC these metals were first fashioned into coins in Lydia (as also attested by Herodotus) and also neighboring Ionia.

These first coins were made of electrum, an alloy comprised mostly of gold and silver. The gold content of electrum occurring naturally in river silt had a varying gold content of 65% to 85%. Some coins were probably struck directly from this alluvial electrum, but their gold content was inconsistent. To solve this problem, the electrum (and/or perhaps pure gold) was alloyed with silver to reach a consistent gold content. Additional copper was also added, in order to achieve a more golden color.

This ingenious solution was the innovation of the Kings of Lydia, who probably set up their mints in the capital city of Sardis. Coin sizes and shapes were irregular, but weights and gold contents were highly consistent. Varying designs were employed; in Lydia the most common motif was the head of a roaring lion, as found on this coin, a one-third stater (or trite). The design is simple, yet arresting and artistic. The hatch-marked lion’s mane bisects the coin diagonally, and opposite to upper right, three dynamic elements are grouped: roaring mouth, triangular eye, and a mysterious star pattern (sometime referred to as a “nose wart”). The latter is perhaps a representation of a rising sun. The two-part incuse punch on the reverse was left over from its strike, and its exact significance remains unknown.

The lion was the symbol of the royal line of Mermnadae. At the time this coin was minted, the ruler was probably Alyattes son of Sadyattes, or his son, Croesus. Alyattes and his Kingdom became very rich by accumulating and minting coins. Moreover, the Lydians were the world’s first commercial retailers (again according to Herodotus), linking the eastern Asian kingdoms to coastal Ionia and other Hellenistic cities to the west. Alyattes used his wealth and military prowess consolidating the Lydian Kingdom. He conquered the Cimmerians (who fled to the Bosphorus), and also vanquished several Ionian cities. By Croesus’ ascension, he was so prosperous his very name became synonymous with wealth, and to this day our modern lexicon includes expressions such as “rich as Croesus.”

Additional Reading: PT Keyser and DD Clark, “Analyzing and Interpreting the Metallurgy of Early Electrum Coins,” American Numismatic Soiety, New York, 2001, pp. 105-126.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF LYDIA, King Alyattes II (or possibly Croesus), ca. 610-546 BC, Electrum EL Trite - 1/3 stater (4.76 g, 13 mm), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Head of roaring lion, “wart” or sun on nose, Reverse: Two-part incuse, References: Weiduaer Group XVI, 89; Traite I 44; SNG Kayhan 1013; Rosen 655-6.
Slot: Ionia, Miletus, 6th-5th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, MILETUS late 6th-5th Centuries BC
Design Description: Ionia, MIletus Obol
Item Description: AR Obol Ionia, Miletus rv stellate pattern obv lion hd.
Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Among the twelve cities forming Ionia in 7th century BC, Miletus was the most powerful and wealthy. Situated on the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Maeander River, Miletus was a significant sea power and trading port. Prolific explorers, the Miletians founded dozens of new cities throughout the ancient world. Catalyzed by the confluence of stability, prosperity, and leisure, the city became the world’s premiere center for science and learning.

From 624 to 546 BC lived Thales of Miletus, considered the world’s first scientist and mathematician. Thales developed an understanding and prediction of natural phenomena without having to invoke any mythological explanations. He conducted experiments surmising the earth was round, and predicted an eclipse. Jesting about the recent adoption of coinage, he vowed to demonstrate the practicality of his work. Using his skills, he forecasted a banner olive season, cornered the market, and made a bundle of drachms.

Around the time of Thales’ death, Cyrus the Great was busy expanding his Achaemenid Empire across Anatolia via diplomacy and war. So esteemed was Miletus that no attempt was made to reduce its independence, allowing Thales’ followers to continue contemplation of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe. Thales’ apprentice, Anaximander, would develop the notion of sufficient reason, namely, there is no effect without a cause (even proposing, two millennia ahead of his time, that humans evolved from lower forms of sea life). By late 6th to early 5th century BC, Anaximander’s student, Anaximenes, would take things even further and advance a strictly mechanistic cosmology. For illustration, he used the analogy of a coin: “…it is impossible that one first principle should constitute the substance of things, but an active cause is also necessary; just as silver alone is not enough to become coin, but there is need of an active cause, a coin-maker.”

One can imagine toga-clad Anaximenes lecturing, coin in hand as a teaching aid, perhaps a diobol like this one, by far the most common denomination in western Anatolia at the time. On the obverse is the head of a roaring lion, the civic badge of Milletos, its pointillist mane filling the flan. The lion’s body curves behind the head, its tail appearing to sprout from the bellowing mouth. The reverse design is a stellate pattern within an incuse square. The precise meaning of this motif is a mystery: it may represent the sun specifically (Apollo was Miletos’ patron god) or perhaps the heavens generically, in reference to Miletian cosmologies.

In early 5th century BC, Miletus’ leadership incited rebellion against Persian King Darius I. The Ionian Revolt failed, and the city was obliterated in retaliation. Some Miletians fled; the others were slaughtered or enslaved by the Persians. Miletus’ golden age came abruptly to an end. The city was re-established later, but continued in decline, never achieving its former glory. Demonstrating the inexorable march of causality, silt deposited at the mouth of the Maeander over the centuries, choking off once-busy harbors. The Miletian economy collapsed, and the city was abandoned to ruins, which today lie many miles from the sea.

Coin details: IONIA, Miletos, late 6th-early 5th century BC, AR Diobol (10 mm, 1.23 g), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Forepart of lion right, head left, Reverse: Stellate design within incuse square, References: SNG Kayhan 476-82, SNG Keckman 273, ex-Demetrios Armounta Collection.
Slot: Ionia, Erythrae, 550-500 BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, ERYTHRAE c.550-500 BC
Design Description: Ionia, Erythrae Hecte
Item Description: EL Hecte Ionia, Erythrae rv quadripartite incuse obv Heracles hd.
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
According to legend, the Asia Minor town of Erythrae was named owing its settlement by Erythrus the Red on a small peninsula jutting into an Aegean bay sharing the same name. The city became a melting pot of various tribes, including Cretans, Lycians, Carians, and Pamphylians. The vicinity was not only strategically important, but also abundant in wild animals and other resources such as timber and millstones; in particular, the rugged, insulated territory of the Erythraei produced excellent wheat and wine.

Erythrae was one of the twelve cities forming the Ionian League in the mid 7th century BC, about the same time that first coins appeared. These coins were made of electrum, usually with simple obverse designs such as globules, pellets, and lines, and with incuse punch on the reverse. About a century later (550-500 BC), this one-sixth stater, or Hekte, was produced in Erythrae. By this time a variety of obverse designs were being used, including depictions of animals and people. The obverse of this particular coin depicts Hercules’ head, donning a lion skin (Nemean, the fruit of his first labor). Hercules was an important deity to the Erythraie, who built him a large Temple. The people there worshipped him there fervently as the great Worm Killer (Ipoktonos) since he defeated a famous sort of worm (ips) that was ravaging the grape vines; Erythrae was reportedly the only location at the time free from this pest.

On the reverse of the coin is a quadripartite incuse, as found on northern Ionian coins of the period. This symbol may represent the sun, and was also associated with the goddess Athena, for whom the Erythraei also built a temple of worship. Indeed, it was written by Pausanias that here was “the finest possible climate.” It certainly made sense for the Erythraie to pray for both continued fertile soil and good climate, in order to safeguard production of their famous wines.

Over the millennia, invaders and natural disasters such as earthquakes ravaged the city. To date, some relics and ruins of red trachyte structures have been found, including those of an amphitheater and the podium on which stood the Temple of Athena, however, the location of the Temple of Hercules remains unknown.

Coin Details: IONIA, Erythrae, ca. 550-500 BC, EL Hekte – Third Stater (2.56 g), Lydo-Milesian standard, NGC Graded: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Head of Heracles wearing lionskin to left, Reverse: Quadripartite incuse, Reference: SNG V. Aulock 1942v.
Slot: Achaemenid Empire, 5th Century BC
Design Description: Achaemenid Empire Daric
Item Description: AV Daric Achaemenid Empire spear. rv incuse punch. obv hero-king w/bow &
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The Achaemenid Empire was founded in 6th century BC by Cyrus the Great, a descendent of King Achaemenes of Persis. By various military, political, and economic machinations, Cyrus and his successors rapidly grew the Empire: within a century, it became the largest nation the world had yet seen, spanning three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) encompassing over 3 million square miles and almost one half of the world’s population. Having such a diversity of subjugated cultures and religions, the Empire fostered a policy of tolerance, and on the Cyrus Cylinder was inscribed the earliest documented charter of human rights. Such rapid expansion was also facilitated by new infrastructures such as a postal system, complex road networks, and harmonization of ways and means.

To this end, Darius I (521-486 BC), ruler of the Achaemenid Empire at its very height, introduced this thick gold coin, which he named after himself. Known for their standardized weights of about 8.4 g and high gold purity of over 95%, the daric was intended to be the common currency. This coin bears the image of a great Persian warrior (probably promoting Darius himself) armed with a bow and spear, in a half kneeling, half running position.

A plethora of coins were required for bribes, military exploits, and ambitious civil projects in support
of the Empire, requiring a heavy tax burden on its constituents. As the Empire and its wealth grew, so did the difficulty in sustaining it. Local governments were delegated more powers, thus weakening central authority, and there were internal succession struggles within the Achaemenid dynasty. Most importantly, there was a juggernaut coming from the west: Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army. By 330 BC, after battles lasting a period measured in years, an Empire that flourished for two centuries was brought to military defeat. Alexander, who admired and was influenced by Cyrus, found vast stores of darics and promptly had them all melted down – probably by the millions - and had them reforged into coins of his own designs. The only surviving coins were those hidden in hoards and then latter uncovered. Thus, what was once destined a universal currency has instead become a numismatic rarity.

Coin Details: ACHAEMEDIN EMPIRE, c. 5th Century BC, AV Daric (8.33 g), NGC Graded: AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Persian king or hero in kneeling-running stance right, holding spear and bow, Reverse: Incuse punch, Reference: Carradice Type IIIb, group A/B (pl. XIII, 27), BMC Arabia pl. XXIV, 26.
Slot: Macedon, Acanthus, 5th-4th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MACEDON, ACANTHUS 5th-4th Centuries BC
Design Description: Macedon, Acanthus Tetrobol
Item Description: AR Tetrobol Macedon, Acanthus rv shallow incuse obv bull forepart
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Acanthus (or Akanthos) was an ancient city in Macedonia, Greece, located on the Athos peninsula. The city earned its name from the thorny bush with ornate leaves found abundantly in the area. The main use of the plant by the Greeks (and later, the Romans) was ornamental. Carvings depicting acanthus leaves can be found on columns dating back to at least to mid 5th century BC.

This coin was minted in Acanthus sometime in 5th to 4th century BC. The obverse is a portrayal of bull pointed forward, its head turned backwards to its right, kneeling, with the front legs folded to its left. The design is a marvelous employment of space filling the flan, leaving just enough room for a “PE” mint mark above the bull’s head. Like the shallow incuse grid on the verso, the exact meaning of the mark remains unknown.

This kneeling bull design is widely interpreted as portraying a sacrifice. Many ancient cultures sacrificed these animals for worship (and presumably also for food). The Greeks were no different: bulls had many associations with gods such as Hera and Dionysus, and, of course, there was also the famous Cretan Bull that grappled with Hercules, and later Theseus. No wonder the bull was a popular design on ancient Greek coinage.

Ancient communities commonly carried out bull (and other animal) sacrifices. These religious, social, and culinary events were also opportunities for trade, and it has even been proposed that striking of coins was linked to such gatherings. Perhaps, in this case, the kneeling bull design was meant to commemorate the doomed beast.

Coin Details: MACEDON, ACANTHUS, 5th-4th Century BC, AR Tetrabol (2.35 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Forepart of kneeling bull left, head looking back, Reverse: reverse shallow quadripartite incuse square, References: SGCV I 1369; SNG ANS 44 - 46; BMC Macedonia p. 153, 6 var; SNG Cop 16 var.
Slot: Bosporus, Panticapaeum, 4th Century BC
Design Description: Bosphorus, Panticapeaum, AE20
Item Description: AE20 Bosporus,panticapaeum rv griffin forepart; fish obv Pan or Silenus(?)
Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The Bosporan Kingdom, or Cimmerian Bosporus, was named after the strait connecting the northern coastal Black Sea to the smaller Sea of Azov. The capital, Panticapaeum, was founded on the western side (modern-day Kerch, Crimea) by Milesians sometime around late 7th or early 6th century BC. The city held a strategic position as boundary between the Hellenistic world and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. As such, it was a prosperous trading port, with goods ranging from fish and wheat to slaves.

This coin was minted in Panticapaeum at the end of the 4th century BC, during the ruling period of the Sparocid dynasty. Depicted on the coins are several symbols commonly associated with the city. For example, the coin’s reverse displays the forepart of a griffin (a chimerical creature with the front of an eagle and the back of a lion) and underneath it a fish (resembling a sturgeon, which was common in Cimmerian waters at the time).

The obverse wonderfully depicts a wreathed and bearded satyr, presumably the local favorite deity, Pan. According to Hellenistic mythology, Pan, “to pasture” in Greek, is god of the wilds, ruling over shepherds and flocks, and is associated with hunting and rustic music. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat (note the latter on the coin). Pan is connected to fertility, the season of spring, and chasing after nymphs. Notable was the lecherous pursuit of the lovely water-nymph Syrinx who, to escape from Pan’s importunities, had herself turned into a reed. Pan, not sure which one of them was his former flame, took several reeds and joined them together, forming his famous flute.

Several centuries after this coin was minted, King Mithridates VI would absorb Pantincapeaum into his Pontic kingdom. Given the city’s strategic location, this would not be its last affiliation change, as it fell under domain of the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and later, the Russian Empire. Even today, the sovereignty and control of the Crimean peninsula is subject of ongoing dispute.

Coin Details: Cimmerian Bosporos, Panticapaeum, circa 310-304/3 BC, AE (20 mm, 6.33g, 11h), NGC Grade: Ch AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Wreathed and bearded head of satyr right, Reverse: Forepart of griffin left, fish below left, References: MacDonald 69; HGC 6, 113; SNG Black Sea 869-871.
Slot: Mysia, Parion, 4th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MYSIA, PARIUM 4th Century BC
Design Description: Mysia Hemidrachm
Item Description: AR Hemidrachm Mysia, Parium rv bull stg. obv Gorgoneion
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Further comments are pending some research.

Coin Details: MYSIA, Parion, 4th Centry BC, AR Hemidrachm (13 mm, 2.48 g, 6h), NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Bull standing left, head right, PI underneath, Reverse: Gorgoneion, Reference: SNG France 1356-7.
Slot: Thessaly, Larissa, 4th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) THESSALY, LARISSA 4th Century BC
Design Description: Thessaly, Larissa Drachm
Item Description: AR Drachm Thessaly, Larissa rv horse about to roll obv nymph Larissa
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The city of Larissa lies in the heart of Thessaly, a Grecian territory on the Aegean Sea, south of Macedon. Various peoples lived off the fertile soils in this region, dating back to at least Neolithic times. Thessaly supplied agricultural goods throughout Greece and the rest of the Mediterranian world (and still does today). In particular, Thessaly was famous for its prized horses and cavalry that fought in ancient battles such as the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian wars in 5th century BC.

By early 4th century BC, Thessaly had reached the peak of its influence, after being unified under Jason of Pherae. However, Jason was assassinated in 370 BC, and after a series of internal and external struggles, it was Philip II of Macedon who would take the territory under his wing, being declared Archon by the Thessalians.

Around that time, Larissa produced coins of exquisite beauty, such as this drachm accorded a “Fine Style” designation by NGC. The obverse depicts the expressive head of Larissa herself, former daughter of primordial kings who drowned in the river Peneios and was reborn as a water nymph. On the reverse is one of Thessaly’s famous horses, crouching in a dramatic pose, as if about to roll.

This particular die variety, with a thorny plant growing from the ground between the horse’s legs, was probably minted after Philip II won the Battle of Chaerone, with the subsequent formation of the Hellenic League, unifying Greece for the first time. Not surprisingly, a major factor in the victory was the charge of the Thessalian cavalry, led by Philip’s 18 year old son and successor, Alexander.

Coin Details: THESSALY, LARISSA, 4th Century BC, AR Drachm (6.10 g), Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Head of nymph Larisssa, three quarters left, Reverse: Horse crouching right, ready to roll, thorny plant below, AAPE above, AKON in exergue, Reference: CC Lorber “A hoard of facing head Larissa Drachms,” Coin 61 (Plate 5).
Slot: Moesia, Istrus, 4th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MOESIA, ISTRUS 4th Century BC
Design Description: Moesia, Istrus Drachm
Item Description: AR Drachm Moesia, Istrus rv sea-eagle on dolphin obv inverted heads
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Moesia was an ancient land comprising parts of present-day Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. A dominant feature of the land was the mighty Danube river, and where it flowed into Pontus Euxinus, the Black Sea, lies the city of Istrus, founded by Milesean settlers in 7th century BC.

Istrus and other major Black Sea coastal cities produced coinage employing the dramatic motif of an eagle perched atop the back of a dolphin, as shown on the reverse of this 4th century BC drachm. The significance of this particular design, which was probably innovated by coastal Paphlagonians, has been debated (for comparison and more comments, see the Sinope AR drachm in this set).

The obverse design of this coin is also striking: two identical young male heads facing forwards, inverted with respect to one another. Like the reverse design, the meaning is mysterious, its likewise has been subject of much speculation. Among the many theories proposed are that the young men represent two branches of the Danube, or epitomize the rising and setting sun, or perhaps are a clever solution allowing rapid coin identification from any angle (since there is no “right” side up). For certain, the design is unique, so much so that there are no similar examples in all of iconography. Whatever the inspiration was, it was probably a powerful one.

In 434 BC, Istrus was host to a nearly total solar eclipse, featuring an upside-down reversal of a horned, partially eclipsed sun. Three years later during the Peloponnesian War, there was another nearly total solar eclipse, presenting a similarly reversing, horned sun. On average at a given location, such an event occurs perhaps once per century; two instances in three years was extraordinary. Perhaps then the heads represent the sun-god Apollo, and their inversion was inspired by the eclipse(s).

Minting and circulation of coins with the inverted head design at Istrus continued for another century, and in 337 BC the city experienced yet another eclipse, this time an even more dramatic and total one. By this time, Istrus was declining in influence and, potential messaging from Apollo aside, soon thereafter ceased using the double inverted heads figure. Even so, the eagle-on-dolphin motif would continue, and later be incorporated into Roman coinage until at least mid-3rd century AD, perhaps the longest run of any ancient numismatic design.

Additional Reading: "The double heads of Istrus: the oldest eclipse on a coin?" W C Saslaw and P Murdin, J Hist Astro 36: 21-27, 2005.

Coin Details: MOESIA, ISTRUS, 4th Century BC, AR Drachm (5.70 g, 17 mm), NGC Grade: MS *, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Facing male heads, the left inverted, Reverse: Eagle left, grasping dolphin with talons, A below, References: AMNG I/1, 435; SNG BM Black Sea 240.
Slot: Cilicia, Tarsus, 361-328 BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) CILICIA, TARSUS Mazaeus, c.361-328 BC
Design Description: Mazaeus Stater
Item Description: AR Stater Cilicia, Tarsus rv lion attacks bull obv Ba'al of Tarsus std.
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The ancient land of Cilicia, situated in southeastern Asia Minor, was bordered by the Mediterranean to the south, the Taurus Mountains to the west and north, and the Amanus Mountains to the east. Through the Taurus range there was a pass, known in ancient times as the Cilician Gates, providing a connection to Cappadocia. Several other passes to the east provided access to Syria and Mesopotamia. Strategically located in between were fertile plains dominated by the rivers Pyramis, Sarus, and Cydnus, and along the shores of latter was located the capital city of Tarsus.

Cilicia was settled by various tribes dating back at least to Neolithic times. In 6th century BC, the region was conquered by Cyrus the Great, and Cilicia became a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. The Cilician and Syrian Gates subsequently were integrated into an ancient system of interconnected roads, with an arterial passage known as the Royal Road. The Royal Road stretched almost 1700 miles from one end of the Achaemenid Empire to the other (Susa to Sardis). Persian couriers could traverse it in ninety days, and were praised by Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

During this period as part of the Achaemenid Empire, the satrapy of Cilicia had its own local ruler, or satrap (governor). In mid 4th century BC, the satrap of Cilicia was Mazaeus (c. 385-328 BC), and this coin, a stater was minted in Tarsus during his reign, probably between 361 and 334 BC.

The obverse of this coin depicts Baal the God of Tarsus (with many alternate spellings including Baaltars) with the Aramaic legend BALTRZ. Baal is sitting on a throne, with his body to the left and his gaze directly ahead. In his left hand is a scepter, with a lotus flower at its end, and in his right hand he hold a bunch of grapes and a corn ear, not to mention a perched eagle. This imagery reflects Baal’s many attributes, including associations with fertility, agriculture, and the sky. Baal was a supreme God, and his Greek counterpart was Zeus. It is speculated that Mazaeus’ Baal obverse design was the model for the Zeus reverse employed and widely circulated under Alexander the Great and his successors.

The verso of this coin depicts the dramatic scheme of a lion ferociously pouncing on the back of a bull. The bull is kneeling, and the lion is in the process of taking a vicious bite. The imagery of lion battling/defeating a bull was prevalent in ancient Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, including on coinage. For example, the motif was employed on coins minted by Lydian King Croesus around mid 6th-century BC. There are various hypotheses regarding the design’s meaning, and it may be that more than one was intended. One theory is that the lion symbolizes summer, which defeats the bull, a symbol of winter. Another view is that the lion symbolizes Baal and the kneeling bull symbolizes Zeus; in this case, conveying the message to the Greeks that our God is powerful than yours. Whatever the minter’s intent, the lion-bull iconography is impressive and makes a profound impact on the viewer.

Divine rivalries aside, the relative potency of the Greek army, led by Alexander the Great, was soon to be proven against the Achaemenid forces led by King Darius III. In a series of battles, the Persians were beaten and forced to withdraw, including Mazaeus who fled to Babylon. In order to prevent the total destruction of the city, Mazaeus and the Persians surrendered it to Alexander in 331 AD without a fight. The great conqueror gained not only the city, but also the beautiful Persian Princess Barsine - Mazaeus’ betrothed - who became Alexander’s second wife. In reciprocation, Mazaeus was made the governor of Babylon, one of the world’s largest cities at the time, a post he held until his death in 328 AD.

Coin Details: CILICIA, TARSUS, Mazaeus, c. 361-328 BC, AR Stater (11.03 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Baal of Tarsos enthroned left holding eagle, corn ear and bunch of grapes in right hand and lotus tipped scepter in left, BALTRZ in Aramaic, Reverse: Lion left attacking with its teeth and claws, on the back of bull kneeling left, monogram, References: Sear Greek 5654-5655); SNG Levante 106var.
Slot: Paphlagonia, Sinope, Late 4th Century BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) PAPHLAGONIA, SINOPE late 4th Century BC
Design Description: Paphlagonia Drachm
Item Description: AR Drachm Paphlagonia, Sinope nymph/eagle on dolphin reduced weight standard
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Paphlagonia, in northern Asia Minor, stretches from the Pontic mountains down to the Black Sea. With rugged mountainous, fertile valleys, and rich fisheries, this diverse territory was named after its legendary founder Paphlagonus, descendant of Phoenician kings. Around 630 BC, Miletian settlers arrived, and established the coastal city of Sinope. The region was considered an ungovernable barbaricum; despite being conquered over the next several centuries by Lydians, Persian, then Macedonians, it was to retain relative autonomy, including minting of its own style coinage.

The Paphlagonians developed an unusual and dramatic design for their coins: an eagle perched atop the back of a dolphin, as on the reverse of this coin from the late 4th century BC. The significance of this design is forgotten. Perhaps the dolphin represents the sea-god, Poseidon, and the eagle symbolizes the mountain-born sky-god, Zeus, thus reflecting Sinope’s sea to sky environs. Compared to earlier coins, wherein the eagle-dolphin design was on the obverse, with an incuse punch on the reverse, this coin has the motif on the reverse side, with the obverse bearing a portrait of the nymph Sinope herself. These coins were produced under a series of magistrates, whose names appear behind the eagle’s outstretched wings, and such numismatic designs reflect an artistic and independent spirit.

About a century and a half after this coin was minted, Mithradates VI Eupator took Sinope - his birthplace - and made it the capital of his Pontic Kingdom. The next century, the city was at its heyday, until it (along with the rest of Eupator’s realm) was conquered by the Romans. Although Sinope continued to be a prosperous colony, it never recovered its former importance.

Coin Details: PAPHLAGONIA, SINOPE. Late 4th century BC, AR Drachm (5.06 g). Agreos, magistrate, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Head of nymph left, hair in sakkos, wearing triple-pendant earring and pearl necklace, Reverse: Sea-eagle standing left, wings spread, on dolphin left; AGPE[OS] above, SINO below. References: RG 25; HGC 7, 399; SNG BM Black Sea 1481–2; SNG von Aulock 6847–9 var. (magistrate); SNG Copenhagen 284–5 var.
Slot: Pamphylia, Aspendos, 4th-3rd Century BC
Design Description: Aspendos Wrestler-Style Stater
Item Description: AR Stater Pamphylia, Aspendus rv slinger, triskeles obv wrestlers
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Pamphylia was the ancient name for the fertile alluvial plains in south central Anatolia. East of Lycia and west of Cilicia, this land was populated by Hittites tribes prior to the first millennium BC. Greeks arrived in the 7th century BC, and subsequently began trading with Pamphylia. One of the latter’s main ports was Aspendos, situated on the Eurymedon river, far enough from the Mediterranean Sea to have ready access, while being safe from surprise naval attacks. Among its products, the area was known for its fine sea salts. In 6th century BC, the region came under the dominion of the rich Lydian King Croesus, and subsequently, the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great. Over the next several centuries, control would change several times between the Persians and the Greeks, and later the Romans.

In 5th century BC, the Pamphylians started producing coins in Aspendos. The city’s mint was prolific in ancient times, reflecting the city’s prosperity. Their coinage often depicted wrestlers, and this motif is among the most dynamic of all ancient numismatics. This coin, a stater minted in Aspendos some time during the 4th or 3rd century BC, is an example of the style. On the obverse, two naked male wrestlers are intensely grappling, with their arms interlocked and heads pressed against each other.

At the time, Greek wrestling was the most popular organized sport in Ancient Greece. It was the first competition to be added to the Olympic games not involving a footrace, and it was part of the pentathlon. Wrestling was viewed as the ultimate test of an athlete’s raw strength and skill. The matches were sacred and the rules were strict: for example, no punching, kicking, biting, eye-gouging, or grasping of genitalia were allowed, upon pain of immediate whipping by the referee.

The exact significance of the Aspendos wrestlers is unknown. Perhaps the city was home to a famous wrestling club that boasted of a champion at the Olympic games? In any case, wrestlers appeared on Aspendos’ coinage for more than a century, suggesting some significance between the sport and the city.

On the coin’s verso is another athlete, this time a slinger advancing right, about to discharge a stone from his sling. It has been theorized that the slinger may be a pun, since the Greek word for slinger, sphendone, voices similarly to the city’s name, Aspendos. It may also be that Aspendos was generally renowned for great athletes, and slinging, like wrestling, was an Olympic sport (although competitions were usually held gymnos, or naked, and the slinger on the coin, unlike the wrestlers, is clothed).

Also present on the coin’s reverse is a triskeles, comprising three bent human legs extending from the symbol’s center. The triskeles, and ciphers similar to it, were popular numismatic elements in ancient times, for example used on the coins of Sicily. Unlike the meaning of the wrestlers and slinger, the exact significance of the triskeles in this context is known: it was the Aspendos city emblem.

Coin Details: PAMPHYLIA, ASPENDUS (ASPENDOS), 4th-3rd Century BC, AR Stater (10.83 g), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Two naked male wrestlers engaged, AK between, Reverse: Slinger advancing right, triskeles before, [EC]UFEDIIUC behind, all in linear-beaded square, Reference: SNG von Aulock 4561. SNG Copenhagen 231
Slot: Sicily, Syracuse, 317-289 BC
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) SICILY, SYRACUSE Agathocles, 317-289 BC
Design Description: Agathocles Litra
Item Description: AE24 Sicily, Syracuse rv lion pouncing; club obv diad. hd. of Heracles
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Agathocles (361 – 289 BC) was born a potter’s son in Sicily. Although he dutifully learned his father’s trade, he desired to become something greater, so he purdued a military and political career, steadily rising to prominence. Along the way Agathocles banished or murdered thousands of people, and Agathocles became known as the Tyrant of Syracuse.

In late 4th century BC in what became known as the third Sicilian War, Agathocles laid siege to major cities such as Messene, Akragas, and Syracuse, breaking the terms of (an already precarious) peace treaty with the rival city and kingdom of Carthage. Although Agathocles’ tactics allowed him to create a strong army and navy, the Carthaginians counterattacked with an equally, if not more, formidable force. Things were going badly for Agathocles, and he decided to boldly sail to the African coast, bringing the battle to Carthage itself. He was successful in reprieving Syracuse, as the Carthaginians military was forced to return and defend their homeland. For a couple years, Agathocles had some successes in taking over Carthaginian lands, but failed to take the city. In the end, Carthage regained all its lands and Agathocles fled back to Sicily. Yet another truce was settled wherein Agathocles retained Syracuse and eastern Sicily for the Greeks, and the western portion of the island once again came under Carthage’s control.

This coin, a bronze litra that has remarkably survived in mint state, was produced in Syracuse in 308-307 BC under the reign of Agathocles, shortly before signing the treaty with Carthage. On the obverse is the popular figure of Heracles, wearing a tainia, a sort of headband traditionally worn by the Greeks, that later evolved into the imperial diadema. On the reverse is more imagery representing the Heracles mythology: a proudly prancing lion, with a club above and a spear below.

For almost another two decades after this coin was minted, Agathocles reigned as King of Syracuse. He focused his military exploits on Italy, rather than Carthage, and had some successes, for example taking control of some major cities to be succeeded by his son and namesake; however, the latter was slain by his nephew, who also harbored royal aspirations. Responding to the bitter feuding, Agathocles proclaimed on his deathbed that no one succeed him as king, and instead that Syracuse be restored to a democracy.

Coin Details: SICILY, SYRACUSE, Agathocles, 317-289 BC, AE24 (Litra) (23 mm, 6.60 g, 1h), struck 308-307 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Heracles right, hair bound with tainia, Reverse: Lion with raised foreleg right, club above, spear in exergue, References: BAR issue 24; CNS 151 Ds 8 Rs 63; HGC 2, 1465.
Slot: Zeugitana, Carthage, 3rd Century BC
Design Description: Carthage AE15
Item Description: AE15 Zeugitana, Carthage rv horse stg.; palm tree Sicilian mint. obv Tanit.
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
In early 1st millennia BC, the Phoenicians were a major economic power, founding cities across the Mediterranean. One notable tale is that of legendary Queen Dido, exiled from the capital, Tyre. Around early 8th century BC, her expedition landed in modern-day coastal Libya. Desiring to purchase the site, Dido made an offer, and the king agreed, but only conceding as much land as she could cover with a bull’s hide. Dido selected a large bull, and with her thrifty colleagues excised the hide so thinly they managed 120 acres, which became the city of Carthage.

Carthage became an increasingly important port for Phoenician traders. In late 4th century BC, Tyrians came in droves to the city, fleeing the rampage of Alexander the Great, and bringing their wealth with them. The city expanded rapidly, with help from tributes and slaves extracted from the surrounding areas. More territories came under the influence of the “shining city,” and it became renowned for elaborate palaces, tall towers, and two immense, artificial harbors, one for its massive navy, the other for mercantile vessels. At its height, the Carthaginian Empire ruled the Punic world, comprising hundreds of cities along the western Mediterranean.

Carthage's arch rival was the mighty city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. The two cities fought many battles over the centuries. In 409 BC, the Carthaginians occupied Syracuse, and copied their art of minting artistic coins. This coin is one such example, dating from either the 4th or perhaps 3rd century BC. The obverse depicts the popular figure of Tanit who, along with her consort Ba'al Hammon, were Carthage's key deities, ruling over sun, stars, and moon. On the reverse is another fantastic and characteristic Carthaginian motif, that of a horse standing in front of a palm tree. This image became synonymous with Carthage itself.

The motivation for Carthage to minting coins initially may have been to defray the mercenary cost of holding and further expanding her new territories. In that regard, Carthage was successful for a while, having severely weakened her rival. However, a new and even more powerful foe, namely Rome, was on the rise, and to be grappled with. In the end, Carthage was utterly destroyed, including most of its literature, art, and material culture, and the lands transformed into the important Roman province of Zeugitana. Of Carthage, all that survived was the histories of the victors (unflattering and, no doubt, highly biased), and, fortunately, the artistry of their beautiful coinage.

Further Reading: "Carthaginians borrowed Silician coin designs," J. Illingworth, NGC Ancients 10/16/2012.

Coin Details: ZEUGITANA, CARTHAGE, 400-350 BC, AE 15 (15 mm, 2.59 g, 11h), NGC Grade: AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Wreathed head of Tanit left, Reverse: Horse standing right before palm tree, Reference: MAA 18; SNG Copenhagen 109-113.
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