Octobols of Histiaea

Newell, Edward Theodore, 1886-1941
Numismatic Notes and Monographs
American Numismatic Society
New York
Worldcat Works




Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.


Table of Contents




By Edward T. Newell

A rather unexpected combination of circumstances has recently led the writer to investigate a well-known group of coins struck in the Eubœan city of Histiæa. The results of this study strongly emphasize a necessary alteration in the dates which have been generally assigned to certain of these pieces, thereby throwing into considerable relief the causes leading to the introduction of the series in question.

In April of 1920, during an all too short sojourn in Athens, the writer experienced the unusual fortune of securing a very fine specimen of the well known octobol of Histiæa. The raison d'être for the present article partly hinges on the fact that this new example chances to be in a far better state of preservation than the only other known specimen. The latter piece, until now unique, was originally owned by P. Lambros of Athens and was for the first time published by S. Komnos in the Revue Numismatique, 1865, pl. vii, No. 10. It was later republished by R. Weil in the Zeitschrift für Numismatik, vol. 1, 1874, pp. 186-7. Eventually the coin passed to Photiades Pasha, and at the dispersal of his collection was bought for the Bibliothèque Nationale where it now reposes. This particular specimen, once more described by M. Babelon in his Traité 2, Vol. III, No. 201, pl. cxcviii, fig. 27, weighs 5.75 grammes and is therefore an octobol of the Attic system. Thanks to the kindness of M. Babelon this coin is herewith reproduced on Plate I, No. 2.

The new example (Plate I, No. 3) of the Histiæan octobol is in most respects identical with the Paris specimen, both having been struck apparently from the same pair of dies. The writer's coin, however, weighs 5.59 grammes and is, as stated above, somewhat better preserved.1

The delight experienced at the unexpected acquisition of so rare a piece was but further increased by the opportunity now presented of deciphering an inscription engraved in minute letters on the cross-bar of the stylis held in the Nymph's hand. This inscription apparently commences with the three letters A ⊝ A, engraved on the left hand portion of the cross-bar. There are distinct traces of two more letters on the right hand portion, but these unfortunately are indecipherable. A careful inspection of the Paris specimen, on which the first three letters chance to be obliterated but the last two rather more distinct, would suggest — in view of the probabilities of the case — that these two remaining letters should perhaps be read N A. Thus by means of the new specimen M. Svoronos' insistence (Jour. Int. d'Arch. et Num., 1914, vol. XVI, p. 91) that the cross-bar of the stylis on the coins of Histiæa once bore an inscription, is now fully corroborated. We will later have occasion to return to this inscription and its probable significance.

It so happened that but a few days previous to the fortunate discovery of the Histiæan octobol, the writer was engaged in studying a most interesting little hoard of Fourth Century coins, now preserved in the National Collection at Athens. This hoard contains tetradrachms of Philip II and Alexander the Great, a drachm of Larissa (400-344 B. C.), two hemidrachms of Locri Opuntii, a drachm of Bœotia, a drachm and five hemidrachms of Sicyon, and a tetrobol of Histiæa — a total of thirty five coins. The find was recently made in the course of some work being carried on near the mole or jetty at Kyparissia in the Peloponnese. The coins themselves are rather heavily coated with oxide, but their original condition appears to have been very good. The hoard presents at least two points of unusual interest. In the first place it antedates by some five or six years the earliest known deposit of Alexander coins — the famous gold hoards of Saida — whose probable date of interment was about the year 322-321 B. C. The second point of interest lies in the fact that the tetrobol of Histiæa belongs to the seated Nymph type, a type that R. Weil (Z. f. N., 1874, p. 183 ff) considers to have been first introduced in 312 B. C., and possibly as late as 290-289 B. C. In this he has been followed by Head in the British Museum Catalogue, Central Greece, where the coins in question are placed after 312 B. C. Both the Historia Numorum and M. Babelon in his Traité des Monnaies grecques et romaines endorse this assignment. Needless to say, the specimen in the Kyparissia Find belongs to what all these authorities recognize as the first group of the series, characterized by full weight and very fine style. Similar specimens are reproduced on Pl. xxiv, figs. 6 and 7 of the British Museum Catalogue, Pl. cxcviii, fig. 28 of the Traité, and Pl. 1, No. 4 of the present article. Now the dating of our hoard rests entirely upon the Alexander tetradrachms, and for the following reasons. The tetradrachms of Philip II which it contained, were all struck previous to 336 B. C., as none of them belong to that large category known to have been issued for many years after that monarch's death. The drachm of Larissa certainly precedes 344 B. C.; the hemidrachms of the Opuntian Locrians precede 338 B. C.; the Theban drachm is not later than 395 B. C.; the Sicyonian drachm and hemidrachms have been assigned by M. Babelon to the period between 400 and 300 B. C., and by Head previous to 323 B. C., but the Kyparissia specimens are of rather early style. The Alexander tetradrachms contained in this hoard are the issues of three mints only, Amphipolis, Tarsus, and Ake. The Amphipolitan varieties are types Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 19 and 25 of the writer's Reattribution of Certain Tetradrachms of Alexander the Great in the American Journal of Numismatics for 1911. According to the writer's more recent studies, these types are among the earliest issues of that mint and should be dated not later than 328 or 327 B. C.

The varieties attributable to Tarsus correspond to Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 10 of the writer's Tarsos under Alexander in the Ameri- can Journal of Numismatics, Vol. LII, 1918, where these particular varieties are assigned to the period comprised between 333 and 328 B. C. Finally, the sole representative of the Ake mint corresponds to No. 2 of the writer's The Dated Alexander Coinage of Sidon and Ake , where its date has been shown to be 332-330 B. C. Thus, we find a difference of some thirteen or fourteen years, at least, between the latest Alexander tetradrachms of the Kyparissia Hoard and the earliest date (313-312 D. C.) assigned by the leading authorities to the first appearance of the Histiæan tetrobols with the seated Nymph for their reverse type. The presence2 in the hoard of a similar tetrobol is therefore sufficiently disturbing to call for an investigation of its hitherto accepted dating.

Even a superficial study of all the Histiæan tetrobols with the seated Nymph type soon reveals the fact that those of the finest style, as represented by No. 4 on Plate I, stand quite apart from the remainder of the series. Plate II, Nos. 1-5, give some typical examples of the later issues. Except for their types, there is nothing in common between the two groups. No artistic or technical continuity is here apparent. Indeed, at first glance, one would suppose them to have been separated by an interval of at least fifty or more years, as in fact they are. It is quite possible that some of these later issues really do belong to the commencement of the third century, B. C., but one feels an instinctive reluctance towards placing those of the finest style (Pl. I, 4) along with them. Their artistic merit and the fine technique of their engraving is far superior to the usual numismatic productions of Greece towards the very end of the fourth century and later. The appearance at this time of the beautiful tetrobol and its accompanying octobol would be very extraordinary.

The question was finally settled in the writer's own mind, by the acquisition in Geneva of an almost uncirculated specimen of the first issue of Histiæa, the Eubœic drachm with the reverse type of the cow and vine. This piece, formerly in the collection of the late Dr. Pozzi of Paris, is here reproduced Plate I, No. I. The series to which this coin belongs has been assigned by all scholars since Weil to the years 369-338 B. C. A comparison between the obverse of this drachm and that of the octobol (Plate I, No. 3) reveals at once a striking similarity, one should say identity, of style and execution. Every artistic criterion would cause one to suppose that their respective obverse dies had been cut by one and the same hand. The details of treatment to be seen in the eye, the mouth, the nose and profile, as well as the similarity of the planes throughout, certainly reveal the handiwork of a single die-cutter. Even if we should set aside this apparently selfevident fact as impossible of definite proof, the style of the two coins is yet far too close to allow us to believe that some twenty six years (to take the smallest limit allowed us by our authorities, that is, between 338 and 312 B. C.) could have elapsed between the striking of the two coins. If not actually contemporaneous, they must have followed, the one upon the other, with but a very small intervening time. In other words, a consideration of style alone apparently forces us to assign the little group of Histiæan octobols and tetrobols, of fine style and with the seated Nymph reverse, to a period preceding the year 338 B. C., at which date the island of Eubœa finally fell into Philip's power and all local coinage ceased. Such an assignment, forcibly suggested by a close consideration of the coins themselves, is proved by the contents of the Kyparissia Hoard. The well nigh impossible proposition that this find, or for that matter any other find, could contain a coin supposedly struck more than fourteen years later than any one of its companion pieces in the hoard is thus avoided. The result is that our Eubœic drachms with the cow and vine reverse, as well as the attic octobols and the earliest group of the corresponding tetrobols with the seated Nymph reverse, must both be assigned to the period between 369 and 338 B. C. The problem now is, at just what time, within the limits of this period, did the change in type and weight take place?

It chances that we have been given a fairly clear insight by Demosthenes, and other writers, of the events which occurred in Histiæa3 at the period when Philip and Athens were rapidly drifting into their final struggle. For some years the Macedonian king had held secure possession of the Thessalian mainland lying immediately opposite Histiæa. The inhabitants of Oreus, as Histiæa is usually called by the Attic writers, had long been divided into two bitterly opposed factions. Finally, a certain Philistides, an ardent philippiser, gained the ascendancy with Macedonian help, and Euphræus, the leader of the opposing or Athenian faction, was seized and cast into prison where he shortly afterwards committed suicide. To make his success assured, Philistides secured from the mainland a contingent of Macedonian soldiers and, with their aid, he was able to maintain his position as tyrant of Histiæa and the representative of Philip in this portion of Eubœa. But soon the fiery eloquence of Demosthenes, his patriotic pleading, his denunciation of Philip's policy which very evidently threatened the power and even the existence of Athens, gained the ascendancy in the Assembly. At his instigation certain envoys, and later a military and naval force under Phokion, were sent to Eubœa. The operations against Histiæa were crowned with complete success. Histiæa was freed, Philistides was forced to flee (Steph. Byz. even states that he was killed), and the Macedonians expelled from the island. These events took place in the autumn and winter of 341-340 B. C. Histiæa, together with the remainder of Eubœa, became an ally of Athens against Philip, and two years later their soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder on the disastrous field of Chræonea. With that decisive defeat Eubœa once more came under the dominion of Philip.

Such were the historical events, here so briefly detailed, that not only explain the sudden introduction of the Attic weight and new types into the Histiæan coinage, but also clearly show that this probably took place early in 340 B. C. immediately following the expulsion of Philistides and his Macedonians. In other words, we must now assign the Histiæan octobols and their accompanying tetrobols to the period of 340-338 B. C. The extreme rarity of the larger denomination and the comparative scarcity of the tetrobol of finest style make it evident that their issue was not one of long duration. Their Attic weight would also seem to corroborate the new dating proposed here. Is it not natural to suppose that Histiæa should have adopted the weight standard of the now dominant power in Eubœa and her liberator from the Macedonian yoke? Especially is such a procedure likely in view of the fact that a combined campaign against the Macedonian power was now apparently imminent.

Finally, a study of the new type adopted by the Histiæans will, in the writer's opinion, but add a further proof, if such be needed, that the new coinage of Attic weight was inaugurated as a result and at the time of the Athenian expedition to Histiæa. In the first place, it is evident that the type of a divinity seated upon a ship, or the portion of a ship, is indeed an innovation on the coinages of Greece proper. Later, a similar motive was chosen by Antigonus Doson when he placed upon his tetradrachms the representation of Apollo seated upon a ship's prow. Several coins struck by the Magnetes of Thessaly depict Artemis seated also upon a prow; while throughout the second and first centimes B. C., the Aradians placed the tyche of their city, seated sometimes upon an entire galley, sometimes only upon the prow, upon their bronze coins. Other Phoenician cities did the same, but in these cases the divinities are always standing. One thing is certain, namely that Histiæa, of all the cities of Greece, was the first, by many years, to adopt the type of a divinity seated upon a ship.

Only in one other instance, in Cyprus, do we find a similar motive employed during the fourth century B. C. The coin here referred to is the handsome stater of an as yet unidentified ruler, perhaps Aristochus of Curium, which gives a very beautiful representation of Athene, holding an aplustre, and seated upon a ship's prow. In view of the close association proposed above between the Athenian expedition and the adoption by the Histiaeans of a similar motive, it is most interesting to note that R. Kékulé has called attention to the artistic connection4 between the Cypriote stater and a portion of the balustrade of the temple of Athena-Nike at Athens. M. Babelon goes further and makes the interesting suggestion5 that, because of the evident Athenian origin of its type, this stater may have been struck by the Athenian Aristophanes, son of Nikophemus, who had been active during the wars in Cyprus against the Persians. Now Athene on this coin holds an aplustre in her hand and gazes at it attentively. This fact and the close association of the motive with the design on the Nike temple at Athens strongly suggests that the stater itself commemorates some naval victory. Such an interpretation is entirely supported by the type of Apollo seated on a prow as chosen at a later period by Antigonus Doson. Imhoof-Blumer has clearly shown that Antigonus adopted this type in direct reference to his important naval victory gained over the Egyptians off the island of Cos and near the Hieron of Apollo Triopios on the mainland.

It would seem entirely plausible to suppose that Histiæa adopted the Nymph and stern type for some similar reason, perhaps a successful naval skirmish — however small this may have been — incidental to the expulsion of Philistides. To be sure, our brief historical sources make no mention of any naval engagement in the operations which resulted in the liberation of Histiæa. Nevertheless, the mere approach of the powerful Athenian fleet, threatening to cut the communications of Philistides and his partisans with the only true source of their power — the Macedonian army and its base in Thessaly — would have all the effects of a victorious naval battle. It was certainly the naval supremacy that Athens at this time enjoyed which enabled her to stem the rising tide of Macedonian influence on the island of Euboea. In view of the Athenian sea-power it would be surprising if the liberation of Histiæa had been accomplished by land operations alone, particularly as these successful operations appear to have been of such short duration.

At first glance we may not seem entirely warranted in thus tracing an important coin type to an admittedly conjectural event. On the other hand, certain definite indications would seem to corroborate our theory. In the first place, we had occasion to note above that one similar type certainly, and another probably, refers directly to a naval victory. Secondly, Histiæa was the first to introduce this motive on the coinage of Greece proper. Because of its novelty there must have been some explicit reason for the type chosen; while the presence of the ship's stem indicates plainly that something connected with the sea must have played an important part in the choice. Finally, the employment of the stern, instead of the prow, would seem to give us a definite clue to the reason for the adoption of the type. It was evidently adopted for the express purpose of displaying the stylis,6 at which the Nymph Histiæa gazes with such manifest surprise and delight. This makes the stylis unquestionably the central point of interest around which revolves the entire design. The Nymph herself, by her very attitude, directs the onlooker's eye to the stylis upon which we have found engraved the word A ⊝ A (N A). This, then, must represent the key to the entire problem.

Now M. Svoronos in his most interesting and important article on the origin, meaning, and use of the stylis has clearly demonstrated that it was originally the palladium, the tutelary divinity of the vessel itself. For this reason it was placed upon the most vital portion of the ship, the stem, where was to be found, to use his own words, "le gouvemail et le timonier, la force et l'âme du navire, dont dépend tout mouvement et le sort même de la navigation." Furthermore, the name of the god was often inscribed upon the stylis, as it was not always easy to recognize by the shape of the stylis alone, the god it was intended to represent. In proof of this M. Svoronos calls attention to a Greek vase of the fourth century B. C., found near Santa Maria di Capua, upon which is represented a ship's stern and the stylis. Upon the cross-bar of the stylis is engraved ZEYΣ ΣΩTH P. M. Svoronos further says: "Dans les armées de terre, où rarement était possible de présenter subitement, d'un point visible à tous, des idoles ou symboles, on donnait les différents ordres, surtout le mot d'ordre de la bataille, par des mots, qui devaient rester secrets. Ces mots, appelés aussi συνθήματα, n'étaient autre que les noms des dieux dont on invoquait la présence et la protection à cette heure critique. Sur une de nos stylides-idoles nous avons vu le nom de Z∊ύς Σωτήρ. Or Ces deux mots sont ceux que nous trouvons le plus souvent comme des mots d'ordre des armées sur terre." He goes on to give numerous Greek watchwords and battlecries that have come down to us, among which should be noticed particularly: 'Aθηνâ Παλλάς, and 'Aθηναία. Now, it is evident from the arguments and proofs brought together by M. Svoronos that the stylis was to be to the single ship or the entire squadron what the standard was to an army. It was, namely, the oriflamme, the palladium, the symbol of the divinity, presiding over the destinies of its protegés and leading them to certain victory. Moreover, the name of the protecting deity was sometimes inscribed upon a tablet attached to the shaft of the stylis. Thus, we conclude that the word A ⊝ A(NA), inscribed upon the crossbar of our stylis, unmistakeably indicates under whose mighty guidance the events took place, events of such importance to Histiæa that led to the adoption of a new weight standard and a new design for her coinage. But certainly no event in the fourth century history of that city would better accord with these new types than her liberation, by the help of Athens, from the tyranny of Philistides and his Macedonian soldiery. Was not Athene the tute- lary goddess of the great city which had sent her best general, Phokion, to lead her own forces and those of the Athenian sympathizers recently driven from Histiæa? Furthermore, was there not a persistent tradition, a tradition no doubt invoked by all Athenians and their Histiæan friends, that the Eubœan city had once been founded by emigrants from the Attic deme of Histiæa (Strabo X)? Soon after the expulsion of the Persians from Greece, Histiæa became subject to Athens, and in 445 B. C. Pericles settled some two thousand Kleruchoi in the city. Thucidides also states that when Eubœa revolted in 411 B. C., the only city in all the island that remained faithful to Athens was Histiæa. Thus, there had evidently been for a long time a strong tradition of attachment to Athens, and we may be sure that under the Macedonian tyranny the decisive intervention of Athene, to save what was but her own, was eagerly prayed for. Little wonder then, that when this was finally accomplished, the graceful figure of Histiæa's eponymous Nymph, seated upon the ship's stem, reads with such rapt attention and manifest delight the inspiring battle cry of Athene the Saviour. For we may surmise that the full expression may well have been 'Aθavâ Σωτήρα , but the necessarily small size of our stylis allowed the engraver to give but the first word.

The present is an excellent opportunity to publish, evidently for the first time, what appears to be an obol, Plate I, 5, belonging to the same series. Hitherto, at least so far as the writer has been able to discover, only octobols and tetrobols of the fine style group of coins bearing the seated Nymph type have been known. Neither Head in the British Museum Catalogue and the Historia Numorum (both first and second editions), nor M. Babelon in his Traité 2, vol. III, assign any other denomination in silver than the two already mentioned, to this particular group. Two specimens of the obol came into the writer's possession some years ago. The coin bears on its obverse a fine head of the Nymph, identical in style and details with that on the octobols (Plate I, 2 and 3) and the tetrobol (Plate I, 4). Its reverse presents the same type of the Nymph Histiæa seated to right upon a ship's stem. Here, too, she gazes intently at the stylis before her, while the attitude of her left hand apparently expresses the same feelings of pleasure and surprise that M. Svoronos 7 first noticed on the tetrobol. The better preserved of the two specimens in the author's collection weighs grammes 0.77, the other grammes 0.75, showing that they are obols of the Attic system. The close association of these obols with the tetrobol, Plate I, 4, is proved both by their absolute identity of style and by the presence, behind the Nymph, of the same magistrate's symbol, a Bunch of Grapes-Needless to say these new coins are far too small to bear any inscription on the crossbar of the stylis.

The foregoing study apparently leads us to assign to the years 340-338 B. C. the compact little group of Attic octobols, tetrobols, and obols characterized by their uniformly fine style and their reverse type of the eponymous Nymph of Histiæa seated on a galley's stern. In this series we must recognize something in the nature of a commemorative issue, struck in the first flush of the city's triumphant liberation, with Athenian aid, from Macedonian overlordship. In view of the unexpected unanimity of the numismatic, archaeological, and historical evidence it has been possible to present, is it too presumptuous to believe that the new dating here proposed must eventually be accepted?



End Notes

The somewhat lighter weight of the new octobol, as compared with that of the Paris specimen, is no doubt due to two slight abrasions it has suffered, the one on the obverse just over the Nymph's ear, the other on the reverse which has obliterated the Nymph's right breast.
There can be no possible doubt that this coin was in the find. The peculiar oxidation with which it is covered is shared by all its companion pieces and is due, no doubt, to the action of sea water on them. Furthermore, it is definitely entered on the books of the Museum as having been received along with the rest, a statement there is no reason to question.
See E. Curtius, Griechische Geschichte, III, 677, and Grote, History of Greece, XI, 621 ff.
Die Reliefs an der Balustrade der Athena-Nike (1881), pp. 1 and 5.
This suggestion is supported by Mr. Hill in the British Museum Catalogue Cyprus introd. p. xliii. and xliv.
M. Svoronos, Jour. Int. d'Arch, et Num. vol. XVI, 1914, p. 81 ff., shows that the stylis was nearly always at the stern instead of the prow of the ship.
Jour. Int. d'Arch. et Num., Vol. XVI, 1914, p. 91.

































The American Journal of Numismatics, 1866-date.

Monthly, May, 1866–April, 1870.

Quarterly, July, 1870–October, 1912.

Annual, 1913–date.

With many plates, illustrations, maps and tables. Less than a dozen complete sets of the Journal remain on hand. Prices on application. Those wishing to fill broken sets can secure most of the needed volumes separately. An index to the first 50 volumes has been issued as part of Volume 51. It may also be purchased as a reprint for $3.00.

  • The American Numismatic Society. Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals. March, 1910. New and revised edition. New York. 1911. xxxvi, 412 pages, 512 illustrations. $ 10.00.
  • The American Numismatic Society. Exhibition of United States and Colonial Coins. 1914. vii, 134 pages, 40 plates. $1.00.
  • Ernest Babelon. Les Médailles Historiques du Règne de Napoleon le Grand, Empereur et Roi. Paris. 1912. Folio, lx, 430 pages printed in three tones, a special border for every page. Illustrating two hundred unpublished drawings of Napoleonic medals, .... by Chaudet and Lemot for .... the French Institute. $20.00.
  • Anges Balwdin. The Electrum Coinage of Lampsakos. 1914. 36 pages. 2 plates. $1.00.
  • Edward T. Newell. The Seleucid Mint of Antioch. 1918. 137 pages. 13 plates. $5.00.
  • Edward T. Newell. Tarsos under Alexander. 1919. 47 pages. 8 plates. $2.50.
  • Bauman L. Belden. War Medals of the Confederacy. 1915. 12 pages. 1 plate. $1.00.
  • Bauman L. Belden. United States War Medals. 1916. 72 pages. 9 plates. $2.00.
  • Edgar H. Adams and >William H. Woodin. United States Pattern, Trial and Experimental Pieces .... issued by the U. S. Mint from 1792 up to the present time. 1913. 204 pages. Illus. Cloth, $3.00.