hoard from Siphnos

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

The writer was recently able to acquire the following little hoard of silver coins, reliably said to have been found on the island of Siphanto—the ancient Siphnos. Their former owner resides there but has frequent occasion to visit the mainland on business. During one of his periodical trips to Athens he brought with him for disposal the following parcel of thirty coins. He states that these pieces were found on the island in 1930 by a certain peasant, from whom he subsequently acquired them.

So much for what little “information” is vouchsafed us with regard to the hoard and its discovery. The absolutely uniform color and consistency of the thick patina which covered the coins certainly proclaim the fact that the latter must have lain together in the same spot, and been subjected to the same chemical actions of the soil, for a couple of millenia. The presence among them of four specimens of the rare issues of the ancient Siphnians support the assertion that the entire group had actually been found on their island. The coins were indeed heavily corroded, being covered, one and all, by a thick layer of purplish-brown sulphide of silver and, further, were flecked here and there with deposits of a light reddish-brown soil. Thus their outward appearance and color was identical throughout, proving that they had all come from a single deposit. Whether or not we have the complete hoard before us is another matter—now hardly susceptible of proof.

As hoards from the Greek islands are none too numerous, and as not a single one from Siphnos has ever before been noted, let alone published (so far as the writer is aware), a description of these coins may not be unwelcome.

It was found imperative to clean the coins thoroughly—as the corrosion with which they were covered was in most cases so thick that not much more than the vague outlines of the types could be distinguished. Details such as symbols, inscriptions, etc., were practically invisible. The weights here given are those after cleaning. The accumulated dirt and corrosion made weighing before cleaning a rather gratuitous labor. It is to be noted, however, that the present weights are uniformly light because of the thorough cleaning which the unusually thick layers of corrosion made necessary.


407–376 B. C.

1 Stater. Head of Apollo to 1. Eagle flying to r. in incuse square. In the corners of the square, Σ I Φ and laurel leaf. Gr. 11.02. Unpublished.
2 Tetrobol. Head of Apollo to r. Eagle flying to r. between Σ I Φ and laurel leaf. Very worn. Gr. 3.67.
3–4 Tetrobol. Head of Apollo to r. Eagle flying to r. between Σ-Φ and laurel leaf. Cf. Babelon, Traité 2 III, Pl. ccxli, 5. Somewhat worn. Gr. 3.47, 3.34. Both specimens are from the identical pair of dies.


Fourth Century B. C.

5 Tetradrachm. Helmeted head of Athene to r. Eye seen in profile. A☉E. Owl, with laurel twig and crescent, in incuse square. Somewhat worn. Gr. 16.70. Cf. Babelon, loc. cit., Pl. cxc, 2.

Coin No. 6

6–10 Drachm. Similar. Similar. All very much worn. Gr. 3.87; 3.86; 3.86; 3.77; 341. Loc. cit., Pl. cxc, 7.

Coin No. 11

11–17 Hemidrachm. Similar. A Owl to front E ⊙. between olive branches. Al very much worn. 1.91; 1.85; 1.84; 1.83; 1.82; 1.61. Loc. cit., Pl. cxc, 12–13.
18 Hemidrachm. Similar. A Same types. ⊙ E. Very much worn. Gr. 1.80. Loc. cit., Pl. cxc, 11.
19 Hemidrachm. Similar. A Same types. ⊙ ∃. Very much worn. Gr. 1.75.
20–21 Hemidrachm. Similar. Only the A is visible. Same types. Very much worn. Gr. 1.91; 1-35.


400–333 B. C.

22 Didrachm. Head of Helios facing. PO∆ION. Rose, with bud to r. and bunch of grapes to 1. On 1., E. The whole in an incuse square. Worn. Gr. 6.33. Babelon, Traité2 III, Pl. cxlvii, 11.
23 Hemidrachm. Head of Helios facing. Same types. No letter in field. Very much worn. Gr. 1.44.
24 Hemidrachm. Head of Helios facing. Similar. On 1. of rose, ∆ above PO. Very worn. Gr. 1.47.

333–304 B. C.

25 Hemidrachm. Same types. Similar types. Above rose, ANTIΠ(ATPOΣ). In 1. field, Ear of wheat. Worn. Gr. 1.46.
26–27 Hemidrachm. Same types. APIΣTONOMOΣ above rose. In 1. field, Ship's prow. Slightly worn. Gr. 1.49; 1.48.
28–29 Hemidrachm. Same types. EPAΣIKΛHΣ above rose. In 1. field, Helmet. Very good. Gr. 1.51; 147.


336–323 B. C.

30 Drachm. Head of young Heracles to r. AΛEΞAN∆POϒ. Zeus aetophor seated to 1. In1. field, image. Good. Gr. 3.93. Müller no. 763.

A Siphnos.

The most interesting of these groups is the Siphnian, comprising one specimen of the stater and three of the tetrobol. The Siphnian double type silver issues have been divided by numismatists 1 into two groups. The first group comprises Aeginetan staters, tetrobols, diobols, obols and hemiobols 2 of modified archaic and transitional style. These have been unanimously assigned to the first half of the fifth century B. C., just before Athens exercised her growing power and suppressed all local coinages of her “allies” in favor of her own “owls.” In passing, it is interesting to note that it was actually on Siphnos that one of the two known copies of the Athenian decree suppressing these coinages was found.

The second group was hitherto supposed to consist only of tetrobols, and small bronze coins, of similar types to the preceding but of more advanced style. This second group has been dated by Babelon 3 to the period following the downfall of Athens in 406 B. C., while Gardner 4 places them “towards the middle of the fourth century.” According to Babelon, the issue came to an end with 376 B. C. when the victory of Chabrias over the Lacedaemonians once more restored the preponderance of Athens in the Aegean. Gardner, however, makes 5 them follow either the Peace of Antalcidas (387 B. C.) or the league formed (378 B. C.) by the islands under the patronage of Athens. He believes that “at this time Athens had renounced all attempt at imposing her coins on her allies.”

Their style, and the form of the reverse die (round, not square), place nos. 2–4 in this period of a revived coinage at Siphnos. To the same period must also be assigned our stater (no. 1)—although no stater belonging to this second period appears as yet to have been known to scholars. The only published specimens of the rare Siphnian double type stater all exhibit late archaic or transitional style. 6 The reverse die of our coin closely follows the details of the earlier issue, but the sigma seems to have lost its archaic form. This at least appears to be the case, for the coin is unfortunately somewhat damaged at this particular spot. The obverse die is distinctly of the early fourth century and possesses no archaic or even transitional traits. It is, however, rather crude in style and was obviously produced by a somewhat unskilled die-cutter. In this respect it represents a phenomenon very common in Cretan coin issues of the same period, where coins of the finest fourth century work frequently appear alongside of extraordinarily crude productions—their dies often interlacing to prove the contemporaneity of their several issues. The present stater differs from the published examples not only in style and date but is further distinguished by the fact that the Apollo head faces to the left—a direction now recorded for the first time on the silver issues of Siphnos.

In spite of its present low weight 7 (due to the cleaning process to which it had to be subjected), No. I was surely intended for an Aeginetan stater.

This rather suggests that Nos. 2–4 were issued as Aeginetan tetrobols. 8 Head 9 calls similar pieces “ Attic drachms” which they certainly could not have been—to judge by the recorded weights both of the present specimens and of those previously published. 10 Gardner 11 sees in them drachms of the Rhodian or Chian standard then dominant along the Ionian coast. Choice between the two terms, Aeginetan tetrobols or Rhodian drachms, remains somewhat academic in nature, as the known weights support either nomenclature equally well. Starting as tetrobols of the one system (in connection with the certainly Aeginetan stater, No. 1), they might well, in course of time, have come to be looked upon as drachms of the rival system, many of whose coins are actually present in our hoard. For a small coin of about this weight, representing a convenient intermediary between two standards in daily use, would prove most practical on Siphnos, whose geographical situation no doubt kept it closely in touch with both the Peloponnese and the islands of the Asiatic litoral.

In any case, it would seem that when Siphnos reopened its mint early in the fourth century, it attempted to revive its series of staters of a century before. As only one specimen has so far survived, the new issue was probably small. The ambitious pride of the islanders proved greater than their resources. Apparently also, able die-cutters were not immediately available either, and the results leave much to be desired. While fairly successful in reproducing the old reverse type with its flying eagle in a deeply incused square, the local artist failed when he attempted to convert the splendid Apollo head of the earlier issue into something more commensurate with the style of his own century. Improved results were obtained a little later, when more appropriate small denominations—in both silver and bronze—were issued. More skillful diecutters had now been secured and the archaic incuse square was abandoned for the shallow, round reverse die of the times. The style and design are quite attractive, though they may lack the strength and vigor of the old issues.

End Notes

Historia Numorum2 p. 491; Babelon, Traité 2 Vol. I, p. 1309–10, Vol. III, pp. 845–8.
Cf. a fine specimen in the author’s collection weighing gr. 0.30 (formerly in the Pozzi Coll., Naville Sale I, No. 2055. Pl. lxi).
Loc. cit., pp. 846 and 848.
History of Ancient Coinage, p. 390.
Loc. cit. p. 391.
The following are the few examples which the writer has been able to locate, without, perhaps, having completely exhausted all the available literature:
London. Brit. Mus. Cat., Crete and the Aegean Islands, p. 121, No. 4, Pl. xxvii, 11. Gr. 12.08.
Paris. Traité 2 I, No. 1942, Pl. ixi, 27. Gr. 11.90. De Luynes Coll. No. 2381, Pl. lxxxix. Gr. 12.05.
Berlin. Regling Die antike Münze als Kunstwerk, Pl. vii, 172.
Athens. Jour. Int. Num. XII, 1909–10, p. 15. Gr. 11.20.
Glasgow. Hunterian Coll. II, p. 211, No. 1, Pl. xliv, 3. Gr. 12.10.
Cambridge. McClean Coll. II, No. 7286, Pl. 247–9. Gr. 11.44. (This specimen appeared in Hirsch Sale XXI, Nov. 1908, No. 2240.)
Rhousopoulos Coll., Hirsch Sale XIII, 15th May, 1905, No. 3175, Pl. xxxv. Gr. 11.28.
Compare, however, its weight of gr. 11.02 with the gr. 11.28 of the Rhousopoulos specimen, also a worn and corroded coin.
As Babelon, Traité 2 III, p. 846, No. 1342, claims.
Historia Numorum2 p. 491.
Num. Chron. 1888, p. 14; Babelon, Traité 2 III, p. 846, No. 1342.
Loc. cit. p. 391.

B Athens.

The one Athenian tetradrachm (No. 5), the five drachms (Nos. 6–10) and the eleven hemidrachms (Nos. 11–21) together form the largest single group in the hoard—suggesting to what extent Athens and her “owls” had dominated the island’s economic life. Previous to the hoard’s burial, however, Rhodes was apparently encroaching, if not actually commencing to supplant Athens, in this regard. As a group these Athenian coins (excepting only the tetradrachm) are by far the most badly worn in the entire hoard—showing the constant circulation these coins must have been subjected to before being finally buried. No doubt, down to the economic victory of Rhodes towards the end of the fourth century, Athenian coins played the dominant rôle in the monetary circulation on the island of Siphnos.

It is to be noted that all of the Athenian coins in our hoard belong to the later issues of the old-fashioned "owls,” those, namely, with the eye of Athene depicted in profile. This particular type is assigned by Head 12 to the years from 393–339 B. C. Babelon follows him in this, but continues 13 the coinage down to the Lamian War and suggests that similar pieces may have continued to appear even in the third century. Svoronos 14 goes further still, and assigns the bulk of this coinage from the days of Philip II of Macedon to the death of Antigonus Gonatas. To any one familiar with the numerous hoards of these coins which have been found and published in recent years, Svoronos’ arrangement and dating appears to be the most acceptable of the three—though modifications in his upper and lower limits may be found desirable. 15

In any case, the Athenian coins in our hoard must date from the fourth century. As stated above, they are all, with the sole exception of the tetradrachm (No. 5), in an extremely worn state. It is a well known fact that “small change” will sooner show wear than larger denominations of the same issue. This is the result of their more constant circulation from hand to hand and of their subjection to a more concentrated rubbing—due to their smaller surface area. But this greater wear does not necessarily prove our Athenian drachms and hemidrachms to be the oldest coins in the hoard. Many, if not all, may have been struck later than their Siphnian companions (Nos. 2–4). It is only No. 2 of Siphnos that shows an at all commensurate amount of wear. Obviously, the Siphnian coins had circulated only on this tiny island. The Athenian coins had probably for some time passed from hand to hand in the populous market-places of the great metropolis of Athens, before eventually finding their way, via the money pouches of sailors, merchants, soldiers or other wanderers to Siphnos. No wonder that such popular pieces should exhibit signs of intensive wear and tear.

End Notes

Historia Numorum2 pp. 374–5.
Traité 2 III, pp. 97–104, 111–120.
Les Monnaies d'Athènes, Plates 19–21.
In view of the “Cilician Find,” published by the writer in the Numismatic Chronicle, 4th Series, Vol. XIV, 1914. PP. 1–33, and there dated about 380–378 B. C., one might argue for an earlier introduction of these eye-in-profile “owls”—a specimen of which type was contained in the hoard (there No. 39, Pl. I, 9). The writer desires to make a refutation of the statement made by Gardner in “A History of Ancient Coinage” p. 63 where the latter, in speaking of this hoard, says “. . . nor can we be sure that the coins were all found together.” The student can certainly rest assured that the coins must all have been found together. In addition to the chisel cuts and punch marks which most of the specimens bore, the coins were all of an absolutely identical appearance before cleaning. On a very thin surface covering of a somewhat unusual shade of bluish-purple corrosion, the coins were also frequently spotted with flecks of verdigris. Now this verdigris was not of the usual bright green color but of a very distinctive bluish-green shade. Even to the tyro, the appearance of the one hundred and forty-one pieces studied was so uniform throughout and of so unusual and characteristic a nature, that there could be no reasonable doubt but that the coins had come from one and the same “find.” The Athenian tetradrachm was included by the writer because it came to him together with the others; like them it bore both punch mark and chisel cut; it was in an uncirculated condition except for these marks; and, finally, according to the latest edition of Head’s Historia Numorum it was possible for the piece to have been included in the hoard. Leaving aside the matter of the Cilician Find, it is to be noted that the unique gold stater of Tachos in the British Museum (Numismatic Chronicle, 5th Ser., Vol. VI, 1926, p. 14, No. 23, Pl. vi) predicates an early appearance of the eye-in-profile type of Athenian tetradrachms. This stater could not possibly have been struck later than 361 B. C. It thus forces the definite conclusion that the eye-in-profile type must already have been in circulation for some time, in order that by 361 B. C. it could become well enough known in Egypt and among Greek mercenaries, for Tacho to adopt it as a model for issues which were obviously intended for the sole purpose of acquiring mercenaries and purchasing arms and supplies.

C Rhodes.

Next in number to the Athenian coins come the Rhodian. These may be divided into two successive groups dated, according to Head and Babelon, circa 400–333 B. C. and 333–304 B. C. respectively. The first of these groups, consisting of one didrachm (No. 22) and two hemidrachms (Nos. 23–4), is very worn. The second group, comprising five hemidrachms (Nos. 25–9), is much less worn; and some of the issues are in really excellent condition. One may thereby surmise that these (especially Nos. 28–9), were among the latest additions to the hoard.

The little hemidrachms of the second group, bearing magistrates’ names in full, seem as yet not generally known to scholars or collectors. They are mentioned neither by Head nor Babelon in their respective works. Neither are they represented in such comprehensive catalogues as those of the British Museum, the McClean, Hunter, Sir Herman Weber, de Luynes, Jameson or Waddington Collections. This fact is the more noteworthy as the accompanying didrachms 16 and drachms, 17 bearing the same magistrates' names and symbols, are well known and plentiful. However, a specimen similar to Nos. 26–7, with the name APIΣTONOMOΣ and symbol ship’s prow, occurred in the Pozzi Collection, Naville Sale, I, No. 2708.

D Alexander the Great.

With the exception of the two Rhodian hemidrachms Nos. 28–9, the drachm bearing Alexander’s well known types (No. 30) is the best preserved coin in the hoard. This is a very common variety, frequently occurring in hoards of Alexandrine coins from many quarters of the ancient world, 18 but particularly well represented in hoards from western Asia Minor. 19 The accompanying tetradrachms have been assigned by the writer, 20 on grounds of style alone, to a mint operating under Alexander in Caria, possibly at Miletus. The early style and the parallel position of Zeus' legs point to a coinage before circa 320 B. C. This dating is also supported by the presence of this type of drachm, or of its accompanying tetradrachms or staters, in such early hoards as those of Demanhur (buried about 319 B. C.), Saida (buried 322–1 B. C.) and Afiun Kara Hissar (buried about 318–7 B. C.).

The presence of No. 30 in the Siphnian Hoard is also interesting in the light of Bürchner’s statement 21 that Siphnos was a station for Alexander’s fleets. If that be so, then our coin may well have been carried over to the island by some sailor on a Macedonian war galley from the Asiatic coast, where Miletus certainly played an important rôle as a naval base. The ancient authority for Bürchner’s statement, however, the writer has been unable to find. Bürchner refers to Arrian, Anab. II, 2, 4 and 13, 4—but Arrian here merely states that ten Persian ships under Datames sailed to Siphnos, where they attempted to get in touch with the rebellious Spartans. It was then, in the harbor of Siphnos, that a sudden attack by the enemy squadron under Pro teas routed the Persian fleet, eight of their ships being captured and Datames himself just managing to escape. Later, Pharnabazos and Autophradates came with a fleet of a hundred sail and landed at Siphnos, but apparently did not long remain, eventually returning to Halicarnassos. Arrian makes no direct statement to the effect that Siphnos ever became a naval station for Alexander. There is every probability, however, that this was actually the case. After the Persians were swept from the sea, Siphnos would have formed an ideal base for a fleet watching the Spartans and the other Peloponnesian malcontents while, at the same time, keeping an eye on Athens as well. Even failing this, Macedonian war ships doubtless visited Siphnos from time to time during their probably frequent cruisings and patrollings in these waters. The presence of an Alexander drachm in a late fourth century Siphnian coin hoard should not therefore be a matter for surprise.

The most recent coins contained in the little Siphnian hoard are obviously the Rhodian hemidrachms Nos. 25–9 (attributed to 330–304 B. C.) and the drachm of Alexander which belongs to about the last five years of his life time. All but one of these pieces show some amount of wear, so that one would be safe in saying that circa 320 B. C. represents probably the earliest possible date post quem for the burial. The treasure may well have been buried many years later, even after the turn of the century. Conditions on a little island, such as Siphnos, probably varied considerably from those obtaining on the mainland. It therefore behooves one to be very careful about making any categorical statement. Especially is this true in the present case where there is absolutely no certainty that the complete find lies before us. The original hoard may well have contained coins of even a later date than are nos. 25–30 described above.

Taking the coins as we have them, however, the general impression conveyed by the little hoard suggests the hard-earned savings of some peasant or local petty merchant who for some personal reason, or because of some event not recorded in history, buried his modest treasure. This could not well have taken place earlier than 320 B. C., or much later than around 300 B. C. After the latter date the aspect of a hoard buried on one of the Cyclades would probably have commenced to change, commensurate with the growing quantities and spread of royal monies such as those of Alexandrine or Ptolemaic type. The Delian inventories reveal to what an extent these royal coinages dominated the currency of the Aegean islands in the third century B. C.

End Notes

Babelon, Traité 2 II, Nos. 1725 and 1726. Head, Greek Coins of Caria, Cos, Rhodes, etc. in the British Museum, p. 235, Nos. 45, 47.
Babelon, loc. cit. No. 1727. Head, loc. cit. p. 236, No. 59.
Staters with the same monogram were in the Larnaca Find; distaters as well as staters in the Saida Finds; tetradrachms in the Demanhur Hoard; 22 drachms in the Sophiko Hoard (Jour. Int. Num. Vol. X, 1907, p. 40, Nos. 259–81); three similar drachms in the 1917 Mosul Hoard; two varieties of the drachm in the Aleppo Hoard of 1893; ten drachms in the Tell Halaaf Hoard.
There were many specimens in the fragments of two separate hoards of Alexander drachms which reached the writer from Asia Minor some years ago. There were also 47 specimens in the Afiun Kara Hissar Hoard and 44 more in the recent Armenak Hoard. Likewise, there has seldom been a batch of Alexander drachms from Asia Minor, sent to or seen by the writer, which did not contain one or more specimens of this type.
Numismatic Notes and Monographs, No. 19. 1923. PP. 93–6.
Pauly-Wissowa, 2nd Ser., Vol. 3. p. 268.




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