Review by Ute Wartenberg Kagan
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Greece 7. The KIKPE Collection of Bronze Coins. Volume 1.
By Vasiliki Penna and Yannis Stoyas. Athens: Research
Centre for Antiquity of the Academy of Athens. 2012.
ISSN 1790-0069. ISBN 978-060-404-242-5
In 1931, the first volume of the Sylloge Numorum Graecorum series appeared in Britain; it contained the collection of Greek coins of Capt. E.G. Spencer-Churchill. The concept of a sylloge, as envisaged by its first author, Stanley Robinson, was to give a simple description of and, most importantly, to illustrate all coins in a collection. The photos were arranged facing the text in folio-size, thin volumes. Many museum collections embraced this concept of publishing their holdings, and numerous countries now have their own series. The fastest growing publication programs of SNGs today are in Greece and Turkey, where both public and private collections have been accepted and published. Eight volumes have
been published in Turkey, and in Greece, volume 7 has just appeared, which is being reviewed here. The volume contains descriptions and excellent photographs of 1,233 bronze coins from Spain to India, the Black Sea to Africa, which date from the fifth century to c. 27–25 BCE. There are two indices of rulers and mints; it would have been very useful to have an index of subjects. Under preparation is a second volume of the bronze coins of
the Roman provinces from the reign of Augustus onwards. The collection of c. 4,000 pieces is the property of KIKPE, a Greek abbreviation for the Welfare Foundation
for Social and Cultural Affairs, which also possesses a significant collection of Greek banknotes.
A first look through this Sylloge shows that this is no ordinary collection of coins. Greek bronze coins have long been considered the poor relation of Greek silver. Bronze coins often display more wear and corrosion, which can make them less attractive than their counterparts in precious metal. However, when in good or perfect condition, bronze coins can be extraordinarily attractive, and this collection displays some amazing examples of Greek art. The number of different mints represented by good examples is exceptional, including real rarities, many missing even from cabinets such as the ANS, which has an outstanding Greek bronze collection thanks to its former President and benefactor
E.T. Newell. Many of the specimens in this Sylloge are of great historical or numismatic interest, mainly because of their preservation and rarity. For bronze coins, rarity often goes hand in hand with the obscurity of mint. The cities in question may have left little other trace in the historical record, and the coinage thus opens new perspectives on some part of the Mediterranean world.
SNG KIKPE no. 46, for example, of an uncertain Etruscan mint, most likely Populonia, is a unique coin of a rare series that illustrates beautifully the combination of Rome’s sextantal as standard and the centesimal Etruscan standard. The head of Menrva (also Roman Minerva) shows the inscription XX (XXV or 25) and represents a 25 centesimae. This coin was in fact published by Italo Vecchi in an important article (SNR 72, 1993, p.70, n.31).
On Vecchi’s plates of over fifty illustrated specimens of the series it is hard to find a more attractive coin that the KIKPE specimen. While one could go on to describe almost
every coin in this volume, a few random examples which piqued my interest should give an idea about the wide-ranging interest of this publication.
Experts on the Athenian Empire might know the island of Pholegandros (SNG KIKPE no. 690), which is mentioned in the Athenian Tribute Lists as contributing 1,000 drachmas for 417/6 and 416/5 BCE. The British Museum Catalogue lists one single bronze coin of this mint, while SNG KIKPE 698 shows a second, different coin, apparently a unique piece, which first appeared in an auction of a major island collection in 1991 and then
again 2007. It shows a female head on the obverse and a butting bull on its reverse, and the fine style of engraving suggests that this series was produced by accomplished
In recent years, scholars such as Richard Ashton, Koray Konuk, and Fabrice Delrieux have re-examined the bronze coinages of Caria and its surrounding area in western Asia Minor. As more bronze coins are now offered in auctions, both online and in printed auctions, it
has become easier to collect bronze coins. In the KIKPE collection, quite a few of these rarities have found a home. An example is coin no. 894, given to Kranaos (?) in Caria. A small series of coins with a facing Helios head and a bunch of grapes, accompanied by the inscription KRAN, has been attributed by Alan Walker in 1978 (SM 112, 1978, 86–88) to the obscure town of Kranaos, near Antioch on the Maeander. Richard Ashton, in an important article on early Carian and Lycian bronze coins (NC 2006, 1–14), convincingly argued, based on local find spots of these types of coins, that the mint was more likely to be situated on the inner end of the Ceramic Gulf. As Ashton points out, there is no ancient town known which begins with the letters KRAN, which makes the attribution to an uncertain mint less attractive for a cataloguer, but undoubtedly more accurate for an ancient historian.
In the last two decades, the number of known coins of Thracian and Scythian rulers have increased enormously, and this collection has some beautiful specimens. There are two coins of Sadalas in this collection (nos. 371 and 372, though the index gives only 371), an
extremely rare series; only six pieces are listed in Coin Archives. The coin shows a beautiful ruler’s head, but it is not clear which King Sadalas this is. It is generally
assumed that there were three kings of this name in the first century BCE. A King Sadalas is mentioned in Cicero’s speeches Against Verres as an ally of Cornelius Sulla in his war against Mithradates VI at the battle of Chaeronea. The small bronze coins with an attractive portrait of the king with diadem are ascribed to a second king of this name, who supported Pompey at the battle of Pharsalos in the Roman civil war in 48 BCE. Equally rare is a bronze coin of Skilouros/Scilurus (no. 387), whose palace and mausoleum were at Neapolis in the Chersonesos, although his coins appear to have been minted at Olbia. From the excavations at Neapolis, it seems likely that he reigned from c. 140 to 114/3 BCE.
When reading the catalogue, one is astonished to find many interesting bronze coins from old collections. No. 345 is a rare coin of Thasos from the R.C. Lockett collection, which shows a bust of Demeter and jugate busts of the Dioscuri; it is double-struck, which makes the reverse very appealing, as it appears as if there are three or four heads of the young heroes lined up one after the other. A beautiful coin of Madytos (no. 337) in Thrace,
with butting bull and a seated dog, once had a home in the collections of Lord Grantley and Lockett.
A few words about the book itself: the photos of the coins are truly outstanding, and the publishers should be congratulated on an excellent printing job. Beyond the quality of the illustrations, the cataloguing of this collection is superb. Vassilike Pennas and Yannis Stoyas took on a demanding task in writing a Sylloge of this collection of bronze coins. The bronze coinage of the entire “Greek” world is the subject of this collection, and there are an unusual number of very rare coins, for which references in standard works such as SNG
Copenhagen or BMC are hard to find. Online resources such as the ANS coin database MANTIS were used, and it is laudable that references to rare coins found in online catalogues are referenced with accession numbers. The bibliography has over 350 titles, and there are some real discoveries here even for seasoned numismatists.
Yannis Stoyas has published a couple of interesting articles based on his findings when writing this Sylloge, which illustrates that good cataloguing is often serious research (in Studia in honorem Iliae Prokopov, 2012, 143–186). His long discussion of the deeply mysterious coin with a bucranium on the obverse and a fish with the inscription MELSA gives a fascinating overview of a series which occupied the late Martin Price and his assistant for several days when the coin, which is today in the KIKPE collection, was handed it to the British Museum for an opinion by ANS Fellow Frank Kovacs in the early 1990s. Price would have been very interested in the new evidence that has come to light in
Bulgaria over the last two decades, although we are still in the dark about its mint. Despite considerable efforts, there are four “incerti”, uncertain coins left at the end of the book, which could not be identified to a mint. One of them (no.1232), with a female head and a bee, is a coin of the Cretan city of Aptera, as my colleague Dr. Vassiliki Stefanaki, one of the leading specialists in this series, pointed out to me.
SNG KIKPE shows how little we know ultimately about the extent of Greek bronze coins, which still somehow lead a shadowy existence next to the silver coins of Greek mints. Similar to fractional silver, bronze coins are much less well researched, partly because hoard evidence is often not plentiful and die studies are difficult. Their importance for the monetary history of the late Classical and Hellenistic economies is only beginning to emerge. With increased archaeological activities and published reports of find-spots of coins, scholars will be able to understand what bronze coins contributed to the ancient
economy. Koray Konuk has recently published an article about early Ionian bronze coins of the late fifth century BCE, in which he offers an attractive hypothesis for these early, obol-sized bronzes as tokens for silver obols, which could be redeemed against silver. Publications such as SNG KIKPE will inspire more research in this area. In the meantime, we can all hope that the second volume of SNG KIKPE will appear soon, but for now I must congratulate the authors for a job well done.
ANS Members can purchase the volume directly from the ANS at a special member price of $99 plus shipping. Regular price for non-members is $119. The usual ANS discount of 30% for members does not apply to this book, which was not published by the ANS.