The Emergence and Spread of the Reduced Aiginetan Standard in Hellenistic Greece

Ruben Post is a PhD candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania. Ruben’s area of interest is the economic and environmental of Hellenistic Greece, with a particular focus on federal states. His dissertation examines the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources, land tenure patterns, federal institutions, and economic networks in the Hellenistic Achaean League.

Following the conquests of Alexander the Great (334–324 BCE), the many civic mints of the Greek world continued to produce silver coinage on several different weight standards. In southern Greece, the principal standard was the so-called Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 6 g). In the course of the 3rd c. BCE, however, most of these mints ceased to operate, and city after city joined increasingly powerful federal states, until in the early 2nd c. BCE only three such states—the Aitolian, Boiotian, and Achaian Leagues—came to dominate much of mainland Greece. At this same time, federal coinages unsurprisingly replaced local coinages; these federal issues were struck predominantly on a new standard, referred to commonly as the Reduced Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 5 g). My project for the graduate seminar has been to examine how this new standard emerged and why so many states came to adopt it.

Full-weight silver stater, Aigina, 380–370 BCE. (ANS 1967.152.314)
Full-weight silver stater, Aigina, 380–370 BCE. (ANS 1967.152.314)

While the main outlines of this process have been known for some time, little attention has been focused on the chronology and initial stages of the spread of the Reduced Aiginetan standard. In my research I found that, while much attention has been paid to the adoption of this standard by federal states, it has gone unnoticed that the first evidence we have for its adoption in southern Greece comes from the coinages associated with two famous Peloponnesian sanctuaries: Olympia and Epidauros. These sanctuaries seem to have required all foreigners to use their coinages exclusively, and administrators thus realized that by lowering the weight of silver used to strike their coins they could make a considerable profit through moneychanging. This monetary reform can be dated fairly securely based on hoard evidence to right around 250 BCE in both cases, though it is unclear who was following whom. When we turn to the federal states of Greece, however, our evidence is less clear. The Boiotian League appears to have been the first to adopt this new standard around 250 BCE, though there is ambiguous evidence suggesting that it may have been adopted some decades earlier. In the case of the Aitolian League, it is clear that the new standard was only adopted in the 230s BCE, and the Achaian League does not appear to have issued Reduced Aiginetan coinage until the beginning of the 2nd c. BCE.

Reduced-weight silver hemidrachm, Olympia. (ANS 1955.54.357)
Reduced-weight silver hemidrachm, Olympia. (ANS 1955.54.357)

Why did these states opt to reduce the weight standard of their coinage? There are two likely factors. The first is that older, well-used Aiginetan coins continued to circulate as legal tender at this time; hoard evidence demonstrates that as a result a significant proportion of small silver coinage circulating in central and southern Greece in the mid-3rd c. BCE weighed c. 2.5 g (the weight of new Reduced Aiginetan hemidrachms). As such, states that derived revenue from circulating coinage were losing out if they struck full-weight issues. The second is that within a couple of decades this standard became the norm for military pay throughout much of Greece. In later 3rd c. BCE inscriptions, this Reduced Aiginetan coinage is referred to as “alliance silver”; it has been plausibly suggested that this name derives from the Hellenic Alliance of 224/3 BCE, a coalition of several federal states including the Achaians and Boiotians. The need to pay troops of different origins serving together thus probably provided the ultimate impulse leading to the widespread adoption of this standard by c. 200 BCE.

Reduced-weight silver drachm, Boiotian League. (ANS 1944.100.20197)
Reduced-weight silver drachm, Boiotian League. (ANS 1944.100.20197)
Reduced-weight silver hemidrachm, Achaian League, Argos. (ANS 1963.31.807)
Reduced-weight silver hemidrachm, Achaian League, Argos. (ANS 1963.31.807)

ANS Assists with Stepping Wavertree Mast

The Wavertree docked at New York City's South Street Seaport. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The Wavertree docked at New York City’s South Street Seaport. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the revitalization of New York City’s premiere maritime museum, South Street Seaport, the ship Wavertree is currently undergoing restoration at Caldwell Marine in Staten Island. Once the restoration work is completed within the next month, Wavertree will return to her berth in the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge, where she will be open for display and will sail again on a limited basis within New York Harbor. The restoration work on the ship included the removal of all three of her masts, which provided an opportunity to perform the age-old tradition of placing a coin in the mast step before the mast is lowered and secured.

Three children place the coin in the socket for the Wavertree‘s mizzen mast. (Photo Alan Roche)

From archaeological evidence we know that this tradition dates back to at least the Roman Republican period, and very likely dates back even further. The reason for placing the coin is probably sacrificial, much like the coin dedications found in and around ancient temple sites. In this case the dedication was no doubt meant for Poseidon in the hopes he would look favorably upon the ship as it traversed his realm.

The mizzen mast is put in place atop the ANS-donated coin. (Photo Alan Roche)

As the curators at the South Street Seaport prepared for the stepping of Wavertree‘s masts, they approached the ANS for a coin that they might place under the mizzen, the last of the masts to go in. Since Wavertree was built in England in 1885, we selected a maundy fourpence of that year to donate for this auspicious occasion. Given by the British Monarch on Maundy Thursday as alms, these small silver coins serve more of a symbolic than monetary purpose. Thus a symbolic coin meant to serve a good purpose seemed the right choice for yet another occasion meant to serve a good purpose.

1885 Maundy Fourpence (ANS 2004.9.3729)

On August 16th, ANS curator Peter van Alfen and photographer Alan Roche were among the two dozen guests invited to witness the stepping of Wavertree’s last mast. The ANS’s donated maundy fourpence, now encased in lucite, was diligently placed in the mast step by three children before the 10-ton mast was finally lowered into place, where the coin will rest secure until the ship’s next refit, probably sometime around 2066. You will be able to find more information about this event, and the tradition of placing a coin in the mast step in ANS Magazine 2016, vol. 4.

ANS 2004.9.3729 encased in Lucite prior to being placed under the new mizzen mast. (Photo Alan Roche)

ANS Publications Honored with 2016 Numismatic Literary Guild Awards


Several ANS publications were honored by the Numismatics Literary Guild (NLG) at the American Numismatic Association’s 2016 World’s Fair of Money (August 9–13), winning three awards, and earning four honorable mentions:

Winner, Best World Paper Money Book: Michael Bonine, The Banknotes of the Imperial Bank of Persia: An Analysis of a Complex System with Catalogue

Winner, Best Website Token and Medal Article: “Emancipatory Day Token: Sarah Ann Proud” on the ANS Pocket Change blog, by Matt Wittmann

Winner, Clement F. Bailey Memorial Award, Best New Writer: Lara Fabian, for her ANS Magazine article, “The Starosselsky Collection: Imperial Histories and Cultural Currencies”

Extraordinary Merit went to Christopher McDowell (Colonial Newsletter editor) for his book, Abel Buell and the History of the Connecticut and Fugio Coppers, Scott Miller for Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society, 1865–2014, and to Nathan Elkins for Monuments in Miniature: Architecture on Roman Coinage. Extraordinary Merit also went to David Hill for his ANS Magazine column, “Archives.”

Making Sense of Greco-Roman Legends on Western Kṣatrapa Coinage

1D3_8405Today’s post is written by Jeremy Simmonsa PhD candidate in the Classical Studies program at Columbia University. He has written on the topic of Indo-Roman trade, and in particular, the spice trade in antiquity.  His dissertation will look specifically at patterns of consumption in the larger Indian Ocean trade network, including the engagement between Indian monetary systems and imported Roman coinage. His project, as a participant of the the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar, focuses on Western Kṣatrapa coins.


For my ANS Seminar Project, I decided to look at silver coins of the Western Kṣatrapas, who ruled in the modern day Indian states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh from the mid-first to early fifth centuries CE (Figure 1). These coins have been indispensable for reconstructing the chronology of the Western Kṣatrapa kings, as well as the line of succession, due to the presence of dates (in the Śaka Era) and patronymics on coins. However, the feature of these coins that drew me to this project is the obverse legend, which appears to be written in a script that mixes Greek and Roman characters at random.

Fig. 1: Rudrasiṃha I coin, minted in year 118 of the Śaka Era (c. 196 CE) [BM 1889.0105.25]
These legends have been little discussed in scholarship (as opposed to the Brāhmī legends on the reverse), and have been variously labeled “Greek,” “corrupt/pseudo/blundered Greek,” or “Greco-Roman,” without much consideration of the larger implications of these different descriptions. In fact, it is a general practice to not record the obverse legends of Kṣatrapa coins in catalogues or other publications: cataloguers justify their actions by stating that the legends become corrupt over time and cease to have any meaning; and those publishing or auctioning a single coin tend not to transcribe the obverse legend at all.

This lack of scholarly attention arises from the assumption that the obverse legends at one point communicated written language—specifically, the coins of the early kings like Nahapāna, which have Greco-Roman script transliterations of the Prakrit reverse legends (Figure 2)—but that later die-cutters, due to their lack of skill or knowledge of Greek and Latin, merely rendered corrupt versions as a form of ornamentation. I believe this narrative of decline, first suggested over a century ago, is not only based on the limited evidence of early collections, but has been perpetuated by a regrettable practice of not recording positive data.

Fig. 2: Nahapāna coin, with transliterated obverse legend ΡΑΝΝΙω ΞΑΗΑΡΑΤΑC ΝΑΗΑΠΑΝΑC (rannio ksaharatas nahapanas, “of king Nahapāna, the Kṣaharata”; mid first century CE) [CNG Auction 369, Lot 24, 24 Feb. 2016]
Fig. 2: Nahapāna coin, with transliterated obverse legend ΡΑΝΝΙω ΞΑΗΑΡΑΤΑC ΝΑΗΑΠΑΝΑC (rannio ksaharatas nahapanas, “of king Nahapāna, the Kṣaharata”; mid-first century CE) [CNG Auction 369, Lot 24, 24 Feb. 2016]
In order to correct the treatment of obverse legends on Kṣatrapa coins in scholarship, I have created a database of Greco-Roman obverse legends found on silver coins minted during the three-and-a-half centuries of Kṣatrapa rule (from Nahapāna to Rudrasiṃha III). I gathered these legends from specimens presented in various museum catalogues, auction listings, and publications. While this task involved some difficulties due to the damaged nature of most obverse legends (Figure 3) and the poor quality of photographs, I managed to assemble a large corpus of data in order to supplement existing descriptions and serve as the basis of my initial observations.

Fig. 3: Vijayasena coin, with corroded traces of obverse legend (r. 238-250 CE) [ANS 1978.51.6]
Fig. 3: Vijayasena coin, with corroded traces of obverse legend (r. 238-250 CE) [ANS 1978.51.6]
It is my hope that these observations will contribute to the following aims: 1) determining which paleographic features of the obverse script are Greek versus Roman, in order to mitigate the problem of variable terminology; 2) outlining possible sources of inspiration for these legends, whether it be local precedents (e.g., Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Indo-Parthian), imported Roman coinage, or imitation Roman coinage produced in India (Figures 4 and 5); 3) uncovering any evidence of conscious design behind these legends (as opposed to mindless copying as previously suggested), indicated by similar patterns of letters, standardization of legends, etc.; 4) and, most importantly, speculating why the Kṣatrapa kings would design coins with unreadable obverse legends alongside very legible Brāhmī legends and numerals.

Fig. 4: Indo-Greek drachm of Apollodotus II, with Greek obverse legend (early first century BCE) [BM 1922.0424.120]
Fig. 4: Indo-Greek drachm of Apollodotus II, with Greek obverse legend (early first century BCE) [BM 1922.0424.120]
At the very least, it is my hope to show the merits in investigating elements of a coinage tradition that many have disregarded as “meaningless.”

Fig. 5: Imitation Roman aureus of Septimius Severus, found in India (early third century CE?) [ANS 1905.57.375; photo Klaus Vondrovec]
Fig. 5: Imitation Roman aureus of Septimius Severus, found in India (early third century CE?) [ANS 1905.57.375; photo Klaus Vondrovec]



Samarqand’s Cast Coinage of the Early 7th–Mid-8th Centuries AD: Assessment based on Chinese sources and numismatic evidence

1D3_8288_ppXiaoyan Qi participated in 2016’s Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar. Qi is a PhD candidate at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, currently a visiting student at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW). Her current research focuses on Sogdiana during the Hellenistic period based on ancient texts, numismatics, and archaeological evidence. 

Samarqand, named Kang (康) in Chinese sources, formed a tributary relationship with the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907). According to Tang Hui Yao, Kangju Dudufu (康 居 都 督 府) was set up in Samarqand in AD 658. The local rulers of Samarqand were considered as the officials of the Tang Dynasty, but the land enjoyed a large degree of independence. In AD 621, the Tang Dynasty began to mint a new coinage, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (开元通宝), featuring a square hole in the center (Figure 1). Samarqand issued its own coinage imitating the Tang prototype. From the early 7th to the mid-8th century, Samarqand’s coinage was cast with the square hole in the center, and the Chinese characters were gradually replaced by the king’s name and title on the obverse (Figure 2).

Fig. 1: China, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (ANS 1995.44.63)
Fig. 1: China, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (ANS 1995.44.63)
Fig. 2: Samarqand, Shishpir ( 152381)
Fig. 2: Samarqand, Shishpir ( 152381)

Ten Samarqand kings have been identified based on the names on the obverse of the coins. Chinese sources render important clues about these kings, so paralleling the names on the coins and records of these kings in Chinese sources helps to construct the chronology of the Ikhshid Dynasty. The primary Chinese dynastic histories are Wei Shu (魏书), Jiu Tang Shu (旧唐书), and Xin Tang Shu (新唐书). The names of two kings known from the coins cannot be identified clearly with the names in Chinese sources. Based on my current research, Shishpir can be identified as Sha Se Bi (沙瑟毕) and Mastich-Unash can be identified as Ni Nie Shi Shi (泥涅师师). The names of two kings, Urk Wartramuka and Afrig (Devashtich), appear on the coins, but are not recorded in Chinese sources. It is difficult for us to find a satisfactory explanation; however, it is understandable to place these facts in the political upheavals when Chinese historians lost track of the periphery of their empire.

The tamghas on the reverse also reflect a complicated picture. The coins can be classified into three groups based on the tamghas. The first group includes the coins of Shishpir, Wuzurg, Wartramuka, Urk Wartramuka, and Mastich-Unash. The second group includes the coins of Tukaspadak, Tarkhun, and Afrig (Devashtich) (Figure 3). The third group includes the coins of Ghurak and Turgar (Figure 4). Compared with the family relation between the kings in Xi Yu Zhuan, Xin Tang Shu, not all the kings using the same tamghas are from the same family. Some earlier study suggested that the tamghas are used as a family sign or a dynastic symbol. But for the tamghas on Samarqand cast coinage, they should have more profound political-historical meanings.

Fig. 3: Tukaspadak ( 50498)
Fig. 3: Tukaspadak ( 50498)
Fig. 4: Ghurak ( 5245)
Fig. 4: Ghurak ( 5245)

Finally, Samarqand cast coinage will be studied in a wider context, which are viewed from the perspectives of historical process, continual exchange and interaction between different cultures as well as the circulation of the coinage within the Sogdian commercial network in the Silk Road.

Help the ANS! TEI Specialist Needed (short-term contract)

The ANS is looking for a TEI specialist wanted for a short-term, part-time (c. 250-hour) project at $20.00/hour. TEI proficiency preferred. Numismatics knowledge helpful but not required. The successful candidate will add to the research value of TEI XML-encoded ebooks by enhancing linking to American Numismatic Society projects and external resources, which will also facilitate broader dissemination though other cultural heritage aggregation projects, such as Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) and Pelagios. The TEI specialist will verify existing tags in the current files for ca. 90 books (some are quite short), and will supplement tagging with:

  • specific references to coins in the ANS collection
  • all of the hoards published on
  • specific coin types published in Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO) and Pella
  • any other place name or personal name that is featured or most relevant to the subject matter of a particular section in a book

The TEI specialist will also ensure that the illustrations referenced by the TEI XML files are linked to the correct images on the project server.

These tasks may be done outside of the ANS’s New York office. The project is perfect for graduate students in the Digital Humanities, and provides the opportunity to work with a world leader in linked open data, open source, and open access at the ANS with its Director of Data Science, Ethan Gruber.

Send CV/resume to Ethan Gruber by September 1. Project deadline is December 1.

Metrological Equivalencies: The Attic Tetradrachm in Persian Period Egypt

2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar student Elsbeth van der Wilt

Dr. Elsbeth van der Wilt is a Dahlem Research School POINT fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin. The (long) title of her project is “Long-distance trade, monetization, marketplaces, and sanctuaries in the fourth century BC: Negotiating change in Egypt during the Achaemenid-Hellenistic transition”. Van der Wilt’s research on metrological equivalencies at the ANS will feed into her work in Berlin. She is currently preparing the publication of the lead weights from Thonis-Heracleion, which was part of her doctorate on the lead objects from this site at the University of Oxford (2014).

For my ANS project I am looking at a metrological problem: the equivalencies in the written sources between the Egyptian weight system—the deben of c. 91 g and kite of 9.1 g as measures of value—and the Attic monetary system. The “stater” in the Egyptian and Aramaic texts is understood as an Attic tetradrachm, which became the most prevalent coin in Egypt in the fifth century and remained so in the fourth century BCE. In Aramaic texts a stater is equated to two Babylonian shekel (8.4 g), in demotic it is one stater to 2 kite.

There is a margin of between 5–6% from the tetradrachm, up to the Egyptian standard and less down to the Babylonian shekel. Several scholars have already noted this difference between the Egyptian and Attic systems and suggested that the overvaluation of the tetradrachm over silver bullion, i.e., the deben, could be interpreted as seigniorage: necessary to cover the cost (and profit) of the minting of imitative owls in Egypt, by the temple of Ptah, for example. In fact, this percentage is very similar to the value of Athenian tetradrachms compared to bullion in Athens itself.

I am collecting the weights of different groups of Athenian owls in order to see whether there is any weight adjustment. In particular, I am interested in the unmarked owls that the American numismatist Th. Buttrey argued were imitations (Figs. 1–3). Since then, the Belgian scholar Chr. Flament clarifies the description of the styles of these coins. However, Flament and others have also argued that these coins were in fact minted in Athens, not Egypt.

Fig. 1: Buttrey style X tetradrachm (ANS 1941.131.550)

Flament suggests on the basis of metallic composition of the coins and the distribution of them in hoards for an Athenian origin of the metal and an earlier re-dating (of two styles, B and M). L. Anderson and P. van Alfen point out that there are in fact multiple scenarios that can explain the results of the metallic analyses of these coins. Furthermore, they also do not agree with Flament that the unusual style of the coins are due to poorer die-cutters in difficult times, arguing with reference to other marked Egyptian imitative coins that they could equally be non-Athenian.

Fig. 2: Buttrey style B tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.24219)

J. H. Kroll has put forward a middle ground: for style X at least he suggests that the obverse and reverse dies were originally Athenian and exported abroad, where, later, the reverse dies (with the characteristic extended left foot, see Fig. 1) were imitated. Thus, currently there seems to be a conservative consensus that perhaps only Buttrey style “X” was Egyptian.

Fig. 3: Buttrey style M tetradrachm (ANS 1957.172.1123)

My contribution to this debate is to compare as many weights of the so-called Buttrey style imitations I can find, with weights of different groups such as bona fide 5th century owls, early 4th century owls (Fig. 4), and Pi-style owls (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4: Early 4th century Athenian tetradrachm (ANS 1959.137.1)

I want to investigate a) whether or not there was any tinkering with the weights of the coins in order to facilitate conversion between the different standards; and b) whether the results can be used to further strengthen or preclude the Egyptian origin of these Athenian tetradrachms. Finally, I will place the Attic monetary system in Egyptian metrology in order to suggest an explanation for the popularity of the owls, and compare their position with the metrological situation in the Near East.

Fig. 5: Pi I tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.24312)

The Silver Coins of Syrian Manbog (Hierapolis—Bambyce)

1D3_8238Nathanael Andrade is an assistant professor in the history department at
SUNY-Binghamton. He is the author of
Syrian Identity in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2013) and many articles on the Hellenistic, Roman, and later Roman Near East. His current book projects explore the arrival of Christianity in India in late antiquity and the life of Zenobia, the famous dynast from Palmyra. This blog post features his work as part of the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics.

Silver didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce (ANS 1971.73.3)

For my project, I am doing a close study of the silver coins produced at Syrian Manbog (otherwise known as Hierapolis—Bambyce) late in the Achaemenid Persian period and in the first years of Alexander the Great’s rule over the Near East. The coins are notable because their inscriptions indicate that they were minted in the name of the mysterious priests of Manbog, the Persian satrap Mazdai (also known as Mazaios), and even Alexander the Great. The coins themselves are replete with images of Manbog’s patron gods, namely Atargatis (‘tr‘th or ‘th) and Hadad (hdd). Their types are also modeled on those from contemporary coins of Sidon, Tarsus, and other Cilician cities. But perhaps most intriguing of all, some of the coins bear likenesses of people that were apparently intended to be representations of Alexander.

Silver didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce, 342–331 BC (ANS 2012.1.6)

The coins have been studied and catalogued in various publications of the 20th century. But many features of them are yet to be explored. Since 1999, over 20 other silver coins have come to light, thus nearly doubling the number of known specimens. My research thus includes an updated catalogue. No complete die study has yet been conducted. My project provides one for the known specimens and expounds upon its implications. The weights of the coins have been variously associated with the Babylonian shekel and the Attic didrachm. My study aims to provide some clarity on this issue. The circulation of the coins has yet to be established. My project seeks to define what it was. The iconography of the coins has often attracted commentary, especially in terms of how it reflects Near Eastern religious, cultural, or artistic traditions. But my project explores how the iconography was intimately linked to issues of local authority and, for some of the coins, the turbulent political sequence of 334–330. It even probes whether Alexander’s coins at Manbog have any bearing on how we interpret the subsequent coinage of his reign, which was arriving at its standard form at the time. As part of my overall examination of the dies, imagery, weight, circulation and political context, I also aim to theorize the economic or fiscal needs that the coins served and to identify some of the dubious specimens that have been attributed to Manbog’s mint.

Silver Didrachm, Hierapolis Bambyce, 340–325 BC (ANS 2000.3.1)

Finally, my study even tackles the vexing questions that surround the small fractal Samarian or Middle Levantine coins that bear the reverse inscription of MBGY. Does MBGY refer to Manbog and to the minting of small fractions there? Is it an ethnic denoting that “Manbogians” were responsible for minting? Or is it the personal name of a figure that oversaw the coins’ production in some way? If so, what was this person’s role and function? As I address these questions, I hope to make some small contribution to our understanding of the production and circulation of small silver fractions in the late Achaemenid Persian empire.

Silver Stater, Hierapolis Bambyce, 330–325 BC (ANS 2008.36.1)

Cross-Cultural Currencies: The Litra and Early Sicilian Fractional Silver

1D3_8334Giuseppe Carlo Castellano is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is pursuing a PhD in Classical Archaeology. His academic interests include culture contact, numismatics, and the material culture of Sicily and South Italy. Giuseppe is a part of the Contrada Agnese Project of the American Excavations at Morgantina, Sicily.

The indigenous inhabitants of Bronze and Iron Age Sicily exchanged bronze objects as a proto-monetary currency. Ingots, tools, and scrap were hoarded as wealth and traded by weight, eventually coming to be reckoned against a variety of regional libral standards, among which the Sicilian litra. This indigenous bronze system persisted alongside coinage well into the Hellenistic period and had a strong influence on the monetization of Sicily. Greeks and indigenous Italic peoples had been in contact for at least three centuries before the advent of coinage, and so would have become accustomed to each other’s weight standards and proto-monetary practice. The hybridized currencies and standards which emerged from this intercourse speak to the strong cultural and economic links between Italy, Sicily, and the Greek homeland.

Italic aes rude, or raw bronze, exchanged as currency in Bronze and Iron Age Sicily and Italy. Weight 33.95 g (ANS 0000.999.564)

The Greek term litra is of Sicel origin. It is cognate to the Italian libra, the indigenous ponderal unit of the mainland. Linguistic evidence suggests that the word litra came from the mainland to Sicily either as an inherited proto-Italic form or as a later loanword from a peninsular language. Mainland Italic peoples may have introduced their bronze-based ponderal system and associated terminology to Sicily by at least the beginning of the Iron Age.

Obverse of a silver litra of Himera, bearing a cock. These are probably the first silver litrai minted in Sicily, sometime between 550 and 484/483 BC. Weight 0.79 g (ANS 1944.100.8493)
Reverse of the same early silver litra of Himera, bearing an incuse mill-sail pattern. 550–484/483 BC. Weight 0.79 g (ANS 1944.100.849)

With the introduction of Greek-style coinage to Sicily in the sixth century BC the litra took on new significance as a small silver coin equivalent in value to the native bronze weight measure. These coins were minted alongside the traditional Greek fraction, the obol. Despite variations in weight among obols—the expected result of differing Greek regional standards—the silver litrai remain fairly consistent. This suggests that they were at least initially tied to another standard, perhaps the native bronze, unaffected by the variability among traditional Greek systems. The silver litra and its fractions formed a neat solution to the problem of integrating the two traditions and therefore allowed for a direct conversion between the native bronze system and the Greek silver system. This would have greatly facilitated trade between the largely coastal Greeks and the indigenous peoples of the interior. Colonial encounters of this kind often engender complex re-articulations of economic and cultural practice, and it is clear from literary, archaeological, and numismatic evidence that the Greeks were receptive to foreign standards and were willing to modify their own systems or assimilate elements of others in response to social, political, and economic exigencies.

Obverse of a Syracusan silver litra, bearing the head of the nymph Arethusa. Second quarter of the fifth century BC. Weight 0.87 g, diameter 11 mm (ANS 1997.9.29)
Reverse of the same Syracusan litra, bearing a cuttlefish and the legend ΣΥΡΑ. Second quarter of the fifth century BC. Weight 0.87 g, diameter 11 mm (ANS 1997.9.29)

This overlap of diverse currencies led to the creation of hybrid monetary systems that bore elements of both the imported Greek and native Italic traditions. This integrative and assimilative monetization formed part of what Massimo Pallottino in his History of Earliest Italy called the “complex and unstable… equilibrium” that promoted “a tradition of ever-growing diplomatic, religious, cultural, artistic and economic relationships… [and] a truly international way of life.” What emerges is a far more nuanced view of Greek colonization than the literary tradition and the historical narratives suggest: this is not merely a story of the colonizers and the colonized, but of complex colonial and postcolonial populations attempting to coexist, cooperate, and prosper.

The Imperial Family on Third Century Roman Coinage

1D3_8611[Today’s post is authored by Sam Caldis (Brown University) who is taking part in the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics. Sam’s proposed doctoral dissertation topic is collegial rule and imperial power-sharing in the Roman Empire during the third and fourth centuries.  Aside from his seminar project, Sam is spending time at the ANS researching the coins and public image programs of fourth-century Roman emperors, studying for his preliminary exams.]

Coins played a significant role in shaping the public image of the  Roman imperial family.  The majority of the coins which left the central imperial mints featured the emperor himself and emphasized his activities and virtues, from (re)conquering Britain to his close friendship with Hercules.  However, emperors did not always appear solo on their coinage- wives, ancestors, and descendants could all be placed on coins to highlight other marks of distinction for the regime, such as proclaiming ancestry or demonstrating the security of the succession.  Although there has recently been a great deal of interest in the place of members of the imperial house on coinage, one aspect which has been largely ignored is the development of familial types – coins which display at least two members of the imperial family together on either the obverse or reverse of a coin.

RIC I Augustus 207 (ANS 1935.117.354)

These types appear early on – Augustus minted coins with his chosen successors, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, together on the reverse.  By the end of the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211), familial types had become more common.  This is in large part due to the prominence of his two potential heirs, Caracalla (198-211) and Geta (209-211), and their powerful mother, Julia Domna.

RIC IV Geta 184 (ANS 1946.7.38)

The members of this imperial household were mixed and matched to produce a variety of familial types.  The most common familial types depict Severus’s sons on the reverse, usually with a legend emphasizing concordia, or harmony.  This may have been intended to reinforce the dynasty’s stability to the people of the empire, though it may also have been an unsubtle message from the imperial court to a pair of brothers who were notoriously always at odds.

RIC V Salonina 47 (ANS 1954.203.132)

The rapid turnover of emperors in the third century led to further experimentation with familial types.  For example, Gallienus (253-268) has no familial types with his sons and co-emperors Valerian II (253-257) and Saloninus (258-260), but the latter are included in familial types on their mother Salonina’s coins.  Instead of appearing as teenage Caesars, Valerian II and Saloninus are depicted with a third child quite literally no bigger than their mother’s knee, emphasizing the fertility and youth of the dynasty.

RIC V Carus 146 (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Münzkabinett, RÖ 32467)
RIC V Carus 146 (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Münzkabinett, RÖ 32467)

Perhaps the most interesting shift in familial types during this period is the movement of the family portrait from its usual place on the reverse to the obverse, in some cases.  Before the third century, only Augusts and Nero ever produced coinage with an obverse familial type, and these were exceedingly rare.  By the end of the third century, the obverse became the preferred location for the family portrait on familial types. Furthermore, the emperor’s solo portrait on the reverse came to be replaced by more traditional imagery, such as deities.  A significant number of familial types now looked like “normal” coins with the single emperor on the obverse being replaced by a corporate image of two members of the imperial house.  In the rapidly changing political world of the third century CE, emperors experimented with the presentation of their public image in a variety of media as they fought to maintain their position.  Familial coin types were one of part of their toolkit, one which received significant attention and innovation.