All posts by Oliver Hoover

Guises of the Tribute Penny

This last summer an email message to the ANS Curatorial Department requested that an attempt be made to use the Society’s online resources, like Pocket Change, to offer some education regarding the famous “Tribute Penny” mentioned in the King James Version of Mark 12:13–17 (thought by many New Testament source critics to have been followed by Matthew 22:16–21 and Luke 20:20–26). The sender expressed concern that coins regularly sold on the numismatic market as the “Tribute Penny” type might be wrongly described as such. This is in fact a very old concern, and one that extends almost back to the birth of modern coin collecting in the Renaissance.

Figure 1. Title page of Marquard Freher’s De Numismate census, a Pharisaeis in quaestionem vocato (Heidelberg, 1599).

Already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the question of the coin’s identity had been discussed in print by several scholars (Fig. 1). These treatises generally preferred a silver coin of Tiberius (AD 14–37) featuring the portrait and name of the emperor on the obverse and an enthroned female figure on the reverse often thought to represent his mother Livia in the guise of Pax (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Silver denarius of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 30. ANS 1948.19.1043.

This identification seemed to tick all of the appropriate boxes: 1) The coin was struck by Tiberius who was known to have been the reigning emperor during Jesus’ ministry; 2) it featured the emperor’s “image and superscription,” both of which are explicitly mentioned in the parallel accounts of the three Synoptic Gospels; and 3) it was a denarius (Greek δηνάριον), the denomination specified by the Synoptic Gospels. This identification seemed to have it all, and thus it has tended to be the favorite down to the present, to the point that if the “Tribute Penny” is mentioned to any numismatist today, this is the type that invariably leaps to mind first. However, the identification with Tiberius’ denarius has one important difficulty that was unknown from the time that the numismatists of the early modern period first identified the “Tribute Penny” down to the last quarter of the twentieth century: There is no find evidence to suggest that the Roman denarius circulated in Judaea in any kind of quantity before AD 70.

Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm of Tiberius. Antioch mint, AD 14-37. RPC I, 4161.1. ANS 1944.100.65559.

As a possible solution to this problem it has sometimes been suggested that the “Tribute Penny” was actually a rare silver tetradrachm type (Fig. 3) struck in the name of Tiberius at Antioch on the Orontes, the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Due to the close proximity of Syria to Judaea it is assumed that such coins were more likely to have circulated in the environs of Judaea in the time of Jesus than the denarius. Unfortunately, the Syrian tetradrachm theory is bedeviled by its own complications that have tended to prevent it from gaining wide acceptance. For one thing, the tetradrachm (roughly equivalent to four denarii) was a much larger denomination than Mark’s denarius and its design featuring the heads and names of both Tiberius and the deified Augustus makes for uncomfortable ambiguity when Jesus asks his interlocutors whose “image and superscription” are on it. Also problematic is the fact that none of the few known Syrian tetradrachms of Tiberius were found in Israel. Indeed, find and hoard evidence suggests that Syrian tetradrachms really only began to circulate in Judaea under Nero, perhaps in response to the closure of the provincial silver mint at Tyre in AD 56 and/or the movement of troops at the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt (AD 66–73).     

Although proponents of the differing identities of the “Tribute Penny” have occasionally come close to blows in the past, it may be worth considering the possibility that the specific denomination was mentioned by Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels not so much with the intention of providing a precise historical detail but as a means of adding concreteness to the message of proper respect for divine and worldly authority. If the many New Testament source critics who consider the Gospel of Mark to have been written for a Christian community in Rome shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 are correct, it seems not unreasonable to wonder whether the coin is identified as a denarius not as a literal description of a coin actually handed to Jesus at the time of his questioning, but because this denomination was comprehensible in the Roman context of Mark’s primary audience. It was a coin that anyone in Rome, Italy or the western provinces would have been familiar with in the first century. This is the very same mechanism that turned Mark’s denarius into a penny (Fig. 4) in the English of the King James Version as a means of retaining intelligibility for English readers of the early seventeenth century.

Figure 4. Silver penny of James I. London Tower mint, 1603–1625. North 2106. ANS 1972.197.1.

Although the precise identity of the coin is important to those of us with a numismatic bent, it is not so clear that this was particularly important to early Christian communities. In the Gnostic-leaning Gospel of Thomas (100:1–4), an extra-canonical Coptic codex of sayings of Jesus discovered in Egypt near Nag Hammadi in 1945, the “Tribute Penny” is described as a gold coin (Coptic anoub). A Roman gold aureus (worth 25 denarii) (Fig. 5) would have been ridiculously high for the head tax (caput) in the first century—particularly considering that the punitive tax imposed on adult male Jews after the fall of Jerusalem was only two denarii (roughly equivalent to the half shekel previously paid to the Jerusalem Temple).

Figure 5. Gold aureus of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 29. ANS 1957.172.1514.

However, in response to the runaway inflation and the debasement of Roman silver coinage over the course of the third century, in the 290s Diocletian instituted reforms that required the payment of the head tax in gold (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Gold aureus of Diocletian. Antioch mint, AD 296-297. RIC VI, 13. ANS 1960.175.2.

Since the Nag Hammadi version of the Gospel of Thomas is believed to have been written down in the mid-fourth century on the basis of paleography (although it seems to include earlier material), it is tempting to suggest that here too the coin in Jesus’ hand reflects the contemporary reality of the community for which the gospel was written rather than any historical reality. In the fourth century, the head tax was regularly assessed in gold solidi (Fig. 7) and therefore Mark’s silver denarius was transformed into gold for the Late Antique audience of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.   

Figure 7. Gold solidus of Constantius II. Antioch mint, AD 347–355. RIC VIII, 83. ANS 1956.184.9.

The apparent irrelevance of the precise identity of the coin is further implied by the extra-canonical Egerton Gospel and Tertullian’s treatise against idolatry. The Egerton Gospel is a fragmentary Greek codex obtained by the British Museum in 1934 and probably dateable to about AD 200. The recto side of Egerton Fragment 2 recounts the familiar controversy over payment of the head tax but there no coin is ever proffered to Jesus, nor is a coin even mentioned. Tertullian’s De Idolatria (15.3), probably written in the early third century, on the other hand, also retells this story, but refers to the denarius of the Synoptic Gospels only by the nondescript Latin term nummus (“coin”).

Coin identification (and argument about differing coin identifications) is the basic lifeblood of any numismatist. There is a special thrill to looking at a 2,000-year-old piece of metal and being able to say to oneself, “Aha! I know what that is.” However, in attempting to precisely identify the “Tribute Penny” as a specific coin, it may be that we are really chasing a chimera.

The Aedes of Vesta on Cistophori of C. Fannius

Anyone who has been paying attention to the ANS Pocket Change blog or to the ANS Magazine over the last while will be aware that over the course of this year a lot of work has been going on with respect to the large body of numismatic material left to the American Numismatic Society by Rick W. Witschonke in 2015. This includes 524 (14% of the collection) cistophoric tetradrachms and fractions struck for use in the Hellenistic Attalid kingdom and the Roman province of Asia that it became after 133 BC (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Silver cistophorus (Pergamum, ca. 166–160 BC). ANS 2015.20.1210 (Witschonke collection).

Of the cistophori, named for the cista mystica that serves as the standard obverse type, 146 (27% of the cistophori in the collection) belong to a special class known as Later Republican cistophori. These were struck in the relatively brief period from 58 to 49 BC and are distinguished by their inclusion of the names of Roman governors written in Latin. Issues naming T. Ampius Balbus (58–57 BC) and C. Fannius (49 BC) are also notable for their modifications to the traditional cistophoric reverse type. On coins of Balbus the traditional bowcase of Heracles on the reverse is replaced by a tripod (Fig. 2) while on those of Fannius it is replaced by a tholos temple surmounted by a female figure holding a patera and a scepter (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Silver cistophorus of T. Ampius Balbus (Tralles, 58–57 BC). ANS 2015.20.36 (Witschonke collection).
Figure 3. Silver cistophorus of C. Fannius (Ephesus, 49/8 BC). ANS 2015.20.90 (Witschonke collection).

Curiously, the depiction of this temple, which seems very similar to the aedes of Vesta in Rome (Fig. 4), has excited relatively little interest in the major numismatic studies of the coins.

Figure 4. The remains of the aedes of Vesta in the Forum Romanum.

In the January 1973 issue of the American Journal of Archaeology, Jane Cody argued that Fannius’ temple should indeed be identified with the aedes of Vesta on the basis of Roman Republican denarii of Q. Cassius Longinus (RRC 428) struck in 55 BC. These depict a virtually identical temple that almost certainly represents the aedes of Vesta (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Silver denarius of Q. Cassius Longinus (Rome, 55 BC). ANS 1948.19.203.

The moneyer’s ancestor, L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, served as prosecutor in the infamous second trial of the Vestal Virgins for failure to honor their vows of chastity in 113 BC. In the 2007 volume of Klio, Linda Zollschan argued that the edifice alluded to the events of 61 BC, in which Fannius and two other members of the college of pontifices (Fannius is consistently described as pontifex on his cistophori) brought the politically-motivated indictment against P. Clodius Pulcher for profaning the female-only rites of the Bona Dea—an important goddess of the Roman state who enjoyed the special patronage of the gens Fannia.  Thus, the temple on Fannius’ cistophori should be identified as the temple of the Bona Dea for Roman political reasons and because, in Zollschan’s view, its design and the appearance of the statue that surmounts it are not appropriate for the aedes of Vesta. She cites several dissimilarities:

1. The aedes of Vesta in Rome had 20 columns and only six are depicted on the temple on Fannius’ cistophori—hardly a convincing argument since the unequivocal aedes of Vesta on the denarius of Cassius is also depicted with six columns as a means of revealing the interior.

2. The denarii of Cassius depict the aedes of Vesta with Corinthian column capitals while Fannius’ temple has Ionic capitals. However, close inspection of numerous specimens of Fannius’ cistophori shows that in many cases, the capitals are actually Corinthian and that the “Ionic” capitals are really Corinthian capitals with overly prominent volutes.    

3. The aedes of Vesta in Rome was mounted on a podium, but the temple on Fannius’ coins has no podium—and yet the aedes of Vesta on Cassius’ coinage also lacks a podium.

4. The statue atop Fannius’ temple is not appropriate for a representation of Vesta. This is a rather more serious argument since specimens exist in which it is very clear that the female image is not veiled—the primary attribute of Vesta (an especially impressive and clear example appears in a recent update to a blog post on Fannius’ temple by Liv Yarrow). This being said, I have not yet been able to find an example of Cassius’ denarius in print or in CRRO or Coin Archives where it is possible to determine whether the statue on the aedes of Vesta is veiled or not.

Zollschan attempted to identify the statue on Fannius’ temple as the Bona Dea on the basis of her scepter and patera—both rather generic attributes—and a supposed serpent at the top of the scepter that she described as visible on one specimen. However, a close examination of the coin image suggests that what she was seeing as a serpent is really the arm of the figure holding the scepter. She also fails to note that the most prominent attribute of the Bona Dea is her cornucopia (Fig. 6)—something that is entirely lacking from the coins.

Figure 6. Inscribed marble statue of the Bona Dea.

Based on the preceding, and on the probability that the die engravers for Fannius’ temple were using a denarius of Q. Cassius Longinus as a model, Cody’s case for the aedes of Vesta still seems quite strong. The potential problem of the female statue may perhaps be mitigated by Flavian aurei that depict the aedes of Vesta in the form it took after its rebuilding under Nero (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Gold aureus of Vespasian depicting the aedes of Vesta (Rome, AD 73). ANS 1956.184.26.

Here the shrine is shown with only four columns(!) and the cult image of Vesta standing inside. She appears to hold a patera and scepter, but again, it is very difficult to tell if she is actually veiled although we would expect it. Other female statues stand to the left and the right of the aedes, which presumably represent deities other than Vesta. Interestingly, the statue on the right also appears holding a patera and scepter in the same manner as the statue on Fannius’ temple, thus raising the possibility that it could still represent the aedes of Vesta without the image of Vesta necessarily surmounting it.

If Fannius’ temple on the cistophori is indeed the aedes of Vesta and the image was copied from the coinage of Cassius, we must then ask why this model was used. It is tempting to suggest that the denarius type may have provided a convenient image of a Roman temple and was used simply to emphasize Fannius’ status as pontifex. Alternatively (or simultaneously?) the temple may have been intended as a punning reference to Fannius’ name (fanum was a somewhat generic Latin term for a temple or shrine).

It is unclear whether there may have been any political motivation in borrowing Cassius’ type. In 49 BC, Q. Cassius Longinus had become tribune of the plebs with the support of Julius Caesar. Fannius, on the other hand, was clearly a Pompeian at the time of the Bona Dea affair in 61 BC. Subsequent events suggest that he may have changed his political alignment. Cicero implicates Fannius in an alleged plot against Pompey (Att. 2.4) in 59 BC and identifies him as a legate sent to Sextus Pompey by the triumvir M. Lepidus in 43 BC (Philipp. 3.16), all of which might imply an association of Fannius with the Caesarean faction in the 50s and much of the 40s BC. However, Fannius was a political opportunist, and in late 43 BC he switched his allegiance again and became a leading supporter of Sextus Pompey in Sicily. This lasted until 36 BC, when it became clear that the Pompeian cause was doomed and Fannius then threw in with Mark Antony. Thus, it seems not impossible that Fannius’ reuse of Cassius’ image of the aedes of Vesta in 49 BC could have served as a somewhat oblique declaration for Caesar through the person of his tribune of the plebs. It would have been very timely for Fannius to do so considering that he probably departed to take up his position as governor of Asia just as, or not long after Caesar cast his die and the Roman state began its descent into civil war.

Treasure (Rhode) Island? Henry Every and Yemeni Coins found in New England

1837 woodcut depicting Henry Every receiving the treasure from the Ganj-i-Sawai onto his ship, the Fancy.

In a remarkable shift away from the incessant drum-beat coverage of COVID-19 developments,  on 1 April 2021, the Associated Press ran a story about a handful of small silver coins from seventeenth-century Yemen found by metal detectorists in New England and the theory advanced by Jim Bailey that these coins actually represent pirate plunder. In fact, he argues that they are the remains of plunder taken by Henry Every (also written as “Avery”) in one of the most famous pirate actions of the seventeenth century—the taking of the Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai (“Exceeding Treasure”) while returning from Mecca to Surat in 1695. The story was quickly seized upon and embroidered by online news outlets over the week that followed. This is perhaps not overly surprising. The readiness with which the Associated Press has picked it up and other news outlets have run with it is clear testimony to the story’s popular exciting qualities. Indeed, if one listens carefully one can almost hear Johnny Depp somewhere in the distance asking us if we are “savvy” to the whole thing. However, as with most astounding discoveries and anything even remotely endorsed by Capt. Jack Sparrow, it is usually a good policy first to sit down, take a deep breath, and then take stock of the actual evidence to determine whether it can really support the weight of the claims piled on top of it. 

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III dated AH 1105 (AD 1693/4) similar to coins found in New England. ANS 1971.229.3.

But first, a little background that seems to have been missed. Although the Associated Press piece reports that Bailey “found the first intact 17th-century Arabian coin in a meadow in Middletown [in 2014],” he was actually preceded by the hosts of the National Geographic Channel’s Diggers, who discovered one in 2013 and sought the assistance of the ANS in identifying it. The identity of the coin was subsequently published and it appeared in the Diggers episode “Mystery Coin,” which aired on 4 March 2014. Bailey’s find coin as well as several others were published in the August 2017 issue of the Colonial Newsletter along with his theory associating them with Every and the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai. Inexplicably, the Colonial Newsletter as the original publication is not mentioned in the Associated Press item, but is bizarrely misidentified in many of the secondary media reports as “the American Numismatic Society’s research journal” or the nonexistent Journal of the American Numismatic Society, etc.). The American Numismatic Society’s research journal is actually the American Journal of Numismatics (AJN)  but Bailey has never published there.

Although the case for associating finds of coins in New England with Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai can be read in full online thanks to the availability of the full run of the Colonial Newsletter on the Newman Numismatic Portal, his argument rests primarily on three main pieces of evidence:

1. In 1695, when the Ganj-i-Sawai was seized by Every and his piratical colleagues after departing from the Yemeni port of al-Makha (Mocha), the ship is known to have contained thousands of silver coins.

2. After political and economic fallout from the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai caused King William III to issue a proclamation calling for the capture of the pirates responsible, some (Bailey suggests 72) of Every’s associates made their way to the American colonies (especially Rhode Island and Carolina) with their loot in the hope of evading the long arm of the law.  

3. Of four Yemeni coins found in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that can be dated with any accuracy, none post-date the capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai.

The first two facts indicate how coins plundered from the Ganj-i-Sawai could have come to New England, but do not prove that they did, or that if they did, the coins in question must have been Yemeni khamsiyat (corrupted in contemporary seventeenth-century English as comassees). The case is very problematic because it begins with the assumption that the coins had to have come from the Mughal ship and pays little serious attention to the possibility that they could have been brought back by American merchants involved in the East African slave trade, the Yemen coffee trade, or by pirates other than Every and his accomplices. Bailey argues in the Associated Press piece that “there’s no evidence that American colonists…traveled to anywhere in the Middle East to trade until decades later” (i.e., after the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai) and yet in his Colonial Newsletter article the “overlapping business interests of piracy and the East African slave trade” (p. 4607) are noted with respect to the New York ships Margaret and Nassau in 1699 (only four years after the Ganj-i-Sawai incident) and Every and his colleagues are suspected to have come to Newport, Rhode Island, under the guise of East African slave dealers (pp. 4601–4605)—an odd thing to do if this trade did not yet really exist. Even if we set all of this aside, whatever contextual evidence there may be for any of the found Yemeni coins cannot tell us precisely when they arrived in New England or in whose pockets.

Ottoman silver kuruş of Mustafa II dated AH 1106 (AD 1694/5). ANS 1993.11.12.

As much of the silver on the Ganj-i-Sawai was said to have been that of “Turkish merchants,” one might have expected it to have included many Ottoman kuruşlar—large silver coins introduced in in 1688 that were roughly equivalent to European thalers—that would have been far more appropriate for large-scale trade with Mughal India than low-denomination comassees. And even if large quantities of khamsiyat were taken by the pirates, as Bailey himself notes, they were at pains right away to convert as many of the silver coins as possible into more easily transportable gold. John Dann, one of Every’s accomplices, was later arrested in Ireland, given away by the large numbers of gold chequins (perhaps Ottoman sultanis, Safavid Persian ashrafis, or Mughal mohurs) sewn into the lining of his coat! There also may have been some conversion into Spanish silver, judging from the bags of reales that another of the pirates had in his possession when apprehended in Ireland.

Ottoman gold sultani of Mehmed IV dated AH 1078 (AD 1667/8). ANS 1997.65.4870.

The third fact presented by Bailey is of extremely dubious value, not only because the sample size is much too small to be meaningful, but because it may not be truly factual. With one exception, all of the khamsiyat listed by Bailey are issues of the Qasimid imam Muhammad III ibn Ahmad (1686–1717). When dates are not visible (or present), the coins of this Yemeni ruler can be dated to three chronological periods based on his titulature. Issues naming him as “an-Nasir” were struck in the period 1687–1693, those naming him as “al-Hadi” in 1693–1697, and those naming him as “al-Mahdi” in 1697-1718. Therefore, if all the Yemeni coins found in New England were struck prior to the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai, there should only be issues in the name of “al-Nasir” and “al-Hadi.” However, Bailey includes two coins of “al-Mahdi” (one of which is his discovery coin) in his list of New England finds (p. 4582, Table 2). These are almost certainly errors for “al-Hadi” which is very clear on the discovery coin (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 1), but illegible on the second specimen (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 7). However, the close similarity of the latter’s reverse legend to a third coin, clearly struck in the name of “al-Hadi” (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 3), suggests that Bailey’s No. 7 is also an “al-Hadi” issue.  

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III found by Jim Bailey. As published in the Colonial Newsletter 164 (August 2017), p. 4575, Fig. 1.

Bailey’s discovery coin is critically important for the question of potential connection to Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai because it is the only coin recovered with a visible date. In his article, this date is interpreted as AD 1693, which fell in January–August AH 1104 and September-December AH 1105, but he does not indicate which Hijri year was actually read on the coin. The year AH 1104 is normally written ١١٠٤ in Arabic while 1105 is written ١١٠٥ (see the ANS specimen above for this date and note the difference between the final numeral there and that on Bailey’s coin). Neither of these forms seem to closely match the numbers that appear on the coin. Upon close inspection, the date on Bailey’s coin appears to read ١١٠٨ or AH 1108, the Hijri year that extended from 31 July AD 1696 to 20 June AD 1697 (I am grateful to Dr. Jere Bacharach for confirming the AH 1108 reading of the date). If the date is correctly read here as AH 1108, the coin was struck too late to have been carried off from the Ganj-i-Sawai. Every and his pirates captured and plundered the Mughal ship on 7 September 1695 (i.e., at the beginning of AH 1107) whereas if the coin bears an AH 1108 date, as seems to be the case, at the very earliest it could have been struck only shortly before the proclamation of 8 August 1696 that began the manhunt for Every and his associates. It should go without saying that an AH 1108 date is an insurmountable problem for Bailey’s popular theory.

The preceding discussion seems to scuttle the idea of closely pinning seventeenth-century Yemeni coins found in New England on the fallout from one of the most famous acts of piracy of the period. The celebrity status that Bailey’s theory would lend to the coins must walk the plank, but perhaps casting the infamous glory of Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai into Davey Jones’ locker should not be cause for disappointment. The stardom that Bailey has attached to Yemeni coins with New England find contexts actually obscures the real importance of the coins, which should be linked to other reported finds of Mughal and related Islamic coins in North America. They all serve to underline the fact that the early American colonies did not exist in a vacuum, but rather belonged to global networks of trade and cultural interaction (and piracy), and that enterprising individuals could and did profit from these networks if they were willing to undertake the great dangers of sailing half a world away.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Most readers who have followed the reports in the ANS Magazine and on Pocket Change related to the development of Seleucid Coins Online over the past several years will know that there is never a shortage of interesting things to say about or do with the coinage of the Seleucid Empire (312–64 BC). However, to me one of the most fascinating aspects of Seleucid numismatics is the way that the many of the coins illustrate the interaction between the Greek and non-Greek elements in the empire. Of these, the quasi-municipal coins struck by the Phoenician cities under Antiochus IV (175–164 BC) are especially notable for their development of legends in Phoenician script to advertise themselves and jockey for position. In essence they use Seleucid coins to engage in a regional conversation among cities that would be largely unintelligible to outsiders. Although the Greek alphabet was ultimately derived from that of Phoenicia, in the Hellenistic Age, a native Phoenician was far more likely to know the Greek language—an imperial common tongue—than a Greek was to know Phoenician.

Figure 1: ANS 1992.54.1544

Around 169/8 BC (the earliest date known from issues of Tyre), the cities of Phoenicia began to identify themselves on Seleucid quasi-municipal bronze coins using Phoenician script. At some cities this new development was fairly innocuous. Berytus, which Antiochus IV had refounded as Laodicea in Phoenicia, describes itself in Phoenician as “Laodicea which is in Canaan” (Fig. 1; SC 1443–1445) while Byblus refers to itself as “Gebal the Holy” (Fig. 2; SC 1443–1445). Gebal was of course the native Phoenician name for Byblus, the Greek name (related to βιβλίον, “book”) apparently given to the city on account of its important role in the export of Egyptian papyrus. It is unclear whether Byblus calls itself “holy” here because it had received this status through a royal grant or whether it was holy in more general terms because it was an important center for the cult of Adonis and the syncretized god Kronos-El. As the title of holy is only ever given in Phoenician script and never written in Greek, one suspects that this was a kind of unofficial “holiness” unconnected to the benefaction of the king.

Figure 2: ANS 1948.19.2413

The unobjectionable tone of the Phoenician legends at Berytus and Byblus suddenly shifts, however, at Tyre and Sidon, probably beginning at Tyre. On quasi-municipal issues of this city dated SE 145 and 147 (169/8 and 166/5 BC), we do not find a mere statement of identity, but rather an assertion of regional superiority (Fig. 3; SC 1463–1469).

Figure 3: ANS 1944.100.77390

The Phoenician coin legends here indicate that the coins are “of Tyre, the mother of the Sidonians.” This was an obvious slap in the face to Sidon, Tyre’s competitor as the most important city in Phoenicia, not least because previously, in the Persian period, Sidon had served as the administrative capital of the region (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: ANS 1997.9.197

Although most coins of Sidon struck under Antiochus IV follow the pattern of Byblus and Beytus with the simple Phoenician legend identifying them as “of the Sidonians” (SC 1453, 1455–1456) it was impossible to ignore the Tyrian affront. Thus, on one series of bronze coins, the Phoenician legend reads, “of the Sidonians, the mother of Cambe, Hippone, Citium, and Tyre.” (Fig. 5; SC 1454).

Figure 5: ANS 1944.100.77159

This is a very clear escalation. Whereas the Tyrians claimed to be the founders only of Sidon, here the Sidonians claim to have founded not only Tyre, but all of that city’s colonies! Cambe is a name for the more familiar Carthage, Hippone is Hippo Regius in North Africa, and Citium is the important Phoenician city on Cyprus. This Sidonian response to the Tyrian legend is notable not only for its virulence, but also for the way it dominates the entirety of the reverse type, as if it is really only incidental that it is supposed to be part of a Seleucid coin. Sidon has almost completely hijacked the coin for its own civic and regional ends whereas the Tyrian claim is somewhat more respectful of Seleucid numismatic tradition in squeezing its claim in below the reverse type and by retaining the usual Greek legends naming the king and the city. One suspects that the royal authorities may have stepped in to curb the exuberance of Tyre and Sidon in their Phoenician legends after 166/5 BC. Such extreme competition could have very negative effects and lead to inter-city violence, as actually happened in the Roman period. After the reign of Antiochus IV, Seleucid coins of Sidon and Tyre only carry basic Phoenician legends indicating that they are issues “of the Sidonians” or “of Tyre,” which suggests some degree of royal chastisement for the earlier behavior of the cities on the coinage.

The episode of Phoenician coin legends under Antiochus IV is unique for the direct engagement between Sidon and Tyre in their own language. One can really see a vibrant regional debate taking place in which the Seleucid royal authority was only incidental. The rivalry of these two cities was already very old when Alexander the Great arrived in Phoenicia in 333 BC and was still traceable in the third century AD. Kings and emperors came and went, but the argument between neighbors remained the same.

Seleucid Coins Online as a Clearinghouse for New Information


As work continues apace to add monograms to the coin data presented in Seleucid Coins Online (SCO) (as well as for PELLA and PCO), it seemed worthwhile to point out a feature that is swiftly becoming one of the major benefits of SCO to students of Seleucid numismatics. Whereas in the past it has been necessary to wait for the arrival of new publications in order to learn of discoveries impacting attribution, the notes field in SCO now makes it possible to provide information on new attributions almost as soon as it becomes available.

In an article that appeared in the ANS Magazine last year (“Is there a Santa Claus? The Story of Seleucid Coins Online”), I noted that it had been possible to reattribute a tetradrachm from Antiochus Hierax (c. 242–227 BC) to Antiochus III (223–187 BC) and from the Hellespont to Phrygia based on a new die link reported by a collector—a fact included in the notes fields of the linked types, SC 860 and SC 1001. Since then, even more new evidence for reattributions has been coming to light and duly marked in the notes fields of the relevant types. In this way, researchers using SCO are instantly apprised of modifications to the attributions originally published in Seleucid Coins, A Comprehensive Catalogue in 2002 and 2008.

Figure 1.
Figure 1. SC 2122. Bronze coin of Antiochus VII Sidetes.

Numismatists interested in SC 2122, a bronze coin of Antiochus VII Sidetes (138–129 BC) featuring helmet and aphlaston types (Fig. 1), will discover in the notes field accompanying the type in SCO that in the 2019 volume of Israel Numismatic Research, D. T. Ariel presented new find evidence that strongly points to Jerusalem as the issuing mint. Based on more general provenance information, SC 2122 was described circumspectly as a “Bronze Issue of Southern Coele Syria” in Seleucid Coins, Part 2, but the large number of specimens Ariel shows to have been found in the environs of Jerusalem, now make that city the most likely mint for this issue. He further supports attribution to Jerusalem by pointing to the use of types that would be inoffensive to a Jewish audience—a feature also found on SC 2122, a type of Antiochus VII long associated with Jerusalem—and the subsequent reuse of a similar helmet type for bronze coins of the Hasmonaean High Priest John Hyrcanus I following the secession of Judaea from the Seleucid Empire (Fig. 2).

Figure 2.
Figure 2. SC1932. Bronze of Demetrius II.

SC 1932 is a bronze type struck in the first reign of Demetrius II Nicator (145–143 BC) that was only known from two examples when Seleucid Coins, Part 2, was published in 2008. One was obtained by Henri Seyrig and subsequently entered the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Fig. 3) and the other appeared in the second Houghton collection of Seleucid coins (CSE 2, 519). The great rarity of the issue may be gauged by the fact that the Society’s own Seleucid numismatic superstar, Edward T. Newell, seems not to have owned an example. At least, if he had ever possessed one, it did not make it into the ANS collection with the rest of his vast Seleucid collection. Based primarily on the reverse type depicting Poseidon and Seyrig’s deep interest in Syria, it was suggested in Seleucid Coins that this issue was probably struck at Laodicea by the Sea. However, in light of a report by David Hendin last week of a third specimen of SC 1932 offered for sale by a dealer in Ashkelon (ancient Ascalon) raises serious doubts about the attribution to Laodicea. A rare bronze coin ostensibly from a city of the Syrian Tetrapolis seems a little out of place at a southern Israeli port city. Instead, it seems more likely that the tentative mint attribution in Seleucid Coins is incorrect and that SC 1932 was actually struck at Ascalon. This suspicion is further supported by the letters A/Σ that appear in the left field and match the first two letters in the city ethnic of Ascalon. These same letters also occur on Seleucid quasi-municipal bronze issues of Ascalon struck by Demetrius’ predecessor, Alexander I Balas (152–145 BC), and his rival, Antiochus VI Dionysus (144–c. 142 BC). With the new provenance information included in the notes, anyone researching SC 1932 will be made instantly aware of the probable reattribution.

Figure 3.
Figure 3. Bronze of Demetrius II. National Library of France.

All of this shows that over time, Seleucid Coins Online really does have the potential to become a true virtual clearinghouse for Seleucid numismatic information and the ultimate source for up-to-date attributions superseding those given in the print volumes of Seleucid Coins, A Comprehensive Catalogue.




Cash and Carry

Figure 1. Chinese spade money, c. 770–475 BC.
Figure 1. Chinese spade money, c. 770–475 BC (ANS 1937.179.14763).

The American Numismatic Society cabinet contains a remarkable collection of Chinese coins and currency ranging from early bronze spade money (Fig. 1) and so-called “ant-nose” coins derived from cowrie shells down to more recent issues of the People’s Republic of China. Within this long parade of money, a watershed moment took place in the late third century BC when Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China (220–210 BC), introduced a new cast bronze coinage to be used throughout his empire. The coins, known in Chinese by their denomination ban liang (“half tael”), were circular in shape, like the contemporary coins of Greece and Rome, but included a square central hole that permitted them to be strung on cords for easy storage and transportation in an age before pockets (Fig. 2). Over the centuries the basic form of the ban liang was used and reused for new imperial coinages of different names and denominations like the wu zhu (“five-zhu”) and tong bao (“circulating currency”). As European trade with China expanded in the Far East in the seventeenth century, such coins came to be known in English as cash—a term derived from kaasu or kasa, South Indian (Dravidian) words for “money” often referring to a coin of small denomination.

Figure 2. Han Dynasty bronze ban liang, 206–126 BC.
Figure 2. Han Dynasty bronze ban liang, 206–126 BC (ANS 1937.179.30060).

While cash coins are interesting in their own right, not only in their role as currency, but also in Chinese tradition as talismans for the living, medicine for the sick, and assistance for the spirits of the dead. They are also remarkable as part of a growing corpus of Eastern coins brought to the shores of the United States and Canada early in the histories of these countries, largely unnoticed by the numismatic community. There is always something exciting about a coin discovered in a wrong or unexpected place. When this happens there is almost invariably a good story that goes with it.

Chinese cash coins have been recovered from Indigenous archaeological sites of the maritime fur trade period (1778–1850) along the northwestern coast of North America stretching from Alaska through British Columbia and into the contiguous states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The coins were already being traded to Indigenous peoples of British Columbia by the late 18th century, as indicated by a meeting between the Spanish explorer Jacinto Camaño Moraleja and the important Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) chief Taglas Cania in 1792. On this occasion, Taglas Cania is reported to have arrived at the meeting wearing his finest apparel, which included a coat and trousers adorned with cash coins similar to the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty tong bao depicted below (Fig. 3). These were attached to his clothing like buttons, but seem to have been intended to announce the presence of their wearer by the pleasant tinkling sound they made when they struck against each other as he moved. The coins and their sound enhanced the status of the wearer, visually illustrating the chief’s important trade connections and providing him with his own theme music on occasions of significance. It has been claimed that the Tlingit peoples of Alaska sewed numerous cash coins to leather coats and vests not only as status symbols, but to serve as body armor in their conflicts with other tribes and Russian traders in 1802 and 1804. However, the military aspect of such clothing has been disputed, with some recent commentators arguing that it was primarily used as ceremonial garb. A number of Tlingit cash-encrusted jackets and vests can still be seen in public collections such as those of the American Museum of Natural History and the Canadian War Museum.

Figure 3. Qing Dynasty bronze tong bao. Tainan mint, 1736–1796.
Figure 3. Qing Dynasty bronze tong bao. Tainan mint, 1736–1796 (ANS 1986.40.503).

It is unclear exactly how long before the arrival of Caamaño the Indigenous peoples of the north west coast of North America developed their taste for Chinese cash, but 1788 seems most likely. In the spring of this year, the English captain John Meares sailed from the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton) with a complement of Chinese crewmen, and reached Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. There he established a post for trade with the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth peoples despite lacking permission from the East India Company to do so. It has been suggested that Meares’ Chinese crewmen may have begun trading cash coins to the Nuu-chah-nulth when they discovered the attraction of Indigenous peoples to articles made from copper—copper and brass pots had long been staples of European trade with the First Nations of North America—and that this chance trade became regularized in subsequent visits by English traders. On the other hand, it is just as possible that Meares purposely included cash coins in his cargo when he sailed out of Guangzhou in 1788 with the intention of trading them to Aboriginal peoples as trinkets in return for much more valuable seal skins.

Figure 4. Portrait of a Wishram (a Columbia River people of Oregon) bride wearing headdress decorated with Qing Dynasty tong bao. Photographed by Edward Curtis, c. 1910.
Figure 4. Portrait of a Wishram (a Columbia River people of Oregon) bride wearing headdress decorated with Qing Dynasty tong bao. Photographed by Edward Curtis, c. 1910.

Chinese cash coins remained a popular item of clothing decoration among the Indigenous peoples of the north western North America into the 20th century (Fig. 4), although by this time the supply brought by maritime fur traders was supplemented by coins carried by the large numbers of Chinese immigrants who came to work on the great transcontinental railways built in the United States and Canada in the 1860s and 1880s, respectively. Cash coins seem to have been preferred for adornment in part because they came ready for stringing and because they were obtained fairly easily. With a value equal to about one tenth of a U.S. cent, Chinese cash had virtually no use as money in North America. Nevertheless, when cash coins were not available, other coins, like U.S. dimes and half dimes (Fig. 5), were pierced by for the same decorative purpose.

Figure 5. United States silver half dime. Philadelphia mint, 1838.
Figure 5. United States silver half dime. Philadelphia mint, 1838 (ANS 1931.109.26).

It is worth noting that the custom of wearing coins as clothing adornment connects the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Canada and the United States not only to the Far East through their use of Chinese cash, but indirectly also to the Middle East. There many Islamic cultures had a tradition of piercing coins to be worn as part of a bride’s costume (most typically her headdress) on her wedding day. The ANS collection includes hundreds of examples of coins that have been pierced, some of which almost certainly received their holes in this wedding context (Fig. 6). It is from this custom that the term sequin (an English corruption of zecchino, the Italian name for the famous Venetian gold ducat and its imitations) enters modern parlance as the small, shiny disk-like decorations most frequently found sewn on to certain kinds of glamorous women’s apparel.

Figure 6. Pierced Safavid gold ashrafi of Shah ‘Abbas III. Mashhad mint, 1735/6.
Figure 6. Pierced Safavid gold ashrafi of Shah ‘Abbas III. Mashhad mint, 1735/6 (ANS 1922.216.979).

Coins found outside of their expected areas of circulation and put to unexpected uses are always a source of great interest. The case of Chinese cash in northwestern coastal North America is no exception, as the coins document the long-distance maritime trade between European traders operating from Chinese ports and Indigenous peoples and highlight the cross-cultural uses of coins as part of clothing. The modern states of Canada and the United States have prided themselves on being cultural mosaics and melting pots, respectively. The more attention paid to foreign money found in North America reveals these terms to be relevant just as much to coins as to people.


Canadian Indian Treaty Medals and the Sesquicentennial of Confederation

Anyone who has had the opportunity to look through the trays of coins and medals at the American Numismatic Society knows that the objects speak. They talk to us as we each have the ability to hear them. They speak to us of times long gone or only recently passed, of important events, and of people: the ones who made the objects, the ones who issued them, the ones depicted or named on them, and the ones who used or collected them. When I go through the Canadian section of the Society’s Indian Peace Medal collection some of the pieces there seem to have things to say about the coming sesquicentennial celebration of July 1, 1867—the day when the three British colonies of Canada (united modern Ontario and Québec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick joined together in Confederation and the Dominion of Canada was born (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The Fathers of Canadian Confederation as depicted on a Canadian silver dollar (1982). (ANS 1995.109.474.)

Every kid likes a good birthday party. Friends, family, presents, and cake are usually involved, so what could there possibly be not to like? However, sometimes as adults, birthdays can become a two-edged sword. While the party might be nice, at times our birthdays can also put us in touch with a sense of our own mortality or feelings of regret that make us uncomfortable. No matter how good the cake is, or how much ice cream is piled on, sometimes birthdays just end up reminding us of our frailties. There will be a big party and a lot of fireworks in Canada this July 1, but for truly reflective Canadians it is going to be one of one of those grown-up birthdays—not a kid one.

Fig 2
Fig. 2. French Louis XV (1715-1774) Indian Peace medal reengraved with the name of King George III and the date 1775. (ANS 1926.28.1.)

I have always thought that a remarkable silver medal in the ANS collection (Fig. 2) perfectly symbolizes the three founding peoples of Canada. The medal was struck in France under Louis XV (1715-1744) for distribution to the leaders of Aboriginal allies or to those who had rendered some exemplary service to the French in North America. The medal itself represents the earliest permanent European settlers in what was to become Canada (Port Royal was established in what became Nova Scotia in 1605 and Québec City in 1608) and its unknown recipient, the original people of the land. The medal’s obverse legend, which originally named Louis XV, but was reengraved in 1775 to name King George III of Great Britain, represents the third of the original founders of Canada—the English. Canadian territories claimed by France were ceded to Great Britain in 1763, at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). People from many other places across the globe have since come to Canada and have made their unique contributions to the country in the centuries that followed, but Aboriginal, French, and English were the original founders of the country, in that order.

The Aboriginal owner of the medal almost certainly had the legend re-engraved to indicate his acceptance of alliance with the British in North America on the eve of the American Revolution and to retain a nice relic of the old French regime—French medals were prized by their Aboriginal recipients because they were generally larger and heavier than most subsequent British Indian Peace medals. It is nevertheless difficult not to think of the re-engraving of the British monarch’s name on a French medal bestowed upon an Aboriginal as a kind of allegory for both the sequence of political dominance in Canada, from Aboriginal, to French, to British and for the building of English Canada on pre-existing Aboriginal and French foundations. The medal is also allegorical of the serious problem that makes the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation such an adult birthday: The colonial powers of France and Great Britain are both given visible form respectively through the medal itself and the re-engraved legend while its Aboriginal owner has left no trace. He is invisible.

A lot of things can happen to you when you are invisible. Bad things. To offer only a few examples: Your communities can languish for decades without basic amenities (e.g. running potable water) that would be unheard of elsewhere, but no one else will notice; 40 or more women and girls from your communities can disappear over as many years, but no one will seriously investigate; and mainstream media can make light of appropriating your culture as if you are not even in the room. Even worse, if the intrinsic value of your culture is considered by others to be invisible, it is an easy step to attempts to extinguish it through repugnant educational and social means.

The continuing and still largely unresolved burdens of invisibility on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples trace their roots back a long way, to the kind of colonial disregard for the colonized that is reflected in the story of the first medals used to establish treaties between Aboriginal peoples and the young Dominion of Canada.

Not long after Confederation, in 1871, Canada negotiated treaties with various Anishinaabe and Mushkego (Swampy Cree) peoples of what is now southern Manitoba (Treaty Nos. 1 and 2) as a means of opening up new land for settlement, while the Aboriginal signatories hoped to gain some measure of protection from an expected ruinous tidal wave of European settlers. By the time of these treaties it was already long-established custom to seal such agreements with the gift of a suit of clothes, a flag, and a medal to the signing chiefs. Canada, however, failed to obtain any sort of appropriate medal for the occasions of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. Instead, the treaties were solemnized by the distribution of stock medium-sized medals engraved by J. S. and A. B. Wyon of a type that was normally used for prizes in school or at agricultural fairs.

Fig 3
Fig. 3. Silver-plated electrotype Chief’s Medal awarded to Indians of the Northwest Territories awarded to replace the initial medals distributed at the signing of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. (ANS 1925.173.9.)

The small size and the character of these medals understandably rankled with their recipients—they had signed away vast lands but in return did not receive even the dignity of a medal suitable for the occasion. In an attempt to mollify the resentment, in 1872, the government of Canada commissioned the Montréal  silversmith, Robert Hendry, to produce 25 replacement medals (Fig. 3).

Fig 4
Fig. 4. Silver Confederation Medal apparently awarded to minor Aboriginal leaders when the Chiefs’ Medals were distributed. (ANS 1934.23.1.)

With a diameter of 95 mm and a thickness of 10 mm the new medals certainly responded to the complaint about size, but they still lacked in dignity. They were not struck from dies prepared for a dedicated treaty medal, but created by silver plating electrotype copies of a Wyon commemorative medal struck for Canadian Confederation and encasing them in 11 mm wide rings. Each ring was inscribed with an English legend identifying the medal as a “Dominion of Canada Chief’s Medal” and the intended recipients as “Indians of the Northwest Territories.” A further piece in the ANS cabinet (Fig. 4) indicates that Confederation medals were also distributed without the additional outer ring, presumably to important Aboriginal figures of lesser status than the main signatories of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. However, such pieces are not mentioned in the surviving documentation.

While the size of the 1872 replacement Chief’s Medal was impressive, its thin silver plating, which had a tendency to wear off, was not. Therefore, at last in 1873, when Canada was preparing to negotiate Treaty No. 3 with the Anishinaabe peoples of what is now northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba, proper treaty medals were commissioned from the Wyons (Fig. 5) at a cost of $26 per medal and struck for distribution at the signing of Treaty No. 3 and eight further numbered treaty settlements that were negotiated up to 1921.

Fig 5
Fig. 5. Silver Indian Peace Medal distributed at the signing of Treaty No. 3. (ANS 1934.23.1.)

The objects in the ANS collection are always ready to speak. They regularly tell us of what has happened in the past, but sometimes also invite serious reflection on the present and future that has grown and will continue to grow out of a given past. Sometimes they even have something to say about birthday parties. All we have to do is listen.







Hiding in Plain Sight: New Seleucid Discoveries at the ANS

They say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery. One of my recurring problems is that when my wife asks me to get an item out of the fridge I cannot find it. When I report that the item in question is not there, nine times out of ten she will walk over and pull it out without even having to search. Usually when this happens, the item was sitting at the front of the shelf —and at eye-level to boot—hiding in plain sight.

As I continue to prepare the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many specialists over the years. It is only now that almost the entirety of the Seleucid collection has been photographed and the images associated with the MANTIS database entries that these new coins have been revealed. The new discoveries in the trays mirror the general state of Seleucid numismatics, which has seen new types and control varieties appear at a remarkable pace in commerce over the years. Since Seleucid Coins, Part 2 was published jointly by the American Numismatic Society and Classical Numismatic Group in 2008, hundreds of previously unknown coins have been recorded. The purpose of this post is to introduce a few of the interesting new Seleucid discoveries in the ANS cabinet.

Figure 1: Alexandrine tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.77077).
Figure 1: Alexandrine tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.77077).

Perhaps the most intriguing of the coins is the Alexandrine tetradrachm from the bequest of E. T. Newell accessioned as ANS 1944.100.77077 (Fig. 1). Based on the original database entry, Newell considered this coin to belong to an oft-discussed series of tetradrachms struck under Seleucus I Nicator (312–280 BC) frequently bearing an anchor symbol and which he attributed to the north Phoenician mint of Marathus. The Marathus anchor Alexanders were subsequently reattributed as a whole to neighboring Aradus in 1998 before closer analysis of the historical and hoard evidence permitted the identification of their true origin at a mint in Babylonia (Uncertain Mint 6A in Seleucid Coins, Part 1) in 2002. Despite the interest in sorting out this Alexandrine series, neither Martin Price, Arthur Houghton, myself (when I was reviewing the trays for SC 1 in 1999–2000), nor anyone else seems to have noticed this coin and therefore it does not appear in the pages of The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus (1991) or Seleucid Coins, Part 1 (2002). It continued to be overlooked as late as 2015, when the American Journal of Numismatics published a new study of Uncertain Mint 6A by Lloyd Taylor.

Figure 2: Anchor Alexander, uncertain Mint 6A (Newell’s Marathus) (SC C67.5a, see CNG Electronic Auction 376, lot 237).

Artistic style and the monogram in the left field of the new coin indicate production at Uncertain Mint 6A (Newell’s Marathus). Indeed, the obverse die seems to have been cut by the same hand as a die employed for that mint’s anchor Alexanders (SC C67.5a, see CNG Electronic Auction 376, lot 237; Fig. 2). However, the wreath around the left field monogram and the bee symbol below it also suggests a degree of influence from the so-called “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon (SC 82.2b; Fig. 3)—now thought to have coined Alexander tetradrachms for Seleucus’ arch-enemy, Antigonus the One-Eyed, during his occupation of Babylonia (315-308 BC).

Figure 3: (SC 82.2b).
Figure 3: Alexandrine tetradrachm of Babylon I, the “Imperial Workshop” (ANS 1944.100.80957).

With the exception of the anchor, field symbols are otherwise unknown at Mint 6A and the mint is already known to share a wreathed monogram with the “Imperial Workshop” (SC 67.5a and SC 81–85). While the obverse die seems to belong to Taylor’s Series II, which he dates to c. 306–304 BC, the treatment of Zeus and the absence of an anchor symbol connect the new coin to Taylor’s Series III, which he dates to 304–303 BC. The possibility of influence from the “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon will require further study and may perhaps demand revisiting and revision to the Marathus/Aradus/Uncertain Mint 6A complex of Seleucus’ Alexandrine tetradrachms yet again. And to think that the coin has been sitting in the cabinet since the mid-1940s!

Figure 4:
Figure 4: Unpublished bronze coin of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) from an uncertain mint (ANS 1982.175.9).

Somewhat less embarrassingly old is a previously unknown bronze coin of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) accessioned as ANS 1982.175.9 (Fig. 4). It has only been overlooked in the trays since 1982. The denomination (B) and types are very similar to a series struck at a Syrian mint formerly identified as Apamea, but now known as the uncertain ΔEΛ Mint (SC 706; Fig. 5). However, while both the new coin and the ΔEΛ Mint issues feature a bull butting left on the reverse, the latter carries a depiction of Seleucid dynastic god, Apollo, on the obverse. The new coin features the diademed portrait of the king instead of Apollo, but this fact went unrecognized by the original database cataloguer and by anyone who has seen it over the last several decades. The coin is not listed in Seleucid Coins Part 1. Based on the reverse type, the coin may be a new issue of the ΔEΛ Mint, but in the absence of any visible control monograms this attribution must remain tentative. The type combination of the head of Apollo and a bull butting right also occurs on bronze denomination A at Seleucia on the Tigris (SC 773).

Figure 5: Cut fraction of a gold stater (ANS 1997.92.1).
Figure 5: Bronze denomination B of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) struck at the ΔEΛ Mint (ANS 1944.100.77000).

A third discovery is not overly embarrassing and does not really expand our knowledge of Seleucid numismatics, but it is rather fun. The cut fraction of a gold stater (Fig. 6) accessioned as ANS 1997.92.1 has been carried in the database for two decades now as a Bactrian issue of Antiochus II Theos (261–246 BC), apparently based only on the limited remains of the portrait. Only the royal title BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ remains on the reverse. However, close analysis of the reverse shows the small tip of a thunderbolt above the legend, which can only mean that the coin was struck under the rogue Seleucid satraps of Bactria, Diodotus I and Diodotus II. Although early Diodotid staters struck at a facility designated “Mint A” did include a legend naming their distant monarch, Antiochus II, the positioning of the thunderbolt here points to production at “Mint B,” which did not employ a legend naming the Seleucid king on staters (Fig. 7). Therefore, the cut stater given to Antiochus II is not a proper Seleucid coin at all, but rather an issue struck by the Diodoti after they claimed full autonomy from the Seleucid Empire in c. 255 or c. 246 BC.

Figure 6: Cut fraction of a gold stater originally attributed to Antiochus II (ANS 1997.92.1).

These three discoveries are not the only ones made while working through the database, but are among the most interesting to date. They are exciting because they show that there are still new things lurking in the ANS Seleucid trays waiting to be revealed. The long time that some of these coins have lain in the cabinet unrecognized for what they are despite the number of eyes that must have fallen upon them is also comforting. Clearly I am not the only one who cannot see what is in plain view at the front of the fridge.

Figure 7: Diodotid gold stater of "Mint B" (ANS 1980.109.108).
Figure 7: Diodotid gold stater of “Mint B” (ANS 1980.109.108).

Palm Reading

Fig 1
Fig. 1: Escapism.

It is that time of year. The holidays have come and long gone, leaving nothing but the bills. Here in Canada it is the time of year when the days are cold and dreary. It is the time of year when the polar bears and dire wolves stalk the land while the minds of writers turn to excessive hyperbole. It is the dead of winter. The fortunate have all escaped to warmer and more pleasant climates, usually Florida. For the unfortunate, the briefest thought of the beaches, the sun, and the palm trees can provide that fraction of a difference in making it through the day (Fig. 1).

If you were to show someone around these parts a picture of a palm tree with no other surrounding geographical features, the first association is likely to be with Florida. After all, Florida is probably the most frequently visited palm-treed destination for individuals from this northerly part of the world. The place also tends to play up this association as well. The palm tree is prominent on the Great Seal of Florida and the state is absolutely filled to overflowing with Palm Beaches, Palm Cities, Palm Coasts, and Palm Bays, not to mention the Palm Rivers, Palm Plazas, and Palm Valleys. The point is probably made without recourse to the numerous places with palmetto in their names as well. Suffice to say that Florida has very strong associations with palm trees.

In classical antiquity, palm trees also had a very powerful geographical association. The Greek name for the date palm was phoinix, and because these trees were abundant along the southern Levantine coast, the Greeks already in the time of Homer had come to describe the region as Phoenicia (“Land of the Date Palm”). It seems not to have mattered much that the native inhabitants called it Canaan, or that its immediate neighbors tended to associate the area more closely with the cedars that grew on Mount Lebanon than with the palm trees of the coast.

Fig 2
Fig. 2. Silver double-shekel of Sidon depicting warship and procession featuring the Great King and the king of Sidon. ANS 1944.100.71371.

Canaanites hailing from the great maritime cities of Sidon, Tyre, Arwad (Arados), and Gebal (Byblos) seem to have completely ignored the Greek name for their land in the fifth century BC when they first struck their own coinages. Instead, their money tended to feature types advertising naval power, patron deities, or relationships with the Great Kings of the Persian Empire (Fig. 2). While Greeks and Canaanites were not infrequently exposed to one another through trade and war, they did not live in close enough proximity for the Greek exonym to make much of an impact in Canaan. Ironically, it was actually the Canaanites outside of Canaan who first seem to have internalized “Phoenicia” as the name of their homeland.

Fig. 3. Silver tetradrachm of Syracuse. ANS 1987.25.16.
Fig. 3. Silver tetradrachm of Syracuse. ANS 1987.25.16.

In 813 BC, the Tyrians founded the city of Carthage in North Africa. By the eighth century BC, the new colony was expanding its growing trade empire into western Sicily. The Canaanite peoples of this empire are regularly described as Punic— from Punus, the Latin name for them, which in turn is corrupted from Greek Phoinix. Since the eastern part of the island was increasingly populated by Hellenic settlements (Fig. 3), Punic traders and colonists from Carthage found themselves in much greater proximity to Greeks and their culture than Tyre and the other cities of Canaan ever did in the same period. Sharing an island—even one as large as Sicily—with the Greeks meant that over time, aspects of their culture were sure to rub off on the Punic inhabitants of western Sicily. One such aspect was the use and production of coins. Interestingly, when Punic military mints and the civic mint of Motya (a Punic colony founded in the eighth century BC) began striking coins in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC a prominent recurring emblem was that of the palm tree, either as the main type (Fig. 4) or as a secondary element of the type (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4. Siculo-Punic silver tetradrachm with palm tree reverse. ANS 1944.100.79692.
Fig. 4. Siculo-Punic silver tetradrachm with palm tree reverse. ANS 1944.100.79692.

Fig 5
Fig. 5. Siculo-Punic silver tetradrachm with horse head and palm tree reverse. ANS 1967.152.696.

The tree almost certainly appears as a means of advertising the Canaanite ethnic origin of the issuers, but expressed in Greek terms: The palm tree presents them as Phoenicians. Evidently, when the Punic peoples adopted coinage, they also adopted the distinctly Greek iconographic language that came with it. Punning emblems used to represent the names of cities (e.g. a seal [Greek phoke] on coins of Phokaia [Fig. 6]) are almost as old as the invention of Greek coinage. The Greek palm tree emblem to establish the non-Greek origin of the issuers combined with legends written in a Semitic alphabet, make for a remarkably schizophrenic coinage.

Fig 6
Fig. 6. Electrum hekte of Phokaia depicting seals. ANS 2002.18.17.

Sustained close proximity to the Greeks seems to have been the key factor in the development of a Phoenician public persona by peoples of Canaanite origin, perhaps because of the common Greek tendency to interpret other cultures in Hellenic terms (the so-called interpretatio Graeca). In Sicily, Punic peoples came to identify as “Phoenician” through their coin types early because of constant Greek contact on the island, but a similar phenomenon occurred in their homeland after the conquests of Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) established numerous Greco-Macedonian colonies in the Near East. Canaan’s northern neighbor, Syria, was aggressively colonized by Alexander’s successor, Seleukos I Nikator (320–281 BC), and therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that Arados, the northernmost Canaanite city was the first to advertise itself as “Phoenician” in the mid-third century BC. The palm tree appears on the city’s autonomous Alexanders perhaps as early as 246/5 BC. Self-identification as “Phoenician” seems to have spread along the Levantine coast and by the time of the Seleukid conquest of the region (200-198 BC), Tyre used the iconography of the palm, either as a tree or a branch, to indicate its “Phoenician” character (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Seleukid bronze coin of Tyre under Antiochos III with palm tree reverse. ANS 1944.100.77360.
Fig. 7. Seleukid bronze coin of Tyre under Antiochos III with palm tree reverse. ANS 1944.100.77360.

By the late second century BC, most of the other coin-issuing cities of the region also included palm branches on their coins to illustrate that they too belonged to Phoenicia, a feature that continued into the Roman Imperial period (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Seleukid silver tetradrachm of Sidon under Demetrios II Nikator (146-139 BC) with palm branch over eagle’s shoulder. ANS 1944.100.77312.

Fig. 8. Seleukid silver tetradrachm of Sidon under Demetrios II Nikator (146-139 BC) with palm branch over eagle’s shoulder. ANS 1944.100.77312.

While the fortunate golf or take refuge from the kindly sun under the shade of Florida’s palm trees at this time of year, it is worth giving a thought to the long shadow that the palm has cast over the peoples of ancient Canaan. We are told that a rose should smell as sweet by any name, but when the world turned Greek there was evidently a perceived value in accepting names and identities more fitting with the changed milieu. Maybe there is more in a name than the Bard suspected.

The Secret Chord: Harps and Lyres on Ancient and Modern Coins

Last month, on November 7, 2016, the internationally acclaimed Canadian artist Leonard Cohen died of cancer. He was regarded as a man of many talents, who painted, wrote novels, poetry, and the songs for which he was best known. He was a man of art, culture, and ideas, who appreciated the value of both Manhattan and Berlin.

Within the large oeuvre left behind by Cohen, the song Hallelujah stands out for its great popularity and the life of its own that it has taken on in the hands of the many other musicians (now more than 300 in multiple languages according to Wikipedia) who have played and modified its lyrics since it was first released in 1984. However, all versions begin with Cohen’s original lament “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?” and this has prompted the topic for this edition of the ANS blog. Regardless of whether a numismatist does care for music (Cohen’s or anyone else’s) or not, David’s secret chord and those of other lyric poets have made an impact on coins from antiquity up to modern times.

Fig. 1: ANS 1927.38.76

David is depicted playing his chord on the enigmatic Irish St. Patrick coinage of the seventeenth century, some of which was carried off to New Jersey to serve as halfpence in the cash-starved colony. Its production in two denominations (or one that was later reduced in weight?), date of issue, meaning of its iconography, and the circumstances of its arrival in New Jersey have captured the imagination of Colonial American numismatists for decades and even became the topic for an ANS Coinage of the Americas Conference in 2006. The famous king also plays on contemporary coins of Nuremberg and the Papal States, as well as on psalmenpfennige (medallic awards for the completion of Protestant religious education, which included the memorization of Psalms—the Biblical songs attributed to David).

Fig. 2: ANS 1954.203.63

Harps appear without players on English silver coins struck for use in Ireland in the sixteenth century, but it is not clear whether any reference to King David was intended in this heraldic emblem or whether the instrument alluded only to contemporary Irish culture, which held its native harpers in high esteem. David’s harp (indicated by the winged female column symbolizing the unearthly beauty of its music), occurs on English halfpence produced for Ireland English halfpence produced for Ireland in the eighteenth century—perhaps not coincidentally after more than 100 years of repressive policies had all but crushed the native tradition of harping in Ireland. A pointedly Celtic harp (Irish cláirseach) has been used on all Irish coins, including the current euro, since the creation of the Irish Free State (Republic of Ireland after 1948) in 1922.

Fig. 3: ANS 1944.100.63061

Although it is regularly described and depicted as a harp in medieval and modern texts and artworks, David’s stringed instrument was actually a form of lyre known in Hebrew as the kinnor. A related instrument, the nebel was regularly played as part of celebratory worship in the Jerusalem Temple. The connection of these instruments to the Temple and to David lies behind their prominent depiction on coins struck by Jewish rebels against Rome during the disastrous Bar Kokhba War (AD 132-136). This bloody conflict erupted when the emperor Hadrian sought to refound Jerusalem (already destroyed by Titus in AD 70) as a pagan city. The kinnor and nebel of the Bar Kokhba coins had a dual purpose. They evoked the longing memory of days when the Temple still stood and great Jewish kings ruled the land while casting Simon bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt, as a Messianic figure who might lead his people to victory and restore the Temple.

Fig. 4: ANS 1944.100.41956

The chelys (Latin testudo) and kithara of the Greeks and Romans appear to have been the rough equivalents of the kinnor and nebel, respectively. The former, which included a sound box made from a tortoise shell or wood formed into the shape of a shell, was said to have been discovered by the god Hermes. While traveling along a riverbank, he was attracted by a beautiful sound and when he went to investigate he found that the wind was blowing tendons that had been stretched across a tortoise shell. From this he fashioned the first chelys to be played by gods and men. The kithara, however, was a more elevated instrument of wooden construction associated with Apollo and the Muses as patrons of culture and the arts. Indeed, music lessons on the kithara or chelys were a staple of state education programs for citizens of the ancient Greek cities. The important role of music in Greek education is underlined by coins of the Bithynian king Prusias II that depict Chiron, the centaur tutor of Herakles, playing a kithara. The instrument is the only element of the type that allows the viewer to identify the subject as the educator Chiron and not some other centaur.

Fig. 5: ANS 1967.152.280

Apollo is a ubiquitous deity on Greek coins struck in the Classical and Hellenistic periods and even under the Roman Empire, who often appears in his role as Kitharoidos—the kithara player. His kithara is also depicted on coins, often paired with the head of its divine player or by itself, as on early coins of Delos, the island of Apollo’s birth. Less commonly, even great human lyric poets or the Muses who inspired them to greatness appear on Greek and Roman coins. Sappho is shown playing a kithara on coins of Mytilene in the Roman period as a means of advertising the cultural importance of the city while Terpsichore, Kalliope, and Erato, the respective Muses of choral song, epic poetry, and love poetry appear holding a kithara (Kalliope) or chelys (Terpsichore and Kalliope) on coins of the Roman Republican moneyer Q. Pomponius Musa as an extended pun on his cognomen Musa.

Fig. 6: ANS 1944.100.2329

While Leonard Cohen attributes a single secret chord to David in his song, the numerous symbolic uses to which harps, lyres, and their players were put on coins of ancient and more modern times would seem to suggest that through the ages there were in fact many such chords aimed at pleasing the mortal as well as the divine.