Category Archives: Greek

Coins from the Jay M. Galst Collection

Over the course of forty years of serious collecting, our friend and colleague Jay Martin Galst amassed an important collection of ancient and medieval coins, many from the Holy Land, as well as modern coins, medals, and tokens, particularly those related to his profession of ophthalmology. Over a year now since Jay died from complications of COVID-19 during the worst of the initial pandemic surge in New York City, his presence is still sorely missed here at the ANS, where he was a frequent visitor. Jay always intended that the bulk of his collection eventually be sold both to benefit his family (Fig. 1), and, as a consummate collector himself, to ensure that others might have the opportunity to collect and enjoy the items that he once owned and enjoyed. Currently, Jay’s collection is being auctioned by Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. with some of the auctions having already taken place, but with more still to come.

Figure 1. Cast bronze medal depicting Joann P. Galst and Jay M. Galst on the obverse by Mashiko, the winner of the ANS’s 2020 J. Sanford Saltus Award for Achievement in Medallic Art (ANS 2021.25.2, gift of Mashiko).

Dr. Joann Paley Galst, Jay’s wife, has in the meantime generously arranged for a number of items from his collection to be donated to various museums, including the ANS, which is the recipient of a group of twenty highly significant ancient and medieval coins helping to fill in various gaps in our own collection. In the forthcoming issue of the ANS Magazine (2021 vol. 3), Collections Manager Elena Stolyarik offers a more comprehensive overview of this donation. Here I want to highlight a couple of the coins that are of particular interest to me.

At the beginning of my numismatic career, I developed a keen interest in the phenomenon of ancient imitations, particularly Athenian imitations, publishing a number of articles on the topic, which can be found on my page. Produced at the same time as bona fide Athenian coins, these coins were often of (reasonably) good metal and weight and were not meant to deceive in the way counterfeit coins are. Many imitations, in fact, were marked with the names of those producing the coins, like those of the Persian satrap Sabakes of Egypt (Fig. 2), or with ancillary symbols or letters, often written in one of the Semitic alphabets such as Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, Northwest Semitic, or Sabaean indicating they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region and making it clear to contemporary users that the coin in question was not a genuine Athenian product.

Figure 2. Silver tetradrachm minted in Egypt ca. 338 BCE under the authority of the Persian satrap Sabakes, whose name appears in Aramaic on the reverse (ANS 1944.100.75462, E.T. Newell bequest).

From the end of the Archaic period onward, Athenian coinage circulated in large numbers in Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and even farther to the east, no doubt used in trade to pay for desired eastern products, like the frankincense and myrrh that were used in temple rituals. (This Aegean-Levantine trade was, in fact, the subject of my PhD dissertation.) The elevated importance of Athenian coinage in the Near East gave rise to the production of imitations, presumably at times and in places where demand for the coinage was high, but the supply low, and served also to inspire coins that while not close copies of Athenian coinage were clearly influenced by it. From the Galst collection, we have received one such unpublished marked Athenian imitation (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm possibly minted at Ascalon ca. 400 BCE (ANS 2021.20.9, gift of Joann P. Galst in memory of Jay M. Galst).

Stylistically, there is little to differentiate this coin from the later fifth century Athenian tetradrachms that served as its model, and to the unobservant this coin no doubt would have easily passed for an Athenian coin since its weight (16.97 g) is within the ballpark of expectations. There is, however, a small Northwest Semitic aleph on the obverse right along Athena’s jawline. This aleph is probably an abbreviation for the authority responsible for the production of the coin, possibly the Philistian city of Ascalon. Other Athenian imitations or Athenian inspired coins with a similarly inscribed aleph have been attributed by Haim Gitler and Oren Tal in their book on Philistian coinage to this coastal city. If this attribution is correct, this coin is probably one of the very first issues of Ascalon. Of note, there is already in the ANS collection an Athenian imitation of a similarly good late fifth century style (Fig. 4), but one marked on the obverse with the Semitic letter shin in roughly the same position as the aleph on the Galst coin, which Ya’akov Meshorer in ANS SNG 6 suggested stands for the Samaritan city of Shomron.

Figure 4. Silver tetradrachm possibly minted at Shomron ca. 400 BCE (ANS 1971.196.2, purchase).

The second coin I wish to highlight from the Galst donation is a bona fide Athenian tetradrachm (Fig. 5), but one from the latter half of the fourth century BCE.

Figure 5. Silver tetradrachm minted at Athens ca. 350 BCE with Paleo-Hebrew graffiti on the obverse and reverse (ANS 2021.20.10, gift of Joann P. Galst in memory of Jay M. Galst).

The coin itself is not so remarkable, but the graffiti on it is. Much like users today, ancient coin users from time to time wrote on their money for a variety of purposes. In the Near East this practice was especially widespread with the numerous examples of graffiti recorded on coins found in the region filling a volume published by Josette Elayi and Andre Lemaire. Generally, the graffiti are personal names, probably of those who at one time laid claim to the coin. Such is the case with this coin, which was published by Lemaire in Israel Numismatic Journal 15 (2003–2006), pp. 24–27. Lemaire determined that the graffiti on the obverse of the coin written in Paleo-Hebrew is the name Yawysih’al, a name not attested before this coin appeared, who Lemaire argues was the final owner of the coin before its burial. Notably, too, the reverse of the coin also bears the graffito shin, but the significance of this abbreviation is unknown.

The First Athenian Owls: Symbols of What Exactly?

On the bills and coins that we use today, we recognize the link between the words and images that appear on the objects and the powers that issued them. Images of dead presidents and inscriptions like “United States of America”, point to the authority of the federal government. We also recognize that ancillary images, such as the Lincoln Memorial, serve to define our shared heritage as the nation of We the People.

Every design element and inscription on modern US coinage is the result of a multilateral process, involving artists, members of Congress, the Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and the Secretary of the Treasury to find the ideal means of expressing the entwined concepts of authority and nationhood. Using coin imagery, or types in numismatic parlance, to convey these concepts seems as old as coinage itself. We don’t have to search far among Roman or Greek coins to find coin types expressly linked to the powers that issued them. It would seem a fair assumption then that coin types served these purposes from the very beginning, explicitly linking coins to political powers. This assumption is seriously challenged, however, by a number of archaic coinages including those struck in Athens.

Wappenmünze with wheel, ca. 530 BC (ANS 1944.100.24095)

The production of Athenian coinage probably started around the time that Peisistratus consolidated his tyranny in 546 BC. On the earliest series of coins are 14 different types including an amphora, triskeles, astragal, scarab, horse, horse protome, and the corresponding horse’s rear end, owl, bull, head of bull, and a wheel. An earlier generation of scholars saw in these changing types the heraldic devices of the individuals or powerful families responsible for their issue, and to this day the series is known as the Wappenmünzen (“heraldic coins”). In his elaborate schema for the Wappenmünzen published in 1924, Charles Seltman argued that the coins were produced in different parts of Attica and Euboia by various elites, including those in direct political competition with the Peisistratids. This theory receives no support today. Instead, most scholars—such as John Kroll, a specialist on Athenian coinage—have argued that the changing types are the devices of individual magistrates, notably coopted elites, working in conjunction with the Peisistratids to oversee the production of coinage.

Wappenmünze with horse’s rear end, ca. 530 BC (ANS 1944.100.24093)

Around 525 BC, Athenian coinage underwent significant changes with the introduction of the second series of coinage, the so-called gorgoniea. For the first time anywhere, it would seem, a fully developed reverse type was added to a coin; it was there where the purported devices of the individual magistrates could now be found. This innovation was accompanied by a static type on the obverse: the head of the Gorgon Medusa, a symbol associated with the Athenians’ patron deity Athena. In addition to these features, a new denomination was introduced, the tetradrachm weighing c. 17.2 g, a comparatively large coin that was twice the weight of the heaviest of the Wappenmünzen. This new denomination would serve as the corner stone of Athenian minting for the next five centuries. These rather dramatic changes have generally been explained by a reorientation of Athenian monetary policy to focus more on economic activity beyond the borders of Attica, rather than within. The Pesistratids, the explanation goes, sought to introduce a readily recognizable type for their coinage, something akin to a brand, in order to create a value-added version of one of their primary exports, silver from their mines at Laurion. Thus the commodification of their silver influenced the choice of types.

Gorgoneion, ca. 525 BC (ANS 1944.100.24115)

Apparently, the Peisistratids were not completely satisfied with the design of the gorgoneia. Within only a few years it was overhauled completely with the introduction of a third series, dropping all reference—if there had been any—to individual magistrates and enhancing significantly the civic character of the coinage. The oblique reference to Athena, the gorgoneion, was replaced on the obverse by Athena herself, helmeted and in profile. Any question regarding the identity of the deity was answered by thematic continuation onto the reverse, where we find Athena’s bird, the owl at rest. Lest there still be questions of the coin’s origins, it was spelled out next to the bird: ΑΘΕ(ΝΑΙΩΝ), “of the Athenians”. There is no other Archaic coin that so completely drives home the point of its origins; and evidently it worked so well that the Athenians saw little need to change the basic design until they ceased minting tetradrachms completely in the first century BC.

“Owl” tetradrachm, ca. 510 BC (ANS 1957.172.1038)

Because the beginning of the owl coinage can be roughly dated by hoard evidence to a period that saw both the end of the Peisistratid tyranny in 510 BC and the democratic reforms in 508/7 BC, there have been several attempts to link the coinage to the political expressions of a new government and to explain the longevity of the owl coinage as a political symbol of the later Athenians’ quest to preserve freedom from tyranny. However, there is as yet no conclusive evidence to lock in the dates for the first owls. Arguments presented by John Kroll strongly suggest a starting date under the last Peisistratid tyrant Hippias; the owl coinage, and its explicit civic types, was then the result of Pesistratid economic foresight rather than a political gesture of the new democracy. Kenneth Sheedy, Gil Davis, and Damian Gore’s ongoing Archaic Coinage of Athens project at McQaurie University in Australia will no doubt shed further light on the dating problem.

In the meantime, if as seems likely the three archaic series produced in Athens—the Wappenmünzen, the gorgoneia, and the owls—were all initiated while the Peisistratids held soveriegn power, we are faced with no easy task in trying to relate the many types that appear on early Athenian coins to this singular power. Current explanations favor an evolution, at least as it appears on the coins, from allowing the use of the personal emblems of magistrates working under the Peisistratids to adorn the coins, to an attempt by the tyrants to develop a conspicuous Athenian brand for their silver exports. The evolution of the types then reflects an evolution in the way the tyrants themselves percieved the function of coin types. This evolutionary schema itself, however, begs several questions: was there also an evolution in the administration of the coinage, for example, with the role of magistrates being reduced or eliminated? And why in this Athenian context of evolving coin types did the newly established democracy not discard the newly introduced owl types of the tyrants and introduce their own types celebrating their release from tyranny?

To learn more about the Athenian owl check out our YouTube channel.

The National Endowment for the Humanities funds the ANS-Oxford University OXUS-INDUS Project

by Peter van Alfen, Ethan Gruber, Andrew Meadows, Simon Glenn, Gunnar Dumke

Silver Drachm of Apollodotus I of Bactria, Uncertain, 174–65 BC. ANS 1944.100.74510.

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is pleased to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the Society a $150,000 grant for the two-year joint ANS-Oxford University OXUS-INDUS project. The award comes through the New Directions in Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions program that partners the NEH with the United Kingdom’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) intended to fund trans-Atlantic co-operative projects. At the ANS, Dr. Peter van Alfen and Ethan Gruber will be working with their partners Prof. Andrew Meadows and Dr. Simon Glenn at Oxford University, who are funded by the AHRC, along with Dr. Gunnar Dumke at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, to create a new online typology and research tool for ancient Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coinage.

Ancient coins provide a wealth of information about the societies that produced them. The economic function of coinage requires no more than a simple indication of authority and denomination, yet since antiquity producers have sought to adorn their coins with complex imagery and inscriptions. The images chosen to appear on coins can tell us much about cultural identity and self-representation, the languages and scripts selected for their inscriptions can indicate an intended audience, the places they are found reveal patterns of circulation and movements of peoples. Their varying weights, and estimates of the numbers of coins produced, may inform us of the economic situation, while understanding the control marks that appear on them can tell us about their system of production. Crucially, the coins struck under particular rulers may be the only surviving evidence of their existence. This is the case for many of the rulers of the Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms, which existed between c. 250 BCE and the beginning of the first century CE and covered areas of modern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and India. Formed in the wake of Alexander the Great’s incursion into the region, these kingdoms remain some of the least understood and most understudied political and social entities of the ancient world. Indeed, only eight of these kings are known from literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources, while over 40 can be identified on coins alone, an astonishing disparity in source material that underscores the importance of the numismatic evidence for our understanding of these early rulers and their interactions with those they ruled.

Silver Tetradrachm of Eucratides I of Bactria, Bactria, 170–145 BC. ANS 1997.9.68.

Tens of thousands of these coins exist today, dispersed in collections, both public and private, across the globe, not just in Europe, the UK and US, but, rather importantly, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well. With standard reference works out of print and only existing in French and English, it is difficult for scholars and those working in cultural institutions holding these coins to engage with the material at a number of different levels, including not just basic cataloguing but advanced research too. Lacking, in many cases, basic and accurate typological information describing where, when, and who produced the coins, the potential of these collections to serve as historical resources remains currently locked. The OXUS-INDUS project aims to resolve current catalogue and collection accessibility problems by providing a multilingual, freely accessible, and technologically sophisticated Linked Open Data web-based portal that will offer a new, up-to-date typology of the coins, taking into account the many new variations and newly-proposed rulers since the last standard reference work was published 30 years ago by Osmond Bopearachchi. This new tool will also allow access to the images and data of thousands of coins, initially incorporating the major collections of the ANS, Ashmolean Museum, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Leeds University Library, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and, more critically, the State Bank of Pakistan. Many of these collections were assembled and had reached their current composition by the mid-20th century, meaning that new varieties, which have appeared in recent years are not present. Some of these collections already have an online presence and linkable data on individual coins; some, however, do not, notably those collections located outside of Europe and the US. For this reason, as part of the project, the open source Numishare project platform will be adapted to allow the inclusion of coins from a variety of sources regardless of their current digitized state. The digital format and Numishare architecture for the OXUS-INDUS project has already been successfully deployed in existing and widely used numismatic resources including the NEH-funded Online Coins of the Roman Empire and Hellenistic Royal Coinages at the ANS and the AHRC-funded OPAL and ARCH projects in Oxford. It will also be deployed in the new, ERC-funded CHANGE project.

Besides offering a much-needed tool for understanding Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coinage at a basic level, we anticipate the OXUS-INDUS resource will also be used to advance new research agendas. In recent years, for example, scholarship on the archaeology and history of the Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms has moved away from a polarized view of ‘Greek’ and ‘non-Greek’ influences to one of cultural hybridity. Numismatic scholarship has generally remained focused on political history, with attempts to link the coins to the very few historical events known from literary sources. The subject is thus long overdue for a decolonizing approach, moving away from the systems created in the 19th century by historians from a European colonial background and returning to the evidence of the coins themselves. The new overview created by the OXUS-INDUS project will allow a reappraisal of the numismatic evidence for the kingdoms in the light of these new approaches and provide a framework for studying and analyzing the coins, which does not rely on knowledge of detailed and technical numismatic arguments. The Linked Open Data approach taken will also be fully extensible in the future to include other coinages from the region, and from different periods.

Images of Egyptian Gods on Coins

With its range of hawk-headed and half-mummified deities, the Egyptian pantheon has inspired devotion and intrigue for millennia. Egyptians were drawing, painting, and carving images of their gods well before the first pharaohs, over five thousand years ago. While coined money was not a regular part of the Egyptian economy until the third century BCE, Egyptian religious symbols featured on even the earliest coins. The gods of Egypt and their associated iconographies continued to be seen on the coins of Hellenistic kingdoms and throughout the Roman empire, until as late as the fourth century CE.

The Egyptian god Khepri, for instance, features on some of the earliest coinage, albeit in an indirect way. Khepri is represented as a scarab, or dung beetle. The ancients projected the image of this dung-rolling insect onto the heavens and imagined Khepri as a divine beetle pushing the orb of the sun across the daytime sky. Amulets, seals, and signet rings were therefore often made in the shape of scarabs, sanctified by this holy conveyor of the sun (fig. 1).

Figure 1

The significance and popularity of scarab amulets across the Mediterranean were such that the Lydians and Ionian Greeks in the archaic period (7th–5th centuries BCE) were familiar with both genuine Egyptian scarabs and Egyptianizing “imitations” (Hogarth, p. 205-207). The scarab form translated naturally to the novel medium of coinage and scarabs are found on the obverses of several types of early electrum coins. These include a 1/48 stater in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (fig. 2) and a larger denomination now at the British Museum (fig. 3).

Figure 2
Figure 3

With the spread of Alexander the Great’s empire into Egypt and subsequent Ptolemic rulership, Egyptian religious symbols began to appear on Hellenistic royal coin issues. A ram’s head wearing a headdress is featured on gold staters and silver tetradrachms minted at Memphis, Price type numbers 3963 and 3964, respectively. A beautiful example of one of these staters in the collection of the ANS was discovered in a hoard outside of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, far from its origins in Egypt (fig. 4). 

Figure 4

The ram symbol is either Amun-Re, a principal sun god, or Khnum, a ram-headed creator and protector god, seen here in objects now at the Brooklyn Museum (fig. 5) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 6).

Figure 5
Figure 6

The headdress with corkscrew ram’s horns, a double feather, and central sun disk are common attributes of several gods, including the composite god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, who had an important cult at Memphis (fig. 7). The headdress evoked divine kingship and pharaonic authority and Hellenistic kings sought to imbue themselves with this kind of power. Much later, an image of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris holding a scepter is shown on Roman Hadrianic coinage, perhaps invoking a similar claim to a divine right to rule (fig. 8).

Figure 7
Figure 8

Religious practices around the Mediterranean were dynamic. They reacted to and reflected shifting political realities. Different gods worshipped in different polities were occasionally equated and then worshiped as a unit. This process of merging—called syncretism—gave Egyptian gods new, multivalent qualities.

The gods Isis and Osiris are prime examples of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religious syncretism. Egyptian mythology had it that Osiris was a primordial pharaoh who had been murdered and dismembered by his jealous brother. His wife, Isis, reassembled his body parts, which had been strewn along the Nile, and revived him. Thereafter, Osiris ruled over the underworld as king, further informing why Ptah-Sokar-Osiris is shown partially mummified on the coin above (fig. 8). After Isis resurrected Osiris, they had a son called Horus. After challenging his fratricidal uncle, Horus became the god of the living pharaoh and a sky god, usually shown as a hawk-headed man. These stories tied Osiris to kingship and death, and Isis to magic and motherhood.

When merged with Greco-Roman deities, Osiris and Isis became stock representatives of a host of “Egyptian” concepts: healing, mystical language, the afterlife, astrology, and the Nile, among others. The god Sarapis—a unique amalgam of Osiris, Greek Zeus and Hades, and a number of Egyptian solar deities—was consistently depicted on Roman coins (fig. 9). A bust of Serapis features on the reverse of a bronze AE2 of Constantine (fig. 10), a continuation of the same reverse type issued under Maximinus Daia at Alexandria (fig. 11). The related cults of Isis and Serapis became so popular that temples were dedicated to them on the Campus Martius in Rome.

Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 11

Instead of his avian iteration, Horus is often shown on Roman coins in his incarnation as a human child, a figure called Harpocrates. Harpocrates, as a god of children and secrecy, is shown making a shushing gesture on the reverse of a coin of Antoninus Pius (fig. 12). Isis holds Harpocrates on denarii of Septimius Severus (fig. 13) and they stand flanking two busts of other Egyptian divinities in bronze drachms of Trajan (fig 14).

Figure 12
Figure 13
Figure 14

Another Egyptian god of death showcased on Roman coins was the psychopomp Anubis. Anubis, who was shown in Egyptian art as a jackal-headed god, led the souls of the dead through the underworld and was invoked during the ritual preparation of physical bodies for burial. He is shown on a bronze AE4 of Constantine (fig. 15).

Figure 15

He is holding a caduceus—a symbol of Hermes, a psychopomp from the Greek tradition—and a sacred rattle from Egyptian rituals, called a sistrum. While the instrument was originally tied to the Egyptian fertility goddess Hathor, Hathor was frequently assimilated to Isis, even in Egypt (fig. 16). Ultimately, sistra became catch-all visual cues for the land of Egypt itself and a symbol of the personification of Egypt, Aegyptos. Aegyptos is shown resembling Isis on a denarius of Hadrian, reclined and shaking a sistrum (fig. 17).

Figure 16
Figure 17

The thousand years of Egyptian religious imagery on coins continued an already thousands-of-years old artistic tradition. Over the centuries, these symbols bore various meanings for different communities at different times. They were used by issuing authorities to display piety and power, as well as to simply reflect popular forms. From Khepri to Isis to Aegyptos herself, there is a lot more to learn about Egypt’s myths and symbols and how they were engaged with at different points in antiquity. The gods of Egypt, on these coins and elsewhere, continue to raise interesting and important questions about how symbolism and syncretism function in religion and in art.

Some Greek and Roman overstrikes in the ANS Collection

While perusing the ever-surprising Richard B. Witchonke Collection at the ANS for its forthcoming published catalogue, I had the great luck to study a few overstruck coins with fairly unique features. This post represents a succinct attempt at describing at least part of the importance of these specimens.

In his Overstruck Greek Coins, David MacDonald defines overstruck coins as “coins that have been ‘recoined’ by striking them with new and different dies, whether by the original minting authority or by a different one, without having the original design completely removed beforehand.” Overstriking was usually preferred to recoining when limits in time or in the size of the coinage that needed to be produced made the expenses and the labor to melt and produce new flans unfeasible. Overstriking was done for a variety of reasons, ranging from eminently economic ones to (possibly) ideological. Overstruck coins are thus a powerful to investigate the complexities of coin circulation and production in the antiquity. Their historical importance has not escaped the attention of the scientific community and the necessity of a more systematic cataloging has lead to the creation of Greek Overstrikes Database (GOD), a still ongoing project under the scientific direction of the aforementioned D. MacDonald and François de Callataÿ. Of course, overstriking was not limited to the Greek world. Roman overstrikes have been studied as early as the mid- nineteenth century by the likes of Pierre Philippe Bourlier d’Ailly, Max Bahrfeldt, Ettore Gabrici, Charles Hersch, Rudi Thomsen, and Michael Crawford. Much more recently, Clive Stannard and Suzanne Frey-Kupper used overstrikes to study the circulation and production patterns of Central Italian mints and Andrew McCabe analyzed the Roman over Roman overstrikes on bronze and silver coins of the second and first century BC.

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2032.
Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2032.

While several factors are usually at play, the necessity of altering the area of circulation of a certain coinage could be the main factor leading to overstriking in some cases, as shown by the Y. Touratsoglou and by the same MacDonald for the bronze civic coinage of Macedonia in the course of the second century BC. The necessity of broadening the circulation area and relieving local shortages of small change could also be the explanation for Fig. 1, an apparently Roman sextans struck over a Neapolitan bronze coin. In a forthcoming paper, Stannard convincingly attributes this coin to the newly discovered Second Punic War mint of Minturnae. Through overstrikes like the one presented in Fig. 1 the mint of Minturnae was “adapting” Neapolitan coinage to a larger circulation radius by adding on it Roman types. While the weight of these pseudo-Roman issues differed from the official Roman production, the types on them made them their value immediately recognizable to users.

Figure 2. ANS 2015.20.2393.
Figure 2. ANS 2015.20.2393.

Figure 3. Illyria, Apollonia. Silver drachm. Early second century BC. ΑΡΙΣΤΩΝ. Cow suckling calf left. In exergue, monogram AP/ ΑΠΟΛ - ΛΥ- ΣΗ - NOΣ. Double stellate pattern within double linear square with sides curved inwards. 3.13 g. SNG Cop. 387. Münzzentrum Rheinland 191, 3 June 2020, lot 32.
Figure 3. Illyria, Apollonia. Silver drachm. Early second century BC. ΑΡΙΣΤΩΝ. Cow suckling calf left. In exergue, monogram AP/ ΑΠΟΛ – ΛΥ- ΣΗ – NOΣ. Double stellate pattern within double linear square with sides curved inwards. 3.13 g. SNG Cop. 387. Münzzentrum Rheinland 191, 3 June 2020, lot 32.

Another factor leading to overstriking was wear. In same cases unofficial coins could be overstruck on obsolete coins, as in the case of a Dacian imitation of a denarius struck over a drachm from Apollonia (SNG Cop. 387) (Figs. 2–3) This coin, an imitation from Dacia of a denarius issued by L. Flaminius Chilo in 109/8 BC, shows on the obverse part of the legend [API] ΣΤΩΝ of the undertype. The vestigia of the name of the magistrate allow for the dating of the overstruck Apollonian drachm, which is dated to the early second century BC. The reverse of the coin clearly shows part of the undertype []ΝΟΣ. A combination of all the factors mentioned above (wear, scantiness of local coinages, and thus alteration of the original circulation area) could explain the massive presence of foreign and obsolete coins as undertypes for the bronze coins produced in the Roman world, as shown by Stannard and Frey-Kupper in a recent article.

Figure 4. Rome. Bronze sextans. 215–212 BC. Head of Mercury, right. Prow, right; below, denominational mark (two pellets). Above, ROMA. 11.03 g. 26.5 mm. RRC 41/9. Hersch 1953, p. 51, n. 39d. ANS 2015.20.1791.
Figure 4. Rome. Bronze sextans. 215–212 BC. Head of Mercury, right. Prow, right; below, denominational mark (two pellets). Above, ROMA. 11.03 g. 26.5 mm. RRC 41/9. Hersch 1953, p. 51, n. 39d. ANS 2015.20.1791.

A change in the weight standard adopted by the issuing mint was also another reason leading to overstrikes, as illustrated by Fig. 4. This coin, a triental sextans (RRC 41/9) struck over a semilibral uncia (RRC 38/6) is dated to the years 215–212 BC and shows how the sudden decreases in weight standard that took place in the course of the Second Punic War could produce overstruck coins in massive amounts. Also, silver coins were likely to be overstruck if they differed from the weight standard adopted in the area they were circulating. Coins of similar weight standards were easier to overstrike, but there also was less need to do so. On the other hand, coins of heavier weight standard were reduced to a lighter weight standard by trimming the flan and then overstruck.

Figure 5. ANS 2015.20.1273.
Figure 5. ANS 2015.20.1273.

Figure 6. ANS 2015.20.2135.
Figure 6. ANS 2015.20.2135.

This is the case of Fig. 5. This coin, a cistophorus from Ephesus dated to 140–139 BC, has been struck over a Macedonian tetradrachm of First Meris (Fig. 6), issued after 168 BC, as suggested by the thunderbolt still visible on the reverse. This specimen has been included in a 2011 AJN article by de Callataÿ. Since the introduction of the reduced standard cistophoric tetradrachm under the king Eumenes II, the Attalid kingdom became a closed currency area (on substantiated objections to this point of view see this article by Andrew Meadows). Silver coins on different standards thus needed to be trimmed and overstruck in order to circulate freely. This overstruck coin opens a window over the complex monetary and political interactions in the Mediterranean in the second half of the second century BC. In de Callataÿ’s words, “at the end of the Attalid dominion, tetradrachms coming from the Northern Aegean area were chosen intentionally to issue some specific batches of cistophoric tetradrachms. This was not a random process, since there is no reason to believe that coins from the First Macedonian Meris or Thasos were particularly common at the border of the Asian Province. […] The question is: which power organized this movement of coinage? To my mind, the answer points in the Roman direction, even with Asia Minor still technically under Attalid rule.”

Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.2662.
Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.2662.

Figure 8. ANS 2015.20.2196.
Figure 8. ANS 2015.20.2196.

The convergence of Eastern Mediterranean monetary systems under Roman dominion is also shown by other two very interesting overstrikes. In Fig. 7, a silver tetradrachm from Thasus, dated to 90–75 BC, is struck over a Macedonian tetradrachm issued under the Roman quaestor Aesillas. Conversely, in Fig. 8 a Macedonian tetradrachm of Aesillas is struck over a Thasian one. The mutual overstrikes of Thasian and Macedonian tetradrachms shows that these two coinages were roughly ontemporary, but also that in the course of the first century BC the monetary systems of the Eastern provinces of Roman Empire became increasingly integrated.

Figure 9. ANS 2015.20.1037.
Figure 9. ANS 2015.20.1037.

Figure 10. ANS 2015.20.2145.
Figure 10. ANS 2015.20.2145.

Another very interesting case of overstrike is represented by Figs. 9–10. The first of these coins, issued by the Roman quaestor Gaius Publilius either after 168 BC either after 148 BC, is clearly struck over a Silenus/ D ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ issue. Given the high number of similarly overstruck coins, D. Macdonald suggested that the Silenus/ D ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ issues, characterized by the absence of the head of Rome on the obverse were issued after 148 BC, twenty years after the ones issued under Gaius Publilius, to highlight the independence of Macedonia, a Roman province by then. However, the overstruck coins presented in Fig. 10 suggest otherwise. While the undertype is not clearly recognizable, the letters still visible on the reverse suggest that this Silenus/ D ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ coin was struck over a specimen issued by the Roman quaestors, even if it not clear whether Fulcinnius or Publilius. This overstruck coin this invalidates the chronology proposed by Macdonald and suggests that the coinages issued by the Roman quaestors and the Silenus/ D ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ one were most likely contemporary, even if it is not clear whether they should be dated to 168 or 148 BC.

Figure 11. ANS 2015.20.2031.
Figure 11. ANS 2015.20.2031.

Figure 12. ANS 2015.20.2041.
Figure 12. ANS 2015.20.2041.

Lastly, overstrikes could shed some light on the financing of armies. The ones presented here (Figs. 11–12), Roman quadrantes struck respectively over Iero II’s and Carthage bronze coins, are a clear indication of the hasted production of Roman coinage in Sicily in the course of the Second Punic War. The most probable explanation for such haste was of course the necessity of paying the armies fighting at the time in the island.

In conclusion, the overstruck coins are important heuristic tools to better understand ancient monetary systems. In the specific, the ones included in the Richard B. Witschonke Collection at the American Numismatic  Society present in same cases unique characteristics which make them even more valuable to the historian and the numismatist.

Antigonid Coins Online

Ruling over parts of Asia Minor and Macedonia starting with Antigonus I Monophthalmus (the “One-Eyed”, r. 306­–301 BC), the Antigonid dynasty of Hellenistic kings produced some of the most attractive and important coinages of the late 4th through 2nd centuries BC. Curiously, however, Antigonid coinage has not attracted a great deal of concentrated scholarly attention since Edward T. Newell’s work on it roughly a century ago. That situation now is rapidly changing as a number of Greek scholars, notably Sophia Kremydi, ANS Visiting Scholar in 2009, and Katerina Panagopoulou, have offered recent monographs on the coinages of selected Antigonid dynasts. Kremydi’s 2018 volume, ‘Autonomous’ Coinage under the Late Antigonids (Melethmata 79) provides up-to-date overviews of the coinages of Philip V (r. 221–179 BC) and Perseus (r. 179–168 BC), while Panagopoulou’s about-to-be-published volume, The Early Antigonids: Coinage, Money and the Economy (ANS 2020), looks closely at the coinages from Antigonus II Gonatas (r. 277–274; 272–239 BC) down to Antigonus Doson (r. 229–221 BC).

As part of this broader push to re-evaluate Antigonid coinage, we are pleased to announce the launch of Antigonid Coinage Online (AGCO). As part of the National Endowment of the Humanities funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages project, AGCO is a new research tool that will provide wide access to the coins listed in various print typologies of the coinages produced by the Antigonid dynasts who ruled Macedonia from 306 to 168 BC, including eventually the current work by Kremydi and Panagopoulou. In the meantime, however, the first version of AGCO, launched in mid-July 2020, features only the coinage of Demetrius I Poliorcetes (r. 294–287 BC) based on the typology published in Edward T. Newell’s 1927 volume, The Coinages of Demetrius Poliorcetes with cross-references as well to those types in the name of Alexander III of Macedon catalogued by Martin Price in his 1991 volume The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus. While the coins of Demetrius in the ANS collection serve as the core of the current searchable catalogue, links to coins (many of which are unique) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Museum, the Munzkabinett der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and other public and private collections, are also available.

As always, a number of people have been involved behind the scenes in the production of AGCO besides myself and Ethan Gruber, our Director of Data Science. Andrew Meadows, former Deputy Director of the ANS and current Professor of History at Oxford University, did much of the heavy lifting in converting Newell’s 1927 typology into a digital format, while Lauren Tomanelli, a PhD candidate in archaeology at the University of Arizona, was instrumental in helping with numerous other tasks as well. Our thanks to them both. We would also like to thank our colleagues at the Münzkabinett in Berlin, Dr. Karsten Dahmen, and at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Dr. Julien Olivier, for their cataloguing work that has allowed us to link up examples of coins from the collections they oversee.

For those interested in the technical details of creating this and other ANS online resources, please see Ethan’s Numishare blog.

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.

A New Monograms Function in Hellenistic Royal Coinages

One of the more enigmatic aspects of ancient Greek coinage, and Hellenistic coinage in particular, are the many symbols and monograms that appear on them. Already in the early fifth century BC, some coin producers, such as the exiled Samians in Zancle in Sicily, began to put letters and symbols on their coins that served functions beyond just identifying the political authority, like the abbreviated ethnic, ΑΘΕ, that appeared on early Athenian coinage identifying the Athenians as the producers of the new owl coinage.

ANS 1944.100.24122

In the case of the Samians at Zancle, the sequence of letters on different issues, Α, Β, Γ, etc., clearly were not ethnics, but probably meant to distinguish the individual issues.

ANS 1963.106.1

The most convincing arguments to date suggest that these letters represent the sequential years of production, e.g., Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, etc.

Over time Greek coins became increasingly “chatty” with more letters and symbols appearing on them, usually on the reverse alongside the ethnic or name of a king or magistrate.

ANS 1944.100.41905

While many of these letters are clearly era dates, some of them, especially the combined letters we call monograms, are not. Their function along with the multitude of additional symbols—everything from representations of animals to cups to weapons to plants, and so on—are far more perplexing. Some symbols we believe are “mint marks” serving much the same function as ethnics, identifying the authority or place of production, such as a rose on some posthumous Alexander types indicating that they were produced on the island of Rhodes under the authority of the Rhodians.

ANS 1944.100.32241

Some of the symbols that we cannot so easily link to a specific political authority or place of production may have served other functions, identifying, for example, a lower-level authority responsible for the production of the that specific batch of coinage, or the source of the metal, for example. Similar arguments are made for many of the monograms.

In order to truly understand the function of these symbols and monograms, we need a comprehensive electronic database of all of them, something which would include the estimated 10,000 separate monograms and thousands of additional symbols that appear on Greek coinage from early 5th century down to the end of the Hellenistic period. Such a comprehensive database would allow us to observe with greater accuracy where and for how long specific monograms and symbols were used, which in turn might offer some insight into their specific function. A number of researchers independently have been toiling away on monograms and symbol databases for specific subsets of coinage. For example, our colleagues in Berlin, led by Ulrike Peter, working the Coprus Nummorum have been building an important database of monograms and symbols appears on coins produced in ancient Moesia Inferior, Thrace, Mysia, and Troas. Dr. Peter along with other members of the Greek steering committee of, who have been working on other databases, have been holding discussions on how to combine all efforts into a larger universal database.

At the ANS, our efforts towards this larger goal have, for the moment, focused on the coins covered by our Hellenistic Royal Coinages project: the coinages (in the name) of Philip II of Macedonia; the coinages (in the name) of Alexander III the Great; Ptolemaic coinages; and Seleucid coinages. With the help of Mark Pyzyk, Lauren Tomanelli, and Oliver Hoover, we have been systematically digitizing all of the monograms appearing on these coins—nearly 5,000 individual monograms—creating scalable and printable svg files for each one. Individual IDs are then created for each monogram, which is then linked to the type record in HRC for the coin type on which the monogram appears, whether in PELLA, Seleucid Coins Online, or Ptolemaic Coins Online.  In the meantime, I have been identifying the Greek letters that to my eye at least appear in these monograms trying to be as inclusive as possible. All of our work now has added a new dimension of functionality to HRC.

When users select the “Symbols” tab at the top of the PELLA landing page, for example, they are presented with images of the first 24 of the 1,207 monograms appearing on the coinages (in the name) of Alexander. Users can continue to search visually for the monograms that interests them, or can parse by selecting constituent letters. Once the desired monogram has been located, clicking on the image of the monogram takes them to a separate page that includes metadata information, a map of where coins produced with that monogram were struck, and links to examples of coins in PELLA with that monogram. For the symbols that appear on the coins, such as a rose, users can employ the symbol search function locating on the left-hand side of the browse screen, specifying where on the coin the symbol appears.

Currently, the monogram functionality is limited to just PELLA and PCO, but soon it will be added to SCO as well. Our ultimate goal remains to combine these three separate monogram and symbol tools into one that is much larger including not just our work on the monograms and symbols appearing on Hellenistic Royal coinages, but the work of others on different groups of Greek coinage as well.

For more information on this new monogram functionality please see the blog of our Director of Data Science, Ethan Gruber.

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.

igch-bannerThe American Numismatic Society is pleased to announce the launch of CoinHoards, a new web-based, linked open data tool for research in ancient Greek numismatics and ancient economies.

Coin Hoards is a component of the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages project developed by the American Numismatic Society (ANS). An innovative research resource, CoinHoards provides primary data and other information on 2,387 hoards of coins produced by Greeks and other non-Roman peoples in the Mediterranean and adjacent regions between ca. 650 and 30 BCE. In addition to a basic description, users will find on the page devoted to each hoard mapping tools for the findspot and mint(s) where the coins found in the hoard were produced, bibliographical references, and a list of the hoard contents. These tools will allow users to compare and contrast circulation patterns of coinage in various parts of the Mediterranean world over time. Where possible, each type of coin listed is linked to a typological description, such as those found on PELLA, Seleucid Coins Online, and Ptolemaic Coins Online. Additional links are provided where possible to relevant resources associated with the hoard, which might include the MANTIS record of individual coins from the hoard held in the ANS collection, ANS publications, the notebooks of Edward T. Newell, and associated correspondence, notes, and archival material.


The current version of CoinHoards is based on the print publication Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, edited by Margaret Thompson, Otto Mørkholm, and Colin Kraay, published in 1973 by the ANS for the International Numismatic Commission. Future versions of CoinHoards will incorporate material from the print publications Coin Hoards, vols. 1–10, published by the Royal Numismatic Society, and more recently by both the Royal Numismatic Society and the ANS.

The launch of CoinHoards is a remarkable step forward in our ability to trace circulation patterns of ancient coinage and thereby gain greater insight into patterns of trade and other types of economic interaction. This new website allows users to conduct in-depth research on scores of related hoards and their contents in just a few minutes, saving hours or even days of research time.

For more information on the technical side of how CoinHoards was assembled, see the ANS’s Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber’s Numishare blog.