Tag Archives: alexander

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the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many specialists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).

PELLA in Oxford and Paris

The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.
The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.

On April 3–4, the Oxford Paris Alexander Project (OPAL) hosted a conference at New College, at the University of Oxford in England, entitled “A Linked Open World: Alexander the Great, Transnational Heritage and the Semantic Web.” Established by Frédérique Duyrat, Director of the Coin Cabinet at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), and Andrew Meadows, Professor of Ancient History at New College, and funded by LABEX Les Passés dans le Présent and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, OPAL is designed to supplement and enhance the ANS-based PELLA project with additional data and an interpretative framework. “Additional data,” in this case, has been the concerted efforts by Simon Glenn at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Caroline Carrier at the BnF to catalogue the thousands of Alexander-type coinages held by those two institutions in order that the individual coin records and photographs may then be linked to the PELLA website. Thanks to their efforts, PELLA now contains records of nearly 19,000 coins. The “interpretive framework” portion of OPAL includes the New College conference.

OPAL's home in April, New College, Oxford University.
OPAL’s home in April, New College, University of Oxford.

The aim of the conference was to examine how the digital collection of data through the semantic web can assist in identifying, collecting, interpreting and preserving transnational heritage. With its focus on the coinage and empire of Alexander the Great, the conference organizers were particularly concerned first to investigate how the accumulation of data can help us to write the history of an Imperial economic space. They aimed to do this through some carefully chosen case studies and the broad analysis of statistical data provided by the PELLA project. The second part explored the role of Alexander’s coinage as a bridge between different cultures and different periods, with a particular interest in the question of the preservation of global cultural heritage in a transnational environment.

Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.
Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.

Speakers from the ANS included Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber and Research Scientist Sebastian Heath, who both addressed the technical side of ANS-based digital projects like PELLA and the sematic web, that is the intensive and deliberate interlinking of different types of knowledge on the web, including, for example, numismatic, geographical and biographical data within a single website like PELLA. Also from the ANS was Peter van Alfen, who presented one of the historical case studies. A print volume of the conference proceedings is planned to appear in early 2018, published by Ausonius Éditions, the chapters of which will probably adhere closely to the conference program:

The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.
The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.

Part 1: New Tools

Equality and Concept: Broadening the Scope of Linked Open Data (Sebastian Heath)

ANS Digital Projects: A Comprehensive Platform for the Study of Numismatics (Ethan Gruber)

Statistical Exploration of PELLA Data (Julien Olivier)

OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.
OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.

Part 2: Imperial Economic Space—Using PELLA to Write a New History

What is an Alexander? (Andrew Meadows)

The Destruction and Recreation of Monetary Zones in the Wake of Alexander’s Conquests (Peter van Alfen)

Exploring Localities: A Die Study of Alexanders from Damascus (Simon Glenn)

The Impact of Alexander’s Conquest on Minted Silver: New Data from Metallurgical Analysis of Coins Kept at the BnF (Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, Julien Olivier, Caroline Carrier)

The First Generation of Alexander’s Influence: Diversity of Empire (Karsten Dahmen)

Alexander Gold Coinage throughout the Empire and Beyond (Frédérique Duyrat)

OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).
OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).

Part 3: Cultural Interaction and Legacy

The Coinage of Alexander the Great as Perceived during the 16th–18th Centuries (François de Callataÿ)

The Legacy of Alexander: Money in Central Asia (Simon Glenn)

Looting and its Impact: The Case of Alexanders from the Near East and the Role of an Online Corpus Project (Caroline Carrier & Simon Glenn)

The Debate about the Spread of Alexander’s Coinage and its Economic Impact: Engaging with the Historiographical Longue Durée (Pierre Briant)

Conclusion: Alexander: The Wider Vision (Robin Lane Fox)

OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.
OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.

The conference proved to be quite a success, illustrating just how the development of digital tools like PELLA can have a transformative effect on how we interpret existing evidence from the ancient world, on how we approach other interpretations of this same evidence from across the ages, and on the way in which we preserve this entire heritage. In addition to the enlightening papers and conversations, participants were also treated to an after-hours reception at the Ashmolean Museum to view a special exhibition on Alexander’s coinage curated by Simon Glenn, as well as a guided tour of the New College gardens, in full spring bloom, by the eminent historian and Financial Times gardening columnist, Robin Lane Fox.

Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.
Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.

Minting Multiculturalism in Alexander's Wake

This is the second in a series of guest posts by students attending the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics.

In 334 BCE, Alexander the Great crossed from Europe into Asia Minor and began his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. Centered in Persia, it was the largest empire the world had yet seen, stretching from from Egypt and Bulgaria in the west to Pakistan and Western China in the east. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 559 BCE, the expansive empire was thought to have ruled over half of the world’s population at its height. The Achaemenid Empire is perhaps best known today for the series of wars it fought with the Greek city states, most notably Athens and Sparta. Although the Achaemenid kings were unsuccessful in their attempts to invade Greece proper, they did control a large Greek population living in modern day Turkey, and the repeated Persian invasions inflicted heavy losses on the Greeks.

Achaemenid Empire
Achaemenid Empire

The Persians thus loomed in Greek minds as their powerful enemy, and one which Alexander was determined to crush as his armies began their march into Achaemenid territory. Classical sources cite revenge as one of Alexander’s goals, and, whether or not this was true, his forces swiftly conquered Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt. The Persian king  Darius III massed his forces at Gaugamela, near present-day Mosul in Iraq, but suffered a devastating defeat owing to Alexander’s superior soldiers and tactics.


Darius fled west into the mountains, leaving one of his chief courtiers, Mazday (also known as Mazaeus or Mazaios), in charge of the city of Babylon. When Alexander’s army arrived at the gates, Mazday immediately surrendered the city and ceded control of the the strategically important region around Babylon to the Greeks. But Mazday did not simply surrender because he feared Alexander and his army, he was also motivated by self-interest. Alexander made Mazday satrap (or governor) of Babylon, which suggests he might have struck a deal to surrender the city. This position gave him responsibility for producing coinage:

ANS, 1944.100.72088
ANS, 1944.100.72088

This is a silver stater that weighs 17 grams, which is fairly heavy for an ancient silver coin, and it was minted in Bablyon under Mazday’s authority (331-328 BCE). On the obverse, the Semitic god Baal, who was worshipped throughout the Middle East, sits enthroned with a scepter in hand. Although mostly illegible, an Aramaic inscription on the right side of the obverse reads, “Baaltars,” a local variant of the god. This image of Baal later came to represent Zeus for coins minted throughout Alexander’s territory, as both were the chief gods of their respective pantheons. The reverse shows a lion, a popular image for millenia in the Middle East, and an Aramaic inscription reading Mazday.

The coin shows something of the cross-cultural influences that followed Alexander’s conquests . The Aramaic language, along with the iconography of Baal and the lion, is deeply Middle Eastern, yet Baal’s image eventually transmorgified into Zeus. The coin was minted at a Greek, rather than Persic, weight standard, and Greek inscription later displaced the Aramaic script. The coin can be viewed as a material symbol of the melding of Greek and Middle Eastern culture in the Hellenistic period.

Rhyne King