Tag Archives: seleucid

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the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many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


Husam al-Din Timurtash. ANS 1917.215.1394

One of the really wonderful things about numismatic study is the way that coin types frequently look back to what came before. People are naturally conservative about the appearance of their money and find it easier to put faith in the value of coins that have the backing of tradition and public sentiment as well as of the issuing authority. Thus throughout the history of coinage, old typological friends, some of whom may have seemed long lost have had an uncanny way of coming back, sometimes even after very long intervals.

ANS 1967.143.1
Najam al-Din Alpi. ANS 1967.143.1

For centuries after the death of Alexander the Great, kings and cities copied his widely circulating tetradrachms with the types of Herakles’s head and seated Zeus. So closely were the types associated with Alexander, that the image of Herakles soon became treated as his portrait in the guise of Herakles and continued in use long into the time of the Roman Empire. From time to time Roman emperors explicitly restored old and trusted denarius types while some of the towers depicted on Medieval deniers may ultimately take their inspiration from the ubiquitous “camp gate” types of the late Roman Empire. Somewhat more recently, the laureate head and seated female figure on the state coppers of Connecticut struck from 1786 to 1788 are suspiciously similar to the portraits of King George II and III and seated Britannia reverse of the well-recognized British halfpenny.

Antiochus VII Sidetes. ANS 1944.100.76618
Antiochus VII Sidetes. ANS 1944.100.76618

Perhaps to be counted among the most remarkable of these reuses and resurrections of earlier types are the copper dirhams struck by the Turkoman rulers of northern Mesopotamia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD. Despite the general tendency to avoid figural types on Islamic coins for reasons of religion, the Turkoman coins are rife with images—many of which seem to be modeled on ancient coin types.

ANS 1917.215.968
Nur al-Din Muhammad. ANS 1917.215.968

One might argue (and I would) that two of the most interesting Turkoman types based on ancient models are the bronze dirhams struck by the Artuqid Turkoman dynasties of Mardin and Hisn Khayfa which take the royal portraits of Seleucid tetradrachms as their prototypes. At Mardin, the coins of Husam al-Din Timurtash (AH 516–547/AD 1122–1152) and his son Najam al-Din Alpi (AH 547–572/AD 1152–1176) take the portrait issues of Antiochus VII Sidetes (138–129 BC) as their model while at Hisn Khayfa, the coins of Nur al-Din Muhammad (AH 571–581/AD 1175–1185) seem to look to tetradrachms of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (176–165 BC) or Antiochus V Eupator (164–162 BC).

Antiochus IV Epiphanes. ANS 1944.100.75243

Exactly why these Seleucid types (and other ancient types) were resurrected under these Artuqid Turkoman rulers remains rather mysterious. As the Seleucid presence had disappeared from Mesopotamia already in 130 BC (coincidentally with the death of Antiochus VII) and the Turkomans employed a wide variety of ancient coin motifs, the answer cannot have been to illustrate continuity with the past (except in the very broadest of terms) and thereby express legitimacy. Indeed, the portrait of Antiochus VII was doubled for another issue of Najam al-Din Alpi. This double portrait has been interpreted as a representation of the astrological sign Gemini, which would then clearly indicate that the image of Antiochus VII was not used by the die engravers under Alpi and Timurtash because they knew who he was or the ancient kingdom that he represented, but merely because his appearance was suitable to their own numismatic purposes and they had one of his coins ready at hand as a model. The coins of antiquity came out of the ground in the farmers’ fields and building projects of the Middle East just as easily in the 12th century AD as they do today.

ANS 1961.179.86
Antiochus V Eupator. ANS 1961.179.86

The Artuqid coins with Seleucid prototypes are an interesting example of the direct impact that ancient coins could have on much later coinages—even those of rulers who were not direct heirs of the Greco-Roman cultural tradition. At the same time, they are also a remarkable footnote in the early history of Seleucid numismatic study. As late as the 1790s the Antiochus VII type of Husam al-Din Timurtash was still occasionally included in European collections and antiquarian numismatic works dealing with the Seleucids out of ignorance that the reverse legend was Arabic and significantly postdated the end of the Seleucid dynasty in 63 BC, let alone the reign of the king depicted on the obverse.

Huntington Award and Houghton Lecture

This past weekend the American Numismatic Society gave the Archer M. Hungington Award for excellence in numismatic scholarship to Arthur A. Houghton III.

Arthur A. Hougton, III (left) and Jere L. Bacharach
Arthur A. Hougton, III (left) and Jere L. Bacharach

We had an earlier post about the history of the medal itself that you can read here. ANS Trustee Jere Bacharach presented the award, after which Houghton delivered the Silva Mani Hurter Memorial Lecture. The lecture, which you can watch below,  derived from Houghton’s long study of Seleucid coinage and was entitled “Seleucid Excursions: More Questions than Answers.”