Tag Archives: seleucids

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the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many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

Fig.2
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.

Fig6
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).

Redressing the Balance, Part II: The ANS as Pottery Barn

In a previous installment we looked at the under-appreciated and underutilized leaden riches of the ANS cabinet. In truth, however, the lead coins are probably better known to many collectors and scholars than the Society’s holdings of terracotta and porcelain coins. Yes, that’s right. The same materials and processes used to make your floor tiles, your teacup, and your toilet have at various times been used to make money or monetiform objects.

The oldest example—and my personal favorite—in the collection is a remarkable terracotta “elephant stater” of Seleucus I Nicator (312–281 BC) (Fig. 1).

Silver “elephant stater” (tetradrachm) of Seleucus. NS 1944.100.44932
Figure 1. Silver “elephant stater” (tetradrachm) of Seleucus I from the Seleucia on the Tigris mint (second workshop). ANS 1944.100.44932.

Seleucus began his career as one of the lesser commanders serving Alexander the Great during his conquest of the Persian Empire, but after Alexander’s death, he became satrap (governor) of Babylonia and then king in his own right over a vast territory stretching from western Asia Minor to the borders of India. At his mints in Babylonia (and Susiana and Bactria) Seleucus I struck silver “elephant staters” featuring the head of Zeus on the obverse and Athena in a chariot drawn by elephants on the reverse (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Terracotta “coin model” of a silver “elephant stater” of Seleucus I. ANS 1944.100.44991.
Figure 2. Terracotta “coin model” of a silver “elephant stater” of Seleucus I. ANS 1944.100.44991.

It is unclear what we should make of the Society’s terracotta specimen, which probably came from the Seleucia on the Tigris excavations carried out by the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1937. Terracotta coins of other Seleucid rulers have been published from these excavations, but the ANS piece appears to be the only “elephant stater.” The published examples are usually described as clay models used as references by die engravers in the Seleucid mint. However, all of the terracotta coins (including ours) look very much like they have been cast from moulds made from real coins that have seen some degree of circulation and exhibit some of their own surface wear, none of which we would expect from models for artists. One wonders whether the Seleucid terracotta coins served as tokens at Seleucia (they do not seem to be found anywhere else) in times of emergency, whether they might have served as some sort of accounting tool, or whether they had some other unguessed purpose.

More modern and somewhat less mysterious, but certainly equally interesting are the porcelain and stoneware Notgeld (emergency money) coins produced in the German city of Meissen between 1921 and 1923. After the devastation of the First World War finally came to an end and a punishing Treaty of Versailles was imposed on Germany, the country sank into a nightmarish economic crisis that included shortages of circulating money. In order to make up the shortfall, the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Porcelain Factory (founded 1710) of Meissen produced porcelain and stoneware coins for German states, municipalities, and private businesses ranging in denomination from the pfennig to multiples of the mark and thaler (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Böttger ware 5-Mark Notgeld token of Altenburg, Thuringia, produced by the Meissen porcelain factory, 1921. ANS 0000.999.56653.
Figure 3. Böttger ware 5-Mark Notgeld token of Altenburg, Thuringia, produced by the Meissen porcelain factory, 1921. ANS 0000.999.56653.

In many German states Notgeld more commonly came in the form of paper notes rather than coins (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Paper 2-Mark Notgeld of Hannover-Münden, undated (c. 1921-1923). ANS 1966.88.6.
Figure 4. Paper 2-Mark Notgeld of Hannover-Münden, undated (c. 1921-1923). ANS 1966.88.6.

It is a little ironic that the factory of Meissen was first to make money out of ceramics since the methods for producing white porcelain and a distinctive dark red stoneware (Böttger ware) were first discovered in Europe by the Berlin alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682–1719) while attempting to create the elusive Goldmachertinktur. This mysterious substance was supposed to give the alchemist the power to cure any disease and, perhaps more importantly, the power to turn lead into gold. Böttger’s efforts attracted the unwanted attentions of the frequently cash-strapped Frederick I of Prussia (1688–1713) and Augustus II of Poland, who was also the Elector of Saxony (1694–1733), and the alchemist frequently found himself held in “protective custody” just in case he was successful.   The secret of porcelain was discovered in 1708, during one such period of “protection” by Augustus II. The King-Elector immediately recognized its implications and established the factory at Meissen. Prior to Böttger, porcelain could be obtained by the European elite only through the long-distance trade with China. As such it was valued like precious metals and was sometimes described as “white gold.” For a time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries porcelain was as valuable as money, but it only became money in a real sense in the early 1920s.   Unfortunately, while porcelain and stoneware coins helped to fill in the holes in the circulating medium of postwar Germany and also held an attraction for collectors, their utility was hampered by their tendency to break easily. In the end, porcelain coins could not keep up with the hyperinflation that took hold of Germany in 1922–1923 (Fig. 5) and were abandoned as part of the circulating medium before the introduction of the new Rentenmark (a currency backed by land) ended the hyperinflationary period in November of 1923.

Figure 5. Hyperinflationary paper 100,000,000-Mark Notgeld of Cologne, 1923. ANS 1993.35.709.
Figure 5. Hyperinflationary paper 100,000,000-Mark Notgeld of Cologne, 1923. ANS 1993.35.709.

A third notable group of ceramic coins in the ANS collection consists of porcelain gaming tokens that circulated as local money in Siam (modern Thailand) between 1760 and 1875. The colorfully-glazed white porcelain tokens (Fig. 6) were produced in China for use by the numerous private gambling houses in Siam.

Figure 6. Porcelain gaming token from Siam (Thailand). ANS 1937.179.28443.
Figure 6. Porcelain gaming token from Siam (Thailand). ANS 1937.179.28443.

It has been estimated that there were some 500 to 1,000 different firms, or hongs, that operated these houses and issued tokens. They were produced in a variety of denominations ranging from the att to the salung and involved many thousands of different designs as a means of preventing counterfeiting. Issues were also recalled frequently and replaced in order to thwart would-be counterfeiters. The system was evidently successful and the tokens seem to have inspired trust as money. However, the modernizing policies of the Siamese king Rama V (1868–1910), which included the introduction of a European-style royal coinage (Fig. 7), ultimately resulted in the prohibition of the circulation of the tokens. One is reminded of the much more recent use of casino chips as circulating money in Las Vegas before this was curtailed by changes to Nevada law in the 1980s.

Figure 7. Bronze baht of Rama V (1868-1910) ANS 1940.160.245.
Figure 7. Bronze baht of Rama V (1868-1910) ANS 1940.160.245.

In addition to the gold silver and copper coins usually associated with the ANS collection we should always remember the other, not so well known materials that make up the numismatic riches of the Society’s cabinet. Their stories are equally fascinating and worthy of being told. With each raising of the teacup and every flush it is good for numismatists to give a thought to the days of “white gold” and the remarkable places and people as well as the interesting (occasionally frightening) times that have given us porcelain coins.

American Journal of Numismatics 26 (2014)

ajn26cover

The 26th volume of the American Journal of Numismatics is now in print. Subscribers should have already received their copies, but they are also available for purchase by individuals and libraries.

ANS, 1944.100.10426
ANS, 1944.100.10426

The first essay by Jonathan Kagan, “Notes on the Coinage of Mende,” examines the numismatic legacy of this important Greek city on the Chalcidic peninsula. Kagan’s piece ends with a consideration of the iconography of the bird found on many of the coins. Although traditionally described as a crow, some possible alternatives are proposed.

ANS, 1951.116.271
ANS, 1951.116.271

Evangeline Markou, Andreas Charalambous, and Vasiliki Kassianidou next offer a detailed chemical analysis of classical age Cypriot gold coins. The data derived from using an Innov-x Delta Engery-Dispersive XRF analyzer (pXRF) on 48 gold coins showed that the percentage of gold varied between 88.4% and 99.7%, which leads them to some interesting conclusions about the economic history of ancient Cyprus.

In “The Last Seleucids in Phoenicia: Juggling Civic and Royal Identity,” Panagiotis P. Iossif proposes that Phoenician cities were not as autonomous within the Seleucid kingdom as previously thought and suggests that coinage issued in this period was a form of annual tax payment to their Hellenistic rulers.

ANS, 1944.100.43617
ANS, 1944.100.43617

Elizabeth Wolfram Thill‘s contribution examines an innovative coin type that appeared during Trajan’ reign (AD 98-117). The article details fourteen new types of group scenes, i.e. ones that feature multi-figure action, and emphasizes how this reflected a connection between the emperor and the ‘common man.’ The relationship between the coins and monumental reliefs is also considered, and Thill suggests that it indicates that there was a remarkably integrated artistic climate during this period.

ANS, 1982.2.1
ANS, 1982.2.1

A die study of silver coinage of Cilician Aegeae during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-38) by Florian Haymann shows that it was much more abundant than has been supposed, and leads him to argue that this was a kind of imperial beneficium by Hadrian, who took a special interest in the region.

Articles by Jack Nurpetlian and Dario Calomino also look at different aspects of coinage in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Working with limited data, Nurpetlian was able to construct a useful die link diagram and employs statistical analysis to offer insights into the production of silver tetradrachms under Caracalla (AD 213-217), primarily minted in Damascus. Calomino’s contribution is a fascinating study of bilingual (Latin and Greek) coins of Severus Alexander (AD 222-235).

ANS, 1944.100.38256
ANS, 1944.100.38256

Saúl Roll-Vélez’s detailed analysis of antoniniani (left) issued immediately prior to and during the Diocletian reform of the coinage that began in AD 293 corrects some problems in the relevant RIC volume. Roll-Vélez argues that the CONCORDIA MILITVM antoniniani might have been minted as forerunners of the reform and reflected the larger drive towards standardization.

Daniela Williams and Antonino Crisà each provide studies of coin hoards; one found in Rome’s historical port of Ostia and the other unearthed near Palermo. Williams details a set of fifty-one bronze coins found dated to the mid-fourth century while Crisà focuses on the 1869 discovery of a terracotta vase full of silver coins near Cerda, of which forty-nine were recovered. Both articles bring a wealth of archival material to bear in contextualizing and understanding the respective coins in question.

Michael Fedorov’s contribution to the volume looks at early mediaeval Chachian coins and offers a new classification schema for the tamgha type.

Last but not least, François de Callataÿ answers a question that we have all been wondering about: “How poor are current bibliometrics in the humanities?” Naturally taking numismatic literature as his point of departure, Callataÿ shows how existing search engines and digital indexes fail to capture much of what has been and is being produced by numismatic scholars. The article points to both the massive amount of numismatic research being published and some of the attendant problems in getting that material properly indexed by the powers that be.

books copy

The review articles by ANS curators Gilles Bransbourg and David Hendin focus on Le monnayage de Maxence (2013) by Vincent Drost and Gold Coin and Small Change: Monetary Circulation in Fifth– Seventh Century Byzantine Palestine (2012) by Gabriela Bijocsky.

Again, the AJN 26 is available to order on the website, or you can call Catherine DiTuri to place your order at 212-571-4470, ext. 117. The list price is $75; ANS members may purchase it for $52.50.

386 pp, 62 pls | ISSN: 1053-8356 | ISBN: 978-0-89722-336-2