British Museum. Dept. of Coins and Medals.

A guide to the principal gold and silver coins of the ancients, from circ. B. C. 700 to A. D. 1 online

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Online LibraryBritish Museum. Dept. of Coins and MedalsA guide to the principal gold and silver coins of the ancients, from circ. B. C. 700 to A. D. 1 → online text (page 1 of 10)
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The want of a general chronological view of the coinage
of the ancients has long been felt by all who have devoted
any study to this branch of archaeology. It is this want
which I have here made a first attempt to supply.

In the choice and classification of the coins described
in the following pages, I have throughout endeavoured
to keep simultaneously in view the historic, artistic, and
strictly numismatic interest of the coins selected. Thus,
and thus alone, have I found it possible to present to the
spectator a tolerably complete representative series of the
gold and silver money current throughout the ancient
world in approximate chronological order.

This series gives at the same time a view of the finest
and most interesting Greek coins in the National Collec-
tion. Putting aside all theoretical sesthetic methods of
classification according to styles and schools of art, my
endeavour has been to arrive at one which is mainly
historical. With this object in view I began by erecting
as many definitely fixed points of comparison as possible,
that is to say, I chose a certain number of dated coins, or
coins about the precise dates of which numismatists are
generally agreed. Working by analogy, I next proceeded
to group around these fixed points all such other coins as
seemed to me, on various grounds — numismatic, historical,
or artistic — to belong, as nearly as possible, to the same



periods. The divisions into periods do not, it will be
seen, exactly correspond with those of the history of
art, but are rather those of the political history of the

If, then, the result of thus grouping together from a
historical standpoint specimens of the chief monetary
issues of all parts of the ancient world prove to be also
a commentary on the history of the growth, development,
and decline of Greek art, it will be none the less valuable
for being a thoroughly independent commentary.

As an aid to tliose who may not be intimately acquainted
with the well-known handbooks of Greek art, a few slight
indications have been given, at the head of each period,
of the chief characteristics of the art of that period, as
exemplified by the most notable extant sculptures.

The artistic side is, however, but one of many from
which it is possible to approach the science of numis-
matics, and I hope that it will be found that undue
importance has not been attached to any one aspect of
interest to the neglect of the others.

In the very compressed form in which alone the
dimensions of this little Guide permit of explanations
of the coins described, prominence has been given to the
time and circumstance of the striking, and to such infor-
mation as is not generally accessible to the public in the
dictionaries of classical archaeology.

The wall-cases 32-42 on the left of the entrance to the
Department of Coins and Medals contain electrotypes of
the finest ancient coins in the National Collection, arranged
in such a manner as to aiford a synoptical view at once
historical and geographical of the gold and silver coinage
of the ancient world, from the invention of the art of
coining, about B.C. 700, down to the Christian era.

The cases of Greek coins are divided vertically into
seven historical compartments. These compartments,
numbered I. to VII., contain the principal coins current
during the following periods : —


I. — Circa B.C. 700-480. Period of Archaic Art, ending with the Persian

II. — Circa B.C. 480-400. Period of Transitional and Early Fine Art, to

the end of the Athenian supremacy.
III.— Circa B.C. 400-336. Period of Finest Art. Age of the Spartan and

Theban supremacies.
IV.— Circa B.C. 336-280. Period of Later Fine Art. Age of Alexander

and the Diadochi.
v.— Circa B.C. 280-190. Period of the Decline of Art. Age of the

Epigoni, &c.
VI. — Circa B.C. 190-100. Period of continued Decline of Art. Age of the

VII. — Circa B.C. 100-1. Period of late Decline of Art. Age of Mithri-
dates the Great and of Roman dominion.

Each of the above seven compartments is divided liori-
zontally into three geographical sections, the upper one
(A) containing the coins of Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Syria,
&c., and Egypt; the middle one (B) those of Northern
and Central Greece, the Peloponnesus, and the islands of
the ^gean ; and the lowest (C) those of Italy, Sicily,
the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and Western

Each of the seven historical compartments thus offers
in its three geographical sections a complete view of the
coins current throughout the civilised world during that
particular century or period, the whole forming a series of
historically successive tableaux.

The individual specimens are separately labelled and
numbered in each of the twenty-one sections, the numbers
referring to the following Guide, where sufficient descrip-
tions and explanations are given.

Barclay V. Hkad,

Keeper of Coins.


A/", aurum (gold); EL, electrum, an alloy of gold and silver; Al,

argentum (silver).
Obv. obverse, the face of a coin.
Rev. reverse, the back.

Type, the principal device upon the obverse or reverse.
Field, the area between the type and the circumference.
Ex. exergue, the lower portion of the area of a coin separated from

the rest by a straight line.
Symbol, an accessory device in the field or exergue.

N.B. — On the plates the metals A/ and EL are alone indicated ; all
the rest are JR,


Since the publication of the second edition of this Guide
(1881), I have had occasion, during the preparation of my
larger work Historia Numorum (Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1887), to re-examine tray by tray the entire collection of
Greek coins in the British Museum. This revision has
enabled me to make some material improvements in the
text of the Guide. Numerous and important articles
have also appeared in various Numismatic publications
both at home and abroad, some of which involve re-
attributions of whole series of coins. The arrangement
adopted in this Guide is fortunately very slightly affected
by these new discoveries, as they for the most part merely
call for an occasional change of local attribution within the
periods to which the coins were previously assigned. The
most important re-attributions are the following : I. A. 10
from Lesbos (?) to old Smyrna ; I. A. 21 from Clazomense
to Cyrene; I. A. 22 from Colophon to Delos; II. A. 21,
22, Ancore to ApoUonia ad Ehyndacum ; V. B. 28, Allaria
to Lacedaemon ; VI. C. 30-32, and VII. C. 39, Numidia,
Mauretania, to Carthago-Nova(?), the capital of the Barcide
dynasty in Spain. In the few instances in which a change
of period as well as of locality is necessitated, the fact
has been noted in the revised text ; but, as complete sets
of electrotypes have already been widely distributed among
British and Foreign Museums, I have not thought it
advisable to make changes in the arrangement of the
Plates, which are consequently identical with those of the
previous editions, for any alteration in the numbering of
the specimens might lead to much confusion in cases where
this Guide has been quoted as a work of reference. On
the seven representative Plates of the half-crown edition,
references are given to the fully illustrated edition con-
taining seventy Plates.

Barclay V. Head.

June, 1895.


PERIOD I.— CIRCA B.C. 700-480.

About seven hundred years before the Christian era
the Lydians in Asia Minor, at that time ruled by the
illustrious dynasty of the Mermnadse, first began to
stamp small ingots of their native gold ore, obtained from
the washings of the river Pactolus, with an official mark
as a guarantee of just weight, thus rendering an appeal
to the scales on every fresh transaction no longer a
matter of necessity. These stamped ingots were the
first coins.

The official marks on these earliest of all coins con-
sisted merely of the impress of the rude unengraved
punches, between which the ingot was placed to receive
the blow of the hammer. Very soon, however, the art of
the engraver was called in to adorn the lower of the two
dies, that of the obverse, with the badge of the state or the
symbol of the local divinity under whose auspices the cur-
rency was issued, the earliest mints having been, it is gene-
rally supposed, within the sacred precincts of a temple.

The Greek cities which studded the coasts and islands of
Asia Minor soon adopted and improved upon this simple
but none the less remarkable Lydian invention, and to
the Greeks the credit is probably due of substituting
engraved dies for the primitive punches, and certainly of
inscribing them with the name of the people or ruler by
whom the coin was issued.

In European Greece, Phidon, king of Argos, is said to
have been the first to introduce standard weights and
measures, on which occasion he dedicated bars of metal,


ojSeXio-Koi, in the temple of Hera at Argos, as official
standards of weight. The earliest European coins were
struck, according to the Phidonian standard, in the island
of Aegina ; and the Euboean cities Chalcis and Eretria, as
well as Corinth with her colonies, and Athens, were not
slow to follow the example of Aegina.

From these centres, Asiatic and European, the new in-
vention spread far and wide, to the coasts of Thrace on the
north, to those of the Cyrenaica on the south, and to Italy
and Sicily in the west. In each district the weight of
the standard coin or stater was carefully adjusted in relation
to the talent there in use for weighing the precious metals,
these talents being different in different localities, but all
or nearly all traceable to a Babylonian origin.

The form of the ingot {flan) of most of the early coins
was bean-shaped or oval, except in Southern Italy, where
the earliest coins of the Achaean cities were flat and cir-
cular. The device (type) consisted usually of the figure
of an animal or of the fore-part of an animal, heads and
figures of gods and men being rare in the early period.
The reverse side of the coin does not at first bear a type,
but only the impress in the form of an intaglio or incuse
square of the upper of the two dies between which the
flan or ingot was fixed. The early coins of certain cities
of Magna Graecia above mentioned are characterised,
however, by having devices on both sides (generally
the same), on the obverse in relief and on the reverse

The coins of the two centuries previous to the Persian
wars exhibit considerable varieties of style and execution.
In common with the other remains of archaic art which
have come down to us, and with which it is instructive to
compare them, they may be divided into two classes, of
which the earlier is characterised by extreme rudeness in
the forms and expressiveness in the actions represented ;
the later, by a gradual development into more clearly
defined forms with angularity and stiffness. The eye of
the human face is always drawn, even when in profile, as
if seen from the front, the hair is generally represented by
lines of minute dots, the mouth wears a fixed and formal
smile ; but, withal, there is in the best archaic work a
strength and a delicacy of touch which are often wanting
in the fully developed art of a later age.


To facilitate a comparison of the coins with the other
contemporary productions of the plastic art, a list of some
of the chief artists and best known works of art is ap-
pended : —

Principal Artists :

Sicyon — Dipoenus and Scyllis of Crete, circ. B.C. 600 (?). Founders
of the earliest school of sculpture in marble.

Chios — Micciades and Archermus, circ. B.C. 600-550.

Mgina. — Smilis.

Sparta — Gitiadas.

Magnesia — Bathycles, whose chief work was the throne of Apollo
at Amyclse.

Argos — Ageladas,

JEgina — Callon and Onatas.

Sicyon — Canachus and Aristocles.

Athens — Endceus, Antenor, and Hegias ; also Critias and Nesiotes,
the sculptors of the group of Harmodius and Aristogiton.

Principal extant Works :

The three oldest metopes of Selinus.

The marble statues known as " Apollo " from Orchomenus, Thera

(at Athens), and Tenea (at Munich).
Two archaic statues of Apollo. British Museum.
The statues from the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo at

Branchidse. British Museum.
Seated Athena attributed to Endceus. Athens.
Stele of Aristion by Aristocles. Athens.
Harpy Tomb. British Museum.
Victory by Micciades and Archermus. Athens.
Pedimental Groups from the Early Temples on the Acropolis,

Man carrying a calf. Athens.
Belief from Chrysapha in Laconia. Berlin.
Series of female statues dedicated to Athena on the Acropolis.

Copy of Apollo of Canachus. British Museum.
Copy of group of Harmodius and Aristogiton. Naples.
The Thasos Reliefs. Paris.

B 2

* PERIOD 1. A.

I. A.

Plates 1-3.

Plate 1. 1. Lydia. EL. 06u. striated surface. i2ei;. Oblong sinking between
two square sinkings. Baby Ionic stater. Wt. 166-8 grs.

This is tlie earliest known coin. B.C. circ. 700.

2. Lydia (?). EL. Obv. Raised square. Bev. Incuse square. Phoenician

half-stater. Wt. 110 grs.

3. Lydia (?). EL. Obv. Round shield (?) in high relief, divided diagon-

ally by two broad bands. Bev. Incuse square, containing a cruciform
ornament. Phoenician half-stater. Wt. 108-6 grs.

4. Parium (?). EL. Obv. Gorgon-head. Eev. Ornamented incuse.

Euboi'c stater. Wt. 124 grs.

5. Samos. EL. Obv. Lion's scalp. Hev. Oblong and triangular sink-

ings. Euboi'c stater. Wt. 133 grs.

The extremely archaic style of Nos. 4 and 5 marks the
first part of the seventh century b.c.

6. Miletus. EL. Obv. Fore-part of lion, with star over forehead.

Bev. Oblong sinking between two square sinkings. Phoenician
stater. Wt. 217 grs.

Struck probably during the period of the highest
prosperity of Miletus, before B.C. 623.

7. Ephesus (?). EL. Obv. cl>ANOZ EMI ZHMA (retrograde

in archaic letters), " I am the sign of Phanes." Stag feeding. Bev.
Oblong sinking between two square sinkings. Phoenician stater.
Wt. 216-3 grs.

This is the earliest inscribed coin known. There was
a Halicarnassian named Phanes of no small account at
the court of Amasis, the king of Egypt, whose service he
deserted for that of Cambyses, king of Persia, whom he
assisted in his invasion of Egypt, B.C. 525. This coin
was, however, probably struck at Ephesus by an ancestor
of Phanes. It was found at Halicarnassus.

8. Chios. EL. Obv. Sphinx. Bev. Incuse square. PhoGniclan stater.

Wt. 217 grs.

9. Samos. EL. Obv. Fore-part of bull, looking back. Bev. Incuse

square. Phoenician stater. Wt. 217 grs.

A coin perhaps struck during the rule of Poly crates,
B.C. 530-520.

B.C. 700-480. 5

10. Old Smyrna (?). EL. (?6u. Lion's head. i?et;. Incuse square.

Phocaic stater. Wt. 248-3 grs.

11. Zeleia. EL. Obv. Chimsera. Hev. Two incuse squares. Phocaic

stater. Wt. 252-6 grs.

12. Cyzicus. EL. Obv. Tunny-fish and fillets. Beo. Two incuse

squares, one containing a scorpion. Phocaic stater. Wt. 252 grs.

Nos. 10, 11, and 12 may belong to the period imme-
diately preceding the reform of the coinage by Croesus,
circ. 560 B.C.

13. Sardes. A/". Obv. Fore-parts of lion and bull face to face. Bev,

Two incuse squares. Euboi'c stater. Wt. 124 grs.

14. Sardes. N. Similar. » stater. Wt. 42 grs.

15. Sardes. M. Similar. Babylonic stater. Wt. 159 grs.

16. Sardes. M. Similar. Siglus. Wt. 82-4 grs.

Nos. 13-16 are specimens of the gold and silver coinage
of Croesus, B.C. 568-554, which he substituted for the
previous coinage in electrum.

17. Persia. A/". Obv. The Great King holding bow and spear. Bev,

Incuse. Daric. Wt. 129 grs.

A Persian daric of the earliest style; struck in the
reign of Darius I., b.c. 521-485.

Plate 2. 18. Lampsacus. M. Obv. Janiform female head. Bev. Head of
Athena within an incuse square. Wt. 82 grs.

A coin of fine archaic style, probably as early as B.C. 480.

19. Tenedos. JR. Obv. Janiform head, male and female, Zeus and
Hera (?). Bev. TENE. Double axe. TeweSios Tr4\€Kvs.
Wt. 138 grs.

Aristotle (ap. Steph. Byz. s. v. Tenedos) refers this
type to a decree of a king of Tenedos, which enacted that
all persons convicted of adultery should be beheaded. He
is, however, certainly wrong in this interpretation : as
Leake justly remarks, " such subjects were never repre-
sented on the money of the Greeks ; their types, like their
names of men and women, were almost always euphemistic,
relating generally to the local mythology and fortunes of the
place, with symbols referring to the principal productions,
or to the protecting numina." Cf. the myth of Tennes
and the Tenedian axes dedicated at Delphi. (Pans. x. 14.)

6 PERIOD 1. A.

20. Cyme (?). JR. Obv. Fore-part of horse. Bev. Two incuse squares

adorned with floral devices. Wt. 182 grs.

Extremely archaic. As early as the seventh century b:c,

21. Clazomenee (?). M. (96r. Lion devouring prey. iJeu. Fore-part

of winged boar in incuse square. Wt. 266 grs.

This remarkable coin is now attributed to Gyrene (see
Numismatic Chronicle, 1891, p. 9). Like certain other
coins of Gyrene, also having types on both sides, previous
to 480, it is of the Euboic standard.

22. Delos. JR. Obv. Lyre. Eev. Incuse square. Wt. 126 grs.

A didrachm of the Euboi'c weight, struck during the
early period of Delian independence before the Persian

23. Phocaea. M. Obv. Seal (Phoca), " type parlant" Rev. Incuse

square. Wt. 58*5 grs.

This coin is contemporary with the earliest electrum
of Phocaea, struck in the time of Groesus, circ. B.C. 568
(cf. a stater in the Museum collection with the same type).
The Phocaean Thalassocracy lasted from about 602-558.

24. Teos. JR. Obv. Griffin. Bev. Incuse square. Wt. 183 grs.

The griffin is probably connected with the Asiatic
worship of Dionysus. The type also occurs on the coins
of Abdera, to which place most of the Teians removed
in 544. This coin is probably somewhat anterior to
that date.

25. oamos. JR. Ohv. Lion's scalp facing. Rev. Incuse square. Wt.

39-1 grs.

Later in style than the electrum Nos. 5 and 9, but the
earliest known silver coin of this island.

26. Chersonesus. M. 06u. Lion's head and fore-leg; beneath, X.

Rev. XEP. (retrograde). Head and neck of bull. Wt. 183-4 grs.

27. Gnidus. JR. Obv. Similar. Rev. Head of Aphrodite in incuse

square. Wt. 96 grs.

Chersonesus and Cnidus in early times were two distinct
communities, but were afterwards united into one. The
lion is the symbol of the sun-god, the bull of the moon-
goddess, the Asiatic Aphrodite, whose head is seen on the
coins of Gnidus.

B.C. 700-480. ..7

Plate 3. 28. Samos (?). M. Obv. Lion's scalp facing. JReo. Rough incuse.
Wt. 63 grs.

It is very doubtful whether this coin should be given
to Samos. It may be compared for style with No. 33 of
Lycia (?), but this may perhaps be Cretan, of Lyttus.

-29; Calymna. M. 06r. Bearded helmeted head. Sev. Ljre within
an incuse depression. Wt. 156 grs.

This head perhaps represents one of the Argive heroes
who were shipwrecked on this island after the Trojan War.
The style is rude, and the coin must be assigned to the
first half of the sixth cent. B.C.

30. Gamirus. JR. Obv. Fig-leaf. Eev. Incuse squarejn two oblong

divisions. Wt. 185 grs.

31. lalysus. M. (96r. Fore-part of winged boar. Hev, \E^YI.\OH.

Eagle's head in incuse square. Wt. 223 grs.

The territory of the island of Ehodes was anciently di-
vided among the three cities Lindus, lalysus, and Camirus.
Of the above coins, that of Camirus is the earlier. It
exhibits the form of incuse peculiar to the Carian coasts.

32. Poseidion in Carpathus. JR. Obv. Two dolphins. Bev.

Two oblong sinkings as on No. 30. Wt. 208 grs.

33. Lycia (?). JR, Obv. Boar's head. Eev, Incuse square. W^.

64-4 grs.

34. Lycia. JR. Obv. Fore-part of boar. Eeo. Incuse square. Wt.

138-4 grs.

35. Jjycia. ,51. C>6u. Boar walking. i?gu. Incuse square, containing

triskeles ending in cocks' heads. Wt. 143*2 grs.

These three coins may serve to show the gradual pro-
gress of art in Lycia. It is probable that these coins are
all previous to B.C. 480. The wild boar was plentiful in
parts of this district.

36. Phaselis. M. Obv. Prow of galley in form of boar's head. Eev.

<I>AZ. Stern of galley in incuse square. Wt. 171 grs.

The types are appropriate to a maritime city of the
importance of Phaselis, and jjarZaw^s ; cf. <f)dcrr]\o<s, " a skiff."

37. Celenderis. M. Obv. Goat. Eev. Incuse square. Wt. 93 grs.

Celenderis, on the coast of Cilicia, is said to have been
an ancient settlement of the Phoenicians, but Greeks from
Samos settled there in the sixth century B.C.


I. B.

Plates 4-6.

PiATE 4 1. Thrace or ThasOS. EL. Obv. Centaur carrying off a nymph.
liev. Incuse. Phocaic stater. Wt. 252-5 grs.

This remarkable electrum stater of the Pangasan dis-
trict of Thrace or of Thasos is of the same weight-
standard as the early electrum of Cyzicus and Zeleia,

1. A. 11, 12.

2. Thrace. Zseelii. M. Obv. lAIEAEnN. Centaur carrying

off a nymph. Hev. Flat incuse square. Wt. 141-3 grs.

3. Thasos. JR. Obv. Satyr kneeling with a nymph in his arms.

Hev. Incuse square. Wt. 150-2 grs.

4. JJete. -5J. Obv. Satyr standing opposite a nymph and holding her

by the wrist. Bev. Incuse. Wt. 152*6 grs.

5. Lete. M. Similar, but of finer work. Wt. 146-6 grs.

The types of the above coins all refer to the worship of
the rude forces of nature symbolised in the orgiastic rites
of the Thracian Bacchus and his following (Centaurs,
Satyrs, Maenads, &c.). Mt. Pangaeum, on the summit of
which was the famous oracle of Bacchus, was the religious
centre of the Thracian mining tribes, whose coinage
spread over the whole district north of Chalcidice, from
the Nestos in the east to the Haliacmon in the west,
before the time of the Persian wars.

6. Neapolis. JR. Obv. Gorgon-head. Hev. Incuse. Wt. 147 grs.

Neapolis, opposite Thasos, was the port of the Pangaean
district. Its coins follow the standard of the neighbouring
mining tribes and of Thasos.

7. Acanthus. .ZR. Obv. Lion devouring bull. Iiev. Incuse square.

Wt. 268 grs.

All the early coins of the cities of Chalcidice follow
the Attic standard. That there were lions in this district
at the time of the Persian wars we learn from Hero-
dotus, who relates how they came down from the moun-
tains and seized upon the beasts of burden in the army of


B.C. 700-480. 9

8. Mende. JR. Obv. Crow on the back of an ass ; in the background,

a vine. Hev. Incuse. Wt. 263-5 grs.

The Dionysiac types on the coinage of this city refer
to the famous Mendaean wine.

9. Potidaea. JR. Obv. Poseidon Hippios, on horseback, holding tri-

dent ; beneath, star. Bev. Incuse. Wt. 271*2 grs.

This type is perhaps copied from the sacred image of
Poseidon which Herodotus (viii. 129) mentions as standing
in front of the city.

10. Terone. JR. Obv. Amphora. Hev. Incuse. Wt. 256-4 grs.
This coin is re-struck on a tetradrachm of Acanthus.

11. Dicaea. JR. Obv. Cow scratching herself. Hev. Incuse. Wt.

38-3 grs.

Dicaea in Chalcidice was a colony of Eretria in Euboea,
whence its coin-types are derived.

12. Uncertain. JR. Obv. Pegasus standing. Bev. Incuse. Wt.

209-8 grs.

13. Uncertain. -51. Obv. Pegasus galloping, with dog beneath him.

Bev. Incuse. Wt. 207 grs.

These coins were both procured at Salonica, and may
have been struck at the ancient Therma, before that city

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryBritish Museum. Dept. of Coins and MedalsA guide to the principal gold and silver coins of the ancients, from circ. B. C. 700 to A. D. 1 → online text (page 1 of 10)