macedonian coins

A Strange Celtic Coin Illustrating Zeus Without A Chin

This is a 2nd century BC silver tetradrachm from the central Carpathian region in Eastern Europe, imitating the coins of Philip II of Macedon. This particular type is called a Kinnlos (chinless) type. The obverse shows a peculiar Celticized head of Zeus without a chin while the reverse shows a Celticized horseman.

The issues of Philip II of Macedon were one of the primary coinages circulating in the Thraco-Macedonian region from the late 4th century BC. It was such an integral coinage to the area that official Macedonian issues of Philip II type continued for decades after his death in 336 BC. Naturally, this coinage was imitated by various tribes in the Danube region, probably to facilitate trade with cities where the type was a recognized medium of exchange, down to the first century BC. The earliest types were reasonably faithful copies of the obverse and reverse types, but over time the various tribes “morphed” them, often into abstract designs that only vaguely resembled the originals, such as this oddly amusing chinless Zeus coin.

Probable Greek soldier in the Sampul tapestry, woolen wall hanging, 3rd–2nd century BC, Sampul, Urumqi Xinjiang Museum
The Sampul tapestry is a woolen wall-hanging that was found in Sampul, in the Tarim Basin inside a 3rd-2nd century BCE mass grave.

The tapestry depicts a soldier, probably Greek, and a Centaur. It is probably a Greek work from Central Asia (Greco-Bactria) and uses more than 24 threads of different colors in a typical western technique.The soldier wears a tunic with rosette motifs. His headband could be a diadem, the symbol of kingship in the Hellenistic world, as represented on Macedonian and other Greek coins. The presence of the Centaur as a motif, a typical element of Greek mythology, floral motifs, and the realistic rendering further reinforce the identification of the soldier as Greek. The tapestry was, curiously, fashioned into a pair of trousers, indicating that it may have been used as a decorative trophy.

The existence of this tapestry tends to suggest that contacts between the Hellenistic kingdoms of Central Asia and the Tarim Basin, at the edge of the Chinese world occurred from around the 3rd century BCE.

An Unpublished and Possibly Unique Macedonian Coin

This silver tetradrachm was struck in Salamis circa 300-295 BC during the reign of Demetrios I Poliorketes of Macedon. The obverse shows Nike blowing a trumpet and holding a stylis, alighting to left on a left-facing galley prow. The reverse shows the inscription ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ and Poseidon, nude except for a wreath of reeds and a chlamys wrapped around his left arm. He is striding left while hurling a trident from his upraised right hand; monogram of AYN to left, Σ to right. Unpublished in the Standard References, including Newell, possibly unique. This coin is extremely fine, well struck and centered; engraved in very fine style and very well preserved for the type.

Extremely Rare Coin Issued By One Of Alexander The Great’s Best Friends

Worth $164,683; one of only 4 known examples.

This gold stater was struck in Alexandria under Ptolemy I Soter while he was still satrap of Egypt, sometime between 313 and 311 BC.  On the obverse, the coin shows the diademed head of Alexander III (The Great) wearing an elephant’s scalp headdress, an aegis and the horn of Ammon over his ear. The reverse shows the  prow of galley adorned with one large and one small protective eye.

Ptolemy I Soter (c. 367-283 BC) was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great, who became ruler of Egypt (323–283 BC) and founder of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and dynasty. In 305/4 BC he demanded the title of pharaoh. Before Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, and was among the seven somatophylakes (bodyguards) attached to his person. He was a few years older than Alexander, and had been his intimate friend since childhood.

This is one of the greatest rarities of Ptolemaic coinage, and it celebrates the Ptolemy I’s use of Alexander’s figure as a badge of legitimacy. As is well known, Ptolemy arranged to capture Alexander’s body in 322 BC, when it was in Syria on the way to Macedonia. It was soon placed in a great tomb in Alexandria where it remained until at least the 3rd century AD (though there are reports of it having been seen in the 9th and 10th centuries). This coin bears the typically Ptolemaic portrait of Alexander (with the elephant’s skin headdress) and a prow, which probably commemorates some initial Ptolemaic victories in Cyprus. The portrait itself is remarkably evocative with the visage of a human who was also considered divine.

Extremely Rare Centaur Coin, C. 500-450 BC

Valued at $180,000, this electrum stater was minted by the Orrescii, an ancient Thraco-Macedonian tribe. It shows a centaur carrying off a struggling nymph. The reverse side is a simple quadripartite incuse square. This stater is of the greatest numismatic importance and rarity and is apparently unique and unrecorded. It appears to be lacking a direct comparison in the published numismatic literature. The closest parallel is an electrum stater in the British Museum collection, of similar type, but of a wholly different style and execution.

The Orrescii lived around the ancient city of Lete (map) in Mygdonia, Macedon. They may have been identical to the Satrae and closely connected with the Bessi, or priests of the oracular temple of the Thracian Bacchus. The Orrescii and other Pangaean tribes were miners who worked the mines around the Pangaean range.

Their coins reflected their religious beliefs, the subjects being satyrs and centaurs carrying off struggling nymphs, iconography associated with the worship of Bacchus. The image of a centaur on the Orrescii coins however is more rare than that of the satyr. These coins illustrate the wild rituals which were held in the mountains of Thrace and Phrygia in honor of Bacchus, whose mysterious oracular temple stood on the top of Mount Pangaeum.

Tetradrachm of King Aeropos, Macedon,  c. 398/7-395/4 BC

This very rare and extremely fine coin shows a young man wearing a simple taenia. On the reverse ΑΕΡΟΠΟ is inscribed above a horse with its reins trailing below.

Aeropus II was the regent and guardian for the infant Orestes, son of Archelaus I, who had been murdered in 399 BC, perhaps partially because of his strong philhellenic (loving all things Greek) bias, which enraged many of the native nobles. This assassination led to a turbulent succession crisis during which Orestes was eliminated leaving Aeropus as sole ruler for a short period before being challenged by Amyntas II (possibly his son or the illegitimate son of Archelaus I) and then being succeeded by his own son Pausanias.

Pausanias lasted for a very short period before being ousted by Amyntas III (the great grandson of Alexander I) in 393 BC. This ushered in a period of relative stability culminating in the reigns of his son Philip II and grandson Alexander III (the Great). Returning to Aeropus, what little we know about him indicates that he was a member of the powerful Lynkestes family, long time rivals of the Macedonian royal house (other Lynkestids were involved in revolts after Amyntas III’s death in 369 BC). The fact that no coins are known of the infant Orestes has led to the suggestion that Aeropus continued issuing silver and very rare bronze in the name of Archelaus I before the death of the child, only afterwards striking coins in his own name.

Tetradrachm of Antigonus III (r. 229-221) from Amphipolis, Macedon, struck c. 228-227 BC

Obverse: The head of Poseidon wearing a seaweed wreath; dotted border. Reverse: Apollo holding a bow while seated on a ship’s prow; the inscription ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΟΥ on the prow and a monogram below.

Antigonus III Doson was the king of Macedon from 229 BC to 221 BC. He was a member of the Antigonid dynasty and the son of Demetrius the Fair. As king, Antigonus III proved to be as much a master of tactical diplomacy as of military strategy. In less than a decade of rule he not only secured the borders of his nation, he also reestablished Macedon as the dominant power in the region. Unlike previous Macedonian rulers who attempted direct dominion over their fiercely independent neighbors to the West and South, he formed alliances with Epirus and the Achaean League. When Sparta, under Cleomenes III, attempted to establish hegemony over the whole Peloponnese, Aratus of Sicyon - long the leader of Greek opposition to Macedonian domination - invited Antigonus to intervene (226 BC). Establishing his base on the heights above Corinth, Antigonus reconstituted a broad-based Hellenic league (224 BC) under his leadership before launching his attack on Sparta. The Spartan forces, outmatched by the larger, better equipped Macedonian army, were so overwhelmed in the battle of Sellasia (222 BC) that Cleomenes only managed to escape with a few horsemen, and ultimately had to seek refuge in Egypt. However, in a magnanimous gesture, Antigonus restrained his soldiers from plundering Sparta, saying it was Cleomenes, not Sparta, that was his enemy.

Antigonus did not long survive this victory. For, while his forces were campaigning in the southern Peloponnese, Illyrians invaded Macedonia from the north. Antigonus had to rush north to repel this new threat. On his way, Antigonus passed through Tegea and Argos, his arrival at the latter coinciding with the beginning of the Nemean Games, where he was honoured by the Achaean League and various other cities. His death occurred soon after, when he returned to Macedon and engaged the Illyian army; for though Macedonian forces were once again victorious, the commander became sick during the battle (possibly though not necessarily as a result of a ruptured blood vessel) and died.

$700,000 Amphipolis Tetradrachm of the ‘Parthenon Group’

The present coin, along with the few other known examples of the “Parthenon Group” within the Amphipolis coinage, represents perhaps our closest approach in numismatics to the finest art of classical Athens.

This coin, minted in Amphipolis, Macedon c. 357/6 BC, is a silver tetradrachm with the head of Apollo wearing a laurel wreath slightly facing the right. On the reverse is the inscription AMΦ-IΠO-ΛIT-ΩN around a raised linear square enclosing a race torch; to the inner right, is a small sphinx seated left; all within broad shallow incuse square. This is a masterpiece of classical numismatic art and is extremely rare, only the second example known from these dies, the other is in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Münzkabinett.

The Thracian city of Enna Hodoi (“Nine Roads”) on the Strymon River was conquered and re-founded by Athens in 437/6 and was re-named Amphipolis (map). The Athenian colonists were led by Perikles’ close friend Hagnon, son of Nikias. While Athens continued to issue coins that were the recognized standard trade currency of the eastern Mediterranean, with the traditional designs and style that had come to be widely accepted, the colony of Amphipolis was not so constrained by convention in the style of its coinage, and produced coins that come closest to representing in miniature the artistic style of Athenian sculpture of the period.

This coin, despite its serene beauty, emanates from a moment of great turmoil in Amphipolis. Philip II of Macedon declared war on the city early in 357 BC. The anti-Macedonian party, in desperation, dispatched a legation to Athens to ask for help. Athens refused the offer for reasons that are not entirely clear today. Philip promptly placed Amphipolis under siege and – aided by allies within the city – breached the walls and captured the city late in 357 BC. The coins of the Parthenon Group can be precisely dated to the time of these events.

This series of Amphipolis’ coinage is called the Parthenon Group because the obverse head is inspired by the seated Apollo of the east frieze of the Parthenon. It has been suggested the reference on the coinage to a famous sculpture created by Phidias in the 430’s BC – harkening back to the city’s re-foundation by Perikles in 437/6 BC – reflects pro-Athenian feeling at a critical moment when Amphipolis desperately sought Athens’ military assistance. Philip, while he retained the Parthenon reference following his victory, introduced a subtle change to a freer and more individual style of Apollo’s head and at the same time changed the ethnic on the coinage from the Ionic form (AMΦIΠOΛITEΩN) to the Attic form (AMΦIΠOΛITΩN), reflecting the administrative language of the Macedonian kingdom and the language that Philip used on his royal coinage. This coin, one of 13 known tetradrachms of the Parthenon Group and one of only five in private ownership, represents the magnificent tradition of classical Athenian art, and, at the same time, reflects the rising power of Macedon.

Amphipolis is also the site of the ongoing excavation of the  Amphipolis Tomb, a previously unknown Alexander the Great-era tomb that may have been built for Alexander’s mother, Olympias.