numismatics

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Rare Agathokles Electrum Coin, Struck C. 304-289 BC

Very pretty style, attractively toned, extremely fine and rare. Sold at auction for 32,000 USD.

This 100 litrai is from the city of Syracuse, Sicily under the rule of Agathokles. The obverse shows the name ΣYPAKOΣIΩN  and the laureate head of Apollo facing to left with a tripod behind him. The reverse has the word ΣΩTEIPA  and the head of Artemis facing to the right, wearing a ribbon in her hair, an earring and a pearl necklace, with a quiver over her shoulder and a tripod behind her.

Agathokles (361- 289 BC) took control of Syracuse in 317 BC at the head of a large army, banishing or murdering all those who opposed him. Clearly a man of ambition, he proceeded to invade the territories of the surrounding cities of Sicily and eventually became embroiled in war with the Carthaginians, the longstanding enemies of the Sicilian Greeks since the 6th century.

Peace was finally concluded in 306 BC with Carthaginian power restricted to west Sicily. Thereafter, Agathokles continued to strengthen his rule over the Greek cities of Sicily. By 304 BC he declared himself King of Sicily, extending his influence into southern Italy and the Adriatic.

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Two Indo-Greek silver coins with profiles of Alexander

Bactria (present-day Afghanistan), 1st-2nd century

After Alexander of Macedon succeeded in conquering Egypt and Persia in 331 BC, his ambition to rule the known world led him further east across Bactria in Afghanistan, through the Hindu Kush mountain pass, and into India. There he succeeded in defeating all the local kings of the region until his men, on the brink of mutiny, insisted that they return to Greece. Alexander left governors in charge of his territories, and after his death in 323 BC, his governors became independent kings, establishing Hellenistic cities and a Greek cultural base in the region, which lasted for almost 200 years.

Silver tetradrachm from the city of Naxos, Sicily.  On the obverse, a bearded head of Dionysus; on the reverse, a nude, squatting Silenus with a kantharos (two-handled drinking cup) and thyrsos (staff of the worshippers of Dionysus), alongside the inscription ΝΑΞΙΩΝ (”Of the Naxians”).  Artist unknown; ca. 425 BCE.  Photo credit: Exekias/Wikimedia Commons.

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Beautiful Ancient Coin with the Image of Alexander the Great

This is a silver tetradrachm from the Thracian Kingdom under the rule of Lysimachus. It was struck sometime after the death of Lysimachus in 281 BC at an undetermined mint. The obverse shows the head of Alexander the Great wearing a diadem and the horns of Ammon. The reverse shows Athena Nikephoros seated. There are two monograms, one of which is in a wreath and the inscription BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΛYΣIMAXOY.

Lysimachus (r. 323-281 BC) was a Macedonian officer and diadochus (i.e. “successor”) of Alexander the Great, who became a basileus (“King”) in 306 BC, ruling Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedon. Read more about Lysimachus here.

Drachma from Bruttium (Locri or Croton).  On the obverse, Hera Lacinia; on the reverse, Zeus with his scepter and an eagle bearing a garland.  Between 214/13 and 211/10 BCE.  Photo credit: cgb.fr/Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you!

Great news! We have raised the funds to keep King Alfred’s Coins in the heart of the region in which it was discovered.

The Watlington hoard is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire & contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins.

We would like to thank everyone who donated to the campaign. Lead support was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, towards both the acquisition and to fund a range of educational and outreach activities. Thanks to a further major grant from Art Fund as well as contributions from the public and the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean, the Museum reached its fundraising target within days of the deadline.

“The Watlington Hoard is one of the most exciting and important acquisitions we have ever made, particularly significant because it was found in Oxfordshire. To be able to keep the hoard in the county and put it on display with the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon collections, which include the world-famous Alfred Jewel, was an opportunity we could not miss.”
     
    – Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean

An Exceptional Discovery

In October 2015, metal detectorist James Mather discovered an important Viking hoard near Watlington in South Oxfordshire. It dates from the end of the 870s, a key moment in the struggle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings for control of southern England.

The Watlington Hoard sheds new light on the conflict between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and on the relationship between the two great Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

The hoard contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins, including many examples of previously rare coins of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871–899) and his less well-known contemporary, King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874–879). This is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire, which once lay on the border of Wessex and Mercia. The Watlington Hoard therefore has enormous relevance to our county. At the same time this is a find of truly national importance, providing a major new source of information about this tumultuous time in the history of our nation.

♥ The Ancient Origin of the Heart-Shaped Valentine ♥

This very rare coin is a silver hemidrachm struck in Cyrene (modern Libya) around 500 to 480 BC. Both sides of the coin show the now extinct* heart-shaped silphium fruit. The silphium plant, a large relative of the fennel plant, was abundant and a lucrative cash crop in ancient Cyrene, which is why it appears as the symbol of the city on its coinage.

Since it allegedly went extinct, silphium is a bit mysterious to us. We do know that it was greatly prized for its medicinal and culinary properties. It was  used as an herbal birth control method, thus forever associating the shape of its fruit with passionate love and thus, matters of the heart. Ancient writings also help tie silphium to sexuality and love. One such reference appears in Pausanias’ Description of Greece in a story of the Dioscuri staying at a house belonging to Phormion, a Spartan: “For it so happened that his maiden daughter was living in it. By the next day this maiden and all her girlish apparel had disappeared, and in the room were found images of the Dioscuri, a table, and silphium upon it.”

Pliny reported in his Natural History that the last known stalk of silphium found in Cyrene was given to the Emperor Nero “as a curiosity,” because it was nearly extinct by then.

*There is some debate about whether or not this plant is really extinct. You can read about that on the Silphium Wikipedia page.

Demareteion (silver dekadrachm) issued by Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse (r. 485-478 BCE) to celebrate his victory over the Carthaginians at the Battle of Himera (480 BCE).  The nymph Arethusa, bearing the features of Gelon’s queen Demarete, is surrounded by dolphins, with the retrograde inscription  ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΟΝ (”Of the Syracusans”).  Now in the Bode-Museum, Berlin.  Photo credit: Carlomorino/Wikimedia Commons.

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My Latest Roman Coin Cleans

Many of you have messaged me to show some pics of the Roman coins I have cleaned.  So here are three of the latest I did that are fairly well detailed.  First as to the origins of these coins, most are discovered by metal detector enthusiasts in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.  Most are bronze, any gold and silver coins would have been picked out.  Also they are typically lower grade, the best ones again being picked out.  Whats left is sold in bulk to people like me, mostly because it’s not profitable enough to clean and restore each coin.  It takes me about 1.5 to 2 hours per coin to clean, and when it comes to low grade stuff it’s just not worth the time and effort for the value you will get out of it.  Plus bronze Roman coins are so cheap, Roman asess were basically the equivalent of pennies today.  So they were cheap back then and today even 1500 years later they are still cheap and plentiful. The particular batch I ordered from which these coins originate is from a hoard found in Hungary.  They date to the late 4th century, shortly before hordes of Goths and Huns would come screaming into the region.

Now to the coins themselves.  First I have to say these scans do not do justice to the coins.  In person the details are much more intelligible and the patina is much nicer. Each coin is roughly the size of a dime. The top coin I identified as being minted by the emperor Gratian.  This one was pretty easy to ID as the markings on it are mostly legible, which isn’t really shown well in the scan. The markings are DN GRATIANVS PF AVG.  This stands for Dominus Noster (out lord) Gratian Pius Felix (Pius and Blessed) Augustus.  The reverse shows the emperor holding a banner, his hand holding down a subjugated captive by the head.  This marking was done in celebration of a military victory typically common with the Valentinian dynasty.

The second coin is also Gratian.  On the obverse the writing on it is not legible, however in the reverse the mint markings are legible, thus I was able to ID it. It too has the “Emperor with Captive) marking.

The final coin is a mistrike. Coins back then were struck from a hand engraved die set and a hammer. Basically the person who struck this coin didn’t center it right, and either didn’t notice the mistake, or looked at the disfigured coin, was like “meh, oh well” and threw it in the pile for circulation.  The head is halfway cut off and there is no legible script.  The reverse is very worn and its marking are not intelligible.  I cannot fully ID this coin.  However the face on the obverse looks a lot like a younger Valentinian I, Valentinian II, or Theodosius.  Considering that two coins from the batch come are Gratian, it can be assumed this one is one of the emperors from the Valentinian dynasty. So Valentinian dynasty of Theodosius, late 4th century. That’s the best I can do.  If anyone has any ideas I would like to hear them. 

To clean the coins I use three main tools: wooden toothpicks, staples, distilled water, and patience.  When I get the coins they look like this,

So basically I very carefully and meticulously pick away at the crusty dirt until features become shown. When I say meticulously, I mean often a grain at a time, wearing a jewelers helmet with magnifying lens. Like I said before, it typically takes me an hour or two per coin. If the crust is particularly hard, I will straighten out a paper clip to pick away at it.  I used to use dental picks but switched to this method because paper clips are dull and made from softer low quality metal, making it much less likely to damage the coin. I find that removing the outer layer of the crust will loosen up the inner layer, allowing the rest to be removed with a toothpick. If the crust is extremely hard, I will soak it in distilled water for some time until it loosens up.  I never use cleaners, soaps, or chemicals, I never scrub or use abrasive methods. After picking the dirt off the coin, I then dab it lightly with a cloth soaked in distilled water. One thing to note is that I don’t completely remove all of the dirt.  I like to leave my coins a little bit dirty. Remember these coins are worn, and the dirt actually highlights the features of the coin, making them stand out more.  Plus to remove the remaining dirt would probably require methods that could damage the coin and ruin the patina. Once clean I coat them in a tiny little bit of Renaissance Wax, which is often used by museums and antiquers for preservation work. Then I seal them in a coin protector.

Once the coin is cleaned I ID the coin, which to me is my favorite part of the process.  I have some coin guides, but I actually find the website tesorillo.com to be the most helpful.  

Coin moulds for forging ‘silver’ denarii.

They were found in Lingwell Gate in West Yorkshire, between Leeds and Wakefield. Dated to 180-225 AD they would have been used to create forgeries of official Roman coinage. This was a popular thing to do before the debasement of the silver coins in later years.

Image from the Leeds Museum and Galleries flickr: Moulds

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Any suggestions?

(and remember, philately will get you everywhere!)

(I’m sorry. I’m so sorry)

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Rare Celtic “Rainbow Cup” Gold Stater, 2nd-1st Century BC

What appears to be a cup on the reverse of this coin is actually an upside down torc, often worn by wealthy Celts. Inside the torc are 6 pellets whose meaning is not well known. Additionally, the symbolism of the obverse side can only be guessed at due to its abstract nature. Other designs on similar coins include stars, crosses, birds’ heads, wreaths and coiled serpents or dragons.

These types of coins got the name “Rainbow Cups” from Medieval monks who believed they appeared on the ground at the spot where the end of a rainbow touched the earth, as they were often found after a heavy rainfall had washed away the topsoil. They have been found in Western Europe from France to Germany.