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An Alexander Ekbatana mint?


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My hope is this story provides some entertainment and maybe a little education. I am not a numismatist and have only been collecting ancients for less than two years. This follows my journey of discovery about a coin I had wanted for some time. The ending will be a bit different than most, but the trip should be intriguing.

Here is the coin in question.


The listing identified it as Price P221, minted between 323 and 317 BCE, potentially in Ekbatana.

I'd longed for this coin because it was the only possibility for Peithon, the most famous successor or Alexander that no one has heard of. Ptolemy suggested he be regent over Perdikkas, and only poor judgment in whom he trusted prevented him from being more well-known.

Although I'd wanted this type, I wasn't crazy about the condition. I originally thought it was tooled, though others later pointed out this wasn't the case. Still, of the copies I found in ACSearch, this was easily the worst. It was slightly cheaper, but not by much. At last, I decided that I should investigate this coin. If I found enough proof to justify the claims that it was from Peithon, I would purchase it.

The first thing that caught my attention was this blurb from a CNG sale for a similar type.

As with most of the eastern Alexandrine mints, there has been little study of the pre-Seleukid issues at Ekbatana. Unlike the other mints, though, only three issues are possible for the pre-Seleukid coinage at Ekbatana: Price 3956, P221, and P222. The style and hoard context of these coins make their placement at an eastern mint certain, but their attribution to Ekbatana is not firm. Price sees a connection of the Zo- of these issues and the Zod- of the Seleukid issues, but this has not yet been conclusively proven. Interestingly, though Alexander placed his treasury at Ekbatana, no coins are known to even possibly belong there during his lifetime. Therefore, if the placement of these Zo- issues are confirmed to belong at Ekbatana, they would be the earliest Alexandrine coinage there.

So, Price guessed the mint based on his assumption that 'Zo+d' was equivalent to 'Zod', and that - whatever it meant - it would suggest the same mint. Since the Seleukid issues were well-know to be from Ekbatana, that would imply this was too.

I'd long been skeptical of this claim, mainly because Ekbatana was a major city and, by some accounts, housed Alexander's mint. If it minted coins, why so few? There are only three Price numbers (two of them tets) linked to Ekbatana. That just didn't sound right.

The CNG blurb made me even more suspicious. First of all, the Seleukid issues were via monogram, while this was spelled out. That didn't seem right. My assumption is monograms were personal. Why would it change so dramatically? The second part, which Price was evidently unaware of, was this one lacks the 'D'. 

Earlier, I found a paper by Apergis with an interesting theory about the early Seleukid issues in Babylon and Susa that he extended to Alexander's time: the inscription under the throne indicated who issued the coinage, while that to the left indicated who received it. In the absence of anyone on the left, the issue was for general usage. If they started this system during Alexander's time and were still using it for the Seleukid issues, it follows that they were likely using it in between those periods.

This coin would seem to back that up. If that was the case, and 'Zo-' issued most of this coinage and 'D-' received it (except in this coin's case), then it would cast that flimsy attribution in serious doubt. At this point, I was pretty convinced that the coin was not from Ekbatana, but who did mint it?

I went down several wrong paths here. I grew excited at wondering if it was Zopyrion, who died in retreat from an attack on Olbia. That would certainly be an interesting tale, but it was clear this wasn't from him. Because Zeus' legs are crossed, it's minted in Philip's name, and it states 'Basileus', it was definitely after Alexander's death in 323 BCE. Similarly, Philip III died in 317 BCE, though the word may have taken some time to reach Ekbatana. That puts its range between 323-317 BCE. Zopyrion died in 331 BCE.

I next became intrigued by the 'I' with the 'Z' sound. After some research, I found this was a Phoenician 'Z'. What the heck? Why is a Phoenician letter on a coin minted so far east? I went to the Pella web site and investigated hoards. Two copies had been found in IGCH 1667, which were dug up south of Alexandria and had a close date of 310 BCE. Huh? How would two coins allegedly from Ekbatana make that distance? I looked at the other coins in the hoard. There were a few from Babylon and Susa, so Ekbatana wasn't a huge stretch.

I wondered then what 'Zo' could mean. I found one coin, minted in the name of Seleukos II Keraunos between 226-223 BCE, with a 'Zo'. It too had a question of mint, but was suspected to be from Laodikea ad Mare. Perhaps they were referencing the same place? Many tets from Sidon have a 'Si'. I was unable to find an image of SC 926b to verify whether they used a Phoenician or Greek 'z', but I looked back to the CNG text. This coin had a decidedly eastern mint look, and it does look similar to those issues from Babylon and Susa. So, nothing there.

I researched an online Atlas and a "who's who" book of Alexander's and his successors' age, but couldn't find anything remotely useful for 'Zo'.

What gave me some clue was the graffito. Maybe I could go through all the tets on ACSearch with graffiti to look for similar marks? I did so and found two that looked nearly exactly the same. Both were issues from Babylon, and were in fact this one that I already had (obviously mine has a different graffito).


Well, that was interesting. These graffiti are debated, but I'm of the camp that believe them to have been caravan-marks. The owners would inscribe an initial or more on them to identify theirs from others' coins. I believe it's too much to speculate that the two coins I found on ACSearch and the one in question were owned by the same person, but it seemed likely that they had both crossed some long distance at one time. 

On my coin, I'd been fascinated by the Phoenician 'M' and had thought that it had come from Babylon (where it was minted) to Gaza with the troops of Peithon, son of Agenor (different Peithon). He had fought and died in the Battle of Gaza. Perhaps my coin was owned by someone who didn't make it? Perhaps the coin of interest had a similar story.

Back to the Phoenician 'Z'. I eventually came to the conclusion that, since the earliest Alexander mints for his famous tets are believed to have been in Phoenicia, they would have lacked die makers with expertise in Babylon and Susa. The Babylon issue itself was mammoth - by some estimates the greatest number of tets during Alexander's lifetime were minted there - in a period of two years. They would have needed several engravers, so it would have made sense to import them from Phoenicia. That would explain the 'Z'.

My next magical thought was - what if it were Eumenes? Wow. That would be incredible if I could link him. I read through Plutarch to see if it mentioned anyone (preferably involving money) but found nothing. Apergis had mentioned traveling mints, which is what piqued my interest in the Eumenes idea, but I had nothing.

Eventually, I resorted to Occam's Razor. What was the most logical mint? Well, the coin is definitely eastern. Babylon minted by far the most tets. The other two coins with identical graffiti are from Babylon. It follows that this one is from Babylon.

Then how would I explain the different mint marks? Why would there be such a small issue? Again, the best guess would be someone who ruled Babylon for only a short period of time. That would be Dokimos, who neutralized Archon only a bit before (or maybe even after) his main supporter in Perdikkas was killed. Seleukos supposedly entered Babylon without hindrance, so Dokimos probably fled. We don't know how long he had possession of Babylon, but it seems logical he would have replaced the minter. The 'D' that appears on most of these coins (I found only one other without the 'D') would also match him.

I therefore chose that as the most likely attribution.

That night, I bought the coin. My reasoning was that I'd put so much time in it, that I'd grown attached to this tet.

The next morning, though, I had a change of heart. Ultimately, I'd proven to myself that this wasn't a coin of Peithon, but I hadn't conclusively proven whose it was. This could just as easily been a limited issue for a small military procedure of little historical importance. I removed Peithon from my list, since there remain no possible coins that can be attributed to him. However, I found no logic that showed this coin had a place there.

Given that I needed to limit my budget somehow, and this was one of the pricier coins I'd ordered recently, I contacted the seller to cancel. Since it hadn't shipped, he did so.

The coin is therefore still available if you'd like to grab it.

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Once part of my collection.  Bought it cheap from ebay, ancient 17


 Philip lll Arrhidaeus Tetradrachm 323-317 BC 

Head of Herekles with lionskin, calf's ear.
Ecbatana mint
17.05gm 25.24mm
Price P221

Rev-Zeus sitting on throne holding eagle.
Δ in left field
Inscription under throne- Ι Ω


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