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Collecting the Ancient wonders of the world on coins - on a budget


Limes
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It has been a long time since my last show-and-tell-write-up. I am more then pleased to have recently acquired the coin shown above and felt it would be fitting to do a extensive write up (English is not my native language, so please bear with me...!). My latest addition to my modest collection is an AE 18 mm bronze coin (obol) struck in Alexandria, Egypt, under the rule of Domitian in 91/92 AD. The reverse of this coin is what draws me to it; it’s the depiction of the famous Great Sphinx of Giza. Erected more then 2500 years before the rule of Domitian, this monumental sculpture stands in front one of, and the last one still in existence, ancient wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Much has been written about the reverse of this coin already. I wont repeat that here and suggest a visit to the site of our member @AncientJoe, which shows a far superior example of this coin with a wonderful and informative write up. 

So, this long write up is not about the Sphinx (or the coin, although, one small note will follow at the end), but about what stand behind it: the Great Pyramids of Giza. As mentioned above, the pyramids are one of the seven ancient wonders of the world and the only one that is still standing today. The other ancient wonders include the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

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While doing some research on my coin, I found an article published online in 2015, by Julia Rich, about the ancient wonders on coins. That led me to an online quest to see if would be possible to collect all anient wonders on ancient coins. In particular, two questions came to mind: what ancient coins could I collect and what would be possible on a budget? There’s one problem though, also mentioned in the article of Julia Rich; not all wonders appear on ancient coins. So a little imagination is necessary to complete the set, but this also leads to opportunities budget-wise.


(1)To start off with my coin; I think the link with the pyramids is evident. But as we all know, there are no ancient coins that display the pyramids. Thus this is the first wonder where a little imagination becomes necessary. Budget wise, although this coin of Domitian is scarce, it's not too expensive per se (200 - 500 euro’s range for a budget example). In the abovementioned article, the suggestion is made that any coin minted under the Persians, Greeks or Romans who ruled Egypt would be an option, as coins in Egypt were not minted until about 2000 years after the construction of the Pyramids. However, I believe the coin of Domition comes a bit closer to the pyramids.
If you have deep pockets, a rare coin showing a hieroglyph could take your imagination back to the ancient Egyptians and the pyramids.  It’s a very rare stater issued by Egyptian Pharaoh Nektanebo II which is (to quote CNG) “a purely Egyptian coin”. This example was sold by CNG in 2019. Budget wise, this won't be an option for me...: 

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(2) Another target that requires some imagination, is the Colossus of Rhodes. It’s uncertain when this colossol statue was completed, but scholars think somewhere in 284-281 BC. There are various coins from Rhodes that show the head or bust of Helios on the obverse and a rose on the reverse. The obverse of these issue may have been the inspiration for, or the imagery of the head of the completed colossus. However, since no imagery exists that with certainty shows the colossus and coins have been struck before the colossus was finished, this is highly uncertain. But one issue of didrachms might be the exception. In his article, Richard Ashton believes that around284 - 281 BC, a small, uncommon issue of didrachms was struck, which might be a short-lived special product of the mint struck in parallel with the regular Rhodian series. Could these coins show the head of the colossus? Below you may find one such specimen, offered by Roma in 2016, but left unsold.  

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Now, I don’t know what these will do in auction today (the example shown here is from 2016, and the starting price was 400 GPB). But since they are rare, I do think that budget wise another coin from Rhodos showing Helios on the obverse would be a more realistic option. And those are plentiful available (acsearch gave 9.029 hits - unfiltered). 

(3), (4) Two other ancient wonders that you will not find on coins, are the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Especially the latter wonder is surrounded with mystery, and coins that may be added to the collection as put forward by Julia Rich are those struck in Babylon. I too could not find any other options, and I wonder if anyone has a better suggestion.
Regarding the Mausoleum, the monument itself is not shown on coins, but there are scarce drachms and tetradrachms struck by Maussolus in 377 - 353 BC. This satrap, who struck coins showing the facing head of Helios, is the namegiver of the word mausoleum and the wonder itself. Forming a direct link to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, this specific coin would be a fitting addition to the collection, and doesn’t necessarily require deep pockets. This very worn drachm was sold by Heritage this year, for a mere 60 dollars. Of course the tetradrachm below would be a far superior addition, but you would have to top the winning bid. 

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(5), (6) Next are the wonders that are depicted on coins: the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. To start with the Temple of Artemis, coins in various denominations and struck by various rulers show the temple. The remains are located in South East Turkey, near present-day Selçuk, which is also adjecent to Ephesus. I visited the remains of the temple in 2006, and unfortunately very little is left. It goes without saying that even with a tight budget, it is very well possible to acquire one of these coins.
The Statue of Zeus was placed in the Temple of Zeus, located in Olympia. It was made by the Greek sculptor Phidias, and an elaborate description of the temple and the statue are given by Pausanias in his work ‘Description of Greece’. The statue must have been quite the spectacle, as he writes: “I know that the height and breadth of the Olympic Zeus have been measured and recorded; but I shall not praise those who made the measurements, for even their records fall far short of the impression made by a sight of the image.” The accurate description of this Greek geographer/writer/traveller corresponds with the image of Zeus on the obverse of a rare stater struck in 416 BC, in Elis, Olympia. Bring a big bag of money though, because this stater was sold for $ 70.000 in 2013. Other coins struck in Elis showing Zeus might fill this gap, for lesser cash. Another candidate might be a denarius struck by Augustus, which shows the temple which contained the statue. This acceptable example was sold for ‘only’ 220 EUR in 2019. 
I also would have suggested a visit to the sculpture of Jupiter held in the Hermatige, in Sint Petersburg. Sculptured in the first century AD, the composition and manner of execution seen in the statue of Jupiter are reminiscent of the lost statue of Zeus created by Phidias for the temple at Olympia. Unfortunately, current events make it difficult, if not impossible, to visit that magnificent statue for now. An image will have to do:

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(7) Lastly, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Various coins show this magnificent lighthouse. Notable is this beautiful example in the collection of, again, @AncientJoe. For mere mortals like me, lesser splendid examples are readily available, such as this one which sold for 160 GBP. 

Before ending this write up, I have one more thing to note. On the reverse of my coin (RPC 2646), the date is mentioned below the Sphinx. As far is I could find, this coin is the only coin with the laureate head of Domitian to the left, where the date is mentioned below the Sphinx, and not above. RPC online shows two examples of RPC 2645 (head right, being the other variant) where the reverse mentions the date below the Sphinx (2 of 10 examples). You can imagine the excitement I felt when I found this out and I immediately felt the need to make this wonderful discovery known to the world (yes, sarcasm). 

This concludes my write up. I hope you enjoyed it, and would participate in assembling the greatest collection of ancient wonders on coins (and related to coins) ever produced. So, please, show me your wonders, and do put forward any other coins that have not been mentioned in this write up (or anything else you may find interesting)! 

Cheers!

 

Sources:
Julia Rich, Ancients Coins – Collecting the Seven Wonders of the World, in: Coinweek, 2015. 
Ashton Richard H.J. Rhodian coinage and the Colossus. In: Revue numismatique, 6e série - Tome 30, année 1988 pp. 75-90
Helios, the Colossus of Rhodes - and the Rhodian tetradrachms, in Coinsweekly, Ocotber 14, 2009 (https://coinsweekly.com/helios-the-colossus-of-rhodes-and-the-rhodian-tetradrachms/)
Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, available via https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/
Pausanias, Description of Greece, availbe via https://www.theoi.com/Text/Pausanias1A.html
The State Hermitage Museum, Sint Petersburg (https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/
The Colosseo Collection (https://www.colosseocollection.com/home)
RPC online, available via https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/
ACSearch, Numisbids, biddr.ch 
And of course, good ol' Wikipedia 

 

Edited by Limes
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Ionia, Ephesus. Claudius, 41-54. Cistophorus (Silver, 21 mm, 10.77 g, 6 h), Ephesus, circa 41-42. TI CLAVD CAES•AVG Bare head of Claudius to left. Rev. DIAN - EPHE Tetrastyle temple on podium of four steps, enclosing cult statue of Diana of Ephesus with polos on head and fillets hanging from wrists; pediment decorated with two figures flanking large disk set on central table, and two tables and recumbent figures in angles. BMC 229. Cohen 30. RIC 118. RPC I 2222. Beautifully toned and with an enchanting portrait. Minor flan faults on the obverse, otherwise, good very fine. From the J. M. A. L. Collection, formed between 1970 and 2000, Chaponnière & Firmenich 13, 16 May 2021, 279 (with collector's ticket). Ex Leu Numismatik (18 Jul 2022), Lot 2368. 

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1 hour ago, Edessa said:

Ionia, Ephesus. Claudius, 41-54. Cistophorus (Silver, 21 mm, 10.77 g, 6 h), Ephesus, circa 41-42. TI CLAVD CAES•AVG Bare head of Claudius to left. Rev. DIAN - EPHE Tetrastyle temple on podium of four steps, enclosing cult statue of Diana of Ephesus with polos on head and fillets hanging from wrists; pediment decorated with two figures flanking large disk set on central table, and two tables and recumbent figures in angles. BMC 229. Cohen 30. RIC 118. RPC I 2222. Beautifully toned and with an enchanting portrait. Minor flan faults on the obverse, otherwise, good very fine. From the J. M. A. L. Collection, formed between 1970 and 2000, Chaponnière & Firmenich 13, 16 May 2021, 279 (with collector's ticket). Ex Leu Numismatik (18 Jul 2022), Lot 2368. 

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Absolutely stunning! It is my dream to someday own one of these, particularly this reverse type. In fact I was recently outbid on a "budget" example.

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Colossus on large coin:

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Rhodes/Rhodos, Caria, 1st Century B.C., AE 19.735g, 35.5mm

In 164 BC, Rhodes became a permanent ally of Rome and it was sacked by Cassius in the 40s BC. I believe this was minted between those two events.  During this period there was a giant bronze colossus just lying on the ground downtown!

The 33 meter tall colossus had snapped at the knees during a 226 BC earthquake. The statue was so massive that after a Muslim army captured Rhodes in 653 AD it took 900 camels to haul the bronze away.  I suspect that Rhodes' source of bronze for coinage was the less-interesting mangled chunks of the statue. Recycling was part of their culture; the colossus itself was made from weapons Demetrius Poliorcetes's army left behind.

Wikipedia says "Much of the iron and bronze was reforged from the various weapons Demetrius's army left behind, and the abandoned second siege tower may have been used for scaffolding around the lower levels during construction." I am unsure which ancient source documents this.

The colossus was 108 feet tall. Think of an 11 story building. About 1/3 as tall as the Statue of Liberty in New York. About the same height as the Las Vegas Statue of Liberty.

A hollow 108' statue like the Colossus would have taken more than 900 camels to transport if it was complete. I am confident that the statue wasn't all there by the time it was sold for scrap. I believe that my 36mm facing-head Rhodes bronze not only depicts a Wonder of the Ancient World, but was made from the metal of that wonder.

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7 hours ago, Limes said:

(1)To start off with my coin; I think the link with the pyramids is evident. But as we all know, there are no ancient coins that display the pyramids. Thus this is the first wonder where a little imagination becomes necessary. Budget wise, although this coin of Domitian is scarce, it's not too expensive per se (200 - 500 euro’s range for a budget example). In the abovementioned article, the suggestion is made that any coin minted under the Persians, Greeks or Romans who ruled Egypt would be an option, as coins in Egypt were not minted until about 2000 years after the construction of the Pyramids. However, I believe the coin of Domition comes a bit closer to the pyramids.
If you have deep pockets, a rare coin showing a hieroglyph could take your imagination back to the ancient Egyptians and the pyramids.  It’s a very rare stater issued by Egyptian Pharaoh Nektanebo II which is (to quote CNG) “a purely Egyptian coin”. This example was sold by CNG in 2019 for $100.000. Budget wise, this won't be an option for me...: 

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I'm pretty sure our own @AncientJoe can tell more about this one (wonderful BTW)

Q

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4 hours ago, Qcumbor said:

I'm pretty sure our own @AncientJoe can tell more about this one (wonderful BTW)

Q

Thanks Q - Indeed, that Nektanebo is my coin. While I'd have preferred a better centered horse, the hieroglyphic side is the important side for the coin and this is a very well struck example.

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To include the mentioned Sphinx as well:

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Incidentally, the Halicarnassus tetradrachm above used to reside in my collection but I ultimately trimmed it as I wasn't as enthralled with some marks on the coin which are more visible in-person:

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And to add a couple more ancient wonders, here's my Lighthouse of Alexandria and Rhodes (which is just a drachm but of a very aesthetic style which I haven't seen in tetradrachm-form):

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And the Olympic Zeus which must have been quite the sight to see in the day!

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oh my, Ancient Joe! I guess I was too focussed on the Roman coins, I completely missed the fact that you possess the mentioned Nektanebo stater! Thanks to Qcumber for noticing it. And that portrait of Zeus is magnificent.

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