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Musical Instruments on Ancient Coins


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1020652409_thumbnail_IMG_2412Carnyxrev.jpg.a4f5ef56bcc828165c2e10e292829352.jpgI have some interest in music and got to wondering about musical instruments on Greek and Roman coinage. There does not  seem to be much coinage picturing Ancient musical instruments, though we know, of course that they had them. I did find a few, such as the lyre, the carnyx, several kinds of pipes, trumpets, horns, organs, tambourines (but few actual drums). Below are two Roman denarii and a quinarius, each with the Celtic carnyx, with weirdly shaped heads and a late Grec877103967_thumbnail_IMG_2410carnyxobv.jpg.0af292c07f3657089432d7eeba5e2fb5.jpgo Roman lyre.. One Imperial of Julia Domna has a hard to see tympanum (looks like a small circle) in her left hand. Perhaps some members might want to check their own coinage and see if they have any musical instruments on them. I think there is a Hadrian series with the sistrum, a kind of rattle on them. if you have such coins or if you know about Ancient music or their musical instruments please wtrite and post about them. Thanks

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Good idea for a thread. Let's see how many we get together.




Faustina Minor
AR-Denar, Rome
Obv.: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA. Draped bust right.
Rev.: MATRI MAGNAE, Cybele seated left with branch and drum, behind her a lion.
Ag, 3.34g, 18mm
Ref.: RIC III 706, CRE 173 [S]




Asia Minor, Phrygia
AE17, 133-48 BC
Obv.: Turreted head of Artemis right, bow and quiver over shoulder
Rev.: ΑΠΑΜΕΩΝ, Marsyas walking right on maeander pattern, playing flute; magistrate's name ΠANKΡ / ZHNO behind
AE, 3.99g, 17mm
Ref.: BMC Phrygia p. 85, 91



Asia Minor, Lykia, Masikytes
AR Drachm, 28-19 BC
Obv.: Λ - Y, Bare head right
Rev.: Two Kitharas, Aphlaston left, Μ / A right
Ag, 19.5mm, 3.48g
Ref.: RPC 3309, SNG von Aulock 4351, Troxell, LL 150, 116 (same obv.- die)
Ex Auctiones, Auction 12 (12.6.2003), Los 383



Pan pipes


Gordianus III
Macedonia, Pella
AE 24
Obv.: IMP C M ANT * GORDIANVS, Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust r.
Rev.: COL IVL A - VG – PELLA, Pan seated left on rock, right arm over head and holding pedum in left; syrinx (pan flute) in left field.
AE, 24.4 mm, 9.52 g
Ref.: SNG Copenhagen 286, Varbanov 3758



(not so clear on the coin, but it is there)


Faustina II
Obv.: ΦAVCTINA CEBACTH, draped bust right
Rev.: Isis Pharia standing, r., holding sail and sistrum, L I Z = year 17 of Antoninus Pius (AD 153/154).
Billon, 11.75g, 22mm
Ref.: Dattari 3250



Edited by shanxi
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Great coins and photos of them. By the way, as I did some research on this I was surprised to discover a number of sites that said that neither Greeks nor Romans used drums in their military, either for marching armies or rowing ships. Apparently the Greeks liked to use those pipes or flutes (they had reeds in them) to keep the cadence for both matching and rowing. and that the Romans preferred calling the cadence verbally or by centurions rapping their shields with their vine sticks. I had expected to find (from watching too many Hollywoowd productions) that drums, big booming kettle drums would show up in painted images and on coins. No fiddles, either.

Edited by kevikens
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Great lyre. I also wanted to take a do-over on my own carnyz coins to get better images of the Gallic battle horn. Weird instrument it is with a kind of flapping dragon's mouth. It is still played in some parts of Europe and has been mentioned in the comic strip gallic warrior series. When you hear it you will hear a sound that could not be mistaken for someone else's battle horn. In case you cannot see it, the coin on the left (Sear 157) the carnyx is just above the shield  and on the denarius on the right it is sticking out from just beneath the armor. On both coins the carnyx looks like a giraffe.  Of course the bottom coin is  lyre of Lycia, a half drachma.

new carnyx.jpg

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Cool thread-idea, kevikens


=> here are a few neat examples from my sweet ol' collection ... 


D. Junius Brutus Albinus (below)

AR (Silver) Denarius

Struck 48 BC => The year Caesar defeats Pompey at Pharsalus and becomes sole dictator of Rome, calling himself "Imperator"

Rome Mint

Diameter: 18mm

Weight: 3.60 grams

Obverse: Head of young Mars right, wearing a crested helmet

Reverse: BRVTI F ALBINVS, two gallic trumpets (carnyces) in saltire, oval shield above, round shield below

One footnote — the word "Gallic" relates to Gaul, the Roman name for France, and therefore means "French", and not a Scottish or Irish language

The word “carnyx” is derived from the Gaulish root, "carn-" or "cern-" meaning "antler" or "horn," and the same root of the name of the god, Cernunnos (Delmarre, 1987 pp. 106–107). This is the name the Romans gave to the instrument. The original Celtic name is unknown. Even under torture, Carnyx players would not reveal the Celtic name of the instrument to the Romans

Reference: Postumia 11; Cr450/1a; Syd 941



D juni a.jpg

d juni b.jpg


Sestus, Thrace AE bronze (below)

'after' 150 BC

diameter: 16.2 mm

Weight: 2.34 grams

Obverse: Hermes head left

Reverse: Lyre

Reference: Weber 2465




KINGS of BITHYNIA. Prousias II Kynegos. Æ21 (below)

Nikomedia mint

182-149 BC

Diameter: 21 mm

Weight: 6.34 grams

Obverse: Wreathed head of Dionysos right

Reverse: Centaur advancing right, playing kithara; monogram below raised foreleg

Reference: RG 26; HGC 7, 629

Other: 12h … Good VF, attractive dark green patina with light earthen highlights

Ex-stevex6 … From the Dr. Lawrence D. Sporty Collection

Kings of Bithynia Prousias II Kynegos.jpg

Edited by Steve
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Another Lyre



Augustus Ar. denarius, AVGVSTVS DIVI F, bare hd. r., rev., the Actian Apollo stg. l., holding plectrum and lyre, IMP X across fields, ACT in ex., Lugdunum mint (Sear, 1611; RIC 171a; Seaby 144).

RSC 1442

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Phrygia, Eumeneia (near Civril, Turkey). Domitia, 81-96 AD. Bronze AE 15mm (2.47 gm).
Obv.: ΔOMITIA CEBACTH, Draped bust right. Hair rolled in front and in que behind,
Rev.: ΚΛ• ΤEΡEΝΤΥΛΛΑ ΑΡΧΙE /EΥΜE-ΝE-ΩΝ, Kybele enthroned to left, Patera in extended right hand, resting left forearm and hand on Tympanum (drum) at near side
RPC II 1388. Rare. gVF.

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Phrygia, Laodiceia ad Lycum, AE 20. Mask of Silenus. Struck under Antoninus Pius.

Obv: ΛAOΔIKEΩN; draped bust of Dionysus right, with ivy-wreath.
Rev: AIΛ ΔIONYCIOC; mask of Silenus/Bacchic mask wearing ivy wreath lying on cista mystica; cista entwined by serpent, head, r.; to l., pedum over which hangs pair of cymbals.
Magistrate P. Ailios Dionysios Sabinianos.
RPC IV.2, 2114 (temporary)




Lydia, Tripolis. AE15. Semi-autonomous. AD 14-37.

Obv: TΡIΠOΛEITΩN, laureate head of Apollo right, with lyre.
Rev: MENANΔΡOΣ ΦIΛO KAIΣAΡ TO Δ, four lines within wreath, Maeander pattern below.
Magistrate Menandros.



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Great topic.  Here are some musical instruments via ancient countermarks:


Pamphylia, Sillyon           Æ 17 (c. 300-100 B.C.Laureate head of Apollo right / ΣΕΛΥΝ[ΙΥΣ] Zeus seated left, holding eagle and scepter, thunderbolt in field left. SNG France 956; SNG Cop. 437 Countermark:  chelys (lyre) in 7 x 5 mm rectangle.  No. ref. (4.07 grams / 17 mm) eBay Aug. 2020  Countermark:  Found only one countermarked Sillyon but not a chelys.  This countermark similar to those found on Bithynia Æs for Prusias "cf. SNG von Aulock 6881 (for countermarks)." (CNG Web Shop via acsearch)

Two "goats" from Aeolis - these harp countermarks are fairly common on goats, but I've never found any information on them: 


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Nice idea for a thread!


I've got a drum:


Julia Domna, Roman Empire, denarius, 196–211 AD, Rome mint. Obv: IVLIA AVGVSTA, bust of Julia Domna, hair waved and coiled at back, draped, r. Rev: MATER DEVM, Cybele, turreted, draped, seated l. on throne, holding branch in extended r. hand and sceptre in l. hand, resting left arm on drum set on l. knee; to either side of throne, lion. 19mm, 3.19g. Ref:  RIC IV Septimius Severus 564.


A lyre:


Caracalla, Roman Empire, denarius, 215 AD, Rome mint. Obv: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM; laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev: P M TR P XVIII COS IIII P P; Apollo, naked except for cloak flying behind, standing l., holding branch in extended r. hand and with l. hand lyre set on altar. 21mm, 3.04g. Ref: RIC IV Caracalla 254.


A carnyx:


Roman Republic, moneyer: M. Furius L. f. Philus, AR denarius, 119 BC, Rome mint. Obv: M. FOVRI. L. F; head of Janus. Rev: ROMA; Roma standing l., holding sceptre, crowns trophy with carnyx and two shields; in exergue, PHL I. 19mm, 3.81g. Ref: RRC 281/1.

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I wonder how stylized the instruments are on these coins. I suppose the varieties of lyres abounded. But the lyre on most of these coins seems to have three or four strings. In book 6 of the Aeneid, Orpheus is said to play a lyre with seven strings. I wonder if these are different varieties, or if the die engraver simply felt that three or four strings was enough to get the idea across.

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