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A Case of Mistaken Identity (was: A Rare and Unusual Crab)


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Update: Not a crab, just my lack of attention to detail!


Recently, I came across the below coin at auction. I'd been after a type from Dardanos, but upon further investigation I found something odd. I couldn't find any mention of a Dardanian crab anywhere.


Troas. Dardanos
circa 300-200 BCE
Æ 11 mm, 1,08 g
Ex Savoca


I went on ACSearch, WildWinds, and every auction site I knew of. I tried Google. There was no record of a Dardanos coin with a crab. I became intrigued. However, since I didn't want to become too attached to a coin I hadn't won, I placed a bid and waited it out. Surprisingly, hardly anyone was interested. I won it for 18 Euros. Luckily, I also had some other wins in the auction or the shipping would have been twice the price of the coin. Now, I was really intrigued.

First, I verified the attribution. The obverse is clearly the same as the common Dardanos issues, which typically have a rooster. The horseman with petatos is similar to their issues of the 4th-3rd centuries, so my guess is this one was minted around then too. Those rooster issues also have the same treatment of the city name, and I found several where the 'D' is very faint - as if the engraver had forgotten about it. Given that, the attribution appeared straight on and I feel the coin is genuine, though it was probably minted some time before 200 BCE.

Second, I learned the story of Dardanos, who is basically the Greek version of Noah. He grew up in Arkadia, was a son of Zeus, and when the flood hit he went on an adventure with his brother Iason. The two went to Samothrace where Iason got busy with Demeter and was killed with a thunderbolt by Zeus. Dismayed, Dardanos moved on to the Troad, where he founded the city in his name. His ancestors were major allies of the Trojans.

Okay, but why the crab? I searched a bit more, and found that there's a genus of hermit crabs in the Pacific called Dardanus.

"OMG!" I thought. "Clearly Dardanos had something to do with crabs in ancient times and I've found the link! My coin has major historic value!"

Well, not quite, but this was getting interesting.

I searched from two angles.

  1. What did Dardanos have to do with crabs?
  2. Why were those hermit crabs named Dardanus?

I assumed that the two would lead to the same fact, but was disappointed.

First, as far as I can tell, Dardanos had nothing to do with crabs. I picked up my Strabo and poured through the entry and searched for every paper (there aren't many) that mentioned the legend of Dardanos. No crabs.

Perhaps the biggest hint comes from another coin of mine, minted in Priapos - which was very close to Dardanos.


Mysia, Priapos
11.52mm, 1.11g 300-200 BCE
Obverse: Laureate head of Apollo right
Reverse: A / ΠPI, crab, harpa below
SNG von Aulock 7526
Ex Marc Breitsprecher


Unlike Dardanos, Priapos commonly minted coins with crabs, though they minted crayfish too. The two coins are also of a similar size and weight and presumably were minted around the same time. Crab coins are most famous from Akragas in Sicily, though it had fallen out of power by this time. They were also known from the island of Kos, which was related to the word for crab. At the time of these coins, Kos was a powerful city. I briefly explored whether Kos may have controlled both Priapos and Dardanos for a time, but found no such association. The crabs from their coins also look quite different.

Crabs were also symbolic of Poseidon, and were used by an image for states that wished to brag how they were adept on both land and sea. As far as I can tell, both cities just seemed to like the symbol. Perhaps there was a brief (but lost) cooperation between the neighboring cities, where Dardanos minted coins with crabs in appreciation. That being said, the Priapos crab is depicted differently. 

Maybe some guy in Dardanos started minted the crabs and Priapos sued for copyright infringement? I really don't know, but my suspicion is Dardanos had a brief infatuation with crabs, and so minted the coins. I'd love to find a better story, but that so far seems the most plausible.

As for the second question, I wasn't able to locate a site that explains the meanings behind genus names, but I did find clarification that the crabs were named after the same mythical Dardanos. My suspicion is the name came from his implication in the Greek flood story, and had nothing to do with Dardanos interacting with a crab. Therefore, the city and the crab were named after the same person, but otherwise shared no connection other than both being crabs.

Therefore, as much as I wanted an amazing story, it very much remains a mystery, though one that may have a lame answer. Still, the coin appears to be very rare. I don't own any of the references for Dardanos, but I found no mention of it. In the meantime, I'm very proud of my new crab and it will have an important place in my collection.

I'd be curious if anyone knows anything more or has other ideas.

Edited by kirispupis
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Cool coin. I only see a rooster walking off flan. Are his tail feathers reminding you of a crabs claws?

Here are some from ac search. Not mine:



here's my cock also walking off flan. It's kind of hard to see... it was cold out!


Edited by Ryro
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  • kirispupis changed the title to A Case of Mistaken Identity (was: A Rare and Unusual Crab)
2 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Oh well...I guess I learned something at least from the research. 😞 

Always a good day when you learn something. 

Reading many of the posts on numisforum has increased my knowledge of ancient coins and ancient history.  I thought I was reasonably knowledgeable on ancients, but you guys blow me away.  It's good to be humbled every once in a while.

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