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FrizzyAntoine's Top 10* Greek Coins of 2022

Please pick your 3 favourites :)  

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  1. 1. Please pick your 3 favourites :)

    • 1. Baydad Tetradrachm
    • 2. Mazaios Stater
    • 3. Delphi Trihemiobol
    • 4. Mithradates II Tetradrachm
    • 5. Mende Tetradrachm
    • 6. Ptolemy VI 'Raphia' Tetradrachm + Myndos Drachm
    • 7. Bahram II Drachm
    • 8. Carthage Shekel
    • 9. Ptolemy Elephant Tetradrachm
    • 10. Dyrrhachium Stater
    • 11. Knidos Drachm

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Well, here it is – the second half of my top coins list, which I sheepishly admit may be the better half overall. All of the coins (save one) are Greek (the odd man out is generally catalogued as ‘Greek’, but really falls into a category of its own historically and stylistically). As ever, please feel free to to share your thoughts and coins of your own.


11. Knidos Drachm (ca. 465-449 BCE)

While there are certainly aspects of the history of Knidos that interest me, many of these events do not occur until a century or more after this coin was made, such as the birth of Sostratus – designer of the great Pharos of Alexandria. Aside from these, there really is very little to distinguish the city from many of her contemporaries spattered across the Aegean during the Classical era. So why bother getting a coin of this city in the first place? Well, the artistic merit of the city’s early engravers, a few of them at any rate, speaks for itself. The tetradrachms are iconic, and have perhaps the best rendition of a lion anywhere in the numismatic corpus. As for the drachms, well I’ve been deadest on obtaining an example with this specific reverse portrait die for a short while now, however I’ve always had a tough time justifying it given the plethora of far more historically interesting types out there – many of them also artistically well-executed – and the rather high prices these tend to command at auction. I actually got close on this very coin at the start of the year when it was offered by Stacks as part of the Salton collection, so when it made its way back into the auction circuit a few months later I was very pleased to obtain it for less than the January hammer. The reverse portrait is of Aphrodite, and the rendition is a wonderful fusion of archaic and classical art styles, giving a distinctly stern yet pleasant expression, with braided hair and a stephane, surrounded by ethnikon ΚΝΙ.


10. Dyrrhachion Stater (350-300 BCE)

Just one on a long list of Greek cities that happen to be better-known for the Roman battle than the town after which it takes its name, Dyrrhachion, latinised as Dyrrhachium, was the site of Caesar’s closest call when he met the forces of Pompey in 48 BCE. The city itself was founded sometime in the 7th Century BCE and also known by the name Epidamnos, though they seemed to have preferred using Dyrrhachion as this is the abbreviation used on their coinage. The motif used by the city is that of a cow suckling its calf, sometimes with a control symbol such as a bee in the margins. This may have had a correlation to the preferred name, which may derive from the term used in Illyria for a young animal, and seems quite plausible seeing as it’s far from the only numismatic pun floating around at the time. The reverse features two stars arranged within a double-border, with the city ethnikon and a club rounding off the design. I bought this coin mostly because the opportunity presented itself, and I rather like the rendition of the cow and her calf. There are plenty of coins that glorify power, attempt to imbue prestige, or evoke violence in some way. This seems quite the opposite – no angry lions, sharpened spears, deadly archers or vengeful gods. Just a humble cow at peace, nurturing its young calf. Whatever the motivation for the motif, it certainly stands out. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s in quite good shape for the type, and ended up having an undisclosed pre-UNESCO provenance to boot.


9. Ptolemy I Tetradrachm (Alexandria, 311-305 BCE)

Who doesn’t love a good elephant-scalp headdress? This is perhaps one of the most iconic issues from the ancient world – a portrait of Alexander himself, having attained the stature of a god and wearing the hide, not of a lowly lion or leopard, but of a gargantuan elephant itself. On the reverse we have an embodiment of war and wisdom in the goddess Athena, perhaps alluding to the strange amalgamation of both qualities in the erstwhile conqueror of worlds. The graffito also adds an interesting element to the coin, and while I have yet to decipher it, I would love to know what it says and why someone took the time to etch it in so clearly.  On top of that, the elegant and calm portrait composition is a definite bonus, as was the rather palatable price seeing as the market seems to have gone crazy for these coins recently. 


8. Carthage Shekel (Carthage, ca. 300-260 BCE)

No ‘Top 10’ list would be complete without a nod to the Carthaginians. As with most pre-roman coins, it can be quite tough to pinpoint an exact date, or even a narrow range, for when a coin was minted. This type is generally though to have been issued in the lead-up to the 1st Punic War, anytime starting ca. 310 BCE through to a late-date for mintage being sometime during the early stages of the war ca. 264-255 BCE. The obverse bears a portrait of Tanit, patron deity of Carthage, while the reverse showcases a proud Carthaginian warhorse, standing proudly before a lone date-palm. This motif had been employed on the coinage of Carthage for well over a century at this point, especially those coins minted at the city itself. Of import is that while most silver coinage minted by the Carthaginian Empire at this time and in the years preceding it was for the pay of Greek mercenaries and struck to the Attic standard, this coin is equivalent to the Phoenician shekels of the era, weighing roughly 7.2 grams. This suggests it was intended for payment of Carthaginian soldiers or merchants, and the type is generally understood to have been minted at the city of Carthage rather than at military mints in Punic Sicily. 

Edited by FrizzyAntoine
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7. Ptolemy IV Tetradrachm (217 BCE)


This spot is actually going to be taken up by two coins, a splendid tetradrachm of Ptolemy IV, and a much humbler drachm from the small Carian poleis of Myndos. The tetradrachm is the nicer of the coins without a doubt, however it was the drachm that provided much of the impetus for purchasing the tetradrachm in the first place. They feature the headdress of the Goddess Isis on the reverse, with a rudimentary portrait of the god Serapis on the obverse in fairly generic Carian style not so different from Zeus or Asclepius. Yearning for one of those, I was immediately smitten with the jugate portraits on the Ptolemaic tetradrachm when it came up for sale, and featuring two of the most ancient and important deities of the Egyptian pantheon no less, so it became almost impossible to pass up, especially as I had been hunting for a Myndos drachm for over two years when I came across the Ptolemy IV. The notion of an Egyptian motif on a Greek coin was very interesting for me, and this coin features much nicer and less ambiguous portraits of both Isis and Serapis [a Hellenistic reimagining of Osiris and Apis], wearing their respective crowns. Serapis on both coins wears the Atef crown of Upper Egypt [a symbol of Osiris], while Isis on the tetradrachm wears the same horned headdress that is featured on the reverse of the drachm of Myndos. As you can see, I did in the end also find a drachm of Myndos later on this year, and the two coins make a perfect pairing. The prominent thunderbolt on the reverse of the Myndian drachm also seems to illustrate the soft power projected by the Ptolemies across this region of Asia Minor at the time, and can be seen on the coinage of other ports in the region throughout the Hellenistic era. I suppose that makes it no coincidence then that the cult of Serapis was deemed important enough to place centre-stage on the coinage of a city so far removed from Egypt itself. Delving deeper into the tetradrachm, the jugate busts also evoke the issues of Ptolemy IV’s predecessors, who issued extensive gold and silver issues with jugate busts. In that case however it was the royal couples themselves portrayed, whereas here it is clearly meant to be deities of the Hellenistic Egyptian pantheon. This serves a dual purpose; to suggest a parallel between the ruling gods Isis and Serapis with that of Ptolemy and his queen Arsinoe III, and to reinforce the notion that divine favour had smiled upon the Ptolemies and allowed them to overcome the Seleukids at Raphia. That of course, brings us to the historical milieu of this coin’s striking – it was made to celebrate the Ptolemaic victory at Raphia in 217 BCE, which delayed eventual Seleukid dominion over Coele Syria by a couple of decades, and dealt Antiochos III one of the greatest defeats. As such these coins can be seen as a form of domestic propaganda to show that Ptolemy IV's claim to Coele Syria held divine favour, and his power ran parallel to the gods themselves. 


6. Bahram II Drachm (Ctesiphon, 276-293 CE)

As may be discernible from this list overall, I have been slowly drawn towards eastern coinage and themes more and more over the course of this year, and this is one of my absolute favourites so far. Most of the time a single well-rendered portrait is as much as we can ask for as collectors, so having 3 is a real treat. I am also smitten with the style of the portraits, as it reminisces more of the earlier portraits of Ardashir and Shahpur than many of the other dies for this same issue or those of later Sassanian monarchs, which seem to lose the individuality that makes 3rd century Sassanian coinage so enjoyable. The portraits, from left to right [which are also rendered with the illusion of depth, going front to back as well] are of Bahram himself, his queen Shapurdukhtak, and his son and future heir Bahram III. Bahram wears a crown with wings and a Korymbos, a globe studded with jewels, while his wife and son wear headdresses decorated with a Boar and Eagle, respectively. Note that the name Bahram can also be rendered as Vahrām, Varahran, and Wahram. The legends are rendered in Pahlavi script, and translates on the obverse as “Worshipper of Lord Mazda, God Bahram, King of Kings of the Iranians and Non-Iranians, who has lineage from the Gods”. The reverse meanwhile shows a Zoroastrian fire altar at which two attendants stand guard. Both are crowned, and the supposition is that it represents Bahram with his father and predecessor, the deceased king Bahram I, which makes sense as another issue of Bahram’s coinage features himself and his wife as guardians of the fire on the reverse. The reverse legend reads “Fire of Bahram”.

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5. Mende Tetradrachm (450-425 BCE)

A rare variety of an already uncommon type, the tetradrachms of Mende were not even close to being on my radar, and it wasn’t a type I anticipated I could afford anytime soon. So when the opportunity arose to have one in reasonably good shape and with an acceptable provenance to the 1980s [not much to write home about, but nonetheless lightyears ahead of ‘Collection of a Gentleman, formed before 2005’] I felt pretty lucky indeed. The obverse features Dionysos reclining sublimely on the back of a mule, musing over the last few drops of poetry at the bottom of his shakily-held cantharus. The control symbol is generally attributed as a grasshopper, though I admittedly have a tough time seeing it. The reverse bears the traditional ΜΕΝΔΑΙΟΝ legend and four bunches of grapes, alluding to the renowned wine which the city exported as far away as Magna Graecia. However, what makes this piece a real standout is the 16-pointed star at the very centre of the reverse design, replacing the more familiar grape vine, which is only known from a handful of examples. 


4. Mithridates II Tetradrachm (Seleukeia on The Tigris, 119-109 BCE)

A superb ‘Persian’ portrait, yet rendered in clearly ‘Greek’ style, this coin depicts perhaps the greatest of the Arsacid monarchs – Mithridates II ‘The Great’. Minted at Seleukeia on the Tigris around the turn of the 2nd century BCE – the imposing new capital Seleukos had founded nearly 2 centuries prior – this coin marked a changing of the guard. The longstanding dominion of Hellenic-origin dynasties in this region (and in general) such as the Seleukids and Ptolemies was waning, it had been for almost a century at this point, and a new empire based out of the Iranian Plateau was poised to reconquer the old Achaemenid heartlands. The portrait shows Mihrdad – the original Persian rendition of the name – sporting a long beard and dressed in an highly decorated traditional Parthian shirt called the Qamis (not unlike its modern successor Kameez, still worn in the region) and with a diadem placed upon his otherwise bare head. An interesting fusion of styles, with the Greek diadem of kingship and the clearly Persian attire. The reverse meanwhile shows a Parthian archer seated upon an omphalos, evoking the imagery of the perennial Seleukid reverse type featuring Apollo upon the omphalos. In this case, instead of Apollo wistfully inspecting and arrow, the archer is inspecting his bow – and given their historical prowess on the battlefield, I have a feeling that, unlike Apollo, this archer actually intends to make use of his hardware. The depiction of the archer also showcases more of the traditional Persian clothing style, with a fabric headdress and the all-important trousers being clearly depicted. Surrounding him are the titles of the king in Greek, which was the preferred numismatic language of the Arsacids, reading BAΣIΛEΩΣ MEΓAΛOY APΣAKOY EΠIΦANOYΣ , “Great King Arsakes, God Manifest".


3. Delphi Trihemiobol (479-470 BCE) 

The Greek word for dolphins is ΔΕΛΦΙΣ, pronounced Delphis. It’s no coincidence then, that there happen to be three dolphins depicted on this coin, plastered onto both sides, and one gets the sense they must have been rather important to whatever place made this coin. The god Apollo is said to have taken the form of a dolphin from time to time, and there is even a story of him saving the lives of a group of stranded sailors, and bringing them to safety at a remote and rocky outcropping in the region of Phokis, in exchange for their devotion to him as priests of his new temple therein. Also present are a Ram on the obverse, and a Goat on the reverse. The spelling of the ethnikon used on this coin is not however ΔΕΛ, but rather ΔΑΛ, and I will be the first to admit I do not know ancient Greek dialects remotely well enough to explain why that is the case. But the name being represented is nonetheless the same – Delphai. I can think of few coins that better represent the spirit of Hellenism in the Classical world than a coin minted within the sacred precinct of Delphi itself. Then there’s the historical connection to consider – while the dating for this issue is a little spotty, there is general consensus it was made at some point during the 5th Century BCE. Given the stylistic and thematic similarities to the tridrachms, it is possible it is from the same issue of coinage or slightly later, which would mean it was likely made something 479-460 BCE. We know the coinage of Delphi sees a spike during this period, as spoils of war from the Greek victory at Plataea in 479 – which concluded the first epoch of the Greco-Persian Wars – were sent to the temple of Apollo to invoke his blessing. The very real possibility that this coin may have been struck from the Greek spoils of war captured from the army of Xerxes is tantalising at the very least, and might just make this my most historically significant coin to date (within a Hellenic context).

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2. Mazaios Stater (Tarsos, 361-334 BCE)

This is another type that has captivated me since I first started collecting, and this example once again ticks all the boxes. It really could have been my #1 type for the year, but the top coin is a fair bit rarer and just a tad cooler. Anyways, the obverse depiction of Ba’al – principal deity of the region and syncretic with Zeus – aside from being beautifully intricate, is also thought to be the inspiration for the reverse design of the immensely influential coinage of Alexander the Great. The clear Aramaic legends are a boon, and the way Ba’al’s sceptre protrudes outside the pearl border on the obverse is a wonderful touch – a sort of numismatic break in the Fourth Wall. The exact meaning of the reverse motif remains something of a mystery to me, one I will no doubt have to spend some time learning about in the coming year, but the artistry is easy enough to appreciate even if the deeper meaning remains elusive. Above the lion and his quarry is the name of the Satrap under whose authority this coin was issued, Mazaeus. He would leave Cilicia just before Alexander swept into Achaemenid Persia, taking up a position as satrap of Babylon shortly before the fortunes of the Achaemenids would irreversibly falter. He would remain in that position for a further 5 years, serving Alexander until his own death in 328 BCE, and interestingly enough some of his Babylonian coinage, such as the famous double-darics, would go on to emulate this and other Cilician types issued in his name – perhaps done in fond remembrance of yesteryear.


1. Baydad Tetradrachm (Istakhr, 3rd Century BCE)

An incredible type, and probably my favourite coin of the year from either list. There’s a lot to be said for this type, but it really does deserve a proper write-up of its own. The obverse bears a portrait of Baydad, who was Frataraka of Persis, a position that was effectively akin to kingship. On the reverse Baydad is shown sacrificing at a Zoroastrian fire temple, a deliberate choice speaking to the pushback against Greek dominion in much of the Eastern Hellenistic territories. I think the salient points concerning this coin are these: it’s a rather rare type, due to being commonly overstruck on other Hellenistic tetradrachms the portrait is usually a touch cruder, it depicts perhaps the finest treatment of a classically ‘Persian’ countenance in sublime Hellenistic style, and it signals the revival of Persianism in the old Achaemenid territories for the first time since the conquests of Alexander – a small sign of much greater things to come.

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