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Myos, Mygissos, Myndos, Mykale oh my!


kirispupis
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Perhaps no other coins are more misattributed then these cute little bronzes with a trident and dolphin.

678A0141-Edit.jpg.ccbc335ae4002317fe25aecce4d76694.jpg

Karia, Myndos 4th century BCE
1.2g, 12mm, 1h
Laureate head of Poseidon to right / Dolphin to right over trident; MY above.
SNG Copenhagen 1022 (Ionia); SNG Kayhan 847-848
Ex Roma 2018
Ex Roma 2020
Ex Roma 2022

Their origin is the subject of fierce debate and more than a little confusion. Clearly the 'MY' indicates a city that began with such letters, but which one? The following are the leading candidates.

Myos - Also spelled 'Myous', this was essentially a 'suburb' of Miletos. During archaic times, it was actually a coastal city and a journey to Miletos required either a boat ride or a long trip over land. By the Hellenistic period, however, it had silted up and was now inland. Today, it's no longer necessary or even possible to take a boat between the cities. Myos is well attested in ancient sources like Strabo.

Myndos - Was a coastal city west of Halikarnassos on the peninsula. It was also attested by Strabo.

Mykale - This was actually a mountain range north of Miletos and just east of Samos. As far as I can tell it was not a city.

Mylasa - Here for completeness. An inland city in Caria. Because coinage there is well-known. I have yet to read an article claiming these coins come from there.

Mygissos - Presumably an island near Nisyros. It could be on Nisyros itself or may have been a separate island. No one knows.

Let's remove the obvious rejects. Since Mykale is a mountain range and Mylasa was inland with well-known coinage, they can be safely removed. For some years, most publications assigned the coinage to Myos. This was primarily because it was the most attested city of the bunch. However, then one day someone noticed the coinage of Nisyros.

This is a coin I ordered today but was too excited to wait for it to arrive before writing this post.

Dolphin.jpg.4c21bb6ca2469549c1adb5208806cea1.jpg

At first glance, it appears to be the same coinage as Myos/Myndos/Mygissos, but it is not. Due to the similarities, many well-respected auction houses mis-attribute it, and in fact the coin was labeled as Mygissos when I purchased it, though the seller agreed that my attribution of Nisyros was correct on further inspection. There are two ways they differ.

  1. The coinage of Nisyros has Aphrodite on the obverse, while Myos/Myndos/Mygissos depicts Zeus. If you compare my new coin with the one above, it's clearly not an image of Zeus and more resembles Aphrodite (some listings mention Artemis).
  2. The trident on Nisyros coins is reversed. I honestly have no idea why, but Myos/Myndos/Mygissos coinage has a trident pointing right, while Nisyros points left. On this coin you can clearly see the trident pointing left.
  3. Some coins have an 'NI', though it appears to be just off the flan on this one.

Legend has it that Nisyros was formed by Poseidon from nearby Kos to throw on the giant Polybotes to keep him from escaping. It was attested as a powerful island in the 4th century, when this coinage was presumably issued.

Due to the similarities in the coinage, several publications then switched the attribution to Mygissos. To be honest, I have no idea where this name came from. The logic was that the cities must have been extremely close to share such similarities, so a magical island (or city on Nisyros) was invented called Mygissos. No one knows where it was and I could find no publications that explain the matter.

I must now mention that one reason I'm particularly interested in these coins is that I was tricked into buying a second coin because I thought Myos and Myndos were separate places. This is my other coin.

678A0697-Edit.jpg.bbc4929dd859a9d81124842d07efd24d.jpg

IONIA. Myos
4th century BCE
Chalkous AE 9.5 mm, 1.08 g, 1 h
Laureate head of Poseidon to right. Rev. MY Dolphin leaping to right; below, trident right.
SNG Copenhagen 1022. SNG von Aulock 2115
Ex J. Metzger Collection
Ex Nomos

You can see that the types are actually different. The Nomos(Myos) coin has some fancy 'flourish' on the left side of the trident and the 'MY' is missing. I debated a bit whether these are actually different cities, and in fact of the four other coins I found on ACSearch of the 'Myos' type, two were attributed as Nisyros. I believe a Nisyros attribution is incorrect, mainly because these coins still depict Zeus and the trident still faces right. My best guess is they were minted at different times. The 'Myos'/Nomos type is by far the rarer.

Of course, I've held out hope that this is actually a third city, but I don't think so. My thought was the portrait could be Poseidon instead of Zeus, but in truth I believe I'm stretching things. 🙂 Many listings also seem confused, since I've seen the obverse described as both Zeus and Poseidon. If anyone is more familiar with the two, I would appreciate some insight.

My goal in this exercise was to pick a city for my attributions. So, which one do I think more likely? I would like to present another coin from the area first.

678A3386-Edit.jpg.f57094c4fb76446f156077ed0e806a16.jpg

Caria, Keramos
c. 4th century BCE
Æ 11mm, 1.19g, 12h
Bull standing r.; labrys above. R/ Dolphin r.
SNG Kayhan 806
Ex London Ancient Coins

Keramos was a bit to the east of Halikarnassos on the coast. Notice that the dolphin motif is extremely similar. This coin pushed me over the edge in my opinion.

Myos - By the 4th century, Myos was in sharp decline due to silting. It was eventually taken over by Miletos itself when it was no longer a coastal city. Therefore, I just don't buy that the coins came from there.

Mygissos - I just don't believe the city existed. Looking at the surrounding towns and islands in my Barrington Atlas, they all had names. I just don't see a city of similar stature to Nisyros (whose ruins are still well-preserved) that could be interpreted as Mygissos. Strabo spends a fair amount of time discussing this area and mentions no such town.

Myndos - This is where I believe the coins were minted. It was just on the other side of Kos and doubtless the cities had close contact. The coinage of Keramos also shows that the dolphin motif was popular in the area. Myndos was and remains a coastal city.

Interestingly, while researching this article I learned that most of the ruins of ancient Myndos are on an island now called 'Rabbit Island', primarily because it's occupied by lots of rabbits. During the excavations, the rabbits were removed from the island, but have since been moved back.

My Nomos Myndos still taunts me a bit due to the different style. However, for now I see nothing to suggest that it shouldn't also share a Myndos attribution.

Edited by kirispupis
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Just curious - was the lack of interest because:

  1. My logic is whacked and you're too polite to state so?
  2. You started reading, but then determined that my post was slightly less interesting than watching that fly buzz around and guessing where it will land next?
  3. I'm the only one who gets a kick out of small battered obscure bronze Greek coins?
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@kirispupis this is the longest of  long shots but on a lot of the oldest coins from Syracuse the S looks just  like an M. Just  in case it's a SY.

Separately, I'm  not wholly familiar with how the M itself developed but there was no agreed alphabet for a long time. Eg Messana was called Zankle  but the spelling was Dankle. D for Z. M itself was shown more as an S in some early Greek dialects, presumably with reference to Phoenician origins.

Some of the coins are downright funky if trying to read them without  understanding the  archaic and epichoric script. Akragas (apparently!) -

 

 

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screenshot-2022-09-20-at-13-55-01-coins-ancient-times-greek-world-magna-graecia-sicilia-munthandel-g-henzen_orig.png

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19 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Just curious - was the lack of interest because:

  1. My logic is whacked and you're too polite to state so?
  2. You started reading, but then determined that my post was slightly less interesting than watching that fly buzz around and guessing where it will land next?
  3. I'm the only one who gets a kick out of small battered obscure bronze Greek coins?

Your logic is spot on.  Trying to identify this one I ran into the same issues you are having. 

myndos.jpg.a0da0784599ae91d8dd8cf0d209f0f97.jpg

Uncertain Myndos/Myos.  AE10 Poseidon/dolphin

Obv: Laureate head of Poseidon right.
Rev: Dolphin right, trident below.
4th century BC.

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30 minutes ago, AncientOne said:

Your logic is spot on.  Trying to identify this one I ran into the same issues you are having. 

myndos.jpg.a0da0784599ae91d8dd8cf0d209f0f97.jpg

Uncertain Myndos/Myos.  AE10 Poseidon/dolphin

Obv: Laureate head of Poseidon right.
Rev: Dolphin right, trident below.
4th century BC.

Nice dolphin! This looks to be the same type as my Nomos coin above. Therefore, for now I'd label it as Myndos. Perhaps if we had find/hoard notes (I could find none) on this specific type, or if there were some archeological finds identifying this trident pattern with some other city, then we could change the attribution.

Certainly, to me, the obverse portrait appears different than the 'MY' coins (which strongly appear to be Myndos). I do wonder if one depicts Zeus and the other Poseidon. However, since neither are on social media AFAIK, it's not possible to ask them. 🙂

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