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An obol for your thoughts...


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Nothing like starting out small. In my first foray into the Greek era, a tiny, tiny obol caught my eye. The obverse description says "gorgoneion," but does it actually show Helios? At 10mm, it ties for the smallest coin in my pile (a much, much thinner Half Penny of James I also measures an irregular 10mm) and it more than qualifies as my oldest coin. I first read about obols in the writings of the Cynic philosophers, which prompted me to research that once strange word and think "I'll have to get one of those someday." Turning that brief cognition into reality took a few years. The quoted passages below more than emphasize just how low in the monetary hierarchy obols sat, since they seem to appear in many insults. According to one quote below, I need two more obols to afford a philosopher. Having now held a Greek coin, I can certainly understand their appeal. Even this minuscule thing has me somewhat mesmerized by its hypnotic stare and incredible detail. As long as I don't sneeze while holding it in my palm, everything should be okay. In any case, what an amazing little thing.

Pisidia; Seige; c. 250 - 190 BCE; AR Obol; 0.89 grams; Obv: Facing gorgeoneion; Rev: Helmented head of Athena right,
astragalos to left; SNG Ashmolean 1546 - 50, SNG BN 1948-54

Some references to obols in Cynic philosophical texts:

Antisthenes (445 - 365 BCE)
-"One day upon seeing an adulterer running for his life he exclaimed, “Poor wretch, what peril you might have escaped at the price of an obol.”

Diogenes (410 - 323 BCE)
-“Lay your commands upon us, Diogenes,” he took him away and gave him a cheese to carry, which cost half an obol. The other declined; whereupon he remarked, “The friendship between you and me is broken by a little cheese worth half an obol.”
-"And when the same man was discoursing, Diogenes distracted his audience by producing some salt fish. This annoyed the lecturer, and Diogenes said, “An obol’s worth of salt fish has broken up Anaximenes’ lecture-class.”
-"The question being asked why footmen are so called, he replied, “Because they have the feet of men, but souls such as you, my questioner, have.” He asked a spendthrift for a mina. The man inquired why it was that he asked others for an obol but him for a mina. “Because,” said Diogenes, “I expect to receive from others again, but whether I shall ever get anything from you again lies on the knees of the gods.”

Crates (365 - 285 BCE)
"Set down for the chef ten minas, for the doctor
One drachma, for a flatterer talents five,
For counsel smoke, for mercenary beauty
A talent, for a philosopher three obols."


I should have added this earlier: please post your obols (I'd like to see more of them)

Edited by ewomack
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On 1/20/2023 at 11:16 PM, ewomack said:

I should have added this earlier: please post your obols (I'd like to see more of them)

Athens obol:


Those interested in obols should also be interested in fractions.  

Athens 1/2 obol:


Athens 1/4 obol (apologies for the centering):


I regret not having an Athens 1/8 obol but they are relatively common in the East.

Kolophon 1/8 obol - tetartemorion (Apollo / cicada with TE monogram)


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My only obol:


Greco-Baktrian Kingdom, Antimachos I Theos AR Obol. Circa 180-170 BC. Diademed and draped bust to right, wearing kausia / Poseidon standing facing, holding trident and filleted palm; BAΣIΛEΩΣ Θ[EOY] to outer right, ANTIMAXOY to outer left, monogram to inner right. Bopearachchi 4B; Mitchiner 127c; SNG ANS 283-8; HGC 12, 111. 0.55g, 12mm, 1h.

From the Professor Shir Mohammad Collection.


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Lovely coin @ewomack and I never understood the gorgoneion description when these come up for sale. A few are a little less good-looking but it’s not a typical gorgon at all. I put it down to overzealous copy and pasting of an early incorrect description but they “all” say it…

Congratulations and hopefully not a Charon’s obol!



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1 hour ago, Deinomenid said:

Lovely coin @ewomack and I never understood the gorgoneion description when these come up for sale. A few are a little less good-looking but it’s not a typical gorgon at all. I put it down to overzealous copy and pasting of an early incorrect description but they “all” say it…

Earlier issues show a clear gorgoneion with bulging eyes protruding tongue:


PISIDIA. Selge?  PAMPHYLIA, Aspendos? AR obol (14mm, 0.88 gm, 12h).

At some point there was a change and gorgons supposedly start looking beautiful.  Think of the side views of Medusa on coins of Seleukos I and of the Roman Republican moneyer Sabula.

The coins of Selge and Aspendos seem to change over to a very Helios-looking face at some point.  I is not obvious when it happens.  When the tongue goes away?  When the expression becomes mild?  Where should the line be drawn?


PISIDIA, Etenna? 0.99g 9mm
O: Facing head (humanized gorgon?).
R: "t" and astragalos behind helmeted head (of Athena?).
Acquired from Atlantis Ltd (May 2003)

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A few of my OBOLs:
Troas Kebren AR Obol Archaic hd Apollo L - Hd Ram in Incuse sq 5th C BCE 7.65mm 0.64g SNG Ash 1086

TROAS Neandria AR Obol 4thC BCE  0.56g 8mm Laur hd Apollo r - NEA N Ram stdng right within incuse sq SNG Cop 446

Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AR Obol 7mm 0.51g Babylon Lifetime Herakles lion skin Club bow quiver wreath M Price 3744

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Nice little coin. I like the Gorgon (or whoever it is supposed to be) on your obol! Below are some of my oboloi:


Gaul, Massalia, obol, ca. 4th–1st century BC. Obv: Youthful male head (river god?) left. Rev: MA in wheel with four spokes. 10.65mm, 0.75g. Ref: SNG Copenhagen 723–728; de la Tour 1892, no. 689 or similar.


Lycaonia, Laranda, AR obol, 324–323 BC. Obv: Baal Tars seated on throne n.l., holding grain ears and grapes in r. hand and sceptre in l. hand. Rev: forepart of wolf r., in field l., ⌒. 10mm, 0.59g. Göktürk: Small Coins from Cilicia (2000), no. 82 ff.; SNG Levante 223 (for Cilicia); SNG France 443 (for Cilicia).


Thessaly, Larissa, AR obol, ca. 344–337 BC (?).  Obv: head of the nymph Larissa facing slightly l., hair in ampyx, with necklace. Rev: [ΛΑΡΙΣ]-ΑΙΩΝ; horse grazing r. 11mm, 0.79g. Ref: BCD Thessaly I (2011), no. 1163; BCD Thessaly II (2013), no. 328, 342–344; SNG Copenhagen 135.

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On 1/21/2023 at 5:16 AM, ewomack said:

please post your obols


AR-Obol, 330-270 v.Chr
Obv.: Av: Head of wolf right
Rev: Large A; Π-P across upper field, club right below; all within incuse square.
BCD Peloponnesos 1085, SNG Copenhagen -; BMC Peloponnesus pg. 143, 93.



Larissa, Thessaly
AR Obol, Circa 356-342 BC
Obv.: Head of the nymph Larissa facing slightly left, hair in ampyx, wearing plain necklace
Rev: Horse grazing right; ΛAPIΣ-AIΩN above and below.
Ag, 10mm, 0.84g
Ref.: BCD Thessaly II 328

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My favorite obols (I tend to like the smaller denominations even more)


Islands off Troas, Tenedos AR Obol. Circa 5th Century BC. Janiform head of female, facing left, and bearded male (Philonome and Tenes), facing right / Labrys (double axe) within shallow incuse; T-E across fields. SNG München 340; SNG Copenhagen 509; HGC 6, 387; SNG von Aulock 7666.


Pisidia, Selge AR Obol Circa 350-300 BC Obverse: Facing gorgoneion with protruding tongue Reverse: Head of Athena to left, wearing crested Attic helmet; behind, astragalos References: SNG France 1928. SNG von Aulock 5281.  Archaic style and a scarce variety with Athena portrait left. Possibly pre-dating the usual date of 350-300 BC typically assigned to this type.


LYKAONIA, Laranda (ca 324-323 BC) AR obol
Baaltars seated left, holding grain ear, bunch of grapes, and scepter
Rev: Forepart of wolf right; crescent above; all within circle of pellets.
Göktürk 82; SNG France 443 (uncertain Cilician mint); SNG Levante 225 (uncertain Cilician mint).
0,49 g, 11 mm

This coin type was previously attributed to an uncertain Cilician mint. Göktürk, in Small coins from Cilicia and surroundings reattributes it to the town of Laranda in Lykaonia.


CILICIA, Nagidos(ca 400-380 BC) AR Obol
Head of Aphrodite facing slightly right; [N] to left
Rev: Wreathed head of young Dionysos facing slightly left; [N] to left.
Göktürk 2; SNG France –; SNG Levante 6.
0,56 g, 11 mm



Moesia. Istrus circa 280 - 256/255 BC
Obol or Trihemiobol AR 12 mm, 0,77 g

Facing male heads, the left one inverted / IΣTΡIH, Sea-eagle left on dolphin, ΔI beneath dolphin.

Dima, Tabelul III, Grupa IV, Subgrupa VII, II – Pl XXI, 10



Mysia. Kyzikos 7 mm 0.27 g
AR Obol/Hemiobol 480-400 BC. Forepart of boar right, behind, a tunny fish upwards / Head of lion left, mouth open, retrograde K above, all within incuse square. BMC Mysia, 123.

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