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Coin in the mouth

Ancient Coin Hunter

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I was thinking about the ritual of placing a coin in the mouth of the deceased in ancient times representing the fare for Charon the boatman who ferried the dead across the river Styx.

As I recall Livia reminded her family to remember the coin before she passed away in I, Claudius.

The question for my Numisforums friends is what denomination was used. Would a sestertius been acceptable, or a denarius? Or a silver-washed antoninianus? What do you think?


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It was an obol.


Troas, Neandria
Circa 350 BCE
AR Obol .57g, 9mm
Laureate head of Apollo right
Ram standing right "NEA-N", all within an incuse square
SNG Cop 446

Citizens of Hermione didn't have to pay it, though, since they had a shortcut.


Argolis, Hermione
Circa 360-310 BCE
14.46mm 2.26g
Obverse: Head of Demeter Chthonia left
Reverse: Torch flanked by E-P, all within wreath
BCD Peloponnesos 1297
Ex BCD Collection (not in LHS sale)


Eventually, inflation would have brought it up to two obols.


THRACE, Apollonia Pontika
Mid 4th century BCE
AR Diobol 1.2 gm, 10mm, 12h
Obv: Facing gorgoneion.
Rev: Upright anchor; A to left, crayfish to right.
Topalov, Apollonia p. 386, 3; SNG BM Black Sea 167

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The Greeks had easy access to "obols" but not so likely to be found  among the Romans. They must have had their own equivalent and I world guess a copper As would do. Archaeologist ought to have been able to discover some of these coins in grave sites, perhaps some in situ among skulls. Anyone know if certain coins were found in such excavations?

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The skull of a crowned athlete with a gold wreath in the shape of a laurel branch still attached to it is perhaps one of the most impressive exhibits in Greece.

The flesh disintegrated after 2,500 years, but the wreath stuck and remained on the skull. Inside the mouth, a silver coin was found as a token to Charon, who in Greek mythology was the ferryman of Hades who carried the souls of the newly deceased to the underworld.

The skull was found in the cemetery of the ancient city of Lato and was one of the most spectacular exhibits at Agios Nikolaos museum in Crete.


Skull with gold wreath discovered in the ruins of the ancient city of Lato

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The Chinese have had a custom of putting a jade cicada in the mouth of dead before burial that dates back over 5,000 years. The cicada was seen as a symbol of life after death because they burrow in the ground in the larva stage, sometimes for many years, & then emerge as a beautiful flying insect. Jade cicada toggles are still very popular amulets today, & people who can't afford the real thing can buy inexpensive imitations on Ebay for just a few bucks ☺️17-year-cicada.jpg.9ad7d282152eb6557863811ab1d0b206.jpg

Actual cicada that burrows in the ground for 17 years before emerging as a flying adult.


Liangzhu Period Jade Cicada, 3400-2250 BC. 2.4 in. long.                    Shang Dynasty Jade Cicada, 1600-1050 BC. 2.6 in. long.


Wester Han Dynasty, 206 BC-AD 9, 2.9 in. long                                                       Eastern Han Dynasty, AD 25-220, 2.4 in. long.


Ming Dynasty, AD 1368-1644, 2.75 in. long. AWK Collection.                                Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911 (18th century), 2.8 in. long.


Modern Ebay imitation made of cast glass, 2.36 in. long. $8.62.






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