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A Very Rare Coin Struck at Corinth for the Peloponnesian War


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This is a coin I bought last year but haven't yet found the time to share until now.  It was struck by Corinth at the very beginning of the Peloponnesian War. It shows the myth of the Hero Bellerophon.  If you are interested in reading about some of the research I did then I hope you enjoy the below post.  If not, I still hope you enjoy seeing one of my favorite new coins.


AR Trihemidrachm, struck 431 BC
Dia.: 14 mm, 6h
Wt.: 3.95 g
Obv.: Bellerophon, bareheaded and naked, riding on Pegasos flying to right; Koppa below.
Rev.: Chimaera to right on ground line; square incuse.
Ref.: HGC 4, 1850; Warren, J., “The Trihemidrachms of Corinth”, Plate 13-1
Ex VCV Collection 


The Peloponnesian War started in the spring of 431 BC with the invasion of the Peloponnesian army into Attica under King Archidamus. The Peloponnesian army included a substantial number of mercenaries that were accustomed to being paid with coins on the Aeginetan standard. In response to these initial invasions the Athenians expelled the inhabitants of Aegina in the summer of 431 BC according to Thucydides. This meant that the main mint providing coined money to the Peloponnesus was out of action.

I have mentioned before that the Peloponnesian League established a major mint at Sikyon to meet their requirements for coined money during the war. However, it is unclear exactly when this mint was established. It is clear from Thucydides narrative that many, perhaps most, of the Peloponnesians thought that the war would be decisive and quick. Therefore, they may not have seen the need to establish a central Peloponnesian mint at the outset of the first campaign. This situation may explain the introduction of the Trihemidrachm denomination at Corinth as well as the rarity of this coin.

The Trihemidrachms of Corinth

Corinth was the most prominent mint of the 5th century in the Peloponnesus along with Aegina. The Corinthians had their own weight standard based on a stater of approximately 8.6 grams. Corinth would not have been willing to change its standard to the Aeginetan due to the implications that would have for its established trade connections. At the same time, Corinth would surely have been expected to contribute monetary support (presumably on the Aeginetan standard) for the war from the very beginning considering its status as the most important economic center of the league and its central role in advocating against Athens.

Jennifer Warren suggests in an essay entitled “The Trihemidrachms of Corinth” that the trihemidrachm denomination may have been introduced so that a Corinthian stater plus a Corinthian trihemidrachm would equal roughly one Aeginetan stater. To me, this argument makes a great deal of sense. Corinth could have used this new coin as a supplement to their existing staters to fund their share of league activity at the beginning of the war. Once the mint at Sikyon (near Corinth) was established, Corinth could make contributions directly in the form of coins or bullion to the central mint to be re-struck to the needed standard. This could explain why this first minting of Trihemidrachms was so small (only 3 total dies used).

There were a total of five issues of trihemidrachms (all relatively small) which Warren proposes date from approximately 431 BC to 330 BC. If the theory that this denomination was meant to make the conversion between standards easier is true, then all of these issues may have been struck under special circumstances.

My new example is from the very rare first issue. Two details of the style are worth noting. First, the wings of Pegasus are pointed. Second, the reverse is set within an incuse square. Looking at the Corinthian staters, Ravel 306-324 cover what is known as the “Transitional Issues.” These issues have a style that transitions from curved to pointed wings. They also include both square and circular incuses on the reverse. Warren (on the authority of Kraay) [1] and Coupar [2] date the transitional issues from 440 - 430 BC. The dating for the transition is well anchored by the “Epidamnus staters” of ca. 435 BC. Warren also notes that stylistically, the figure of Pegasus seems to draw some inspiration from the horseman on the Parthenon frieze (ca. 443 - 437 BC).

In her catalog, Warren lists a date for this issue as 431 BC, which I find highly convincing.

The Importance of the Myth of Bellerophon for Corinth and Sikyon 

The full myth of Bellerophon is interesting and can be found here. The most relevant details are that Homer says that Bellerophon was a grandson of Sisyphus who was the founder of Corinth (Ephyra). In the myth, Bellerophon is sent to Lycia in Asia Minor where he is set with the seemingly impossible task of slaying the Chimaera. He is helped by Athena, who gives him a golden girdle. He also learns that to capture Pegasus he would need to approach it as it drank from a well on the acropolis of Corinth. He does so, and with the help of Pegasus he is able to approach close enough to the Chimaera to lodge a hunk of lead in its throat with his spear and suffocate it.

I believe an understanding of this myth, along with the iconography of these trihemidrachm coins gives a lot of context to the entire iconography used by the Peloponnesian League for its coins during the war. For example, it might not seem obvious why Sikyon, a mid sized polis in the northeastern Peloponnese, would adopt the Chimaera, a creature from Asia Minor, as the central obverse design of the staters it struck from ca. 450 BC onward.

Now that we can see that there was a broad association of the Chimaera with the Peloponnesian hero Bellerophon in both art and coin design it becomes more understandable how the Sikyonians may have come to their design decision. Sikyon would have wanted to keep the badge of their city (the dove) as a design element on one side of their coins.  If they wanted to reference Bellerophon using the established artistic conventions that left them either the Chimaera or Bellerophon riding Pegasus for the other side. A design including Pegasus may have been too close to the designs of Corinth or perhaps the Sikyonians just liked the artistic effect of the Chimaera better. 

One objection to this interpretation is that the adoption of the Chimaera at Sikyon predates the start of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. However, from 460 to 445 BC the Peloponnesian League was at war with Athens in what is sometimes referred to as the First a Peloponnesian War. If the artistic convention of Bellerophon and the Chimaera was already set, then all the same dynamics of wanting to promote a Peloponnesian hero myth would still apply.

Another, very interesting question would be why Sikyon chose a hero so closely associated with Corinth and not Sikyon for their coins. One thought that struck me is that Homer doesn’t actually name the city of Bellerophon’s ancestors as Corinth. He calls it Ephyra, which was widely associated by later writers with Corinth. Homer describes it as “pasture land of horses” which seems to indicate it was not a highly urbanized settlement at that time. The site of ancient Corinth wasn’t heavily settled until ca. 900 B.C. and the current site of the city is several miles away on the coast. Considering Sikyon and the site of ancient Corinth are only about 13 miles from each other it seems plausible to me that many settlements in the area may have claimed a share of the myth by claiming to be Bellerophon’s home town. I have never seen any claim to this effect but it seems reasonable. 

Of course, Corinth would always have an indisputable claim to the myth because Pegasus was captured on the acro-Corinth. Perhaps this is why Pegasus features more prominently on Corinthian coinage than Bellerophon and his exploits with the Chimaera?


Here is a photo I took in Corinth when my wife and I visited several years ago. The site of the settlement is in the foreground with the Acropolis of Corinthbin the background.

Below is my example of a stater struck at Sikyon to fund the Peloponessian War.


AR Stater, struck ca. 431-400 BC
Dia.: 26mm, 7h
Wt.: 12.03 g
Obv.: Chimaera advancing right; ΣE below 
Rev.: Dove flying right; bow above tail feathers; all within olive wreath. 
Ref.: BCD Peloponnesos 193; HGC 5, 188 corr. var. (incorrect photo and citation; ethnic).
Ex Sigmund Collection; Ex CNG Electronic Auction 500, lot 241 (Sept. 21, 2021); Ex Vilmar Numismatics Fixed Price List II, lot 42 (winter 2021)



[1] Warren, Jennifer, The Trihemidrachms of Corinth, Essays in Greek Coinage Presented to Stanely Robinson, Oxford at the Claredon Press, pg. 125, 1968

[2] Coupar, Sally-Anne, The Chronology and Development of the Coinage of Corinth to the Peloponnesian War. University of Glasgow Department of Archeology, March 2000

Edited by Curtisimo
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Excellent and informative write up, my dude! With a very nice rarity and holy coin😜

Funny enough, my later version of your second coin appears to have had a failed attempt at making it holy;


Sikyonia. Sikyon circa 330-280 BC. Hemidrachm AR 17mm., 2,49g. Chimera advancing left, raising forepaw / Dove flying left, three pellets above tail feathers. very fine BCD Peloponnesos 294; HGC 5, 213. Toned.

Purchased from Savoca November 2021


Sadly, I've no coins of Bellerophon,


but here is my latest of Pegasos and his mother:


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Interesting write up and a nice coin.


 I have one from Sikyon too, but this is dates much later.


Sikyonia, Sikyon
AR Stater, ca. 335-330 BCE
Obv.: Chimaira standing left, raising forepaw; wreath above, ΣE below
Rev.: Dove flying left, N to left, all within wreath.
Ag, 11.9g, 23mm, die axis 9 o´clock
Ref.: BCD Peloponnesos 218 (same obv. die); HGC 5, 201.

Edited by shanxi
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Nice coins all and thanks for the comments!

6 hours ago, Qcumbor said:

exceptional picture of the coin IMO

Thanks Q! I confess I was torn on the photo because I thought it might be a bit too washed out relative to its in hand look. This photo showed the best detail though and I like the textured look of the surfaces.


Oh, I also forgot to invite everyone to:



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