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An Aramaic Puzzler (Edit: Solved!)


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Edit: I've since assigned this to Manbog. Please see my following posts for the logic.

Once in a while I enjoy picking up what I call "puzzler coins." They're coins that I either believe are misattributed, or are ones even the seller had no idea about. The key is I'm not entirely sure what the attribution should be, so it offers me the opportunity to do some research.

This is my latest puzzler, and I'm writing this because I need some help.

Below it is the attribution given by the seller.


Uncertain mint, Samaria(?) Circa 330 BC, Silver Obol
.51g, 9mm
Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin. Kerykeion to right.
Male figure seated left, holding a wreath and scepter, Aramaic (?) legend to right.

I bought it because I figured it had enough "raw materials" to figure out. There's the kerykeion mint mark on the obverse and an Aramaic description on the reverse. Although I briefly thought the inscription may be Greek or Phoenician, I agree with the seller that it's Aramaic. However, I don't agree with the Samaria guess.

This seems much closer to a Cilicia issue based on the style. From my initial research, this seems to be an obol from Tiribazos. In fact, the closest other coin I found - sold at Leu - was attributed as Tiribazos. That may be the same issue as this one, though the inscription is much tougher to decipher on Leu's coin and the kerykeion, if present, is off the flan. Here is another coin of mine from Tiribazos.


Cilicia, Soloi Tiribazos, satrap.
AR Stater 9.92g, 21mm, 6h
Circa 385-380 BCE
Bearded head of Herakles to right, wearing lion skin around neck
Bearded head of satrap to right, wearing bashlyk; ΣΟΛEΩ[N] around
SNG BnF 159; Traité II, 566; SNG Levante -

What makes me pause is the inscription. Tiribazos used two different inscriptions on his coins.

𐡕𐡓𐡄 - which writes out to 'tri'

𐡕𐡓𐡄𐡁𐡆𐡅 - which writes out to 'tribzw'

I've looked at my coin very strongly, and I just don't see how it's either of those inscriptions. The problem is, I'm not well-versed in imperial Aramaic, so I'm not exactly sure what it says. Below is a close-up of the inscription


There are clearly at least three letters, but I believe it may be five (at least on flan). Read right-to-left the first two may be part of the coin's design. Below are two other coins I have from this period with Baaltars.


Cilicia, Tarsos AR Stater.
Balakros, satrap of Cilicia under Alexander III.
Circa 333-323 BCE
Facing bust of Athena, draped, wearing triple-crested helmet and necklace / Baaltars seated to left, holding lotus-tipped sceptre; grain ear and grape bunch to left, B above ivy leaf to right, T below throne.
SNG Levante Suppl. 21; SNG BnF 368; SNG von Aulock 5964.
10.79g, 26mm, 6h



Tarsos. Mazaios, Satrap. Circa 361-334 BC. AR Stater.
Baaltars seated left, holding sceptre surmounted by an eagle in right hand,
left arm at side; grain ear, bunch of grapes to left, monogram under throne
/ Lion attacking bull above double row of turreted walls.
SNG Levante 113; SNG France 360


Unfortunately, that part is off the flan on Leu's coin, so I'm not able to tell from there. However, from perusing other obols with Ba'al minted at this time, I don't see any that put anything visual in this part. That being said, the first two "letters" are more prominent than the three that are clearly letters.

Based on some charts on Imperial Aramaic writing (this one is convenient) and the closeup, the following are my feelings on the three that are clear.

First one - this looks very much like a 'P' without the top. From the closeup, I cannot see that there's a top and the only letter that has a 'hook' to the right but no top is the 'sˀ'

Second one - I think this is a pretty clear straight line. It does appear that there's a slight wavy part going to the right, but I could find no letter remotely close to that. Therefore, I believe this is a solid 'z'

Third one - This one looks pretty strongly like a 'P' with the top. That would make it a 'qˀ'

So, I have - from the part that is clear - sˀzqˀ. Right now, my best guess is Scheissekopf.

In terms of the first "possible" letter to the right, that seems to hook left, so it could be a 'd' or an 'r'. As I understand, the 'r' has a longer tail so that is more likely, but I'm not sure if this is even a letter.

Other common Aramaic inscriptions of this time are below, but none appear to be a match.

𐡁𐡏𐡋𐡕𐡓𐡆 - 'bltrz' for Baaltar (deity)

𐡅𐡓𐡍𐡁𐡆 - 𐡊𐡋𐡊 - 'frnbz klk' for Pharnabazos

𐡌𐡆𐡓𐡂 - 'mzdy' for Mazaios

𐡕𐡓𐡅 - 'trw' for Tarsos

𐡕𐡊𐡓𐡌𐡅 - 'trkmw' for Datames (Tarkumuwa)

For reference, the following is what I believe mine says - 𐡕𐡆𐡒

I'm still working on this one, which is why I'm asking for your help. Right now, on the conservative side I'd have to agree with Leu and attribute it to Tiribazos, even though the inscription doesn't match. Mazaios and Datames didn't mint obverses similar to this AFAIK, but Tiribazos did.

My best guess is that the obverse depicts a satrap and that it's probably Tiribazos. The reverse has an inscription of a city and not a ruler, but I have no idea which one.

Any ideas or thoughts?

Edited by kirispupis
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In the face of the high amount of interest here, I thought I'd share my Samarian coin, which also has an inscription.


SAMARIA, Samarian-signed Series
Circa 375-333 BCE
AR Obol 8.5mm, 0.63 g, 7h
Forepart of lion crouching right, head facing / Bearded head of male left; ŠMRY[N] (in Aramaic) to right.
Meshorer & Qedar 83; Sofaer 59


The following are some inscriptions from Samaria that I've found.

𐡔𐡌𐡓𐡂 - 'šmry' for Samaria

𐡔𐡌𐡓𐡉𐡍 - 'šmryn' - longer version of Samaria

𐡓𐡉 - 'dy' - I don't think anyone knows this one, but it was probably a high priest or a satrap

𐡂𐡓𐡊𐡏 - 'ydw' I believe for Yehudah

𐡎𐡁 - 'sb' - believed to be Sanballat

 𐡁𐡃𐡉𐡇𐡁𐡋 - 'bdyhbl' believed to be bedyehibel

 𐡔𐡋 - 'šl' - unknown, but probably a high priest or satrap

𐡉𐡓𐡁𐡏𐡌 - 'yrb'm' - believed to be Jerobeam

𐡍𐡕 - 'bt' - believed to be Bagabatas

Note that I'm writing them here because I spent a deal of time trying to find a list of inscriptions on coins in Imperial Aramaic, but didn't find anything. So, my hope is this gets indexed somewhere. If I ever figure this coin out, I'll add it to my own website.

In a search I couldn't find any example of a Samarian coin with Ba'al/Baaltars, presumably because (as I understand but please correct me) the majority of Samaria was Jewish. There are coins that depict a satrap, seated, but the design is different. Therefore, I believe this coin has Baaltars and is from Cilicia, not Samaria.

The following are other inscriptions I found.

𐡏𐡆𐡁𐡅 - 'ezbw' on an Alexander tet from Arados. I don't believe this was the name for Arados (I think it was 'rwad')

𐡌𐡕𐡓𐡃𐡕 - 'mtrdt' - Mithradates

𐡀𐡓𐡉𐡅𐡓𐡑 - 'ariyrth' - Ariarathes

𐡌𐡋𐡁𐡏 - 𐡏𐡓𐡕𐡇𐡔𐡎𐡂 -'rthṣsy mlk' - Artaxias I

 𐡅𐡆𐡁𐡌‎ - 'wzbm' - found on some Arabian issues

𐡎𐡅𐡉𐡊 - 'swyk' - Sabakes

The only conclusion I can draw here is I feel more strongly that the last letter on my coin is a 'q', since the 'h' on my Ariarathes coin below doesn't match it.

FWIW, I have an issue from Ariarathes and one from Sabakes with clear inscriptions. I'm no closer to figuring this out, but it's been fun...




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I'm not sure if anyone is really following or cares, but I did some more research today and found the following resources.

I was briefly excited when I learned that the Aramaic for 'Alexander' is ʾlkṣdrws'. This matched one of my characters, but none of the others. I took a close look at my coin and hoped to 'tease out' the other letters, since having a coin with 'Alexander' in Aramaic would obviously be a big deal. Unfortunately, there's just no way they match.

I found that out from this resource. The names come from inscriptions that were likely much later than this one (1st century BCE to 1st century CE) and from a different region (Mesopotamia) but it was the best I could find. 

I'm still of the belief that the legible part of my coin says 'sˀzq' but there are most likely letters partially off flan (and maybe completely off flan) before it. There are no letters after it. From what I gathered from the above resource.

q - seems to either start a word or end a word. It's rarely in the middle.
z - not overly common in the middle of words, but it happens
s - the 's' used here (typically rendered with a dot underneath) seems most common in foreign names (like Alexander)

Therefore, it's my belief that this is a foreign name/place from Aramaic. That would seem to imply that it's not the name of a satrap, who would have likely been Persian. Looking through the names in the above reference, it seems more likely that it's not the name of a person. This seems to strengthen my belief that the inscription is from a city and not a ruler/satrap.

I ordered this book today to learn more about the history of Aramaic. A growing number of my coins contain inscriptions in that language and I should understand it more. In particular, one question I haven't been able to answer is about the 's' on my coin. This letter changed over the ages and I suspect was rendered differently based on geography. A more thorough understanding of that letter may give me a clue.

It's funny, I was literally going to end this post with the above, but I then decided to add another coin for show - so I looked through my database at coins with Aramaic that I haven't displayed and found this one.


Cilicia, Tarsos
AR Stater 10.62g, 20mm, 9h.
Circa 440-400 BCE
Horseman (Syennesis?) riding to left, wearing kyrbasia, holding lotus flower in right hand and reins in left, bow in bowcase on saddle; key symbol below horse, eagle(?) standing to left behind / Archer in kneeling-running stance to right, quiver over shoulder, drawing bow; key symbol behind, 'trz' in Aramaic on the lower right; all within dotted border within incuse square
BMC -; SNG von Aulock -; SNG Copenhagen -; SNG Levante -; SNG BnF -, cf. 213 for types = Casabonne Type D2, pl. 2, 10 = MIMAA pl. V, 6 = Traité II, 523


What this clearly tells me is that the chart I've been using for Imperial Aramaic doesn't match that used for this period on coins. 'Trz' is the name for Tarsos (I even listed it above), but the letters are slightly different. 

For reference, here's my inscription again.



So, my transliteration was incorrect. Based on this coin, the first two letters are 'rz'. I've been unable to find a chart that illustrates the Aramaic used on coins of this period, but if I go through my coins above the last letter is either a 'th' (from my Ariarathes coin) or 't'  (from the coin above).

Therefore, I may have 'rzt'. This may simply be an illiterate person writing 'Tarsos'.

Interestingly, I'd been wondering whether Ba'al and Baaltars were the same deity. It turns out that 'Baaltars' literally means 'Ba'al Tarsos', so Baaltars is Ba'al when spoken of as the city deity of Tarsos.

Well, my time has run out so I'll have to continue this tomorrow.

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I have no idea regarding the attribution. However, I note that the "kerykeion" is very similar to the monogram seen on some coins of Cyrrhestica (Kyrrhestike), described sometimes as a "U sign" and sometimes as the "monogram of Hieropolis":


To the right of the bird:


Above the wreath (described here as the "monogram of Hieropolis"):


Another listed as "monogram of Hieropolis" - from Wildwinds:


Above the lion:


Above the outstretched arm of the seated figure (an electrotype here):





Edited by Kamnaskires
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Thank you @Kamnaskiresfor the clue!

After further research, this symbol seems to be strongly associated with Bambyke-Manbog. This article covers their coinage deeply.

Andrade, Nathanael J. “The Silver Coinage of Syrian Manbog (Hierapolis-Bambyke).” American Journal of Numismatics (1989-), vol. 29, 2017, pp. 1–46. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26932643. Accessed 5 June 2023.

It appears that, before this article, all coins with this mint mark were assigned to Manbog. One example is this coin from CNG. However, in Adrade's article, he dismisses a number of fractions that he finds not likely to be from Manbog. A year later, CNG listed a similar coin and agreed with Andrade on his attribution, this time assigning it to Samaria.

Andrade's argument concerning CNG's coins is that while the lion is used in other Manbog coins, the galley is not. However, both the galley and the lion are known in Samaria's coinage, so it should be assigned there.

Using Andrade's logic, it seems unlikely that my coin is from Samaria. Neither the obverse or reverse are known in that extensive coinage.

The next question is: could my coin be from Manbog? That would be a major pickup for me because I've deliberately not added Manbog's coinage to my list because their coins have gone way too high for my pockets at auction lately.

One reason for semi-optimism is my coin's reverse is known from Manbog in this coin. If the attribution sticks, then this would be Atarateh. Roma appears to make a mistake in describing their coin as Zeus, since Andrade comments that the figure is noticeably female and her name appears on the inscription. The Aramaic for this is 'tr'th (𐡏𐡕𐡓𐡏𐡕𐡇). Unfortunately, while I cannot say for sure that I'm misreading the inscription on my own coin (since it already appears that the die cutter reversed a letter), it seems unlikely that mine is a match.

Another inscription used by this time in Manbog is 𐡀𐡋𐡊𐡎𐡍𐡃𐡓 or 'lksndr'. This is the only Alexander the Great lifetime coin I know of with his name in Aramaic. An example is this coin. Again, I can't say for sure, but it doesn't appear likely. An argument could be made that my 'z' is actually a backwards 'n', but the other letters still don't match.

Note that I've also learned that "ba'al" simply meant "Lord." It could therefore be assigned to many deities and was again likely why Alexander chose that reverse, since it seems to have meant something different to each person. That's one reason why the reverse is spread across regions that worshipped different deities.

Another problem with matching the attribution to my coin is the obverse doesn't match anything from Manbog. Their coins have a portrait of Atarateh on their obverse, while mine is clearly male. It could be Hadad. If this were a Manbog coin, then it would have an accompanying inscription, but that may be off flan.

So, while an attribution of Cyrrhestica can't be ruled out due to the mint mark, I would need a matching inscription to clearly assign it there and I don't have one. My search continues.

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Well, after some thought I've decided on an attribution. I grant that it could be debated, but based on the research this is by far the strongest choice.

Drum roll...


The following is my logic:

  1. The presence of the 'U' monogram on the obverse. While Andrade persuasively argues that not every coin with this mark is from Cyrrhestica/Manbog, it's well associated with that city.
  2. The obverse design matches almost exactly that of a known Manbog fraction - https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=8778343. While Andrade believes it was not minted by Seleukos but was instead from the time of Alexander, in both coins he/she is holding a wreath.
  3. Andrade lists 16 known types of stater/didrachm but only two fractions. I highly doubt that there would be so few fractions. We just haven't covered them.

In terms of the inscription, I still don't know. It would seem to spell 'rezaq' but I'm likely mistaken. We do know that two priests/rulers of Manbog issued coins in their own names, so it seems plausible that there were others.

In terms of the competition, Samaria does have a few examples with this mint mark, but the obverse and reverse are completely unknown there. Tarsos has some issues with the reverse, but not holding a wreath, and it has no coins with the 'u' monogram. Had the inscription deciphered to a known one from Manbog or the obverse be from a known type, this would have been a slam dunk. As it stands, Manbog is the best choice and is what I'll assign in my attribution.

Note that the following paper strongly influenced my decision.

Andrade, Nathanael J. “The Silver Coinage of Syrian Manbog (Hierapolis-Bambyke).” American Journal of Numismatics (1989-), vol. 29, 2017, pp. 1–46. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26932643. Accessed 5 June 2023.

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  • kirispupis changed the title to An Aramaic Puzzler (Edit: Solved!)
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That's impressive sleuthing of an ancient language that I have, at best, only a rudimentary understanding.  I am becoming aware of the limits with Google in researching Aramaic, Paleo Hebrew and Phoenician characters.  There are so many variations based on period and local types.  I have owls with countermarks that I know incorporate a character that just doesn't appear in Google search.  Compounding the problem are uneven or blurred strikes and sometimes retrograde characters. 

Also, congrats on the new acquisition!


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