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How far away from their minting sites did Greek (& Roman!) coins get?


NathanB
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I've been wondering lately if there are any kind of resources that track how far away from their mints ancient Greek and Roman coins travelled in antiquity.  In particular, I'm thinking of the Indo-Greek king Menander.  I once read that Menander coins have been found as far away as the UK.  I decided to google this to find some details, and I did find a great site with excellent links and details.

So that is quite impressive: Menander's coinage was minted in the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and yet at least a few of his coins made their way in antiquity as far west as England and even Wales.  I think that's fascinating!  And we know, thanks to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, that some of Menander's coins were in use centuries later in the Gujarat area. And I seem to recall reading somewhere that some of Menander's coins have been found in Sri Lanka, which is also very interesting.

I'm wondering if any of Menander's coins have been found even farther afield than that--specifically east, such as China, southeastern Asia, and beyond--and in any other directions as well!  Can anyone help me with this?

And feel free to also supply anecdotes and information about this question in general, too--for ancient Greek and Roman coins, and not only for the coinage of Menander. How far away from their minting sites did these coins travel in antiquity?

Edited by NathanB
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I tend to think that the occasional find of an Indo-Greek or other early Indian coin in the UK has more to do with modern(ish) British involvement in Afghanistan and India than with ancient trade... lost Victorian-era pocket pieces, for example. Anything is possible, of course.

Edited by DLTcoins
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NewStyles got as far as Bulgaria, Romania in commerce. But a find in Abruzzi in the Museo Archaeolgica Chieti  has a part of the Poggio Picenze hoard IGCH 2056 which they refuse access to publish even after 70 years, because they don't want anyone playing with their coins!

See my "The pointless pursuit of numismatical knowledge" in academia.edu  under my name John Arnold Nisbet and also The odyssey of the Poggio Picenze Hoard IGCH 2056 also on academia.edu

NSK=John Arnold Nisbet

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2 hours ago, NathanB said:

I've been wondering lately if there are any kind of resources that track how far away from their mints ancient Greek and Roman coins travelled in antiquity.

You can use ANA's CoinHoards website to see maps of where the coins in a specific hoard were minted relative to where the hoard was found, e.g.
http://coinhoards.org/id/igch0134

image.png.4a35c47471a979638ca47feab4b7e304.png

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This coin of Constans from the Heraclea mint has travelled nearly 5000 miles to Sri Lanka from the place of its origin, in the hoards among local imitative issues.

Ex Alexander Fishman  

hera.jpg.ae81b03076e6a768e22112794773005b.jpg

And these Roman Aurei currently in the British Museum have been excavated in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which neighbours Sri Lanka.  

26061577_roman(1).png.8540e0ad9f004470bd3b08ec72c045cc.png

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The following Septimius Severus denarius was a field find from Carmarthen in west Wales, UK, which is just about the westernmost outpost of the empire; minted in Syria.

Obv:- L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP VIII, laureate head right
Rev:– MINER VICTRIC, Minerva standing left resting right hand on shield, holding spear in left hand
Minted in Laodicea-ad-Mare. A.D. 196-197
Reference:- RSC 328. RIC 483 (S).

Additional information courtesy of Curtis Clay:-
"Oxford has a variant coin, obv. SEVER P - ERT...IMP VI - II rev. diff. break and dot at end, MINER - VICTR. Bought Baldwin, 1942, ex hoard, NC 1943, p. 99."

RI_064ml_img.jpg

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Anecdotal, but I'm aware of a denarius of Juba I, part of a group of quite worn RR denarii found in the Balkans. They'd been only partially cleaned; the remaining dirt was identical one coin to the next. The group as a whole gave every indication of having reached its burial point through very gradual circulation.

 

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Quite a few years ago I acquired a Metapontum AE coin c. 250-200 BC (obverse owl, reverse Athena Promachos, like the one below) which was found in Israel. That coin would have a pretty cool story to tell...

 

 

MetaJ68a-2.81.jpg

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I think the only barrier to them covering the known world was acceptability. When Europe was under a functioning Roman Empire, there was no need to use coins from anywhere else if you didn't trust them to contain good silver. Within the Empire, coins easily crossed from one side to the other as they were known and trusted.

The first coins made in Britain copied a bronze issued in Marseille. This wasn't the closest mint, but Massalia coins had established themselves as reliable currency on the Continent.

If you were trading with India or China, you'd either have to barter in produce or exchange silver and gold - the latter being much easier. Indian and Chinese merchants would give you a better price if they trusted your currency, as the risk was lower. So the further away from the source you were, the less trust there would be in your coins and the less they would be accepted.

Edited by John Conduitt
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On 6/19/2022 at 10:42 PM, DLTcoins said:

I tend to think that the occasional find of an Indo-Greek or other early Indian coin in the UK has more to do with modern(ish) British involvement in Afghanistan and India than with ancient trade... lost Victorian-era pocket pieces, for example. Anything is possible, of course.

Hi DLTcoins! You bring up a very interesting point.  If you click on the link I provided (as maybe you have), you will see further links to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  Of the four Menander coins in Britain, one is specifically said to be more likely to be a loss from post-antiquity--so this may be along the lines you suggest.  In another case, however, a find in the late 19th century of a Menander coin two feet underground seems likely to be an ancient loss rather than a modern one.  There are also another three Menander coins that are not listed in the PAS.  In addition, there are a number of Indo-Scythian coins, and Kushan coins, also. 

I tend to agree with the concluding remarks from Dr. Green's blog post linked to above:

Quote

 

The obvious question with all of these finds is whether they represent modern losses by tourists and collectors, or if they were instead ancient losses made during the Roman period or even before. Needless to say, it is difficult to reach a definite conclusion for most of these coins, and the hypothesis that some of them are modern losses is explicitly adopted in a few of the PAS records. However, we do need to be cautious here and there are reasons for thinking that a handful, at least, may be ancient losses. Perhaps the most persuasive argument here is provided by the Indo-Greek coin of Menander from Tenby, which was found in 1881 two feet under the ground:
 

Menander-text.JPG
The circumstances of the finding of the coin of Menander at Tenby, from 'An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire: VII - County of Pembroke' (London, 1925), which assumes that the coin was brought over in the first century AD and lost at that time.


In addition to this evidence for at least one of the coins probably having been a genuinely ancient loss, the following two points may be worth noting. First, that a significant number of pre-Roman Greek coins, including Carthaginian and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) issues, are also now known from Britain, and whilst some may be recent imports, others are thought likely to be ancient losses of at least the Roman era. Indeed, it is interesting to observe that the case has been made for at least a proportion of these coins having arrived here as a result of Mediterranean trade with pre-Roman Britain, a possibility that may be worth further consideration for at least some of the Indo-Greek coins listed above. Second, the PAS now has details of a significant number of these early Indian coins, and it might be wondered if the notion that they were all (except for the Tenby coin) modern losses might not seem slightly implausible, unless we are to assume that there were a surprisingly large number of careless Indian coin collectors present in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain? 

It's impossible to say anything with certainty, but I tend to think that there weren't such a large number of carless Indian coin collectors present in 19th and 20th century Britain.  😉

Quote

 

 

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On 6/20/2022 at 12:32 AM, Kaleun96 said:

You can use ANA's CoinHoards website to see maps of where the coins in a specific hoard were minted relative to where the hoard was found, e.g.
http://coinhoards.org/id/igch0134

image.png.4a35c47471a979638ca47feab4b7e304.png

Thank you, Kaleun; that is a great resource!  Thanks for the map, too: it shows me what the tool is capable of.  Very interesting stuff!

And equal praise to @Ed Snible and @rrdenarius!  Those are also great resources.  I am very much looking forward to using them.

Finally, my thanks to ValiantKnight, JayAg47, maridvnvm, Cordoba, and everyone else who contributed to this (at least to me!) very fascinating thread!

And @Romismatist, I love your coin! Definitely "heart eyes" for that one!

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11 hours ago, NathanB said:

Hi DLTcoins! You bring up a very interesting point.  If you click on the link I provided (as maybe you have), you will see further links to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  Of the four Menander coins in Britain, one is specifically said to be more likely to be a loss from post-antiquity--so this may be along the lines you suggest.  In another case, however, a find in the late 19th century of a Menander coin two feet underground seems likely to be an ancient loss rather than a modern one.  There are also another three Menander coins that are not listed in the PAS.  In addition, there are a number of Indo-Scythian coins, and Kushan coins, also. 

I tend to agree with the concluding remarks from Dr. Green's blog post linked to above:

It's impossible to say anything with certainty, but I tend to think that there weren't such a large number of carless Indian coin collectors present in 19th and 20th century Britain.  😉

 

I've had several discussions with Dr. Green on this topic. She is nothing if not enthusiastic. As far as I know, none of these finds have archaeological context. Some are almost certainly hoaxes.

On a similar note, dozens of Greek and Roman coin "finds" have been reported in the United States yet none have held up to scientific scrutiny (link below).

I'm not saying such things are impossible. Coin finds - in context - are how we have come to understand the vast extent of Viking trade, for example. I'm simply saying "prove it to me"...

Fun stuff to ponder! 

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2741739

Edited by DLTcoins
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3 hours ago, DLTcoins said:

I've had several discussions with Dr. Green on this topic. She is nothing if not enthusiastic. As far as I know, none of these finds have archaeological context. Some are almost certainly hoaxes.

On a similar note, dozens of Greek and Roman coin "finds" have been reported in the United States yet none have held up to scientific scrutiny (link below).

I'm not saying such things are impossible. Coin finds - in context - are how we have come to understand the vast extent of Viking trade, for example. I'm simply saying "prove it to me"...

Fun stuff to ponder! 

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2741739

Hi again DLTcoins--and thank you for the link! I will read it later, but I skim-read it, and also read the conclusion.

About Britain, though, I think the situation is quite different from the situation in the US. First, the main American states are surrounded by two massive oceans, and were not part of regular, established trading networks with the Mediterranean in antiquity.  That alone makes the situations as different as apples and oranges.  Second, the coins found in the US are ordinary Greek and Roman coins. 

On the other hand, Britain is very close to continental Europe, and was part of the Roman Empire, and before that, part of trading routes with the Phoenicians and the Greeks.  Well-known, well-established patterns of trade with the Mediterranean were in place there for many hundreds of years in antiquity, and those links are attested through archaeological and textual evidence.  Furthermore, as we have seen from some of the other links provided in the comments above, coins routinely traveled very far in antiquity from their original minting sites--if not as currency, then as talismans, collectibles, or souvenirs.  Why should the situation in the UK be any different?  So I don't really see any reasons to be skeptical of the fact that coins made journeys of enormous lengths within the established trading routes of the Mediterranean during the period of antiquity, and that some of these coins ended up in Britain.

In addition, the coins I am thinking about are Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Kushan coins.  Again, I just don't think there were that many careless collectors of these coins in 19th century Britain.  And while it's certainly possible that a small number of these finds should be discounted, it also seems reasonable to conclude that certain finds have a high probability of being ancient losses.

Finally, in the UK, many coins that we accept as being found in various places are not dug up in an archaeological context.  People find coin hoards using metal detectors, for example, and there is still evidence that we can read about how such coins were found, and where.

With the study of history, there are, as you likely know, "maximalist" and "minimalist" approaches to finds and even texts.  I certainly do think it's wrong to be too credulous, but I think refusing to believe much of anything as a kind of starting point, puts the cart before the horse by beginning with a conclusion that should have been achieved rather than simply asserted.  Overall, in many cases, one can't simply "prove it" regarding many of the phenomena of ancient history.  (As much as I share your desire for positive proof!) We have to weigh probabilities, in context--archaeological, historical, economic, and so on.  And I think in many cases that lines up to a reasonable conclusion that coins in antiquity could and often did travel great distances from their minting sites--again, not necessarily as currency (though that was often the case, as for Athenian tetradrachms and Roman denarii), but as interesting artefacts for "show and tell." 

Edited by NathanB
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