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The Journey from Amphipolis to Damaskos: One Engraver's Story


Kaleun96

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In a recent auction I picked up the following coin because it immediately stood out to me as an unusual specimen: the reverse was clearly a type from Alexander III's Damaksos mint yet the obverse was of a style only found at Amphipolis!

1214_alexander_iii_damaskos_tetradrachm_resized.png


Head of Herakles left, wearing lion-skin headdress, paws tied before neck. AΛEΞANΔPOY. Zeus enthroned left, eagle in right hand, scepter in left hand; ram in left field; four pellets below throne. Price 3210; Taylor 'Damaskos' 2.4.2

Such a finding is relatively rare for Alexander's tetradrachms, even though we know of several cases of die sharing between mints as well as engravers travelling between mints. The oft-cited example is a Sidonian engraver who was known to be at the founding of that mint, then travelled a short distance to Tyre to help setup their mint, then heading north to Tarsos, before finally ending up in Arados(1)! It has also been suggested that engravers and/or dies of AV staters from Arados were transferred to mints in Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and possibly even Macedonia (2). In each case, it's the obverse style that is key to identifying the relationship between mints.

Two aspects that are particularly unique about this coin are: (a) the distances involved, and (b) the disparate style introduced at the new mint. Firstly, the previous example of engraver transfer between mints for tetradrachms involved relatively short distances with the engraver hopping about from city to city mainly on the Phoenician coast. The engraver of the AV staters at Arados that wound up in Macedonia does illustrate that sometimes greater distances were involved but this has yet to be seen when it comes to engravers of Alexandrine tetradrachms.

Secondly, in the cases where engravers have popped up at new mints, the obverse style is typically not too far removed from the existing or competing style for that mint and there's evidence that the engraver stays for a period of time to create several dies and usually spanning multiple types. I've been unable to find any other evidence of this engraver at Damaskos, whether looking for more examples of this obverse die or other examples of obverse dies of this style paired with Damaskos reverse types. One possibility is that this obverse die was a one-off, perhaps never even intended to go into production given that we don't see this engraver's hand again at the mint. Though one would wonder why they would be transferred in the first place if only to produce a single die, unless they were transferred for an administrative position or similar.

For those not familiar with the style of Herakles found at Amphipolis and Damaskos, I will briefly attempt to show how they differ. The best source for understanding the variation at Damaskos would be Lloyd Taylor's "The Damaskos Mint of Alexander the Great" (2017) die study as this contains plates of all known obverse dies at that time. The figure below should give a general indication of the styles you typically find at this mint, however. Even though there is a fair amount of variation within these examples, Damascene traits can be identified in all of them that make coins of this mint fairly easy to identify without even seeing the reverses. The treatment to the lion headdress in particular is somewhat unique, as well as the jutting face of Herakles with strong features.

damaskos.jpg.085a46757744663f00f9239e42a0e803.jpg

 

Compare those styles of Herakles with the following two coins: left is an example of Price 23 from the Amphipolis mint, an early lifetime tetradrachm; right is the obverse from my coin. An obvious difference can be immediately seen in the neck area of the lion headdress, with the parallel lines running horizontally in addition to the two diagonally lines running up to meet the jaw with a slight curve. The pointed lion's mane formed of thick leafy locks, and the short bottom jaw that rests next to Herakles' own well-defined jaw bone. The style of these early types from Amhpipolis are likewise unique across Alexander's mints and are readily identifiable; they're not likely to be confused with the obverses from other mints, let alone Damaskos.

amphipolis.jpg.dbabd8733bdc773a310092bbb6f24512.jpg

That being said, I wouldn't rush to claim that the obverse on the left was engraved by the same hand as that of the obverse on the right. It could be possible and there does seem to be individual engravers identifiable at Amphipolis at this time but it would be a stretch to claim without further evidence. It would be interesting if the obverse found on the Damaskos coin was also found to have been used first at Amphipolis but it seems unlikely they would have gone to the trouble given Damaskos doesn't appear to have been particularly short on engravers at this time (Taylor estimates as many as nine engravers). So that brings us back to the question of why: why would an engraver trained in the style of Amphipolis find his way to Damaskos and engrave a die there? We will probably never know but I'll be keeping my eye out for more examples of this die, or engraver, just in case.

  1. Lloyd Tayler. 2020. Sidon to Tyre: the Macedonian administration and relative chronology.
  2. Lloyd Taylor. 2020. On the Reattribution of some Byblos Alexanders to Arados II.
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Great find! Eventually I'd like to pick up a Damaskos for myself.

One thing that might be relevant: I've noticed that Damaskos doesn't seem to have minted any coins before Alexander. Therefore, I presume they would have had to import every engraver.

As you mention, it's hard to know why they would have taken one all the way from Amphipolis. Maybe he was working in another city in Asia Minor and they transferred the die and not the die maker? Maybe he transferred to Damaskos but died soon afterwards?

These are my favorite types of coins - those you can write a novel about...

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Very interesting coin. @Kaleun96 I do believe it would be possible that a coin struck in Amphipolis circa 331 BC could have been seen by a die cutter at Damaskos circa 325 BC and possibly copied.  Once the war with Sparta was concluded many of the men hired by Antipater would probably be looking for employment elsewhere and there was a lot of potential in the newly conquered territories of the east. However  However I am am somewhat concerned about the treatment of the eye. I have only one coin of Alexander from the mint of Damaskos

Alexander III Ar Tetradrachm Damaskos 326-323 BC. Obv Head of beardless Herakles right wearing Lions skin headdress, Rv Zeus Aetophoros seated left holding eagle and scepter. HGC 910j Taylor Group 2.2.2. A11/P/1 This coin referenced 17.20 grms 25 mm. Photo by W. Hansen

alexandert20.jpg.55f740d01297d17b623d08f880897247.jpg

Taylor makes the hypothesis that this mint may have been in operation for about a year. it may have been a bit longer as the length of time needed to strike this coinage would require fairly intensive production. I tend to favor a slightly later date of circa 325-324BC as the production of coins from this mint would coincide with the return of the army from India.    Interestingly only tetradrachms are known to have been struck at this mint,  

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2 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Great find! Eventually I'd like to pick up a Damaskos for myself.

One thing that might be relevant: I've noticed that Damaskos doesn't seem to have minted any coins before Alexander. Therefore, I presume they would have had to import every engraver.

As you mention, it's hard to know why they would have taken one all the way from Amphipolis. Maybe he was working in another city in Asia Minor and they transferred the die and not the die maker? Maybe he transferred to Damaskos but died soon afterwards?

These are my favorite types of coins - those you can write a novel about...

Thanks! I can recommend waiting for an example from Damaskos with dies by Taylor's "Engraver 5" as I think they're the nicest style for both obverse and reverse. Thankfully they're relatively common too. kapphnwn's example is actually from that engraver as well (as is one of my other Damaskos examples).

Definitely possible they imported all of their engravers, almost certainly some of them I would think. Taylor speculates that they may have come from Arados or elsewhere in Phoenicia. I think it's also possible that local engravers who worked on non-coin mediums could have been trained by a few imported engravers from other mints and that's why we end up with such a unique style. If all of the engravers had previously honed their skills at other Alexadrine mints, I suspect that the first dies would be more similar to the dies of mints they had come from (e.g. like the "Amphipolis" obverse of my coin). Hard to really say though but it's fun to speculate!

31 minutes ago, kapphnwn said:

Very interesting coin. @Kaleun96 I do believe it would be possible that a coin struck in Amphipolis circa 331 BC could have been seen by a die cutter at Damaskos circa 325 BC and possibly copied.  Once the war with Sparta was concluded many of the men hired by Antipater would probably be looking for employment elsewhere and there was a lot of potential in the newly conquered territories of the east. However  However I am am somewhat concerned about the treatment of the eye. I have only one coin of Alexander from the mint of Damaskos

Alexander III Ar Tetradrachm Damaskos 326-323 BC. Obv Head of beardless Herakles right wearing Lions skin headdress, Rv Zeus Aetophoros seated left holding eagle and scepter. HGC 910j Taylor Group 2.2.2. A11/P/1 This coin referenced 17.20 grms 25 mm. Photo by W. Hansen

alexandert20.jpg.55f740d01297d17b623d08f880897247.jpg

Taylor makes the hypothesis that this mint may have been in operation for about a year. it may have been a bit longer as the length of time needed to strike this coinage would require fairly intensive production. I tend to favor a slightly later date of circa 325-324BC as the production of coins from this mint would coincide with the return of the army from India.    Interestingly only tetradrachms are known to have been struck at this mint,  

While I do think it's likely early Amphipolis tetradrachms would have made their way to Damaskos by this point, I'm inclined to think the obverse of my coin is not someone's attempt at copying an existing style. Primarily because we don't see such a strong resemblance to the style of another mint in any other obverses from Damaskos, even though one can draw some parallels with styles seen at Arados and others. It would perhaps be more plausible if we knew most engravers were quite capable of replicating other styles closely and that they just often chose not to, in which case it could be argued that this was someone's attempt at being an "Amphipolis" engraver for a day. I guess the trouble here is that the evidence required to suggest an engraver's style could be copied accurately is difficult to distinguish from the evidence that is used to identify distinct engravers in general (i.e. how do you separate an imitator from the original artist).

Another reason is that this obverse is paired with a relatively late type in the sequence of the mint (Series 2.4). If the obverse was paired with one of the Series 1 reverses, that would possibly indicate the engraver was looking to copy an existing style from elsewhere at the beginning of the mint's operation when he had little to go on. But mid Series 2 you would expect the engraver likely had plenty of Series 1, if not Series 2, obverse dies to copy from even if all of these dies were produced within a relatively short space of time.

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However I am am somewhat concerned about the treatment of the eye

Are you talking about the scrapes over the eye or the somewhat odd style of the eye? The eye socket in particular is strange, almost like it was half-finished or not struck well. The sharp ridge of the socket that goes in front of the eye and along the nose in particular stood out to me when I first saw it. Almost looks like the sharp edge you see from some circular countermarks yet that doesn't appear to be what it is.

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