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Poseidon vs Persians


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Perhaps one of the most fascinating freak occurrences of nature took place in 479 BCE, when an army of Persians besieged the Chalkidian city of Potidaia.

Herodotos related it best.

He then in such a manner as this had been discovered; and when three months had gone by while Artabazos was besieging the town, there came to be a great ebb of the sea backwards, which lasted for a long time; and the Barbarians, seeing that shallow water had been produced, endeavoured to get by into the peninsula of Pallene, but when they had passed through two fifth-parts of the distance, and yet three-fifths remained, which they must pass through before they were within Pallene, then there came upon them a great flood-tide of the sea, higher than ever before, as the natives of the place say, though high tides come often. So those of them who could not swim perished, and those who could were slain by the men of Potidaia who put out to them in boats. The cause of the high tide and flood and of that which befell the Persians was this, as the Potidaians say, namely that these same Persians who perished by means of the sea had committed impiety towards the temple of Poseidon and his statue in the suburb of their town; and in saying that this was the cause, in my opinion they say well. 

Essentially, when the water suddenly receded, the port of Potidaia was suddenly accessible, so the Persians mustered forward. Just when they thought this Poseidon guy was a pushover and they would have booty and slaves that night, a tsunami rushed in and annihilated them.

For years, it was thought that anyone who actually believed this story should be sold a bridge in Rome. However, a study from the University of Aachen confirmed that a tsunami definitely occurred around this time, based on taking soil fragments from the area. The tsunami wasn't caused by an earthquake, but instead was a meteotsunami - which are caused by rapid changes in barometric pressure.

Here is my recent acquisition from Potidaia.


Macedon. Potidaea
380-350 BCE
Æ 14,5mm 3,57g
Head of Athena wearing Corinthian helmet.
R/ Pegasos flying right; Π Ο below.

The city itself was founded by Corinthians, as the coin makes obvious. It comes from long after the Persians drowned. In 363 BCE, it was taken by Athens. When Philip II took Amphipolis from the Athenians in 356 BCE, he pretty much ruined that alliance. To forge a new one, he volunteered to besiege Potidaia and hand it over to Olynthos, which he did in 356 BCE.

As we all know, Macedon's alliance with Olynthos didn't last very long, and in 348 BCE a much stronger Macedon took on the Chalkidian League and destroyed Potidaia, among other Chalkidian cities. Much later, Kassander built his own city of Kassandreia nearby.

It's difficult to ascertain exactly when a coin was minted, but I like to speculate. Most of the coins of Potidaia are from the archaic era - 400 BCE and earlier - when it was far stronger. Coins from the 4th century are all bronze AFAIK and rare. There are three varieties I'm aware of.

  1. Athena on the obverse and a Corinthian trident on the reverse. My guess is - based on the presence of Athena - that these were minted from 363 to 356 BCE when the city was under Athenian control.
  2. Unknown female head on the obverse and a butting bull on the reverse. I couldn't find any silver coinage of Potidaia that was similar, though IMHO it strongly resembles bronze issues from Plakia, though I don't believe the Potidaian coins depict Kybele. I can only guess that they were minted before Athenian control, so before 363 BCE.
  3. This type, which appears to be the rarest of the three in that it's the only example I could find. As a best guess, I believe it was also minted before Athenian control, but I think it's difficult to say which came first.
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