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Insects on ancients: my latest bee has knucklebones!


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Some things in life just don't seem to belong together, like insects on ancient coins, fruits in liquor, or most politicians in modern politics. But for better or for worse, here we are.

I am a fan of the strange however, and was happy to take this little cutie home last month:


Ionia. Ephesos. AE 14. Century IV-III BC. Uncertain magistrate, Arxippos?. (Sng Cop-247/253 var). (Bmc-58/66 var). Anv.: Bee; Ε-Φ flanking. Rev.: Stag kneeling to left, head to right, astragalos above; HPOΓΓITΩN? to left . Ae. 2,00 g. 13.1mm. Purchased from Bucephalus Sept 2023

Here's double trouble; I can't pick this coin up. Either side I pick it up by stings me!



Æs, 1st century BC Chr .; 22mm, 4.22 g. Zeus head right, behind it scepter // winged lightning, round counterstamp: bee. SNG v. Aulock 4455; SNG France 2091; Kosmetikatou, Elizabeth, The Coinage of Lycian Termessos pros Oinoandois, in: Quaderni Ticinesi XXVII (1998), Series I, No. 39. SNG v. Aulock 4455. Brown patina,

Purchased from Savoca December 2021

And this coin keeps hoping away whenever I try to pick it up:


SICILY, "Kainon".

Circa 365 BC. Æ 25mm (7.15 g, 11h). Griffin springing left; below, grasshopper left / Horse prancing left, trailing rein; star above. CNS 10; SNG ANS 1176 (Alaesa). Green and brown patina.

Not identifiable with a known mint in Sicily, the Kainon issues have traditionally been attributed to Alaisa. They may have been struck by mercenaries in the employ of Dione of Leontini.


So please, bug me and share any and all insects that you have on your ancients, coins of Ionia, or anything that gives you a buzz!

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Nice pickups! As I understand, the priestesses of Artemis were called "bees", while the high priest was called the "king bee". Obviously, they weren't aware that all bees are female back then. 🙂 

I have a really nice insect coming this week that will require its own post, but here are what I have so far.


Troas, Gentinos
4th century BCE
Æ 14mm, 1.94g, 3h
Female head (Artemis?) r.
R/ Bee; palm tree to lower l.
Bellinger 145; SNG München 194-6; SNG Copenhagen 335



Thessaly, Melitaia
irca 325-300 BCE
Æ 2.75g, 14mm, 12h
Laureate head of Zeus to right
Bee; Μ-[Ε] Λ-Ι in two lines across fields.
Rogers 396; BCD Thessaly II 459; HGC 4, 23
Ex J. Greiff Collection



Ionia. Ephesos
circa 375-325 BCE
Æ 11 mm, 1,87 g
Draped and turreted bust of Tyche left, wearing earring and necklace
E-F, bee
SNG Copenhagen 256; BMC Ionia pg. 55, 68-70; SNG von Aulock 1839; Laffaille -



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The priestesses of Artemis were called 'milissae' (bee keeper or honey gatherer), which is where the proper name Melissa derives.

There was an excellent discussion at Forvm many years ago regarding the bees of Ephesus and whether or not some of them were not in fact modeled on the honey wasp which was indigenous to the region. We do seem to witness at least two different species depicted on these coins, some with straight wings and some with curved. The bodies can appear different too. Can anybody elaborate on this?

~ Peter 

Edit: BTW Ryro, there's your knucklebone.  🙂



Edited by Phil Anthos
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When is a bee not a bee? When it's a wasp, or even a cicada...

Taras, Calabria

272-235 BC (Period VIII - The Roman Alliance I)
AR Didrachm (18.5mm, 6.50g)
O: Nude youth on horseback right, placing wreath on horse's head; ΦI behind, I-ΩΠ-YPO-[Σ] (magistrate) below.
R: Taras riding dolphin left, holding cornucopiae and trident; bee to right, Τ-ΑΡΑΣ below.
Vlasto 855; Evans VIII, B2; McGill II, 99; Cote 490-92; cf HGC I, 889; HN Italy 1029; SNG ANS 1183; SNG Cop 919
ex Dr. Busso Peus; ex Germania Inferior Numismatics

Evans calls the insect on this reverse a cicada, a very important symbol in ancient times (see J.C.B Petropolous’ marvelous work ‘Heat and Lust; Hesiod’s Midsummer Festival Scene Revisited’, a very insightful look at ancient agricultural and fertility practices). However Vlasto lists this as a bee, and I tend to think this is likely. It sure looks more like a bee to me.
It’s a real pity that the obverse is struck off-center here, as the artistic and natural rendering of the horse is not typical of these late period didrachms.

~ Peter 


Edited by Phil Anthos
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I have only one lonely insect on any of my ancient coins:

Roman Republic, C. Allius Bala, AR Denarius, 92 BCE, Rome mint. Obv.: Diademed female head (Diana?)* right, wearing necklace; BALA behind, control mark "R" below chin / Rev.: Diana in biga of stags right, holding sceptre and reins in left hand and flaming torch in right, with quiver over shoulder; control-mark (grasshopper) below stags; C•ALLI in exergue; all within laurel wreath. Crawford 336/1b; RSC I Aelia [Allia] 4 (ill.), Sear RCV I 221 (ill.), BMCRR 1742-1771 [no specimen with control-letter "R"]. 17 mm., 3.88 g.**


* Varying identifications of obverse head: Crawford ("female head r., wearing diadem"); RSC I ("female head (Diana?)"); BMCRR (same); Sear RCV I ("female deity").

** Moneyer otherwise unknown. See BMCRR I p. 238 n. 2: "This type may refer to the annual festival in honor of Diana held on the Aventine, where her temple stood, and at which torch races occurred. . . . C. Allius Bala was apparently the first moneyer to introduce a symbol as a mintmark in conjunction with a letter."

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Nice coins!


Here is a tiny bee from Ephesos:


Ephesos (375-325 BC)
Obv.: Female head (Artemis?) left
Rev.: E-Φ, Bee
AE, 1.55g, 10.3mm
Ref.: BMC 55, 68; Klein, KM 52, 378; SNG Muenchen 52


and one from Hierocaesareia


Lydia, Hierokaisareia
Pseudo-autonomous issue
2nd century
Obv: Bee within wreath
Rev.: ΙЄΡΟΚΑΙСΑΡЄΩΝ, Stag standing left.
AE, 4.00g, 18mm
Ref.: RPC III 1868

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I only have two bees, no other insects - this is cool because in the real life I hate them 


11 mm, 0,92 g.
Ionia, Ephesos. AR diobol. Circa 500-420 BC.
Bee with slightly curved wings, on it spiral decoration / Quadripartite incuse square.
Karwiese Series VI, 2A; SNG Kayhan 124.

The second is a posthumous Alexander drachm (8 o clock)


17 mm, 3,75 g.
Alexander III, posthumous. Philip III Arrhidaios - struck under Menander or Kleitos. Magnesia ad Maeandrum. AR drachm. 323-319 BC.
Head of Herakles right, wearing lionskin headdress / AΛEXANΔΡOY to right of Zeus seated left, right leg drawn back, holding eagle and sceptre. bee left in left field, spear-head in outer right field.
Price 1937-1938; Mueller 322-323; SNG Cop. 952.

This is indeed a bee although I had difficulties in understanding what it is. Here is a better example of my type - not my coin 


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Here is another bee, but not from Ionia:


PHOENICIA, Gabala? AE, 11.5mm, 1.49g
Obv: Gorgoneion
Rev: Bee (or fly?)

Although dealers have started to attribute this to Praisos on Crete, Henri Seyrig attributed it to Gabala in Syria ("Monnaies hellénistiques", Revue Numismatique (1964)) and dated it to 55/54 BC.


The inscription is probably a date.  I feel like I should be able to read it.  Unfortunately I am not certain if it is in Greek or Phoenician, and which direction is is going.

Edited by Ed Snible
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