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Two Samarian Curiosities


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Recently I noticed two Samarian coins at very reasonable prices. When I researched the types, I found that they have inscriptions, but no example has surfaced yet where they're legible. Since I felt these both had inscriptions that could be deciphered, I ordered both.

Samaria is a recent mini-collection for me, since I already have two examples and I also have six more that I won at auction but they haven't shipped yet. Therefore, I was curious how these would fit.


Samaria. “Middle Levantine” Series
Circa 375-333 BCE
AR Obol 0.68g, 9mm
Obv.: cow standing right, head left, suckling calf.
Rev.: stag recumbent left, head right; olive spray to right.
Meshorer & Qedar 148; Sofaer 229



Circa 375-333 BCE
AR Obol 0.64g, 8mm
Obv.: head of horned creature right.
Rev.: forepart of bull right.
Meshorer & Qedar 159


I expected to have more trouble with the first one, but the reality was reversed. Luckily, I'd also purchased a copy of Meshorer & Qedar's Samarian Coinage in anticipation of my Samarian haul.  On the reverse of the first coin, you can clearly see the letter SH. The second letter, though, is tougher.

However, the reverse of my coin closely resembles Meshorer Qedar 62, an example of which is here. That coin has the inscription "SH L", which I believe is the same as mine. The top of the letter is visible, which corresponds to an Aramaic L, but the bottom is clouded. However, given the similarities in the obverse and the visible lettering consistency, I believe the inscription is the same.

Meshorer and Qedar surmise that SH L stands for "Shelamyah", who was one of the sons of Sanballat. Shelamyah, his brother Delayah, and Sanballat are all mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri and all are believed to have been governors of Samaria. All three have tentative coinage assigned.

The second coin, though, is much tougher. Since I had difficulties from the photo, I used a more powerful macro to take a closeup.


Unfortunately, this doesn't really help. I also tried looking at other examples that sold, perhaps the best of which is this one. I believe mine is a bit clearer, but it's still very difficult to decipher. I think the last letter is a B and the middle one is an M. The first then kind of looks like an N. So, NMB is my best guess, but it's probably wrong.

I did go through Meshorer & Qedar and compare all the inscriptions to mine, and didn't find a decent match. My suspicion is therefore this is some other inscription. I'll have to wait for some better example to reach the market to have a better idea.

What do you think?

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Brilliant stuff, @kirispupis, and you are to be congratulated for just diving in and buying them, in anticipation of finding out more.

That's a tactic I can get lots of traction with, especially regarding similarly underresearched feudal coins of the 10th and 11th centuries.  It's bracing to learn that the same phenomenon exists with ancients, even these coolly Semitic ones.  Anyway, wishing you luck narrowing in on the legends, sooner than later!

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