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The mystery of the nine-rayed star


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  • Benefactor

As most of you have figured out by now, I'm a sucker for "mystery coins". This one is a special case. Note that the attribution is mine.


Gargara (?), Troas
3rd-2nd centuries BCE
Æ 12mm, 1,92g
Obv: Head of Hermes, right, wearing petasus; caduceus behind
Rev: Nine-rayed star
Unpublished; May be unique


What sets this apart from my "usual" mystery coin is the absence of an ethnic. Typically in these issues, there's some text within the rays of the star. There may be some evidence of the remnants of an ethic, but even when I look through the loupe there's nothing remotely decipherable.

Looking at the obverse, there's what's almost certainly Hermes, with a Kerykeion on this shoulder. The Kerykeion is a strong hint for Hermes. This coin from Gargara is nearly an exact ringer for the obverse, but the trouble is Gargara has no known coins with any rayed-star.

The star was what piqued my interest. It has nine-rays. The eight rayed star was prevalent on ancient coinage, especially from Asia Minor. It symbolized a number of things, such as Helios, regeneration, navigation, and harmony and balance. I could not find any meaning for a nine rayed star, but I did find some coins depicting one from nearby Kolone.

Kolone seemed to issue coins with both eight-rayed and nine-rayed stars, with the majority being eight-rayed. My suspicion is there was no symbolism of a nine-rayed star vs eight-rayed and the die maker just made a mistake sometimes. Kolone did issue a few coins with Hermes, but nothing remotely near this design AFAICT.

So, the reverse is a strong match for Kolone, and the obverse is a strong match for Gargara. My belief is the coin comes from one or the other, but I'm not sure if it's possible to specify which. For my website, I've for now put it under Gargara.

Would anyone have other ideas?

Feel free to show your own coins with Hermes and/or stars!

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3 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Would anyone have other ideas?

I've looked at all my saved articles on the stars on Greek coins, from Sicily to Thrace, and can't find anything that has Hermes and the  9 pointed star.  There are a few specific lengthy ones on the star and symbolism, but nothing,  including one with pages of the types but nothing close.  I'd love to hear what the answer is.


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  • Benefactor

So, I don't have anything more concrete after a considerable amount of research, but this is growing interesting.

What I'm particularly focusing on right now is the coinage of Kolone/Kolonai (it was referred to by both the singular and the plural). The vast majority of its coinage resembles my coin.


TROAS. Kolone
4th century BCE
Chalkous AE 15.5 mm, 3.79 g
Helmeted head of Athena to right. Rev. KOΛΩNAΩN between the rays of an eight-pointed star.
SNG Copenhagen 277. SNG von Aulock 1552

The format is the helmet + crested Athena on the obverse and a star with KOΛΩNAΩN on the reverse. I just noticed that many attributions get this wrong - inserting an I or an E in there. The correct spelling (per the Kolonaians) was KOΛΩNAΩN, in the Aeolic dialect. This is the strongest evidence they considered themselves Aeolians.

Among the different variants, there are eight-rayed stars and nine-rayed stars. At first I wrote this off as an engraver's error, but now I'm not so sure. Just going through some of the bronzes on ACSearch, I counted at least six with nine rays. My suspicion now is there was some meaning between the eight and nine rays.

It appears there was a local historian of Kolonai names Daes, but sadly his works have been out of print for over 2000 years. The city itself was later combined into Antigoneia (later Alexandria) Troad in 310 BCE. Not much of its history has remained.

One funny thing is that not a single nine-rayed example I found on auction or from a seller mentioned that it had nine rays. Most erroneously listed eight rays and was likely copied from somewhere.

I do feel that the motive for a nine-rayed reverse on the Kolone issues was likely the same motive for my coin. I'm doubtful that my coin comes from Kolone, though, because

  1. Kolone's bronzes were pretty uniform in their use of Athena for the obverse, and mine is obviously Hermes
  2. Kolone's bronzes also prominently displayed the city name within the rays. Mine would at least have some traces of the inscription.

Therefore, I still believe Gargara is the safe choice, but I'm seeking a better understanding. For now, I found a nine-pointed Kolone for sale and grabbed it so I could have both examples.

I've never tried the art of listing dies. I've been wondering whether a die study (if it's even possible) would reveal some information here or maybe suggest a chronology. My gut feeling is for some relatively short period of time, Kolone switched to a nine-rayed star. It may have been at the beginning of the coinage, at the end (around the time of joining with Antigoneia), or in the middle.

It certainly seems like a subject that would be worth an investigation.

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