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Demetrios of Phaleron


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With very few people left on my original list of Philip II, Alexander III, and the Era of the Diadochi collection, I've begun researching more people who pop up in the literature and searching whether a coin may be ascribed to them. In general, I have the following rules for inclusion, though in practice I've made an exception for each.

  1. Must have been active around the time of Philip II, Alexander III, and the Diadochi
  2. Must have had interactions with at least several others
  3. The person must either have had enough power when the coin was minted to affect its minting, or the city must be named for that person during his/her lifetime.
  4. The literature must make it reasonable that the coin was minted during the time frame he/she was in power

So, while I was reading Plutarch's Life of Demetrios the other day, I noticed that Demetrios of Phaleron was dictator over Athens - having been installed there by Kassander - from 317-307 BCE, when he was deposed by Demetrios Poliorketes - the subject of Plutarch's story. The obvious thought was - could a coin be assigned to that time?

Luckily, it didn't take too much research to determine the answer was "yes". Kroll discusses this specifically.

The third and largest Two-owl variety (46) is the last Athenian issue that was struck before the destruction of the Kerameikos Building Z-3 between ca. 320-317 and the start of the Owl-left issue 50 in 307 (see below). 46 appears quite clearly then to belong to the 317-307 oligarchy that Kassandros installed under Demetrios of Phaleron. It is likely that one or both of the two related issues, 44 and 45, were minted during this same regime or under the 322-317 oligarchy that Antipatros established under Phokion.

So, now all I had to do was obtain Kroll 46 or maybe 44 or 45, no easy task when it comes to Athenian bronzes. (note: yes, I'm sure Kroll's dating may be debated, but since his research bodes well for me, I'm accepting it). There are a few other types I've been waiting on for over a year now, so it would have to join the list.

However, as luck would have it, I'd picked up Kroll 46 just the week before when an intriguing bronze popped up and I grabbed it.


Attica, Athens
322/17-307 BCE
Ae 3.2g, 12h
Obv.: Helmeted head of Athena right within dotted border.
Rev.: Two owl confronted, heads facing, on thunderbolt, all within wreath. AΘΕ below.
Kroll 46, HGC 4, 1726 


Demetrios of Phaleron was an interesting guy, a rare philosopher actually put into a leadership role. He studied under Theophrastos - famous today for his Characters - along with the famous playright Menander, who was the prime driver for new comedy (though personally I far prefer the old comedy of Aristophanes). 

He played a major role in Athens even before Kassander installed him, having been on the more moderate and less anti-Macedonian side of Phokion. He wrote extensively and was often quoted by Plutarch and others, but otherwise all of his works have perished. 

Even in ancient times, the efficacy of Demetrios of Phaleron's rule was controversial. One example is from Strabo.

 For although this man is reputed to have been rather tyrannical in his dealings with all others, yet he was kindly disposed towards the Athenians, once he had reduced the city to subjection; for he placed over the citizens Demetrius of Phalerum, one of the disciples of Theophrastus the philosopher, who not only did not destroy the democracy but even improved it, as is made clear in the Memoirs which Demetrius wrote concerning this government. But the envy and hatred felt for oligarchy was so strong that, after the death of Cassander, Demetrius was forced to flee to Egypt; and the statues of him, more than three hundred, were pulled down by the insurgents and melted, and some writers go on to say that they were made into chamber pots. 

After being deposed by the other Demetrios, he fled to Ptolemy in Egypt, where according to Diogenes Laertius:

Hermippus tells us that upon the death of Casander, being in fear of Antigonus, he fled to Ptolemy Soter. There he spent a considerable time and advised Ptolemy, among other things, to invest with sovereign power his children by Eurydice. To this Ptolemy would not agree, but bestowed the diadem on his son by Berenice, who, after Ptolemy's death, thought fit to detain Demetrius as a prisoner in the country until some decision should be taken concerning him. There he lived in great dejection, and somehow, in his sleep, received an asp-bite on the hand which proved fatal. 

Someday, when I visit Egypt, this may cause a bit of unrest for sleep. 

Nevertheless, I'm extremely happy to add this coin to my collection, even though it was already part of my collection when I realized its significance. 🙂

Feel free to show your coins you realized were more interesting some time after acquiring them!

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Yep, the wink was a clue!

I love this line - "yet he was kindly disposed towards the Athenians, once he had reduced the city to subjection"...

And how he "somehow" got an asp bite.

1 hour ago, kirispupis said:

I far prefer the old comedy of Aristophanes

He's also the source of a good quote about Athenian bronze.

It has often struck our notice that the course our city runs
Is the same towards men and money. She has true and worthy sons:
She has good and ancient silver, she has good and recent gold.
These are coins untouched with alloys; everywhere their fame is told;
Not all Hellas holds their equal, not all Barbary far and near.
Gold or silver, each well minted, tested each and ringing clear.
Yet, we never use them! Others always pass from hand to hand.
Sorry brass just struck last week and branded with a wretched brand.
So with men we know for upright, blameless lives and noble names.
Trained in music and palaestra, freemen's choirs and freemen's games,
These we spurn for men of brass...

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The Greek Coins Author(s): John H. Kroll and Alan S. Walker Source: The Athenian Agora, Vol. 26, The Greek Coins (1993), pp. iii-v+vii-xxvi+1-295+297- 333+335-355+357-376 Published by: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/360200


My only source for Athenian bronze coins.   I used it for the Fulminating Zeus coins with pontic  symbols and the latter "NewStyle" owl on amphora bronzes that seem to echo the silver NewStyles.   I think their dating is spot on (ish)   but the rest is up for debate, unless he has published anything else!

Keep me posted!

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Posted · Supporter

Nice! It's always fun to discover new and interesting aspects to coins already in your collection. That happened to me with this coin here:


Time of Agathokles, 317-289 BC
AE14 (14.22mm, 2.14g, 7h)
Struck 305-295 BC
Obverse: Head of Athena left, wearing crested Corinthian helmet
Reverse: ΣΥΡΑ-ΚΟΣΙΩΝ above and below winged thunderbolt
References: CNS 118, Favorito 38a (this coin illustrated)
Attractive green patina. This coin is the illustrated plate coin in Emilo N. Favorito’s reference manual "The Bronze Coinage of Ancient Syracuse", published in 1990 by the Society Historia Numorum. Notated as being from the collection of Favorito himself.


I bought this coin in a group lot with little to no description, and only much later found that it is actually a plate coin. I now own a copy of Favorito's reference catalog, which itself happens to be autographed by the author for one of the contributors.

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Nice find and a write-up that adds a lot of historical context!

I bought mine for the whopping sum of 3€ in 2018. A bargain bin find that might well be the ugliest coin that I own. As far as I can see, it is Kroll 46, too:


Attica, Athens, AE 13, ca. 322–307 BC. Obv: head of Athena with Attic helmet r. Rev: two owls standing on thunderbolt; below, ethnic AΘE; all in olive wreath. 13mm, 2.10g. Ref: SNG Copenhagen 92–93; Kroll 46.

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