Ancient Greek Coins of MiletusRobert J. O’Hara (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The ancient Greek city of Miletus in Asia Minor, on what is now the west coast of Turkey, has been called the birthplace of the modern world. Home of Thales, “the father of philosophy,” and his followers Anaximander and Anaximenes, Miletus was the intellectual and commercial capital of the Greek world in the century before Athens rose to prominence. At the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars, Miletus was beseiged and eventually destroyed by the armies of Darius the Great, and while the city was later rebuilt, it never recovered its early importance. By the Middle Ages the once-busy harbors of Miletus had largely silted up and the site was abandoned. These pages discuss the origins and early history of Western coinage and present a detailed outline of Milesian coin types from the Greek and Roman periods.
Illustrated table of contents (this page).
Illustrated numerical catalogue — An abbreviated listing of all the specimens shown on these pages, arranged in numerical order by catalogue number.
Introduction, history, and weight standards — An introduction to the history and coinage of Miletus, including a discussion of the Lydo-Milesian weight standard.
Tabular chronology of Milesian coinage — A synoptic view of the Greek coinage of Miletus from the sixth to the first century before Christ.
The electrum lion coins of the kings of Lydia — Considered by some to be the first true coins, these archaic electrum pieces were issued by the early Lydian kings—probably Alyattes or Sadyattes—about 600 BC, several decades before the reign of the famous Lydian king Croesus. Their design influenced the later silver coins of Miletus. (1 example.)
The mysterious “geometric” electrum series — One of the most unusual of all ancient coin types, these enigmatic Lydo-Milesian electrum issues may be the first coins ever produced with specific designs on both the obverse and reverse. They were minted on the same weight standard as the Lydian electrum and the electrum and early silver of Miletus, but their exact origin is unknown. (1 example.)
The early electrum lion coins of Miletus — The first series of coins that is attributable to Miletus with certainty is a well-known group of sixth-century electrum issues that include full staters as well as thirds, sixths, twelfths, and twenty-fourths. The larger denominations feature a regardant lion, a device that will appear on almost all Milesian coinage for the next five centuries. (2 examples.)
The electrum and silver lion/scorpion issues — A series of early electrum forty-eighth stater fractions that feature a lion’s face or paw on the obverse along with a scorpion on the reverse may have been minted at Miletus or at nearby Mylasa in Caria. A similar series is also known in silver; it may be contemporary with the electrum lion/scorpion issues or may be a later design. (3 examples.)
The eye-swirl/quincunx fractions — One of the first silver coin types ever minted, these tiny silver fractions weigh just over a tenth of a gram and feature a swirl or eye-like pattern on the obverse. Although their exact place of origin is uncertain, their quincuncial reverse design is nearly identical to one of the reverse punches that regularly appears on the largest early electrum coins from Miletus. (12 examples.)
The silver dotted lion-mask series — These small silver coins are often attributed to Miletus, and they feature a facing lion mask within a dotted border on the obverse, along with a dotted square or sun-like design on the reverse. Their metrology is unusual, however, and the fractional denominations represented in the series suggest that these coins might have originated from a different mint. (7 examples.)
The archaic twelfth-stater series — One of the more familiar Greek coin types from the Archaic period, these small Milesian silver pieces were issued about 500 BC and weigh roughly 1.12 g. On the obverse they feature a lion—the Milesian city symbol—and on the reverse an ornament variously described as a flower, sun, or star. Ancient counterfeits of this type have also been documented. (21 examples.)
Milesian-style forty-eighth and ninety-sixth staters — These tiny silver fractions weighing less than a third of a gram are often attributed to Miletus but may be from the nearby city of Mylasa in Caria. Many varieties exist—with the obverse lion facing left or right, the reverse bird facing left or right, and one or two pellets being present on either side of the bird—but no pattern has been found in the variation. (14 examples.)
The lion-head/lion-scalp series — The obverse of these small silver coins features the familar Milesian lion head, but the reverse depicts a facing lion scalp. Though sometimes attributed to Miletus, they are more probably from the city of Mylasa in Caria, about 35 miles southeast of Miletus. The satraps of Caria had close relations with Miletus during the fifth and fourth centuries BC. (2 examples.)
The Milesian revivals of the Hecatomnids — During the first half of the fourth century BC, the philhellenic Persian satraps Hecatomnus, Mausolus, and Hidrieus of Caria issued a series of silver coins that revived the archaic lion-head/sun types of Miletus. Whether these coins were actually struck at Miletus or at a nearby mint in Caria is uncertain, but the familiar type would have been readily identifiable as Milesian throughout southern Asia Minor. (2 examples.)
The bronze lion/sun series — The earliest bronze coins of Miletus, from the fourth century BC, revived one of the oldest stylistic themes in the city’s coinage: the sun-like reverse design. These bronze issues are also the first inscribed coins of Miletus, and often have the name of a magistrate around the reverse border. (3 examples.)
The Rhodian silver and bronze Apollo/lion series — Many silver and bronze coins of Miletus from the fourth century onward depict the head of the city’s patron deity, Apollo, on the obverse, and on the reverse feature a standing lion looking back at the sun. The name of the issuing magistrate or moneyer usually appears in the exergue, the narrow space below the standing lion. (7 examples.)
Lifetime issues of Alexander the Great — The coinage of Alexander the Great was the first truly imperial coinage the world had ever seen. Minted at many localities from Greece to central Asia, Alexander’s coins used a small number of fixed types along with a wide range of mint marks and other symbols to indicate their city of origin. The Alexander issues of Miletus were struck during two distinct periods, with this first group dating from about 325–318 BC. (5 examples.)
The reduced-Rhodian didrachms and parallel bronzes — [Description pending.] (3 examples.)
The posthumous diadochian and civic Alexanders — For many years after Alexander’s death his successors, the diadochi, continued to issue coinage in his name and types. This practice was extended well into the third century BC by many Greek cities, which simply added their own civic monograms to the familiar Alexandrian designs. The Milesian issues of the diadochi and the subsequent civic Alexanders with the ΜΙ monogram of Miletus were struck from about 300 BC onwards. (2 examples.)
The third-century silver and bronze Apollo/lion issues — The autonomous third-century coinage of Miletus included a distinctive group of silver didrachms, drachms, and hemidrachms struck on the Persic standard, probably issued in parallel with the bronze facing-Apollo series (below). An uncommon third-century profile-Apollo bronze issue was probably minted during a gap in the production of facing-Apollo types. (2 examples.)
The bronze facing-Apollo series — A third-century bronze version of the long-running Apollo/lion coinage of Miletus features a three-quarter facing view of Apollo on the obverse, rather than the more common profile view, along with the familiar regardant lion on the reverse. These coins were issued in three different denominations by a variety of magistrates. (6 examples.)
The second-century silver Apollo/lion issues — The early silver Apollo/lion coinage of Miletus generally featured types that faced to the left, but the later issues most often have types that face to the right. The chronology of these second-century silver Apollo/lion issues is very complex, as they were minted on several different weight standards in a variety of denominations by many different magistrates. (5 examples.)
The wreathed bronze Apollo/lion series — Within the extensive Apollo/lion coinage of Miletus, issued in silver and bronze from the fourth to the first century BC, the late “wreathed bronzes” form an easily recognized group. In these issues the obverse portrait of Apollo is surrounded by a border of dots, and the reverse lion is enclosed in a laurel wreath. A common large denomination and a rare small denomination are known. (8 examples.)
The bronze Apollo of Didyma series — The temple of Apollo at Didyma, a few miles from Miletus, was one of the great religious centers of the ancient Greek world. The oracle of Apollo Didymaeus was regarded as second in importance only to the famous Delphic Oracle on the Greek mainland. These bronze coins feature the famous Archaic statue of Apollo Didymaeus sculpted by Canachus. (2 examples; 1 sidebar.)
Roman provincial bronzes of Nero — As the Roman Empire expanded to the east, Miletus eventually became incorporated into Rome’s Province of Asia. Among the provincial bronze coins struck at Miletus by a number of Roman emperors were these types which feature an obverse portrait of the emperor Nero (AD 54–68) and a reverse image of the Milesian cult statues of Apollo Didymaeus and Artemis. (2 examples.)
Roman provincial bronzes of Domitian — The emperor Domitian, son of Vespasian, brother of Titus, and the last member of the Flavian dynasty, ruled the Roman empire from AD 81–96. Provincial coinage was struck in his name at more than 90 mints, including Miletus. (1 example.)
Roman provincial bronzes of Gordian III — The teenage emperor Gordian III ruled for only six years (AD 238–244), but he left a surprisingly large numismatic legacy. Miletus was one of his many mints in Asia Minor. (1 example.)
Ottoman silver akçes of Sultan Mehmed I — During the Byzantine period Miletus came to be known as Palatia, from the old “palaces” that dotted the site and the new Byzantine castle built into the ruins of the Roman theater. Under the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks “Palatia” became “Balat,” “Balad,” or “Beled,” and Sultan Mehmed I struck silver akçes at Balad in the year 1413 (AH 816). These coins, minted just 2000 years after the first coins of Miletus, are likely the final issues of this birthplace of Western coinage. (1 example.)
References and literature cited — A list of publications useful in the study of Milesian coins and the ancient coinage of Asia Minor in general.
- Other online resources — Recommended websites about ancient coins.
© RJO 1995–2015