Ancient Greek Coins of Miletus

The ancient Greek city of Miletus in Asia Minor, on what is now the west coast of Turkey, was the intellectual and commercial center of the Greek world in the century before Athens rose to prominence. It has been called the birthplace of the modern world. These pages discuss the early history of coinage and present a detailed outline of Milesian coin types from the Greek and Roman periods.

PAGES: Illustrated table of contentsIllustrated numerical catalogueHistory and weight standardsChronological tableThe electrum lion coins of the kings of Lydia (1)The enigmatic “geometric” electrum series (1)The sixth-century electrum lion coins of Miletus (2)The electrum and silver lion/scorpion issues (3)The silver eye-swirl/quincunx fractions (12)The dotted lion-mask series (7)The archaic twelfth-stater series (21)The silver Milesian-style lion/bird fractions (14)The lion-head/lion-scalp series (2)Milesian imitatives of Hecatomnus, Mausolus, and Hidrieus (2)The fourth-century bronze lion/sun series (3)The Rhodian silver and bronze Apollo/lion series (7)Early silver and bronze of Alexander the Great (5)The reduced-Rhodian didrachms and their parallel bronzes (3)The later Diadochian and civic Alexander types (2)The third-century Persic silver and bronze Apollo/lion series (2)The bronze facing-Apollo coinage (6)The second-century silver Apollo/lion issues (5)The wreathed bronze Apollo/lion series (8)The bronze Apollo of Didyma series (2)Provincial bronzes of Nero (2)Provincial bronzes of Domitian (1)Provincial bronzes of Faustina the Younger (1)Provincial bronzes of Gordian III (1)The Ottoman silver akçes of fifteenth-century Balad (1)References and literature citedAncient coin resources online.

(1) The Posthumous Diadochian and Civic Alexander Issues

Contents of this page

The vast imperial coinage of Alexander the Great and his successors (the diadochi) is a subject of specialist study. Miletus was one Alexander’s principal silver drachm mints, and it was the mint for many bronze and gold issues as well. Martin Jessop Price’s two-volume Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus is the standard reference for Alexandrian coins in general, and Margaret Thompson’s monograph Alexander’s Drachm Mints, I: Sardes and Miletus treats the issues of Sardes (Sardis) and Miletus specifically.

The Alexander coinage of Miletus was struck during two distinct chronological periods, separated by a gap of about twenty years. The lifetime and early posthumous issues, grouped by Thompson into eight consecutive series (I–VIII), were produced from about 325–318 BC. The later Milesian issues of Alexander’s successors as well as the civic Milesian Alexander types, both described here, were produced from about 300 BC onward, with the diadochian issues being grouped by Thompson into five series (IX–XIII) minted from 300–294 BC. I do not have access to a copy of Price’s monograph and cannot comment further on the civic Alexanders of Miletus, distinguished by the presence of the ΜΙ monogram; they were struck from about 294 BC onward, after Thompson’s Series XIII, and some of the last gold staters of Series XIII share an obverse die with the earliest civic ΜΙ stater issues (Thompson, 1983: 43, 64).

The 318–300 BC gap: Philip Kinns has suggested (1986: 252) that the reduced-Rhodian silver didrachms of Miletus, dated by Deppert-Lippitz to her Period II (294–281 BC; 1984: #436–496), were in fact issued during this gap in the production of Milesian Alexanders.

Thompson’s five late Milesian Alexander series are described below, with the number of specimens she records for each variety shown in parentheses. All the varieties “must belong to the general period c. 300–294 B.C. when Demetrius Poliorcetes controlled Miletus” (1983: 65). The gold staters uniformly feature the helmeted head of Athena to right on the obverse, along with the standing figure of Nike to left holding a wreath and a stylis or palm branch on the reverse. The silver tetradrachms and drachms uniformly feature the head of Heracles in a lion skin to right on the obverse, along with Zeus enthroned to left holding an eagle and a scepter on the reverse. The control marks which distinguish the different series appear on the reverse, typically to the left of or below the main figure. All these issues also feature a double-headed axe symbol or bipennis somewhere in the reverse field as a subsidiary control. No bronze coins were minted as part of Series IX–XIII; bronze Milesian Alexander types are known only from Series III and Series VI–VIII.

(2) Miletus · Thompson’s Series XIII · About 300–294 BC

As described above, all the issues of Thompson’s Series XIII are distinguished by a compound ΠΡΑΥ monogram within a circle on the reverse. Gold staters, silver tetradrachms, and silver drachms are included in the series, which she dates to about 300–294 BC (Thompson, 1983: 62–65, pl. 31).

(2a) Head of Heracles Right / Zeus Enthroned Left · AR Attic Tetradrachm (about 17.2 g)

The tetradrachm denomination is the scarcest denomination in Series XIII, with only a single specimen recorded by Thompson.

[Image: Silver tetradrachm coin of Alexander the Great.]

RJO 94. Silver tetradrachm (16.32 g, ↑↑), about 300–294 BC. Obverse: head of Heracles in lion’s skin to right, the whole within a dotted border (not visible on this specimen). Reverse: Zeus enthroned to left, holding eagle and scepter; ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ to right, bipennis below throne, and ΠΡΑΥ monogram within a circle to left. This coin shares an obverse die with Thompson’s #259 (1983: 64, pl. 31 = Newell’s #48 [1926: 61, pl. IV]), a specimen in the Berlin collection, but it was struck from a different reverse die. The single specimen described by Thompson is the only published example I have seen of a Series XIII tetradrachm.

(3) Miletus · Civic Alexander-style Issues · About 294–260 BC

From about 294 BC onward the Alexander-style coinage of Miletus began to display once again the familiar civic ΜΙ monogram in place of the earlier magistrates’ control marks. These civic issues are described further in Price’s 1991 monograph on Alexandrian coinage, which I have not seen. No representative examples are available here for illustration.

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