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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 Silver Eye-Swirl / Quincunx Fractions

Contents of this page

These fascinating issues are among the smallest coins ever made. They may also be among the first coins ever produced in silver. Their mint has not been established with certainty, but all the known specimens (with one possible exception; see below) are Lydo-Milesian ninety-sixth staters, and so they belong to the general region of Miletus. What is particularly interesting is the five-dot reverse, which bears a strong resemblance to the quincuncial reverse common to the electrum staters, thirds, sixths, and twelfths that have been assigned to Miletus with some confidence, and that are among world’s first coins. [Image: Two silver 1/96th staters on a fingertip for scale.] While some authors have suggested Erythrae as a possible mint for these tiny silver fractions because of the similarity of the obverse to some later Erythraean rosette designs, I provisionally assign them to Miletus on the basis of the quincuncial reverse.

I know of five published examples of the type, and two further specimens which are listed on coinarchives.com:

  1. SNG von Aulock #1807. Silver fraction (0.10 g), 6th century BC, Ionia. Obverse: “Kranzformiges Ornament mit Zentralpunkt” [wreath-like ornament with central point]. Reverse: “Fast rundes Incusum mit fünf glechmaßig verteilten Punkten” [nearly round incuse with five points]. (Not seen; fide coinarchives.com.)

  2. SNG Fitzwilliam #4464. (Not seen; fide Konuk, 2002.)

  3. SNG Tübingen #3021. (Not seen; fide Klein, 1999.)

  4. Klein #433. Silver 1/96th stater (0.12 g), “525–494” BC. Obverse: “Unregelmäßiger Wirbel linksherum” [irregular swirl to left]. Reverse: “Vier Kugeln um Zentralkugel in Vertiefung” [incuse with four pellets around a central pellet]. (Klein, 1999)

  5. SNG Kayhan #740. Silver “Milesian standard tetartemorion” (0.14 g), “520–480” BC. Obverse: “Rosette on a raised disk.” Reverse: “Four dots around a central dot within incuse.” The conjectural attribution “Erythrai?” is offered. (Konuk, 2002)

  6. Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger, Auction 372, Lot 325 (30 October 2002), via coinarchives.com.

  7. Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger, Auction 376, Lot 413 (29 October 2003), via coinarchives.com.

Note: Bärbel Pfeiler (1966) has also assigned these small silver fractions to Miletus. Her work has just become available in English translation, and I have not yet incorporated her brief conclusions into this page.

(2) Miletus? · Eye or Swirl Pattern / Quincuncial Incuse · Silver · About 550 BC

The obverse has sometimes been described in sales catalogues as an eye, but when a series is examined it is clear that variation exists in the design. Some specimens, such as RJO 63, show something like an eye with its iris and pupil, while others, such as RJO 56, exhibit a clear seven-spoked swirl pattern. The twelve specimens illustrated here may constitute one of the largest existing collections of this tiny, obscure coin.

(2a) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/96 Stater (0.15 g)

This type has in the past been described only from specimens that weigh approximately 0.15 g, the standard weight of a Lydo-Milesian 1/96th stater, but a single specimen (RJO 110), described separately below, appears to be a 1/192nd rather than a 1/96th.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 43. Silver 1/96 stater (0.12 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern around a central dot, worn but detectable under magnification. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 56. Silver 1/96 stater (0.11 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: seven-spoked swirl pattern. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 57. Silver 1/96 stater (0.12 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern, worn but detectable under magnification. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 62. Silver 1/96 stater (0.13 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern, worn but detectable under magnification, partly off the flan. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 63. Silver 1/96 stater (0.12 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: rosette pattern around a central dot, half off the flan. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 64. Silver 1/96 stater (0.16 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern around a central dot. Reverse: incuse quincunx. This specimen looks as if it might have slipped under the strike and the types are consequently somewhat blurred. The obverse may be close to the seven-spoked design of RJO 56, while the reverse does not show the quincunx pattern clearly.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 67. Silver 1/96 stater (0.14 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: apparent swirl pattern, largely off the flan. Reverse: incuse quincunx, worn so that only three pellets remain clear.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 69. Silver 1/96 stater (0.16 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: well-centered rosette or eye-like design, with nineteen spokes radiating from a central dot. Reverse: incuse quincunx, not perfectly square.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 71. Silver 1/96 stater (0.14 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern or eye-like design. Reverse: incuse quincunx.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 76. Silver 1/96 stater (0.11 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern or eye-like design, considerably worn. Reverse: incuse quincunx, considerably worn.

[Image: Silver 1/96th stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 109. Silver 1/96 stater (0.10 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: well-centered swirl pattern or eye-like design. Reverse: incuse quincunx, irregular and seemingly misshapen.

(2b) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/192 Stater (0.07 g)

As noted above, all previously described examples of this type have been Lydo-Milesian 1/96th staters, with a standard weight of about 0.15 g. The single specimen described below, which is tack-sharp and exhibits no obvious corrosion of any kind, weighs half as much and appears to be a 1/192nd. Konuk has described a Lydo-Milesian electrum fraction that he believes is a 1/192nd (2003: 33), but I know of no silver fractions of any type that have been assigned to this denomination.

[Image: Silver 1/192nd stater of uncertain origin with a Milesian-style reverse type.]

RJO 110. Silver 1/192 stater (0.07 g), about 550 BC. Obverse: swirl pattern around a central pellet, off-center but very sharp. Reverse: incuse square with five raised pellets in quincunx pattern.


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