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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 Dotted Lion-Mask Series

These interesting silver fractions echo the reverse designs of the familiar archaic twelfth staters of Miletus, and (assuming they are earlier) hint at how those designs might have developed. The principal curiosity of this series, however, is its unusual metrology: published sources describe the known denominations as eighth staters, sixteenth staters, thirty-second staters, and sixty-fourth staters. Nearly all coins issued under the Lydo-Milesian standard, however, follow a different system of division: into thirds, sixths, twelfths, and so on. Konuk (2002) describes six specimens in this series from the Kayhan collection as eighth staters, with weights that range from 1.54–1.67 g. Assuming a Lydo-Milesian standard stater of 14.1 g, an eighth stater ought to weigh 1.76 g, so all the Kayhan specimens would seem to be a bit underweight. Konuk also describes a thirty-second stater very similar to RJO 58 (below), with a weight of 0.37 g. A Lydo-Milesian thirty-second stater would be expected to have a weight of 0.44 g. The accompanying table summarizes the weights of published specimens from this series, as well as the specimens included in this collection.

Table 1. Examples of the dotted lion-mask series.
DenominationExpected
Standard Weight
Apparent
Standard Weight
Actual Weights (g) and Specimens
Size A 1.76 g (1/8) 1.6 g 1.56 (Klein #420)
1.62, 1.61, 1.65, 1.67, 1.60, 1.54 (Kayhan #455–460)
1.61 (CNG sale 228 #99)
1.58 (RJO #74)
Size B (1/2 A) 0.88 g (1/16) 0.8 g 0.792, 0.756 (Rosen #579–580)
0.81, 0.74 (Klein #421–422)
0.78 (Rutten-Wieland sale, Feb 2010)
0.78 (RJO #116)
Size C (1/4 A) 0.44 g (1/32) 0.4 g 0.32 (Klein #423)
0.37 (Kayhan #461)
0.37, 0.39 (Serofilli sale, Oct 2004)
0.32 (RJO #58)
Size D (1/8 A) 0.22 g (1/64) 0.2 g 0.18 (Klein #432a)
0.20, 0.18 (RJO #59–60)

These data suggest that the weight standard being followed here is slightly reduced (or is just different) from the typical Lydo-Milesian standard. Could these coins represent a transitional issue from the period when electrum was being replaced by silver and weight standards were in flux? There is a very interesting history here waiting to be discovered.

Adding to the interest of this series is a single and possibly important specimen below (RJO 66, 0.38 g) which appears to be a thirty-second stater under this reduced weight standard, and yet features the full design of the common twelfth staters, with a lion’s head to right on the obverse—rather than the dotted lion mask facing—and an incuse sun/star on the reverse. I can find no published examples of this type in this apparent denomination. Could it be a rare prototype for the later twelfth staters?

Parallel issues from Ephesus: There is a parallel series of silver coins from Ephesus that seem to follow this same denominational system, and that often have a Milesian-style sun or star on the reverse—an apparently early feature which was later replaced invariantly with the image of a stag. Within this series the circular dotted border around the obverse bee—familiar from later Ephesian silver—also makes its first appearance. Published examples of this Ephesian series include Kayhan #113–138 (Konuk, 2002). Comparative study of the Ephesian and Milesian series might yield interesting results.

An electrum eighth stater: Among the hundred or so coins and pre-coins found during Hogarth’s famous excavations of the Artemision at Ephesus in 1904–1905 was a single typeless electrum piece weighing 1.65 g, described by Robinson (1951: 166) as Milesian-standard eighth stater, but not otherwise remarked upon. In his review of the Artemision finds, Kraay (1976: 21) conjectured that this typeless dump, along with a similar twenty-fourth weighing 0.58 g, “might possibly be explained as blanks prepared for striking, except that among the whole of the Artemision finds the one-eighth does not otherwise occur as a denomination; they are therefore better explained as survivors from a fairly recent period when currency consisted of lumps of precious metal conforming to a weight standard, but without any authenticating stamp.”

(2) Miletus · Lion Mask Facing / Dotted Square or Sun Ornament · Silver · About 550–500 BC

The obverse design in this series is relatively consistent across denominations (with the dotted border around the lion mask being more or less visible depending upon the shape of the flan), but the reverse design varies considerably, from a square lattice (RJO 74), to a square pattern of dots (RJO 59), to a design very similar to the ornamental sun design of the common Milesian twelfth staters (RJO 60).

(2a) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/8 Stater? (1.76 g)

As noted above, specimens of this denomination are usually said to be Lydo-Milesian eighth staters with a standard weight of 1.76 g, but the data seem to point to a standard closer to 1.6 g.

[Image: Silver lion-mask coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 74. Silver 1/8 stater? (1.58 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border. Reverse: square lattice-like incuse with four-part ornament in center.

(2b) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/16 Stater? (0.88 g)

As noted above, specimens of this denomination are usually said to be Lydo-Milesian sixteenth staters with a standard weight of 0.88 g, but the data seem to point to a standard closer to 0.8 g.

RJO 116. Silver 1/16 stater? (0.78 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border. Reverse: Milesian-style sun/floral-ornament within dotted border. [Image not yet available.]

(2c) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/32 Stater? (0.44 g)

As noted above, specimens of this denomination are usually said to be Lydo-Milesian thirty-second staters with a standard weight of 0.44 g, but the data seem to point to a standard weight closer to 0.40 g.

[Image: Silver lion-mask coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 58. Silver 1/32 stater? (0.32 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border. Reverse: incuse sun ornament similar to Milesian twelfth staters but within dotted border.

[Image: Silver lion-mask coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 90. Silver 1/32 stater? (0.34 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border, partly off the flan. Reverse: incuse sun ornament similar to Milesian twelfth staters but within dotted border.

(2d) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/64 Stater? (0.22 g)

As noted above, specimens of this denomination are usually said to be Lydo-Milesian sixty-fourth staters with a standard weight of 0.22 g, but the data seem to point to a standard weight closer to 0.20 g. These specimens demonstrate also that variation in the reverse design occurs within denominations as well as between denominations.

[Image: Silver lion-mask coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 59. Silver 1/64 stater? (0.20 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border. Reverse: central dot surrounded by two dotted squares.

[Image: Silver lion-mask coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 60. Silver 1/64 stater? (0.18 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: facing lion mask within dotted border. Reverse: incuse sun ornament similar to Milesian twelfth staters.

(3) Miletus · Lion’s Head Right / Sun Ornament · Silver · About 550–500 BC

The dotted lion-mask series described above appears to belong to a group of contemporaneous Ionian issues that have an unusual metrology and (in many cases) a common reverse sun/star design. This group includes the series from Ephesus noted above (Konuk, 2002: #113–138), as well as the single and possibly unique Milesian specimen below. Could could this specimen be a rare prototype for the later twelfth staters?

(3a) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/32 Stater? (0.44 g) · Unique Denomination?

Although this lion/sun type is common in twelfth-stater denominations, I can find no published examples of apparent thirty-second staters.

[Image: Silver lion-head coin from ancient Greece.]

RJO 66. Silver 1/32 stater? (0.38 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament similar to Milesian twelfth staters.


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