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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 Electrum and Silver Lion / Scorpion Coinage

There are several well-attested coin issues from ancient Asia Minor that feature on the obverse a facing lion head or lion protome (or rarely, a lion head right), and on the reverse a scorpion within an incuse square. These “lion/scorpion coins” are known in both electrum and silver, and they may have been minted at Miletus in Ionia, or at Mylasa, the capital city of Caria (Karia), some 35 miles southeast of Miletus. It is possible that they were minted at both places. Miletus and the cities of Caria had a complex history of sometimes hostile and sometimes friendly relations over a period of several centuries, and given our current state of knowledge it may not always be possible to distinguish the precise output of their respective mints. In his beautifully illustrated catalogue of the Muharrem Kayhan collection, Koray Konuk provides a helpful introduction to the people of Caria in relation to their neighbors in Miletus and elsewhere:

Karia is the mountainous region bordered by Ionia and Lydia in the north where the Maeander River (Büyük Menderes) forms a natural boundary, by Lykia east of the Indos River (Dalaman), and by Phrygia and Pisidia in the northeast. The Karians considered themselves a native population, even though Herodotus reports that they originally lived in Krete and were called Lelegians: later the Kretans expelled them to the coast of Anatolia. An early record of Karians is in Homer’s Iliad where they are described as allies of the Trojans and are said to have come from around Miletos and Mt Mykale (Samsun Dağı). It is likely that Miletos was originally a Karian foundation which was later colonised by Greek settlers.

In Karia, Lelegians are often described by ancient historians as a distinct population subordinate to the Karians. Modern scholarship does not support this and there seems to be no material evidence to distinguish between the two groups. Karians and Lelegians are described as living on hilltops which were fortified and sustained by villages in the valleys whose populations cultivated the lands. Cities on the Greek model existed from the sixth century BC onwards and they became the most common form of government in later periods.

Like the Swiss, the Gurkhas, and other mountain people, the Karians were forced to become mercenaries. Their country was too poor to maintain a large population, and younger sons went overseas to build a new future. They were military specialists and it is no coincidence that Herodotus writes that the Greeks were indebted to the Karians for three military inventions: shields with handles, devices on shields, and crests on helmets (History, 1, 175). Because of this last invention, the Persians called the Karians ‘cocks’. Warlike Karians were particularly appreciated by the Egyptian pharaoh. Our main source is, again, Herodotus. He tells us that the first to employ these men was pharaoh Psammetikhos I (664–610 BC; History, 2, 152), probably at the beginning of his reign. Karian settlers are attested at Memphis, Abydos, Buhen and other places where inscriptions in the Karian script have been found. It is quite a paradox that more Karian inscriptions have survived in Egypt than in Karia itself. Karians are known to have fought against the Nubians (in modern Sudan) in c. 593 BC; on their return, they visited Assuan and left inscriptions. According to an Egyptian stele now in Cairo, they played an important role during the coup d’etat of Amasis (570 BC), who gave the Karians a new base near the Egyptian capital Memphis.

The Karian language is still little understood owing to the rarity of documents. It belongs to the Hittite-Luwian subfamily of Indo-European languages. It is related to Lykian and Lydian, the languages spoken to the southeast and north of Karia. The script is alphabetic and some of the letters are identical to Greek, others are peculiar to Karian. Variations in letter forms occurred locally and different dialects existed, which does not facilitate our understanding. In recent years some progress has been made towards decipherment, though the value of several letters are still uncertain. Only new finds, such as the bilingual (Karian-Greek) inscription found at Kaunos in 1996 and 1997, will help to advance our understanding of the Karian language. [Konuk, 2003: 87–90]

[Image: Small electrum (gold-silver alloy) ancient coin of Miletus.]
[Image: Small electrum (gold-silver alloy) ancient coin of Miletus or Mylasa, lion/scorpion type.]

Above: EL 1/24 stater of Miletus (RJO 73). Below: EL 1/48 stater of Miletus or Mylasa (RJO 70).

Returning to the lion/scorpion coins, some authors have assigned them to Miletus, and with respect to the electrum examples in particular (such as RJO 70 below), this attribution has some merit. It is instructive to note that the obverse lion face on these electrum forty-eighths (and that is the only denomination known) is virtually identical to the obverse lion face on the electrum twenty-fourth staters assigned to Miletus (such as RJO 73), which have a plain square punch on the reverse. The recognized archaic electrum series from Miletus seems to stop with twenty-fourth staters, and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that these lion/scorpion issues are in fact the next denomination down in that Milesian series.

Taking a different view, Konuk believes that the lion/scorpion coins, in both electrum and silver, are not Milesian but instead belong to Carian Mylasa (Konuk, 2002: #833–836; 2003: 89–90). It is well established that the philhellenic Carian satraps Hecatomnus (about 392–377 BC) and Mausolus (377–353 BC) did consciously imitate earlier Milesian designs in their own coinage, and so this attribution also has merit. In describing one of the electrum forty-eighth staters in the Kayhan collection Konuk writes: “This electrum fraction belongs with the next silver [lion/scorpion] coin struck at Mylasa, the chief city of archaic and classical Karia. Mylasians, like most of the Karians, joined in the so-called Ionian Revolt during which this exceptional electrum fraction may have been issued. A variant, represented in the Kayhan collection (SNG Kayhan, 928), has the lion turned to the right. The lion was the badge of Mylasa, but the significance of the scorpion, rarely used as a coin type, remains unclear” (Konuk, 2003: 89). In describing the subsequent silver lion/scorpion coin, he writes: “This is the silver counterpart of the previous coin, though its more developed style and hoard evidence indicate a later date. A lion forepart viewed from above is quite uncommon as a coin type. The only parallel in Karia is a slightly later series of hemiobols which have the very same design on their reverse accompanied with the first two letters of the ethnic of Mylasa in Karian” (Konuk, 2003: 90). [I have not yet located a reference for those inscribed hemiobols.] In the brief description of the lion/scorpion coins in SNG Kayhan, Konuk writes that they are “probably from Mylasa” and that the argument for this assignment “will be developed in a forthcoming article” (Konuk, 2002: #925–928, #934–938). The details presented in that paper when it appears will certainly clarify these issues.

In the end we may discover that the early electrum issues are Milesian, but the later silver issues are Carian. The common silver twelfth staters of Miletus (known rarely in electrum) were directly copied by Hecatomnus of Caria who added his initials ΕΚΑ as a differencing mark. The silver lion/scorpion coins may also be related to the silver lion-head/lion-scalp series that has similarly been assigned to either Miletus or Mylasa. A lion scalp or lion protome viewed from above, as Konuk notes, is an uncommon coin type, and its style in these two silver series differs distinctly from the simpler lion face shown on the electrum issues.

(2) Mylasa or Miletus? · Lion Head Facing / Incuse Scorpion · Electrum · About 550–500 BC

Three specimens of this type (all forty-eighth staters, weighing 0.23, 0.29, and 0.31 g) are included in the Kayhan collection, and Konuk believes (2002: #925–927) they are “probably from Mylasa.” The Kayhan collection also includes a forty-eighth stater with a scorpion reverse and a lion head to right on the obverse (#928, 0.27 g). The Rosen collection (Waggoner, 1983) includes a similar lion-right/scorpion fraction (#303, 0.303 g), as well as a lion-paw/scorpion example (#302, 0.244 g). Weidauer (1975: 35, pl. 19) records two further lion-face/scorpion examples (#166–167, both 0.28 g), as well as single specimens that combine lion-paw/scorpion (#168, 0.28 g), lion-right/scorpion (#170, 0.25 g), and lion-paw/lion-face with no scorpion (#169, weight not given). The Okray collection (Arslan and Lightfoot, 1999: pl. 65) also includes a lion-face/scorpion specimen, rather light in weight (#933, 0.20 g). See the discussion above for further details.

(2a) EL Lydo-Milesian 1/48 Stater (0.29 g)

Many archaic electrum issues belong to multi-denominational series, but this lion/scorpion type is known from this one denomination only. It is possible that it belongs to the early Milesian electrum series, as noted above, but that must stand for the present as speculation.

[Image: Small electrum (gold-silver alloy) ancient coin of Miletus or Mylasa, lion/scorpion type.]

RJO 70. Electrum 1/48 stater (0.30 g), about 550–500 BC. Obverse: lion head facing. Reverse: scorpion within incuse square.

(3) Mylasa or Miletus? · Lion Protome From Above / Incuse Scorpion · Silver · About 450–400 BC?

Five specimens of this type (weighing 0.63, 0.59, 0.58, 0.52, and 0.53 g) are included in the Kayhan collection, and Konuk believes (2002: #934–938) they are “probably from Mylasa.” He dates them to 450–400 BC and identifies them as “Milesian standard hemiobols.” But was the Lydo-Milesian weight standard still in use at the end of the fifth century? The Rosen collection (Waggoner, 1983) contains one specimen that matches this type precisely (#403, 0.546 g), as well as two interesting variants that are similar to the electrum variants noted above: a lion-paw/scorpion fraction (#402, 0.562 g), and a much smaller lion-face/scorpion fraction (#404, 0.188 g). See the discussion above for further details.

(3a) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/24 Stater (0.59 g)

All silver specimens of this type appear to be twenty-fourth staters. In the example shown here, when the scorpion is viewed with its head down its tail curls to the left; specimens are also known in which the tail curls to the right.

[Image: Small silver ancient coin of Miletus or Mylasa, lion/scorpion type.]

RJO 111. Silver 1/24 stater (0.64 g), about 450–400 BC. Obverse: lion protome from above. Reverse: scorpion within incuse square.


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