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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 Archaic Twelfth-Stater Series in Silver and Electrum

This is one of the most well-known Greek coin types of the Archaic period, minted from about 550 BC to 494 BC when Miletus fell to the Persians. The silver varieties have been studied by Pfeiler (1966), who proposed a series of stylistic periods based primarily on the design of the obverse lion’s mane. The reverse sun image, which is often described as a star or a flower, appears on many Milesian coins and, I conjecture, likely represents Apollo, patron of Miletus and the nearby sanctuary of Didyma. (Kraay [1976: 258] expresses the same view with respect to the “star” on the later Rhodian silver issues of Miletus.) Although these twelfth staters were minted almost exclusively in silver, a few rare electrum examples are also known.

Pfeiler on Milesian silver: The full text of Bärbel Pfeiler’s important paper on these coins, “Die Silberprägung von Milet im 6. Jahrhundert v. Chr.” [The silver coinage of Miletus in the 6th century before Christ], is available here in the original German and in an English translation generously prepared for this website by Lars Rutten.

The famous Asyut Hoard, deposited about 475 BC in Egypt, contained five silver Milesian twelfths, and Price and Waggoner (1975: 86, 133–134) interpret them as follows:

Milesian specimens survive in relatively high proportions, occurring in hoards from Asia Minor, the Levant and Egypt.132 They too [like the issues of Clazomenae just described] have been associated by Gardner133 with the Ionian Revolt [from 499–494 BC], and most recently have been the subject of a study by Barbel Pfeiler, whose conclusions rest on a progressive development of the obverse style,134 with three groups ranging from 550 to 494. Mixed hoards buried c. 500 or earlier seem to have contained no specimens later than her group II. In Asyut, the latest “contemporary” hoard to produce comparable fractions, greatest wear is shown by group II (no. 616); whereas one example of Pfeiler’s group I (no. 619) is virtually in mint condition. All things considered, we tend to follow Cahn135 and put groups II and III before group I, despite the fact that group III has not so far ostensibly occurred in any of these hoards, including Asyut! Miletus was totally destroyed in 494 and her inhabitants deported. One might entertain the possibility that the more schematic lion heads were struck between 490 and 475; but this seems more unlikely than that all were more or less contemporary, those of inferior execution also falling within the period of the revolt. The fact that all three groups at one time or another share a reverse of type 2136 is added incentive to support a shortened timespan for the entire series.

132 Cf. IGCH 1164, 1165, 1168, 1175 (Asia Minor); 1482 (the Levant); 1637–8 (Egypt).

133 JHS 1911, 158.

134 The obverse style, progressing from schematic to naturalistic, is divided into 3 types: Groups I, {page 134} series 1–5 (550–520); II, series 6–7 (520–500); III, series 8–9 (500–494, contemporary with the Ionian Revolt).

135 SNR 1966, p. 14. Pfeiler identifies 2 specimens from the Delta hoard (pl. I, 10–11) with her group I (cf. p. 11); whereas Cahn (Knidos, pp. 94 and 122, note 318) considers all six specimens from that deposit to be of the later ‘fine’ style. He would reverse the order of the three groups and compress all within the period 510–494. The early hoard from Asia Minor published subsequent to Pfeiler’s study (IGCH 1165; see p. 84 above, under ABYDUS) included 3 obols, perhaps the latest of the ‘fine’ style yet to emerge from mixed hoards (nos. 4–6).

136 Pfeiler, Miletus, p. 10.

These coins are most often described as Lydo-Milesian twelfth staters with a standard weight of 1.18 g, but in SNG Copenhagen (1982: #944–955) it is conjectured that there may in fact be two denominations within the type: “diobols” in the 1.07–1.24 g range, and “trihemiobols (?)” in the 0.89–0.92 g range. Perhaps RJO 2 is an example of this light series? One very unusual specimen below (RJO 42) weighs only 0.28 g, and appears to be a forty-eighth stater rather than a twelfth. I can find no published examples of the type in that denomination.

(1a) The “Ouliades” ΟΥΛ staters. A small group of heavy silver coins (about 12 g) that feature an obverse lion forepart with head turned back—the typical emblem of Miletus—along with a square incuse reverse have often been regarded as Milesian, but are more likely the product of a mint in nearby Caria. These coins carry the obverse inscription ΟΥΛ, which has been interpreted as perhaps an abbreviation for the Greek name Oulias or Ouliades (Pfeiler, 1966: 7; Sear, 1979: #3538). Koray Konuk (2006: 489–490, pl. 4) has now persuasively argued that the inscription on these coins is in fact Carian, and may represent either a personal name or perhaps a city ethnic; the correct reading is likely to be ΟΥΔ or perhaps the retrograde ΔΥΟ.

[Image: Silver coin of Hecatomnus, imitating the earlier Milesian twelfth staters.]

RJO 92

(1b) Imitatives of Hecatomnus and Mausolus. The philhellenic Carian satraps Hecatomnus (ruled 395–377 BC) and his son Mausolus (ruled 377–353 BC) issued a series of silver coins in the fourth century that revived the types of these common Milesian twelfth staters, with the differencing letters ΕΚΑ or ΜΑ on the obverse (Sear, 1979: #4950–4951, 4953). It has been suggested that these were minted at Miletus, but such an attribution is conjectural. The definitive reference on these issues is now Konuk (1998), which I have not seen.

(2) Miletus · Lion Protome / Abstract Sun Design · Electrum · 550–494 BC

As noted above, this general Milesian twelfth-stater type is known almost exclusively in silver. A few rare electrum specimens have been recorded however; I am aware of the following published examples:

One possible electrum specimen of this type (RJO 79) is included in this collection. Both the obverse and reverse styles of this specimen are somewhat similar to Kayhan #482, although they are certainly not die duplicates. There is black spotting on the surface of this specimen, which could indicate that it is a fourrée, but this may be surface encrustation also. If it is a forgery, is it an ancient forgery or a modern one? And if it is a forgery, is it possible that the other published electrum examples are also forgeries?

(2a) EL? Lydo-Milesian 1/12 Stater (1.18 g)

Electrum examples of this type are known only in twelfth-stater denominations.

[Image: Ancient electrum (?) coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 79. Electrum? 1/12 stater (1.04 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament. Is this specimen authentic, or is it an ancient or modern forgery?

(3) Miletus · Lion Protome / Abstract Sun Design · Silver · 550–494 BC

Rather than attempting to follow Pfeiler’s suggested periods for the silver issues, I have sorted the specimens below into simple left-facing and right-facing groups according to the direction the lion’s head is facing. Note that in most if not all of the coins of this type the obverse is actually a lion protome with the foreleg and a portion of the trunk present, although this is frequently unclear or off the flan. (RJO 14 and RJO 38 show the full protome clearly.) Properly speaking, therefore, my right-facing group shows “a lion protome left with head reverted to face right.”

There is an unusual design element in a number of specimens of this type: a swelling or incised blob along one edge of the reverse incuse. This may at first appear to be a die flaw, but it can be found on a number of different reverses which, while stylistically similar, are certainly from different dies. The specimens that have this feature are all styled with a square box around the central reverse pellet, and the swelling always appears in the same position, emerging from one corner of the square. All four of the (right-facing) Asyut specimens illustrated by Price and Waggoner (1975) appear to display this feature. Konuk takes note of it in eight right-facing specimens from the Kayhan collection (Konuk, 2002: #468–475), describing it as “edge of one side of the incuse in the shape of M.” The feature certainly seems to be more common on right-facing specimens, and even appears on the one right-facing fourrée specimen below (RJO 28), but one well-preserved left-facing specimen here (RJO 19) also displays it clearly, and one of the left-facing specimens in the Rosen collection appears to display the feature as well (Waggoner, 1983: #583).

Note on subgroups: Konuk (2002: #483–487) recognizes a further subgroup within this type, which he dates to “Fifth century BC,” as opposed to “Late sixth–early fifth centuries BC” for the majority of the specimens. The rationale for recognizing this subgroup is presented in his Oxford University doctoral dissertation (1998), which I have not seen.

(3a) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/12 Stater (1.18 g) · Right-facing Group

This group includes specimens showing the lion’s protome left with head reverted to face right.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 1. Silver 1/12 stater (1.23 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 9. Silver 1/12 stater (1.06 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with swelling in one corner.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 13. Silver 1/12 stater (1.12 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with swelling in one corner.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 14. Silver 1/12 stater (1.27 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 38. Silver 1/12 stater (1.03 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 39. Silver 1/12 stater (1.25 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with M-shaped swelling in one corner.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type, with beaded truncation).]

RJO 113. Silver 1/12 stater (1.22 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right with dotted truncation to protome and a representation of the tail also visible. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with swelling in one corner. See the FORVM Ancient Coins bulletin board for an extended discussion of the remarkable style of this coin’s obverse. Is it authentically ancient, or could it be a modern replica or imitation?

(3b) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/12 Stater (1.18 g) · Left-facing Group

As with the previous right-facing group, these specimens actually depict a lion protome rather than just a head, and so this left-facing group may be more fully described as showing “a lion protome right with head reverted to face left.”

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 3. Silver 1/12 stater (1.16 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 6. Silver 1/12 stater (1.02 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 19. Silver 1/12 stater (1.12 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with swelling in one corner.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 20. Silver 1/12 stater (1.18 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 22. Silver 1/12 stater (1.11 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 27. Silver 1/12 stater (1.04 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with asymmetrical center lines. This asymmetrical reverse appears to be identical to that seen on one specimen in the Kayhan collection (Konuk, 2002: #487; same die?).

[Image: Ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 40. Silver 1/12 stater (1.07 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

(3c) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/12 Stater (1.18 g) · Fourrées and Possible Fourrées

One possible and two certain fourrées of this type are included in the collection. I can find no published record of Milesian twelfth-stater fourrées, but their existence is not surprising, since the invention of counterfeiting was virtually coeval with the invention of coinage. Of the certain fourrées, one specimen faces right and the other faces left.

[Image: Possible counterfeit or fourree of an ancient silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 2. Silver or fourrée 1/12 stater (0.94 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right? Reverse: incuse sun ornament. This coin has a smooth surface that doesn’t give the impression of ordinary wear, and while there is some porosity it seems to be confined to an inner layer, while the surface itself, where intact, is not porous. There is not a striking color difference, however, between the ‘interior’ and the exterior. Could this be a contemporary fourrée? (See also detail a and detail b which suggest a solid covering on a porous core.)

[Image: Ancient counterfeit or fourree of a silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 28. Fourrée 1/12 stater (1.09 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head right. Reverse: incuse sun ornament, with swelling in one corner. This coin is a clear fourrée, with a dark (lead?) core and silver plating which has partly worn off.

[Image: Ancient counterfeit or fourree of a silver coin of Miletus (1/12th stater, lion-sun type).]

RJO 54. Fourrée 1/12 stater (1.05 g), about 500 BC. Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament. This coin is a clear fourrée, with a dark (lead?) core and silver plating which has partly worn off.

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

This interesting specimen is clearly of the same general type as the common Milesian twelfth staters described above, but it appears to be a twenty-fourth stater. Klein describes a single twenty-fourth stater of this type (1999: #428, 0.66 g), but I can find no other published examples. Is this specimen contemporary with the Milesian twelfths above?

[Image: Ancient coin of Milesian style (lion-sun type) in a rare 1/24th stater denomination.]

RJO 88. Silver 1/48 stater (0.61 g), about 500 BC? Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.

(3e) AR Lydo-Milesian 1/48 Stater (0.29 g) · Unique Denomination?

This very interesting specimen is clearly of the same general type as the common Milesian twelfth staters described above, but I can find no published examples of a forty-eighth stater of this type. Is this specimen contemporary with the Milesian twelfths above, or is it perhaps a later Carian imitation similar to SNG Kayhan #864–866 (Konuk, 2002)? The lion on this coin does have the short and somewhat bulbous snout more common in Carian designs.

[Image: Ancient coin of Milesian style (lion-sun type) in a rare 1/48th stater denomination.]

RJO 42. Silver 1/48 stater (0.28 g), about 500 BC? Obverse: lion’s head left. Reverse: incuse sun ornament.


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