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 Mysterious Lydo-Milesian “Geometric” Electrum Series

These coins constitute one of the most mysterious and enigmatic series from the Archaic period. They are often referred to as “geometric” issues and the obverse design is sometimes called a “collapsing square” in the literature. They have been described as the first coins ever made with both an obverse and a reverse type (as opposed to a simple incuse reverse), and the degree of wear many of them exhibit suggests that they were long in circulation. Even though they were minted in at least six different denominations (Table 1), and must have enjoyed considerable use, very few examples are known to have survived. The weight standard they follow (the Lydo-Milesian, based on a stater of 14.1 g) is the only clue we have to their place of origin. They probably date from the first half of the sixth century BC.

Table 1. Published examples of the geometric electrum series.
DenominationSpecimen and Description
stater Zhuyuetang 1 (13.92 g) [ = CNG 51.429 (1999)]. Obverse: “abstract geometric pattern.” Reverse: “three incuse punches with geometric designs.”
1/3 stater Kayhan 697 (4.64 g) [ = CNG 45.429 (1998)]. Obverse: “geometric design consisting of an irregular square crossed by two lines.” Reverse: “rectangular incuse divided into small compartments, the two largest of which contain pellets.”
Zhuyuetang 2 (4.68 g). Obverse: “abstract geometric pattern.” Reverse: “rectangular incuse punch with geometric designs.”
1/6 stater Babelon, Traité, pl. 1, 4. Same dies as Kayhan 698. [Not seen; fide Konuk (2002: #698).]
Kayhan 698 (2.30 g) [ = CNG 49.573 (1999)]. Described as Kayhan 697, but obverse shows additional crossed lines.
Zhuyuetang 3 (2.37 g). Described as Zhuyuetang 2.
1/12 stater Kayhan 699 (1.14 g) [ = CNG 49.574 (1999)]. Obverse: “geometric design consisting of an irregular square crossed by two lines.” Reverse: “square incuse divided into eight triangular compartments” (or, a central dot with eight radiating spokes).
Kayhan 700 (1.15 g) [ = CNG 53.478 (2000)]. Described as Kayhan 699.
Zhuyuetang 4 (1.14 g). Obverse: “abstract geometric pattern.” Reverse: “square incuse punch with geometric design.”
1/24 stater Rosen 279 (0.537 g). Obverse: “geometric pattern.” Reverse: “incuse square consisting of seven spokes, striations, and central dot.” The reverse is noted to be similar to Rosen 285, also an EL twenty-fourth (0.593 g) with seven spokes emanating from a central dot, but in this case the obverse is a lion’s paw seen from above. While Rosen 279 is described as having seven spokes, from the (very small) illustration it looks as though it may in fact have eight, as in Kayhan 699, and it also shows similar short connecting lines.
Kayhan 701 (0.57 g) [ = Tkalec 29-02-2000.106]. Described as Kayhan 699 and 700 with same obverse die as Rosen 279; illustration shows reverse with eight spokes radiating from central dot, and two small connecting lines.
Zhuyuetang 5 (0.56 g). Described as Zhuyuetang 4.
1/48 stater Zhuyuetang 6 (0.29 g) [ = Tkalec 29-02-2000.105]. Described as Zhuyuetang 4.

Publication note: Eric McFadden (2002) has recently summarized current knowledge of the geometric electrum series in a report on a large hoard of these coins that appeared on the market in 1997 (and from which the specimen below almost certainly came). The conclusions in his paper, titled “A hoard of early multi-denominational electrum coins,” have not yet been incorporated here.

Additional note: A group of these coins was offered for sale in CNG’s Triton X catalog (8 January 2007), including the second known stater (Triton X.318). Information from the descriptions in that catalog has not yet been incorporated here.

Additional note: The third-known stater from this series was offered for sale by CNG in December 2007 (Triton XI.245, closing 7 January 2008). Information from the description of that coin, which was said to be from the same dies as the previous two specimens, has not yet been incorporated here.

(2) Uncertain Mint · “Collapsing Square” / Pellet with Spokes · Electrum · About 600–550 BC

This general design, with a “collapsing square” and a cross on the obverse, and radiating spokes on the reverse, is common to the twelfth and twenty-fourth staters in this series. The forty-eighth stater has roughly the same design also. (The full stater, and the third and sixth staters, show different reverse types; see discussion above.)

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

The twelfth staters in this series differ from the twenty-fourth staters in having a more pronounced central pellet on the reverse.

[Image: Geometric-style electrum coin from ancient Asia Minor.]

RJO 47. Electrum 1/12 stater (1.26 g), about 600–550 BC. Obverse: “collapsing square” with two cross lines. Reverse: central pellet with eight radiating spokes.

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