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Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Coinage from the Archaic to the Late Hellenistic Era.







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                                                                                                                      March, 2015


 W Welcome to my new webpage featuring fine Ancient Greek coins for sale. Please scroll down to see some of our latest offerings or use the navigation at the left to go directly to the Athenian New Style coinage page.

    For now I am focusing on the magnificent portrait & wreathed tetradrachma of the Late Hellenistic era, a research interest of mine for nearly 40 years. Below you will find some example of the finest style tetradrachma of Kyme, Myrina, Heracleia, Lebedos, and Smyrna. A brief introduction to the wreathed Ionian coinage follows our offerings. All the coins pictured on this page are for sale.




A101. Ionia. Magnesia ad Maeandrum. Silver tetradrachm (17.08 gms, 32 mm). Circa 150 B.C. Issue of Erasippos, son of Aristeus. Diademed bust of Artemis Leukophryene right/ Apollo Delphios standing left, elbow resting on tall tripod behind. Of the finest style and virtually mint state. Jones 28c. SNG Von Aulock 2042. SNG Berry 1067. BMC 14.162, 37. S. 4485.


The Ionian city state of Magnesia on the (still famous) Meander River issued wreathe-bearing tetradrachma for a very short time. The issue of Erasippos, son of Aristeus, was the third and last of any volume. Erasippos alternated with Herognetus on an issue that employed about 9 obverse dies. Rather than magistrates (archai) of a continuously operating mint at Magnesia, Erasippos and Herognetus should probably be seen as liturgists or civic benefactors, wealthy citizens elected to bear the costs and supervise a particular monetary issue. In honor of their public service, their names appear on the coinage. So Nic Jones in his excellent 1979 study of the series (ANSMN 24).

Jones also commends the style of this issue. The diademed head is of Artemis Leukophyrene, the patron goddess of Magnesia, exhibits some of the most elaborate and delicate portraiture in Greek coinage. The individual strands of Artemis' hair are uncountable, but their arrangement is balanced and flowing. The eye and brow show a contrastingly simple but perfectly naturalistic style. The celator of this issue was a master of his craft.

 The reverse presents the god Apollo Delphios standing on a meander design, leaning back against a tall tripod, and holding a filleted branch in his right hand. His pose is familiar from classical statuary. Jones observes that the gracefulness of the pose is compromised on some poorer issues and borders on effeminacy. Behind Apollo, vertically, the ethic MAGNETON, coinage "of the Magnesians."  In front of Apollo, vertically, the magistrate's name and patronymic, ERASIPPOS ARISTOU (son of Aristeus).



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A102. Aeolis. Myrina. Silver tetradrachm (16.89 gms). Circa 145 B.C. The final three-braided issue (magistrate ZOE) according to Sacks' chronology of the series. Of fine style and choice EF. Sacks 35.60 (obv die), SNG Von Aulock 1662.

The small Aeolian city state of Myrina was located less than 5 miles south of the one of the most famous oracles and sanctuaries in Greek Asia Minor. Although Kyme was closer and larger, in Hellenistic times the shrine of Apollo at Gryneium fell under the protection of Myrina. Myrina was not shy about advertising this connection in her coinage. On the obverse of this stephanophoric issue we have a fine profile image of a laureated Apollo. The braided hair with laurel wreath and trailing ribbons very likely is modeled on a famous piece of classical sculpture. On the reverse Apollo of Gryneium stands holding a patera in one hand and two branches with fillets in the other. Apollo faces right, laureate and draped in a himation This type likely portrays the famous cult statue of Apollo that stood before the temple. Behind Apollo, vertically, the ethnic MYRINAION, (coinage) "of the Myrinians". Further to the left a Greek  monogram identifies the issuing magistrate.

Sacks in his excellent study of the coinage (AMSMN 30 1985) divides the series into three obverse types on the basis of a different modeling of Apollo's hair. The types were to some extent overlapping and simultaneous, but tight-braided issues began and two-braided concluded the series. In the middle came the largest type, a sub-series of three-braided issues, to which the present coin belongs and is perhaps the last issues. Sacks identifies 49 different magistrate monograms on the reverses of these three types, suggesting a substantial if not long lasting coinage. Hoard evidence confirms that the stephanophorics of Myrina were a much larger issue of those of all the other wreathe-bearing issuers, excepting perhaps its neighbor Kyme. Quite a variety of style are found across the 49 Sacks issue, ranging from the fine style exhibited on the present coin to some coins that seem rough and crude by comparison. Such a variety of styles is common in a series when there is a rush to coin a substantial weight of silver and many dies are needed quickly, This again supports the argument that Myrina's stephanophoric coinage was substantial but short-lived.



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A103. Ionia. Magnesia ad Maeandrum. Silver tetradrachm ( 16.74 gms, 32 mm]. Circa 150 B.C. Issue of Herognetos, son of Zopyrionos. Diademed bust of Artemis Leukophryene right/ Apollo Delphios standing left, elbow resting on tall tripod behind.  Of the finest style and choice EF. Jones 32a. SNG Von Aulock 2042. SNG Berry 1067.


As we discussed above, Herognetos  was the colleague of Erasippos in the third and final larger issue of Magnesian stephanephorics. The engraver of this bust of Artemis is almost certainly the same master artist who did the Jones 28 obverse shown above. Here his treatment is slightly more impressionistic and we have a late die state, but his style is unmistakable in details. A second and perhaps third celator also executed dies for Herognetos and Erasippos in styles that are clearly less refined ( see Jones 27). Apollo Delphios has a particularly elegant and three-dimensional quality on this reverse.

Magnesia lacked a continuously operating mint in the 2nd century B.C. and only occasionally struck a smallish issue of standard Alexander-style tetradrachma. Mint activities were probably associated with the shrine & treasury of Artemis, where several of the liturgists are known from inscriptions to have held high positions. The stephanephoric issue was unprecedented and anomalous both in style and volume for Magnesia. Especially when we consider the simultaneous and much larger stephanephoric coinage at Myrina and Kyme, we  have a mystery. Where did all this silver come from that these cities rapidly coined as wreathe-bearing tetradrachma? Silver was not discovered in Magnesian territory. Many years of prosperous trade would not have accumulated the amount of silver Magnesia struck in a few years, and Magnesia had had seen war, not peace, in the mid-150's.  Prusias II of Bithynia had invaded Magnesian territory and caused damage, for which the Romans insisted he pay a large indemnity beginning in 154 B.C. Myrina and Kyme and Aigai and other stephanephoric cities also received part of Prusias' indemnity payment. It is a small step to conclude that the wreathe-bearing issues of these states is a victory coinage struck with Prusias' silver.



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A104. Ionia. Herakleia ad Latmon. Silver tetradrachm ( 16.63 gms, 32 mm). Circa 150 BCE.  "Star issue" under the magistrates Axur... and Zoth... On the obverse, we see a head of Athena Parthenos right, wearing a triple-crested Attic helmet decorated above the visor with four horse foreparts, and showing a leaping Pegasus above the starred ear flap. Floral tendrils adorn the bowl of the helmet. On the reverse, an oak wreath (stephanos) surrounds a large horizontal Club of Herakles. Above the club is the civic legend, HERAKLEOTON. Below the club, winged Victory in flanked by two monograms. Well struck, good style, and clearly mint state.

Herakelia under Mt Latmus was originally a small coastal Carian city sited at the extreme west end of the Latmic Gulf, about 25 km due west of Miletus and 60 km south of Ephesos. Masolaus conquered the city in the 4th century and accelerated its Hellenization, renaming it "Herakleia" in the process. In the 3rd century the old city was enlarged and rebuilt on a Hippodamian plan, with a magnifcent Temple of Athena overlooking its agora. Herakleia was an infrequent issuer of civic silver coinage in the Hellenistic period, the apogee being the very brief stephanophoric coinage discussed here. The obverse features a particular attractive head of Atehna Parthenos, no doubt the cult image from the Temple, resembling in some respects the Phidian image on Athens' New Style coinage, but clearly in a later style.

Quite possibly the entire stephanophoric coinage of Herakleia comprises three (annual?) issues. Stella Laava studied the series 20 years ago in an article "Zur Silberpragung von Herakleia..."Laava classifies the Nike reverse with Axur... and Zoth.. monograms as a Group Three issue. A second type of Nike reverse with a different monograph represents the Group Two issue and an owl reverse completes the series. Other standard references include SNG Cpoenhagen 781 and SNG von Aulock 1978.

 In the introduction to this series I argued that the principal source for the silver used to strike stephanophoric silver was a indemnity  forced on the Bithynian king Prusias II in 154 BCE by Rome. The reverse type of winged victory plainly alludes to an important victory being celebrated by Herakleia. There is no other mid-century event that fits this chronology except the defeat of Bithynia. Herakleia share in the indemnity was appropriately small and fits the size of its exiguous three-issue series.





A105. Ionia. Lebedos. Silver tetradrachm ( 16.8 gms, 31 mm). Circa 150 BCE.

The rare and highly artistic stephanophoric coinage of Lebedos, which probably lasted

only two or three years, is represented by an exiguous surviving population. This is a

choice specimen, boldly struck, well centered, attractively toned in light lavender-gray

with silver-white highlights. Choice EF, with just a touch of high-point wear.



Athena dominates the obverse. The portrait is likely from a cult statue at Lebedos where Athena was a patron goddess. Athena wears a triple-crested and wreathed helmet and sports earrings in the shape of Nike. Triple curls cover her neck. On the wreathed reverse, an owl stands on a club between crossed cornucopiae. Above the owl, the ethnic LEBEDION is boldly engraved. Below the cornucopiae, we see the name of the supervising magistrate ATHANAIOS.



Amandry Lebedos 6-8 (same obverse). Ex Coin Galleries Sale 9.18.09, lot 4140, where it realized $5175.  Now available. Price on request.


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Click here  if you are interested in Athenian New Style tetradrachma. This Athenian series of wreathed tetradrachma, antedating the issues of the Asia Minor Greek cities by about 10 years, was a model for many successful mid-2nd century Pan-Hellenic trade coinages.



An Introduction to the Wreathed Coinages of Greek Asia Minor


     In the hundred years between the Treaty of Apamea (188 BCE) and Sulla's sack of Athens (87 BCE), mainland Greece and Greek Asia Minor were gradually absorbed into the burgeoning Roman Imperium, putting an end to many autonomous civic coinages that reached back into the 7th century BCE. Surprisingly, a late flourishing of Greek numismatic art (and democracy) occurred in this period. Shortly before the middle of second century, Athens and  a small group of independent, democratic Greek cities in Asia Minor began to strike new coinages featuring a fine portrait of their patron god or goddess, paired with a wreathed reverse celebrating other important civic emblems. The fine style of these coinages is evident, as well as their patriotic theme, but the historical events that gave rise to this late flourishing of Greek democracy and numismatic art is still being debated.   


One numismatic series that I have long thought combines both the apogee of Hellenistic  artistic style with an important and unsolved historical puzzle is the so-called wreathe-bearing or stephanephoric coinage of Greek Asia Minor. For a very short time beginning about 154 B.C. a group of autonomous Greek city states issued this strikingly beautiful and original coinage. The occasion for this coinage and the source of all the silver involved are still very much disputed. Each city issued its own variety of the coinage, but the types are instantly recognizable as comprising one common and co-ordinated series. Indeed, it is clear that the same celators engraved the dies for many of the different cities. Kyme, Myrina, and Magnesia on the Meander were the principal stephanephoric cities. The obverses of this coinage feature in profile a large, finely engraved portrait of  the city's patron god or goddess. Myrina's tetradrachma, for example, portraits a youthful Apollo, whose shrine lay in their territory. The reverses feature a large wreathe surrounding the city's name, a magistrate's name or monogram, and another local type. Horse-raising Kyme shows us a stallion prancing right.


Precisely one major historical event coincides in time and place with the sudden appearance of these stephanephoric coinages. In 154 B.C. Rome imposed a large penalty or indemnity payment on Prusias II of Bithynia. Prusias had invaded and plundered much of Asia Minor before being defeated by a Roman-lead coalition. The cities that had suffered because of Prusias' invasion were the designated joint recipients of reparations in the amount of 100 talents of silver. This indemnity was likely paid in installments, as were previous reparations imposed by Rome, beginning with a large initial payment in 154 B.C. and continuing for several years. As long the Bithynian silver flowed in, we may suppose, the autonomous Greek cities proudly issued this victory coinage. When the reparation payments ceased, so did the coinage. These Greek cities were for the most part small and not wealthy enough to sustain any significant silver coinage. This, almost certainly, is the history behind the short-lived wreathe-bearing coinage of Greek Asia Minor.


 A new (11/09) research programme that I am co-operating with looks to test and compare the metallurgy of the different civic issues. If the coinages derive from Bithynian indemnity payments as a common source, then for the most part the silver should test the same in term of trace elements, etc. But if the silver of different cities is quite different metallurgically, then they probably do not derive from a common Bithynian source, and the mysterious origins of the stephanephoric coinages remain mysterious!



*Maps courtesy of Wikipedia. All other photos & text (c) goldcobs.com 2009