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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Numismatics ▸ Archaic OriginsView Options:  |  |  |   

Archaic Origins

On this page we offer some of the first coins of mankind. The simplest and earliest coin type was a natural electrum lump without design and with only a punch to indicate it was more than just a nugget.

BEHOLD portrayed in miniature, yet clear,
The changing seasons of Hellenic art;
Fair spring-time, when dim haunting visions start
Forth into life, and forms divine appear . . .


Athens, Greece, Old Style Tetradrachm, 449 - 413 B.C.

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The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
SH75277. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31 ff., Kroll 8, SGCV I 2526, VF, well centered, light corrosion, porosity and minor pitting, small graffito V on reverse, edge test cuts - not as detracting as the usual cut through the owl's head, weight 16.643 g, maximum diameter 24.8 mm, die axis 180o, Athens mint, 449 - 413 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; reverse AΘE right, owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, all within incuse square; $1000.00 (€870.00)
 


Mytilene, Lesbos, c. 454 - 427 B.C.

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Mytilene revolted against Athens in 428 B.C. but was overcome by an Athenian expeditionary force. The Athenian public assembly voted to massacre all the men of the city and to sell the women and children into slavery but changed its mind the next day. A fast trireme sailed the 186 nautical miles (344 km) in less than a day and brought the decision to cancel the massacre.
SH73118. Electrum hekte, Bodenstedt Em. 52; HGC 6 978, gVF, obverse slightly off center, weight 2.546 g, maximum diameter 10.8 mm, die axis 0o, Mytilene mint, c. 454 - 427 B.C.; obverse young male head right, hair in band; reverse wreathed male head right, wearing long beard, in incuse square; ex CNG auction 342, lot 272; $900.00 (€783.00)
 


Lyttus, Crete, c. 450 - 320 B.C.

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References do not describe the obverse legend, but it is also present on the Svoronos plate.
SH65976. Silver drachm, Svoronos Crete p. 231, 19 and pl.XXI, 13; BMC Crete p. 55, 7; SNG Cop 494, aVF, slightly grainy, well centered, weight 5.352 g, maximum diameter 19.9 mm, die axis 0o, Lyttus mint, c. 380 - 320 B.C.; obverse ΛY−TΣ (clockwise starting above, ΛY ligate), eagle flying left; reverse ΛYTTION, boar’s head right in beaded square border, all within incuse square; rare; $680.00 (€591.60)
 


Thasos, Thrace, c. 525 - 463 B.C.

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Nymphs are nature spirits who appear as beautiful, young nubile maidens. They dwell in mountains, valleys and groves, by springs and rivers, and also in trees and cool grottoes. Nymphs love to dance and sing and are the frequent target of satyrs. Satyrs are male companions of Pan and Dionysus with goat-like features, including a goat-tail, goat-like ears, and sometimes a goat-like phallus. As Dionysiac creatures, Satyrs are lovers of wine and women and ready for every physical pleasure. They are obsessed with nymphs.
SH70832. Silver stater, Le Rider Thasiennes 2, SNG Copenhagen 1009, HGC 6 331, SGCV I 1357, BMC Thrace 24, VF, minor roughness, polished, weight 8.125 g, maximum diameter 20.6 mm, die axis 0o, Thasos mint, c. 525 - 463 B.C.; obverse naked ithyphallic satyr in kneeling running attitude right carrying in his arms a struggling nymph who raises her right hand in protest, hair of both figures indicated by streaming lines; reverse quadripartite incuse square; ex CNG auction 288, lot 104; $670.00 (€582.90)
 


Himera, Sicily, 430 - 420 B.C.

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The style of the early coinage of Himera varied greatly. This coin has the most cartoon-like style. Calciati describes the beveled flan as a "truncated cone."
SH68313. Bronze tetras, Calciati I p. 32, 18; SNG Cop 315; SNG ANS 181; SNG Morcom 596; HGC 2 467 (R1), VF, smoothing, weight 11.965 g, maximum diameter 22.1 mm, die axis 135o, Himera mint, 430 - 420 B.C.; obverse facing gorgoneion with cartoon-like style, protruding tongue, curly hair with no part, almond eyes, and pellet nostrils; reverse three pellets, within round incuse; rare; $580.00 (€504.60)
 


Athens, Greece, Old Style Tetradrachm, c. 449 - 413 B.C.

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The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
GS73681. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31 ff., Kroll 8, SGCV I 2526, F, centered, obverse rough, test cuts, weight 16.302 g, maximum diameter 26.1 mm, die axis 45o, Athens mint, c. 449 - 413 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; reverse AΘE right, owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, all within incuse square; $550.00 (€478.50)
 


Ionia, c. 625 - 600 B.C.

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Mitchiner notes this type, struck at the Lydian-Milesian weight standard used in southern Ionia, has no particular affinities with the major coin series from Miletos or Ephesos. Two possible mint cities, to which no other coins of the period have been attributed, are Myous and Lebedus.
SH73584. Electrum 1/24th stater, cf. Rosen 292, Mitchiner ATEC167, Elektron I 51, SNG Kayhan -, Weidauer -, VF, struck with worn dies, weight 0.560 g, maximum diameter 6.3 mm, uncertain southern Ionian mint, c. 625 - 600 B.C.; obverse raised irregular square with line and/or pellet decorations and extended corners; reverse incuse irregular square punch with line and/or pellet decorations; very rare; $450.00 (€391.50)
 


Chios, Islands off Ionia, c. 431 - 412 B.C.

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Chios, in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) off the Anatolian coast, is the fifth largest of the Greek islands. At the end of the 7th century B.C., Chios became one of the first cities to strike coins, establishing the sphinx as its symbol. It maintained this tradition for almost 900 years. Based on the huge necropolis at the main city of Chios, by the 5th to 4th centuries B.C., the island had grown to an estimated population of over 120,000 (2 - 3 times the current population). During the Hellenistic period, the Chios became famous for the high quality of its wine and was the largest exporter of Greek wine. Chian amphoras, with a characteristic sphinx emblem and bunches of grape have been found as far away as Gaul, Upper Egypt and Southern Russia. After the Roman conquest Chios became part of the province of Asia. The Empire ceded Chios to the Republic of Genoa in 1261.
GA71652. Silver drachm, SNG Cop 1546, SNGvA 2275, Rosen 607, Baldwin Chios 79, SGCV II 4600, VF, attractive style, well centered on a tight flan, weight 3.558 g, maximum diameter 13.5 mm, Chios mint, c. 431 - 412 B.C.; obverse Sphinx seated left, grapes over amphora before, the whole on a circular raised shield; reverse Incuse square divided into four square compartments by fine cross lines, surface of compartments is roughened by design of the die (not wear); $400.00 (€348.00)
 


Mylasa(?), Caria, c. 560 - 545 B.C.

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Under Achaemenid Persian rule, Mylasa was the chief city of Caria. The Persian satrap (governor) ruled the city in varying degrees of allegiance to the emperor. Mylasa was a regionally prominent member of the Delian League, 460 - 450 B.C., but Persian rule was restored towards the end of the century.
SH73588. Electrum 1/48 stater, Weidauer 168, Rosen 302, Mitchiner ATEC 215 (Ephesus, 560 - 545 B.C.), SNG Kayhan -, VF, weight 0.292 g, maximum diameter 4.9 mm, Mylasa(?) mint, c. 560 - 545 B.C.; obverse lion paw; reverse scorpion within incuse square; very rare; $390.00 (€339.30)
 


Mylasa, Caria, c. 560 - 545 B.C.

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Under Achaemenid Persian rule, Mylasa was the chief city of Caria. The Persian satrap (governor) ruled the city in varying degrees of allegiance to the emperor. Mylasa was a regionally prominent member of the Delian League, 460 - 450 B.C., but Persian rule was restored towards the end of the century.
SH74014. Electrum 1/48 stater, Weidauer 166 - 167, SNG Kayhan 925 - 927, SNGvA 1804, SNG Keckman 918, Traité I 94, VF, weight 0.212 g, maximum diameter 4.9 mm, die axis 180o, Mylasa mint, c. 560 - 545 B.C.; obverse lion head facing, seen from above; reverse scorpion within incuse square; $310.00 (€269.70)
 


Ionia, c. 600 B.C.

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GS75109. Electrum 1/24th stater, unpublished in standard references, Ponterio & Associates sale 152 (8 Jan 2010), lot 5874 (same dies); FORVM SH21301 and SH72612 (same), VF, crude type, flan crack, worn dies, weight 0.516 g, maximum diameter 6.3 mm, uncertain Ionian mint, c. 600 B.C.; obverse head of stag left; reverse curved lines within incuse punch; very rare; $310.00 (€269.70)
 


Ionia, c. 600 - 550 B.C.

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SH74027. Electrum 1/24 stater, cf. Rosen 328 (mill-sail incuse reverse), ATEC 178 (1/24 stater, Teos), SNG Kayhan 708 (1/24 stater), VF, nose off flan, weight 0.596 g, maximum diameter 5.3 mm, uncertain mint, c. 600 - 550 B.C.; obverse stylized lioness(?) head right; reverse rough irregular incuse punch; $300.00 (€261.00)
 


Lesbos, 550 - 480 B.C.

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Apotropaic magic is a ritual observance that is intended to turn away evil. Curiously, eyes were often used to ward off the "evil eye."
GA71017. Billon 1/36th stater, SNG München 650; SNGvA 7716; SNG Cop 292; HGC 6 1074 (R1); BMC Troas, p. 152, 27; Traité 2/1; Rosen 548, gVF, weight 0.326 g, maximum diameter 5.9 mm, uncertain Koinon of Lesbos mint, 550 - 480 B.C.; obverse two apotropaic eyes; reverse incuse square; rare; $290.00 (€252.30)
 


Persian Empire, Artaxerxes II - Darius III, c. 375 - 340 B.C., Lydia, Anatolia

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This type was minted in Lydia in Anatolia, while under Persian control, prior to Alexander the Great's conquest. The Persian or Achaemenid Empire (c. 550 - 330 B.C.) was the largest empire in ancient history extending across Asia, Africa and Europe, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of Central Asia, Asia Minor, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and much of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya.Persian Empire
GS72013. Silver siglos, Carradice type IV (late) C; Klein 764; SNG Kayhan 1041; Sunrise 37; cf. Rosen 679; (early - middle, A/B); BMC Arabia p. 167, 143 (middle B), VF, nice late style, toned, weight 5.431 g, maximum diameter 14.7 mm, Sardes (Sart, Turkey) mint, c. 375 - 340 B.C.; obverse kneeling-running figure of the Great King right, dagger in right, bow in left, bearded, crowned, quiver on shoulder; reverse irregular roughly rectangular punch; very rare; $280.00 (€243.60)
 


Iberian Celts, Hacksilver, c. 300 - 150 B.C.

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SH73371. Silver hacksilver fragment, perhaps from a disk ingot; cf. Kim and Kroll 59; Van Alfen Hacksilber 53 ff., 26.019g, 23.9mm long, VF, $270.00 (€234.90)
 


Ephesos(?), Ionia, c. 610 - 575 B.C.

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This type is among the earliest of coins. The location of the mint is not certain but examples have been found at or near Ephesos.
SH73582. Electrum 1/24 stater, SNG Kayhan 724 (Myletos?), Rosen 284 (Asia Minor uncertain), Mitchiner ATEC 105 (Ephesos), Karwiese 68 ff. (same), Weidauer -, VF, worn dies, weight 0.272 g, maximum diameter 4.9 mm, Ephesos(?) mint, c. 610- 575 B.C.; obverse crude lion's paw seen from above; reverse deep incuse square; very rare; $270.00 (€234.90)
 


Ionia, c. 600 B.C.

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This type is unpublished in the standard references but is know from the trade. This is the third example handled by Forum.
SH75853. Electrum 1/24th stater, unpublished in standard references, Ponterio & Associates, sale 152 (NYINC, 8 Jan 2010), lot 5874 (same dies); FORVM SH21301 (same), VF, weight 0.459 g, maximum diameter 6.5 mm, uncertain Ionian mint, c. 600 B.C.; obverse head of stag left; reverse curved lines within incuse punch; rare; $270.00 (€234.90)
 


Tegea, Arkadia, Peloponnesos, 423 - 400 B.C.

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Alea was initially an independent Arcadian goddess, became assimilated with Athena. The temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, her oldest and most revered, burned in 394 B.C. It was magnificently rebuilt to designs by Scopas of Paros. A temple of the Doric order, it was surrounded by a triple row of columns of different orders and with reliefs of the Kalydonian boar hunt in the main pediment. In both size and splendor it surpassed all other temples in the Peloponnese. The statue of the goddess, which was made by Endoeus all of ivory, was subsequently carried to Rome by Augustus to adorn his Forum.
GA71719. Silver tetartemorion, BCD Peloponnesos 1721, HGC 5 1054, Winterthur 2256, SNG Cop -, BMC Peloponnesus -, gVF, well centered and bold strike, toned, light corrosion, small edge chip, weight 0.237 g, maximum diameter 6.7 mm, die axis 0o, Tegea (Alea, Arcadia, Peloponnese, Greece) mint, 423 - 400 B.C.; obverse helmeted head of Athena Alea left; reverse large T within shallow incuse square; very rare; $250.00 (€217.50)
 


Assos, Troas, c. 480 - 450 B.C.

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Assos was a harbor city on the Gulf of Adramytteion, just north of the island of Lesbos. Hermias, a student of Plato, ruled Assos for a time during the 4th century B.C. He invited Plato's most famous student, Aristotle, who lived and taught in Assos for more than three years. When the Persians took the city, they executed Hermias and Aristotle fled to Lesbos. After visiting Alexandria Troas, Paul walked to Assos and visited the Christians there (Acts 20:13).

An astragalos was a gaming piece, made from the knuckle-bone of a sheep or goat, used in antiquity for divination and games in a manner similar to dice.
GA63461. Silver tetartemorion, Klein 475 (Teos), SNG Kayhan -, BMC Ionia -, SNG Cop -, SNGvA -, VF, broad flan, weight 0.203 g, maximum diameter 6.7 mm, Assos mint, 480 - 450 B.C.; obverse griffin leaping right; reverse astragalos within incuse square; extremely rare; $225.00 (€195.75)
 


Italy, c. 5th - 4th Century B.C.

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Bronze axe heads were used for exchange across Europe even before 1000 B.C. This broken fragment of a bronze axe head dates much later, c. 5 - 4th Century B.C. It was never used to cut wood but was cast to served as currency, and was broken for change.
AR70508. Bronze Aes Formatum, Aes formatum bronze axe head fragment; maximum length 39.8mm, weight 38.814g, $225.00 (€195.75)
 


Lesbos, 500 - 440 B.C.

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Apotropaic magic is a ritual observance that is intended to turn away evil. Curiously, eyes were often used to ward off the "evil eye".
GA71546. Billon 1/48th stater, BMC Troas, p. 152, 28; SNG Cop 292; SNGvA 7716; SNG München 650; Rosen 548; HGC 6 1074 (1/36th stater, R1), VF, weight 0.207 g, maximum diameter 5.8 mm, Lesbos mint, 500 - 440 B.C.; obverse two apotropaic eyes (or two barley kernels); reverse incuse square; rare; $225.00 (€195.75)
 


Sinope, Paphlagonia, c. 490 - 425 B.C.

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Long used as a Hittite port, Sinope was re-founded as a Greek colony by Miletus in the 7th century B.C. Sinope flourished as the Black Sea port of a caravan route that led from the upper Euphrates valley. The city escaped Persian domination until the early 4th century B.C. In 183 B.C. it was captured by Pharnaces I and became the capital of the kingdom of Pontus. Lucullus conquered Sinope for Rome in 70 B.C., and Julius Caesar established a Roman colony there, Colonia Julia Felix, in 47 B.C. It remained with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines). It was a part of the Empire of Trebizond from the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 until the capture of the city by the Seljuk Turks of Rûm in 1214.
GA70807. Silver drachm, SNG BM 1359, SNG Cop 272, SNG Stancomb 750, aVF, weight 6.069 g, maximum diameter 16.4 mm, die axis 90o, Sinope (Sinop, Turkey) mint, c. 490 - 425 B.C.; obverse head of sea eagle left, dolphin below; reverse quadripartite incuse square with two opposing quarters filled, the others stippled and with pellet in inner corner; ex Harlan J. Berk, buy-or-bid sale, July 2010 ; $200.00 (€174.00)
 


Iberian Celts, Hacksilver, c. 300 - 150 B.C.

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CE71877. Silver hacksilver fragment, perhaps from a disk ingot; cf. Kim and Kroll 59; Van Alfen Hacksilber 53 ff., 15.451g, 21.6mm, $200.00 (€174.00)
 


Persian Empire, Judaea (Yehudah), 375 - 333 B.C.

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Minted in Judaea while under Persian control, prior to Alexander the Great's conquest. Click here to see a map of the Persian Empire about 500 B.C.
JD59398. Silver obol, Meshorer TJC 5, Hendin 1051, aF, weight 0.487 g, maximum diameter 8.4 mm, c. 375 - 333 B.C.; obverse oriental style head of Athena; reverse Aramaic inscription:, owl standing left, head facing, olive spray right; rare; $180.00 (€156.60)
 


Lesbos, c. 500 - 450 B.C.

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A most unusual use of illusion on a coin. The two confronting boars' heads can also be viewed as the facing head of a panther.
GA71724. Billon 1/10th stater, SNGvA 7712, SNG München 645, Rosen 542, Traité 566, SGCV II 3488, SNG Cop -, VF, well centered and struck, toned, minor encrustations, weight 0.631 g, maximum diameter 7.45- mm, uncertain Koinon of Lesbos mint, c. 500 - 450 B.C.; obverse confronting boar heads, creating the illusion of a facing head of a panther; reverse tripartite incuse square punch; $160.00 (€139.20)
 


Osco-Latin, Central Italy, Late 4th - Early 3rd Century B.C.

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These small cast bronze scallop shells were used as money in central Italy.
RR90918. Cast bronze Aes Formatum, cf. G. Fallai, IAPN 8, pl. 6, 2-2e; Alvarez-Burgos P28; Thurlow-Vecchi -; molded from bipod shell, weight 22.675 g, maximum diameter 28.4 mm, $155.00 (€134.85)
 


Iberian Celts, Hacksilver, c. 300 - 150 B.C.

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CE73111. Silver hacksilver fragment, cut from a disk ingot; cf. Kim and Kroll 59; Van Alfen Hacksilber 53 ff., 10.472g, 28.4mm, $155.00 (€134.85)
 


Leontini, Sicily, c. 476 - 455 B.C.

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Leontini was founded by colonists from Naxos in 729 B.C. Six miles inland, it is the only Greek settlement in Sicily not located on the coast, Originally held by the Sicels, the site was seized by the Greeks to gain control of the fertile plain to the north.
GS65784. Silver hemilitra, SNG München 548; Boehringer Leontini B; cf. HGC 2 688 (R2, obol); SNG ANS 216 (obol, finer style); BMC Sicily p. 88, 22 (same); SNG Cop 342 (same), aVF, toned, crude style (perhaps a barbaric imitative), weight 0.280 g, maximum diameter 9.5 mm, die axis 0o, Leontini (or unofficial?) mint, c. 476 - 466 B.C.; obverse crude facing lion scalp, dot border; reverse LE/ON (retrograde), barley grain, within shallow round incuse; from the old stock of a retiring Ohio dealer acquired by Forum in 2012; very rare; $150.00 (€130.50)
 


Mende, Chalcidice, Macedon, c. 510 - 480 B.C.

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Mende was an ancient colony of Eretria, on the SW side of Cape Poseidion in Pallene. Its coins illustrate some forgotten myth of Dionysos, his companion Seilenos, and an ass. The wine of Mende was famous and is frequently mentioned by ancient writers. It is unlikely that Mende struck any coins after it was first captured by Philip in 358 B.C.
GA90295. Silver tritartemorion, AMNG III.2, 8; SNG ANS 307; SNG Berry 34, VF, porous surfaces, uneven tone, weight 0.292 g, maximum diameter 6.1 mm, die axis 0o, Mende mint, c. 510 - 480 B.C.; obverse head and neck of ass right; pellet at truncation; reverse mill-sail pattern incuse; ex CNG auction 249, lot 50; scarce; $150.00 (€130.50)
 


Phokaia, Ionia, Late 6th Century B.C.

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Phokaia was the most northerly of the Ionian communities in Anatolia and was the mother city of many colonies in the western Mediterranean area, including Massalia (modern Marseille, France). This type (with approximately the same weight) is identified in references variously as a diobol, a trihemiobol, a hemihekte, or a 1/12 stater.
GA71830. Silver hemihekte, Klein 452 (diobol); Rosen 596 - 597 (trihemiobol); SNG Kayhan 522 (hemihekta); SNGvA 1813, gVF, toned, obverse slightly off center, weight 1.226 g, maximum diameter 9.9 mm, Phokaia (Foca, Turkey) mint, late 6th century B.C.; obverse head of nymph left, wearing sakkos and earring; reverse irregular quadripartite incuse square; $150.00 (€130.50)
 




  



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Archaic Origins