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Home>Catalog>CollectingThemes>Numismatics>ArchaicOrigins PAGE 1/4123»»»

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 . . .


Persian Empire, Satrapy of Lydia (Uncertain City in Caria), c. 515 - 475 B.C.

Click for a larger photo A lion head or forepart was a popular type, and most popular in Caria, but none of the published examples are similar enough to indicate a close relationship to this coin or provide a clue to its origin more specific than Caria, c. early 5th century. There is significant wear on the dies, so apparently many examples of this type were struck, but this is the only example we know to exist today.GS71615. Silver stater, Unpublished; SNG Kayhan -, cf. 930 ('Mylasa?' probably unrelated); SNGvA -; SNG Cop -; SNG Keckman -; SNG München -; Rosen -; Dewing -; Asyut -, VF, weight 10.848 g, maximum diameter 22.9 mm, Carian mint, c. 515 - 475 B.C.; obverse lion's head right with gaping jaws, protruding tongue, foreleg below; reverse quadripartite incuse square, divided diagonally by one thick and one thin band; ex Numismatik Lanz München, auction 144 (24 Nov 2008), lot 255; unique?; $1500.00 (€1305.00)


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

Click for a larger photo 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.

Click for a larger photo 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)


Himera, Sicily, 430 - 420 B.C.

Click for a larger photo 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)


Ionia, c. 625 - 600 B.C.

Click for a larger photo 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; $500.00 (€435.00)


Ionia, c. 650 - 600 B.C.

Click for a larger photo This is an example of the very earliest form of coinage; a type-less (blank) electrum globule, weighed to a specific standard, with a simple square punch mark on one side (two or three punch marks on larger denominations). Nine similar blank electrum pieces were within the famous "Artemision Find" at Ephesus in 1904.
SH73586. Electrum 1/48th stater, SNGvA 7764, Weidauer -, Traité I -, Rosen -, SNG Kayhan -, Mitchiner ATEC -, VF, weight 0.295 g, maximum diameter 4.2 mm, uncertain Ionian mint, c. 650 - 600 B.C.; obverse plain globular surface; reverse incuse irregular square punch; very rare; $500.00 (€435.00)


Ephesos(?), Ionia, c. 575 - 550 B.C.

Click for a larger photo The lion's paw on this coin is of a far more realistic form than most of the lion's paw electrum coins. This extremely rare later variation is not listed in Karwiese, the primary reference for the early coins of Ephesos. It was probably struck for a short time just before Ephesos recognized that they should be using the bee and symbols of Artemis on their coins, not lions or lion parts.
SH73587. Electrum 1/24 stater, Mitchiner ATEC 125, Rosen 285, SNG Kayhan -, Weidauer -, Karwiese -, VF, well centered, encrustations, weight 0.383 g, maximum diameter 6.1 mm, Ephesos(?) mint, c. 575 - 550 B.C.; obverse lion's paw or a realistic form seen from above; reverse incuse square divided by seven spokes radiating from a central pellet; extremely rare; $440.00 (€382.80)


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

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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; $440.00 (€382.80)


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

Click for a larger photo 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)


Roman Republic, Cast Coinage, c. 280 - 265 B.C.

Click for a larger photo RR65391. Aes grave (cast) semuncia, Sydenham 14, Thurlow-Vecchi 7, Crawford 14/7, Historia Numorum Italy 274, F, weight 14.86 g, maximum diameter 25.2 mm, die axis 90o, Italian mint, c. 280 - 265 B.C.; obverse acorn; reverse large Σ (mark of value); $330.00 (€287.10)


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

Click for a larger photo  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, $300.00 (€261.00)


Lesbos, 550 - 480 B.C.

Click for a larger photo 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)


Celt-Iberian, Billon Ring Money, c. 2nd Century B.C.

Click for a larger photo Rings of the type have been found in Central Europe, France, Britain, and Spain. In Spain they are often found alongside silver bar and disk ingots, and 2nd Century B.C. denarii of the Roman Republic. This example is double the size and weight of more common examples.CE72233. Silver Ring Money, large ring, debased silver, narrowing to split, cf. Alvarez-Burgos P5 (5.0 - 6.6g, no narrowing), VF, weight 13.139 g, maximum diameter 32.4 mm, c. 2nd Century B.C.; $270.00 (€234.90)


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

Click for a larger photo 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)


Ephesos(?), Ionia, c. 630 - 595 B.C.

Click for a larger photo 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. Karwiese dates this "five knuckles" variety 650 - 610 B.C. We believe 630 - 595 B.C. is more likely. Mitchiner identifies a similar weight example as a 1/48th stater.
SH73583. Electrum 1/24 stater, Karwiese type 2, 14; Rosen 283 (Asia Minor uncertain); Mitchiner ATEC 107 (1/48th); SNG Kayhan 724 (Myletos?); Weidauer -, VF, worn dies, weight 0.273 g, maximum diameter 4.7 mm, Ephesos(?) mint, c. 610- 575 B.C.; obverse crude lion's paw with five knuckles, seen from above; reverse deep incuse square; very rare; $270.00 (€234.90)


Lesbos, 500 - 440 B.C.

Click for a larger photo 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; $250.00 (€217.50)


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

Click for a larger photo  CE71877. Silver hacksilver fragment, perhaps from a disk ingot; cf. Kim and Kroll 59; Van Alfen Hacksilber 53 ff., 15.451g, 21.6mm, $250.00 (€217.50)


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

Click for a larger photo 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.

Click for a larger photo 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)


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

Click for a larger photo 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.AR70510. Bronze Aes Formatum, Aes formatum axe head fragment; maximum length 37.0mm, weight 28.261g, $225.00 (€195.75)


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

Click for a larger photo 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 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)


Acorn Pendant Weight, Central Italy, c. 350 - 250 B.C.

Click for a larger photo These acorn pendants, and very similar scallop shell pendants, were probably used as weights. They may also have been worn as jewelry, and undoubtedly they were traded, like all small bronze objects, as proto-currency.AS90927. Small acorn pendant weight, loop broken; length 32.5 mm; weight 23.412 g, $200.00 (€174.00)


Persian Empire, Lydia, Darius I, Sep 522 - Oct 486 B.C.

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Darius I the Great ruled the Persian Empire at its peak. He is mentioned in the Biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah. He continued to allow the Jewish people to return to Israel and provided money for the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was completed in his sixth year. Darius invaded Greece to subjugate it and to punish Athens and Eretria for aiding the Ionian Revolt. He subjugated Thrace and forced Macedon to become a client kingdom, but his campaign ended at Marathon, where he was famously defeated by a smaller Greek army.Greco-Persian Wars
GA73153. Silver 1/6 siglos, Carradice type II; Winzer 1.8, this denomination is otherwise unpublished in refs; cf. Klein 756 (1/4 siglos); SNG Kayhan 1027 (1/3 siglos), F, rough, weight 0.764 g, maximum diameter 8.4 mm, Lydia, Sardis mint, c. 510 - 486 B.C.; obverse kneeling-running figure of the Great King right, drawing bow, bearded, crowned, quiver at shoulder; reverse rectangular incuse; extremely rare; $200.00 (€174.00)


Miletos(?), Ionia, c. 650 - 550 B.C.

Click for a larger photo Electrum is an alloy of gold and silver, both naturally occurring and man-made. The earliest Greek reference to electrum is in Sophocles' tragedy Antigone where Indian gold and electrum from Sardis are identified as objects of the highest value. This electrum was almost certainly the native alloy found in rivers in Asia Minor, particularly the river Pactolus. Pliny states that electrum contains a fifth part silver (80% gold).
SH73553. Electrum 1/24th stater, SNG Kayhan 713, SNGvA 1802, Rosen 370, Mitchiner ATEC 212, SNG Cop -, F, weight 0.585 g, maximum diameter 5.9 mm, Miletos(?) mint, c. 650 - 550 B.C.; obverse facing lion head; reverse roughly square incuse punch; $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: "YHD" (Yehudah), owl standing left, head facing, olive spray right; rare; $180.00 (€156.60)


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

Click for a larger photo 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.GA71828. Silver hemihekte, Klein 452 (diobol); Rosen 596 - 597 (trihemiobol); SNG Kayhan 522 (hemihekta); SNGvA 1813, VF, etched surfaces, weight 1.352 g, maximum diameter 9.2 mm, Phokaia (Foca, Turkey) mint, late 6th century B.C.; obverse head of nymph left, wearing sakkos and earring; reverse irregular quadripartite incuse square; $175.00 (€152.25)


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

Click for a larger photo  CE73111. Silver hacksilver fragment, cut from a disk ingot; cf. Kim and Kroll 59; Van Alfen Hacksilber 53 ff., 10.472g, 28.4mm, $175.00 (€152.25)


Salamis, Cyprus, Evagoras I, 411 - 374 B.C.

Click for a larger photo Evagoras claimed descent from Teucer, the son of Telamon and half-brother of Ajax. His family had long ruled Salamis. During his childhood Phoenicians took Salamis and he was exiled to Cilicia. He returned secretly in 410 with 50 followers and retook his throne. Expecting an eventual Persian attack, he cultivated the friendship of the Athenians. For a time, he also maintained friendly relations with Persia and secured the aid of Artaxerxes II for Athens against Sparta. He took part in the battle of Cnidus of 394 B.C. which he provided most of the resources for and in which the Spartan fleet was defeated thanks to his efforts, and for this service his statue was placed by the Athenians side by side with that of Conon in the Ceramicus. Relations with Persia deteriorated and from 391 they were at war. Aided by the Athens and Egypt, Evagoras extended his rule over the greater part of Cyprus, crossed over to Asia Minor, took several cities in Phoenicia (including Tyre), and persuaded the Cilicians to revolt. Under the peace of Antalcidas in 387, Athens abandoned him and recognized Persian lordship over Cyprus. The Persian generals Tiribazus and Orontes at invaded Cyprus in 385 B.C. Evagoras managed to cut off Persian resupplies and the starving troops rebelled. The war then turned in the Persian favor when Evagoras' fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Citium, and he was compelled to flee to Salamis. Here, although closely blockaded, Evagoras managed to hold his ground, and took advantage of a quarrel between the two Persian generals to conclude peace in 376. Evagoras was allowed to remain nominally king of Salamis, but in reality a vassal of Persia, to which he was to pay a yearly tribute. The chronology of the last part of his reign is uncertain. In 374 he was assassinated by a eunuch from motives of private revenge. He was succeeded by his son, Nicocles.GS68007. Silver 1/12 siglos, Bank of Cyprus 9; BMC Cyprus p. 55, 44; cf. SNG Cop 42 (0.80, obol); Tziambazis 119 (0.27g, 1/48 siglos), VF, weight 0.355 g, maximum diameter 9.2 mm, die axis 0o, Salamis mint, 411 - 374 B.C.; obverse young male head right, curly short hair, dot circle border; reverse smooth blank (as struck); rare; $160.00 (€139.20)


Dikaia, Macedonia, 5th Century B.C.

Click for a larger photo Apparently unpublished in major references. The referenced Pecunem Gitbud & Naumann coin is very similar, but from different dies. The referenced VAuctions coin, presumably a later issue, is also very similar but with ∆IKAI and a dotted square border around the grapes within a shallower square incuse. Dikaia was located between the rivers Nestos and Hebros.GA69941. Silver hemiobol, cf. Pecunem Gitbud & Naumann auction 11, lot 89; VAuctions 270, lot 112; Schönert-Geiss -; SNG Cop -; SNG ANS -; BMC Macedonia -; Klein -; Rosen -, VF, weight 0.451 g, maximum diameter 7.3 mm, die axis 180o, Dikaia mint, 5th century B.C.; obverse head of bull right; reverse bunch of grapes on stem within incuse square; extremely rare; $160.00 (€139.20)


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

Click for a larger photo 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.GA71825. Silver hemihekte, Klein 452 (diobol); Rosen 596 - 597 (trihemiobol); SNG Kayhan 522 (hemihekta); SNGvA 1813, VF, weight 1.276 g, maximum diameter 10.2 mm, Phokaia (Foca, Turkey) mint, late 6th century B.C.; obverse head of nymph left, wearing sakkos and earring; reverse irregular quadripartite incuse square; $160.00 (€139.20)




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Archaic Origins