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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Greek Coins ▸ Geographic - All Periods ▸ Anatolia ▸ LesbosView Options:  |  |  | 

Lesbos

Lesbos is the third largest Greek island, located in the northeastern Aegean Sea, separated from Turkey by the narrow Mytilini Strait. Abundant pottery finds and the worship of Cybele suggest cultural continuity of the population from Neolithic times. Greek emigrants, mainly from Thessaly, arrived probably beginning in the Late Bronze Age. When Cyrus defeated Croesus in 546 B.C. the island became subject to Persia, until the Persians were defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. The island was governed by an oligarchy in archaic times, followed by quasi-democracy in classical times. For a short period it was a member of the Athenian confederacy, its apostasy from which is described in a stirring chapter of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War. In Hellenistic times, the island belonged to various successor kingdoms until 79 B.C., when it passed into Roman hands. The most powerful cities were Mytilene and Methymna. In addition to the local coins bearing the names of the various Lesbian cities, there were two important coinages, one in billon and another in electrum, both of which doubtless had a general circulation throughout the island. The word lesbian is derived from the name of the island, owing to the poems of the 6th-century B.C. poet Sappho, who was born on Lesbos and who wrote with powerful emotional content directed toward other women.


Methymna, Lesbos, c. 450 - 379 B.C.

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Methymna, the prosperous second city of Lesbos, was, According to myth, named after a daughter of Lesbos, the patron god of the island, and Macar, the island's first king. Methymna had a long-standing rivalry with Mytilene and sided with Athens during the Mytilenaean revolt in 428 B.C. All the other cities of Lesbos sided with Mytilene. After Athenians put down the revolt, only Methymna was spared from being made a cleruchy. After 427, Methymna and Chios were the only members of the Delian League to remain self-governing and exempt from tribute, indicating a privileged position within the Athenian Empire. Methymna was briefly captured by the Spartans in summer 412, but quickly retaken by the Athenians. When the Spartan Kallikratidas besieged Methymna in 406, the city stayed loyal to its Athenian garrison and held out until it was betrayed by several traitors.
GS76101. Silver obol, Franke Münzprägung 19, SNG Cop 351, Klein 351, HGC 6 904 (R2), SNGvA -, VF, well centered, grainy and porous, weight 0.380 g, maximum diameter 8.1 mm, Methymna mint, c. 450/40 - 406/379 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, wearing crested Attic helmet with spiral floral ornament; reverse kantharos, MAΘ around clockwise, linear circle border, all within a round incuse; $200.00 (€178.00)
 


Lesbos, 550 - 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 1/48 stater, BMC Troas, p. 152, 27; SNG Cop 292; SNGvA 7716; SNG Munchen 650; Rosen 548; HGC 6 1074 (R1), VF, weight 0.207 g, maximum diameter 5.8 mm, Lesbos mint, 550 - 440 B.C.; obverse two apotropaic eyes (or two barley kernels); reverse quadripartite incuse square; rare; $180.00 (€160.20)
 


Lesbos, c. 550 - 440 B.C.

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In 570 B.C., Lesbos took part in the founding of Naucrate, the Greek Colony in Egypt. This coin, depicting an African, and others with Egyptian related types, likely boast of Lesbos' role at Naucrate.
GA84173. Billon 1/12 stater, SNG Cop 296; SNGvA 7715; BMC Troas p. 153, 42 - 44; SNG Munchen -, VF, dark toning, weight 0.473 g, maximum diameter 7.4 mm, uncertain Koinon of Lesbos mint, c. 550 - 440 B.C.; obverse head of a Nubian right; reverse rough incuse square punch; rare; $180.00 (€160.20)
 


Methymna, Lesbos, c. 500 - 460 B.C.

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Methymna, the prosperous second city of Lesbos, was, According to myth, named after a daughter of Lesbos, the patron god of the island, and Macar, the island's first king. Methymna had a long-standing rivalry with Mytilene and sided with Athens during the Mytilenaean revolt in 428 B.C. All the other cities of Lesbos sided with Mytilene. After Athenians put down the revolt, only Methymna was spared from being made a cleruchy. After 427, Methymna and Chios were the only members of the Delian League to remain self-governing and exempt from tribute, indicating a privileged position within the Athenian Empire. Methymna was briefly captured by the Spartans in summer 412, but quickly retaken by the Athenians. When the Spartan Kallikratidas besieged Methymna in 406, the city stayed loyal to its Athenian garrison and held out until it was betrayed by several traitors.
GA84909. Silver diobol, Franke Methymna 5; SNG Cop 347; SNG Lockett 2778; SNGvA 7746; BMC Troas p. 177, 5; HGC 6 888, F/VF, well centered, dark toning, scratches, weight 1.288 g, maximum diameter 10.5 mm, die axis 45o, Methymna mint, c. 500 - 460 B.C.; obverse gorgoneion (facing head of Medusa), coiled snake hair, protruding tongue; reverse head of Athena left, wearing a Corinthian helmet, dotted square border broken by crown of helmet and neck, all within incuse square; rare; $125.00 (€111.25)
 


Mytilene, Lesbos, 400 - 350 B.C.

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Mytilene on the southeast edge of Lesbos, opposite the mainland, was founded about 1054 B.C. It was initially confined to a small island just offshore that later was joined to Lesbos, creating a north and south harbor. In the 7th century B.C., Mytilene successfully contested for the leadership of Lesbos with Methymna, on the north side of the island. Mytilene became the center of the island's prosperous eastern hinterland.
GS76292. Silver diobol, BMC Troas, p. 185, 8-14 var.; SNG Cop 368 var.; SNGvA 7749 - 7750 var.; HGC 6 1037 (R1) var.; Weber 5670 var. (none with grapes), VF, nice style, grainy surfaces, uneven toning, weight 1.290 g, maximum diameter 11.7 mm, die axis 180o, Mytilene mint, 400 - 350 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right; reverse head of Aphrodite right, hair rolled, MY behind, bunch of grapes (control symbol) lower left; very rare variety of a rare type - we were unable to find another example with the grapes control symbol; $110.00 (€97.90)
 


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.
GA70935. Billon 1/10 stater, BMC Troas p. 151, 14; SNG Cop 287; Traité I, p. 350, 564; SNGvA 7712 var. (no ethnic); SNG Munchen 645 ff. var. (same); Rosen 542 var. (same), VF, dark toning, tight flan, weight 1.264 g, maximum diameter 9.6 mm, die axis 0o, uncertain Koinon of Lesbos mint, c. 500 - 450 B.C.; obverse ΛEΣ (above), confronting boar heads, creating the illusion of a facing head of a panther; reverse incuse square punch; from Matt Kreuzer, ex Mediterranean Coins; $60.00 (€53.40)
 







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REFERENCES

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Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Sweden II, The Collection of the Royal Coin Cabinet, National Museum of Monetary History, Part 3: Attica-Lesbos. (Stockholm, 1991).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Turkey 1: The Muharrem Kayhan Collection. (Istanbul, 2002).
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Wroth, W. A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Troas, Aeolis and Lesbos. (London, 1894).

Catalog current as of Monday, April 24, 2017.
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Lesbos