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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Greek Coins ▸ Geographic - All Periods ▸ North Africa ▸ KyrenaicaView Options:  |  |  |   

Kyrenaica

Kyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya, was colonized by Greeks beginning in the 7th century B.C. Western Kyrenaicia was known as Pentapolis for its five cities: Cyrene (near modern Shahat) with its port of Apollonia (Marsa Susa), Arsinoe or Taucheira (Tocra), Euesperides or Berenice (near modern Benghazi), Balagrae (Bayda) and Barce (Marj). Cyrenaica produced barley, wheat, olive oil, wine, figs, apples, wool, sheep, cattle, and silphium, an herb that grew only in Kyrenaica and was regarded as a medicinal cure and aphrodisiac. Kyrene was one of the greatest intellectual and artistic centers of the Greek world, famous for its medical school, academies, and fine Hellenistic architecture. In 525 B.C. Persia took the Pentapolis. Alexander the Great received tribute from these cities after he took Egypt. The Pentapolis was annexed by Ptolemy I Soter. It briefly gained independence under Magas of Cyrene, stepson of Ptolemy I, but was reabsorbed into the Ptolemaic empire after his death. It was separated from the main kingdom by Ptolemy VIII and given to his son Ptolemy Apion, who, dying without heirs in 96 B.C., bequeathed it to the Roman Republic.


Cyrene, North Africa, c. 500 - 480 B.C.

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The Valentine Coin! Silphium, which is now extinct, was so critical to the Kyrenian economy that most of their coins depict it. The plant was used as a spice and to treat all kinds of maladies including cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, pain, and warts. It was so widely used as a contraceptive that it was worth its weight in denarii. The traditional heart shape, the symbol of love, is probably derived from the shape of the silphium seed due to the use of silphium as a contraceptive.

"By the next day this maiden and all her girlish apparel had disappeared, and in the room were found images of the Dioscuri, a table, and silphium upon it." - Description of Greece, Pausanias 3.16.3, 2nd Century A.D.
SH15373. Silver drachm, Traité I, pl. 63, 15; BMC Cyrenaica 36; ex Leu 22, 1979, 181, gVF, weight 2.562 g, maximum diameter 12.1 mm, die axis 90o, obverse two Silphium fruits set on a base, pedicels coinciding, pellet above and below; reverse Silphium fruit in an incuse square, pellet in each corner; very rare; SOLD


Ptolemaic Kingdom, Ptolemy III Euergetes, 246 - 222 B.C.

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SH33185. Silver didrachm, SNG Cop 429 corr. (date and reign); BMC Ptolemies p. 76, 11 corr. (same), VF, weight 4.426 g, maximum diameter 20.5 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, obverse diademed and draped bust of Berenike I right; reverse BEPENIKHΣ / BAΣIΛIΣΣHΣ, club, monogram below, trident above, all within wreath; SOLD


Kyrene, Kyrenaica, North Africa, 435 - 313 B.C.

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Unusual because Karneios is usually on the obverse and Kyrene on the reverse and Karneios head is usually right. BMC includes a similar coin from different dies, plate XV, no 10. Minted on the Attic standard.
SH08863. Gold tenth-stater, BMC Cyrenaica 148 (pl XV, no 10) var., SNG Cop 1183 var, VF, weight .84 g, maximum diameter 7.7 mm, die axis 180o, obverse head of Kyrene right, diademed, hair in three large round buns, border of dots; reverse head of Karneios left with horn of Ammon, in round incuse; very rare; SOLD


Kyrenaica, Kyrene, c. 300 - 280 B.C.

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Silphium grew only in Kyrenaica and most coins of the region, including this one, depict it. The stalk was eaten as a vegetable. Parts of the plant were used to treat all kinds of maladies including cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, pain, and warts. The fruit was considered both an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, and was worth its weight in denarii. Unfortunately, we will never know if its medicinal properties were real or imagined because the plant became extinct in the first century A.D. It's said that Nero ate the last plant.
SH70529. Silver didrachm, SNG Cop 1237; BMC Cyrenaica p. 52, 237; Müller Afrique 153, VF, obverse off-center, weight 7.352 g, maximum diameter 20.6 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrenaica mint, c. 300 - 280 B.C.; obverse horned head of Apollo Karneios left; reverse silphium plant, stars on each side, KY-PA flanking across, concave field; SOLD


Trajan, 25 January 98 - 8 or 9 August 117 A.D., Cyrene, Cyrenaica

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In 74 B.C., Cyrene was made a Roman province. Previously under the Ptolemies the Jewish inhabitants had enjoyed equal rights. Under, Rome they were increasingly oppressed by the now autonomous and much larger Greek population. Tensions came to a head in the insurrection of the Jews of Cyrene under Vespasian in 73 A.D. and especially during Kitos War, under Trajan, in 117. The later revolt was quelled by Marcius Turbo, but not before huge numbers of civilians had been brutally massacred by the Jewish rebels. According to Eusebius of Caesarea, the Jewish rebellion left Libya so depopulated that a few years later Hadrian had to establish new colonies there just to maintain the viability of the settlement.
RP86686. Silver hemidrachm, RPC III 3 (76 spec.); SNG Cop 203 (Caesarea); Sydenham Caesarea 178 (Caesarea), BMC Galatia p. 53, 56 (Caesarea), gVF, attractive style, toned, minor porosity, light bumps and marks, light encrustations, weight 1.618 g, maximum diameter 15.0 mm, die axis 195o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, 100 A.D.; obverse AYT KAIς NEP TPAIAN ΣEB ΓEPM, laureate head right; reverse ∆HMAPX EΞ YΠAT Γ (Consul for the 3rd time), head of Zeus-Ammon right, bearded and horned; from the Jyrki Muona Collection, ex Classical Numismatic Group, auction 73 (13 Sep 2006), lot 762; very rare; SOLD


Kyrene, Kyrenaica, North Africa, c, 308 - 277 B.C.

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The silphium plant grew only in North Africa and was prominent on the coinage of Kyrenaica. The stalk was eaten as a vegetable. The juice was used as a medicinal to cure just about anything, as well as for birth control. Unfortunately, we will never know if its medicinal properties were real or imagined because the plant became extinct in the first century A.D.
SH63421. Silver didrachm, BMC Cyrenaica 231 - 233, SNG Cop 1234 - 1235 corr., aVF, weight 7.660 g, maximum diameter 20.7 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, c. 308 - 277 B.C.; obverse bare horned head of Karneios right; reverse silphium plant, K-Y/R-A flanking in two lines, small cornucopia on right to left of Y; rare; SOLD


Ptolemaic Kingdom, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, as King of Kyrenaica, 163 - 145 B.C.

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The date and reign of issue for this type are uncertain. Svoronos attributed it to Ptolemy IV but noted it may "belong to a later reign." Recent attributions span from Ptolemy VIII to Ptolemy X. Kreuzer suggests it is similar to Svoronos 1426, Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX.
GP39136. Bronze AE 21, SNG Cop 455; Svoronos 1158 (Ptolemy IV), aVF, weight 4.964 g, maximum diameter 20.9 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, obverse head of Zeus Ammon right with ram's horn, wearing taenia and uraeus; reverse ΠTOΛEMAIOY BAΣIΛEΩΣ, two eagles with closed wings standing left on two thunderbolts, silphium plant in left field; rare; SOLD


Kyrene, Kyrenaica, c. 500 - 480 B.C.

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The Valentine Coin! Silphium, which is now extinct, was so critical to the Kyrenian economy that most of their coins depict it. The plant was used as a spice and to treat all kinds of maladies including cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, pain, and warts. It was so widely used as a contraceptive that it was worth its weight in denarii. The traditional "heart" shape, the symbol of love, is probably not actually derived from the shape of the heart; it is the shape of the silphium fruit or seed, due to its use as a contraceptive.
GA75116. Silver hemidrachm, cf. SNG Cop 1171; BMC Cyrenaica p. 6, 22 (fruit on rev set diagonally); SNG Cop; Müller Afrique -; Buttrey Cyrene -; SNG Milan -; Rosen -, VF, etched surfaces, encrusted with silver deposits (from other coins with which it was buried), weight 1.830 g, maximum diameter 9.9 mm, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, c. 500 - 480 B.C.; obverse silphium fruit; reverse silphium fruit or seed pod, pellets(?) around, all within an incuse square; ex Roma Numismatics E-sale 17 (25 April 2015), lot 367; very rare; SOLD


Roman Republic, L. Pinarius Scarpus, Imperator, 31 B.C.

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L. Pinarius Scarpus commanded Antony's four legions in Cyrenaica. After learning of Antony's defeat at Actium, Scarpus changed his allegiance to Octavian. This issue was struck shortly after the battle of Actium, the open hand signalizing a gesture of friendship toward Octavian.
RR13866. Silver denarius, Crawford 546/6; Sear CRI 413; RIC I 534; Sydenham 1282; RSC 500, Fair, pitted, weight 2.761 g, maximum diameter 19.4 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, obverse IMP CAESARI SCARPVS IMP, pen right left; reverse IMP CAESARI SCARPVS IMP, o/ DIVI F AVG PONG, Victory standing right on globe, holding wreath; at the time we listed this coin another dealer had a superb example for $17,000; very rare; SOLD


Ptolemaic Kingdom, Ptolemy IX Soter II (Lathyros), 116 - 110 B.C.

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Svoronos and SNG Copenhagen attribute this type to Cyprus. That it is missing from so many collections, yet Buttrey records seven finds at Kyrene, clearly indicates it was struck in Kyrene.
GP67901. Bronze AE 16, Buttrey Cyrene 371 - 377, Svoronos 1717 (Ptolemy X, Paphos), SNG Cop 664 (Cyprus), Weiser -, Noeske -, Hosking -, BMC Ptolemies -, SNG Milan -, gVF, weight 2.719 g, maximum diameter 15.5 mm, die axis 0o, Kyrene (near Shahhat, Libya) mint, 116 - 110 B.C.; obverse horned head of Zeus-Ammon right; reverse ΣΩTHPOΣ BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΠTOΛ, eagle standing left on thunderbolt, head left, wings partially open; scarce; SOLD




  




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REFERENCES

Alexandropoulos, J. Les monnaies de l'Afrique antique: 400 av. J.-C. - 40 ap. J.-C. (Toulouse, 2000).
Babelon, E. Traité des Monnaies Grecques et Romaines. Vols I. (Paris, 1901).
Burnett, A., M. Amandry, et al. Roman Provincial Coinage. (1992 - ).
Buttrey, T. "Coins and Coinage at Euesperides" in Libyan Studies XXV. (1994).
Buttrey, T. "Part I: The Coins from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone" in Buttrey-McPhee. (Philadelphia, 1997).
Babelon, J. Catalogue de la collection de Luynes: monnaies greques. (Paris, 1924-1936).
Strauss, P. Collection Maurice Laffaille - monnaies grecques en bronze. (Bàle, 1990).
Müller, L. et. al. Numismatique de l?ancienne Afrique. (Copenhagen, 1860-1862).
Noeske, H. Die Münzen der Ptolemäer. (Frankfurt, 2000).
Pitchfork, C. The Jon Hosking Collection of Ptolemaic Coins. Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney. (Sydney, 2000).
Polk, R. A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt. (London, 1882).
Robinson, E. A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, The Greek Coins of Cyrenaica. (London, 1927).
Sear, D. Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol. 2, Asia and Africa. (London, 1979).
Sear, D. Greek Imperial Coins and Their Values. (London, 1982).
Svoronos, J. Ta Nomismata tou Kratous ton Ptolemaion. (Athens, 1904-1908).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Denmark, The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, Danish National Museum, Vol. 8: Egypt, North Africa, Spain - Gaul. (1994).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Italy, Milano, Civiche Raccolte Numismatiche, XIV. Cyrenaica-Mauretania. (Milan, 1989).
Weiser, W. Katalog Ptolemäischer Bronzemünzen der Sammlung des Instituts für Altertumskunde, Universität Köln. (Opladen, 1995).

Catalog current as of Tuesday, June 25, 2019.
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Kyrenaica