----------     What I Like About Ancient Coins     ----------

Footnotes from Other Pages

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Horn and sinew

Tall bows like the English longbow were made from wood, but in the east composite bows were common. They made use of the elastic properties of horn and sinew. Horn was strong in compression and was used on the inside curve of the bow, and sinew was strong in tension and was used on the outside. They were usually glued to a wooden core using animal glue. These bows were relatively small and had a typical recurved shape, and were handy for use on horseback, unlike the yew wood longbows used at Agincourt which were much too large. So they were commonly used by nomadic tribes and specialised horseback fighters. These small recurved bows were the sort of thing used by the Parthians for their famous "Parthian shot."


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Often shown winged

A bronze dichalkon of Trajan showing a winged caduceus A bronze dichalkon of Trajan. It is 13x15mm across and weighs 1.05 grammes. The obverse shows the laureate head of the emperor; the reverse shows a winged caduceus. The letters in the reverse, Li on the left and a Digamma on the right, indicate the regnal year 16, 112-113 CE.

The reverse of a billon antoninianus of Postumus showing a winged caduceus There are many coins which show a winged caduceus on one side. Some are small and of low demonination, like this dichalkon on the left. struck for circulation in Egypt. Trajan also produced a quadrans with a similar design for circulation in the main part of the empire. Other caduceus coins are larger and more impressive. Most of those are beyond my budget.

This one was not. You can see that the knots, where the snakes join the stem and each other, are very stylised. 150 years after the dichalkon on the left, the symbology is identical.

The reverse of a billon antoninianus of Postumus. It is 20mm by 21mm across and weighs 3.57 grammes. It was struck in Treveri in 266 CE. The legend, SAECVLO FRVGIFERO, means "(Dedicated) to the fruitfulness of the age."


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Stigma

This is a quotation from Professor Ted Buttrey, originally posted in Moneta-L on 14 May 2003:

(1) The digamma was the 6th letter of the archaic Greek alphabet, representing our sound "w", and named "wau" (wow!). After it fell out of speech, and out of the alphabet, it was named "digamma" by later generations who didn't know it directly -- the new name describes its shape, looking like one gamma on top of another. The shape survived and was taken up into the Latin alphabet in the same position but with a different sound (unknown in classical Greek) -- it is our F (same shape,same position).

The Greeks did not have a separate system of symbols to represent numbers, as we have with our so-called Arabic numerals. Among several systems they developed alphabetic numeration, which I believe is not attested before the 3rd cent. BC. Anyhow the digamma (F), no longer used in written Greek, was retained for the number 6. (In the same way the qoppa, which had been abandoned because kappa served perfectly well, was retained for numeration, in its original position in the alphabet, as it is in ours, between P and R; and represented the number 90.)

Even in antiquity the digamma was taking on a cursive form, which came to look somthing like a square C with a little tail.

(2) There is no such thing as an ancient numeral stigma. This is an illusion, based on a modern misunderstanding, and is something that still needs to be corrected in Unicode. The ancient word "stigma" means a mark, a scar, a tattoo, and has nothing to do with the digamma or with numeration.

With the invention of printing in the 15th cent. the new Greek fonts copied manuscript hands, and included not just individual letters but all kinds of fancy abbreviations and ligatures. One ligature was the combination sigma-tau, ST, which got the name of "stigma", I suppose modelled on "sigma", that is as "sigma" = S, so "stigma" = ST.

Meanwhile the digamma had gone on being used in alphabetic numeration for "6", in manuscript Greek, and then in the earliest printed Greek -- and indeed is so used to this day. Unfortunately, a close similarity developed between the shape of the ST ligature and that of the developed, cursive digamma. As a result the name "stigma" came to be applied mistakenly to both of them. It is still so used, or rather misused even today. For example, alphabetic numeration is found in the paragraphs and subparagraphs of legislation; and in modern Greek dictionaries under "stigma" you find one meaning as the number 6.

This is all a misunderstanding that goes back several centuries, and is now fixed permanently in the language.

What is yet more annoying, the ligatures of the earliest printed Greek have by now all been resolved into their separate letters, so the combination once described by the term "stigma" is just printed as regular sigma tau, and the typographic term "stigma" has gone completely out of use. Yet the word survives, wrongly, in alphabetic numeration for the character still used for "6" -- which is really the good old wau/digamma in cursive form, misunderstood.

It survives, I should say, in dictionaries, but not I think in speech. Hardly any modern Greek alphabetic fonts include a symbol for it. So when they have to use letters numerically they are as follows: [I can't provide Greek letters here: imagine them] --

1=A' alpha 2=B' beta 3=G' gamma 4=D' delta 5=E' epsilon 6=ST' "stigma" ...and so on.

That is, they mis-name the digamma "stigma", and then don't have a character to print it, so they print "sigma tau" instead as an abbreviation. And so pronounce it too: I've tried it on a modern unversity-educated Greek, who read it off as "sigma tau", not as "stigma", and actually did not know that term.

Anyhow, the ancient number 6 was represented by wau/digamma, and there's an end of it. Forget stigma: it didn't exist as a numerical notion; that's just a relatively modern mistake.

Ted Buttrey


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Chlamys

A plate from the 1950 edition of Richter's Sculpture & Sculptors of the Greeks showing a man wearing a chlamys This is a quote from Patricia Lawrence on the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board, January 2008, in response to a comment that a Latin dictionary defined a chlamys as a military cloak.

Though a Greek might wear a chlamys, a simple cloak, formed we think by draping a square of wool diagonally (this seems plain on some vase-paintings), over armor to keep warm, it is fundamentally a traveler's cloak, which is why Hermes wears it (like his petasos), as well as Charon, as well as shepherds, or any other male. That dictionary ought not to have specified 'military', since the garment is not specific. From representations, I have the impression that the Roman paludamentum, as a military cloak, was heavier than the average Greek chlamys. I wonder what the Romans called a shepherd's cloak or a simple cloak worn by a farmer bringing produce to market. Not chlamys: a more Greek-specific word is hard to imagine. Anyhow, either Helios or Sol might wear one, or anyone else. Pat L.

P.S. The attached scan is from the 1950 edition of Richter's Sculpture & Sculptors of the Greeks but it originated in Léon Heuzey's study of Greek garments, draping models based on vase-paintings and sculpture. His French models look a lot more comfortable than Margarete Bieber's German ones, and everyone always uses him for the chlamys.


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Holed drachms of Neapolis

A holed drachm of Neapolis showing a gorgonieon and a female head A holed and broken drachm of Neapolis showing a gorgoneion on the obverse and a female head, possibly Artemis Parthenos, on the reverse. It is 14mm in diameter and weighs 1.50 grammes.

At the time of writing (May 2008), several holed drachms of this type have turned up recently on eBay. All of them have been holed through the gorgoneion's mouth, mostly directly in the centre like this one. I do not know whether this has any significance other than it is an easy place to make the hole without destroying the appearance of the head. (This specimen has a crystallised interior and was broken in transit to me.)


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Coins held in the mouth

It is often said that the ancient Greeks carried small change in their mouths. It would be quite practical, though insanitary, to carry a few of those tiny silver coins in one cheek. A trihemiobol (one and a half obols) is just over a centimetre in diameter and weighs less than a gramme. But the only primary source I can discover for this is a passage in Aristophanes' play "The Birds" (Ορνιθες), dating from 414 BCE, performed that year for the Festival of Dionysos. Here is one translation of the relevant passage, by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC:

PISTHETAIROS: To resume–way back then the Kite was king.
He ruled the Greeks.

CHORUS LEADER: King of the Greeks!!

PISTHETAIROS: That's right.
As king he was the first to show us how
to grovel on the ground before a kite.

EUELPIDES: By Dionysus, I once saw a kite
and rolled along the ground, then, on my back,
my mouth wide open, gulped an obol down.
I had to trudge home with an empty sack.

The translator says that there was an old Greek custom of saluting the kite as the bird announcing the arrival of spring by rolling on the ground. On doing this, the character has accidentally swallowed his money, and has to go home hungry.

Here is another version, no translator's name given:

EUELPIDES
By Zeus! that's what I did myself one day on seeing a kite; but at the moment I was on my knees, and leaning backwards with mouth agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my meal-sack home empty.


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An ancient Greek sacrifice

This is a description of a sacrifice to Athena from Homer's Odyssey III 417-72, translated by W.Shewring, modified. It is taken from "Religion in the Ancient Greek City" by Louise Brun Zaidman and Pauline Schmitt Pantel, translated by Paul Cartledge.

Nestor, Gerenian horseman, was himself the first to speak: "Dear sons, lose no time in bringing my wishes to fulfilment; before any other divinity, I wish to propitiate Athene, because she came in visible presence to the sumptuous banquet of our god (Poseidon). Let one of you go down to the plain to fetch a heifer; make sure that she comes as soon as may be, with a cowherd driving her! Let another go to the black ship of Telemakhos and bring all of his comrades except for two! Let a third order the goldsmith Laerkes to come and gild the heifer's horns! The rest of you, stay together here, but tell the serving-women to prepare a banquet in these great halls, and to bring us wood and seats and sparkling water."

So he spoke and all set about their tasks. Up from the plain came the heifer, and from the swift ship the comrades of stout-hearted Telemakhos. The smith came too, holding in his hands the tools of his craft, the anvil and hammer and shapely tongs, to work the gold. And Athene came to receive the sacrifice. Aged horseman Nestor handed over the gold, and the smith deftly worked it and gilded the heifer's horns to delight the goddess when she should see an offering so lovely. Stratios and godly Ekhephron led the beast forward by the horns, and Aretos came to them bringing from the store-room a flowery-patterned vessel that held the lustral water; in his other hand he carried a basketful of barley-groats. Nearby stood warlike Thrasymedes, with a sharp axe in his hand to fell the heifer, while Perseus held the bowl for the blood. Aged horseman Nestor began the rite with the lustral water and the barley-groats, and then addressed to Athene a long prayer, throwing the few hairs cut from the victim's head into the flames.

When they had prayed and had sprinkled the barley-groats, mighty-spirited Thrasymedes, son of Nestor, straightway took his stand beside the beast and struck her. The axe sliced through the sinews of the neck and the heifer collapsed senseless, whereupon Nestor's daughters and daughters-in-law and revered wife Eurydike, eldest of the daughters of Klymenos, raised the ritual scream. Then the young men lifted the victim up from the broad-pathed ground and held her, while Peisistratos prince of men cut her throat. The black blood gushed out, and the life departed from the bones. Then quickly they divided the flesh; at once they cut out the thigh-bones in due ritual fashion, covered them with the fat twice-folded, and laid the raw meat on top. The old king proceeded to burn these offerings on cloven wood and to pour glowing wine upon them; the young men stood round them holding five-pronged forks. When the thigh-bones were utterly consumed and they had tasted the entrails, they sliced and spitted the rest. They gripped the spits that went through the meat and roasted it thus.

Meanwhle Telemakhos had been bathed by lovely Polykastew, Nestor's youngest daughter; she bathed him, anointed him well with oil, then dressed him in a handsome cloak and tunic. He came from the bath looking like a god and went to sit by Nestor shepherd of the people.

Having roasted the outer flesh and removed it from the spits, they sat down and began to feast, and faithful serving-men attended on them, pouring wine into the golden cups.


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A description of the Pharos of Alexandria

From "Great Cities of the Ancient World," by L. Sprague de Camp

Finished in [Ptolemaios II] Philadelphos' reign, the Lighthouse stood between 380 and 440 feet tall, compared with 480 feet for Khufu's great pyramid and 555.5 feet for the Washington Monument. It was built in three sections: the lowest square, the intermediate octagonal, and the highest cylindrical. Helical stairways led to the top, and the lowest section contained 50 rooms.

(...)

Our best descriptions of the Pharos, which stood for 1,500 years, come from two medieval Muslim travellers. The Spanish Moor Idrîsi, who was in the eastern Mediterranean about 1115, wrote:

We notice the famous lighthouse, which has not its like in the world for harmony of construction or for solidity; since, to say nothing of the fact that it is built in the excellent stone of the kind called al-kadhdhân, the courses of these stones are united by molten lead, and the joints are so adherent that the whole is indissoluble, though the surge of the sea from the north incessantly beats against the structure. The distance between the lighthouse and the city is one mile by sea and three miles by land. Its height is 300 cubits of the rashâshi standard, each equal to three spans, making a height of 100 fathoms [646 to 755 feet], whereof 96 are to the lantern and four to the height of the lantern. From the ground to the middle gallery measures exactly 70 fathoms and from the gallery to the top of the lighthouse, 26.

Once climbs to the summit by a broad staircase built into the interior, which is as broad as those ordinarily erected in minarets. The first staircase ends about halfway up the lighthouse, and thence, on all four sides, the building narrows. Inside and under the staircase, chambers have been built. Starting from the gallery, the lighthouse rises, ever narrowing, to its top, until at last one cannot always turn as one climbs.

From this same gallery one begins to climb again, to reach the top, by a flight of steps narrower than the lower staircase. All parts of the lighthouse are pierced by windows to give light to persons ascending and to provide them with firm footing as they climb.

This building is singularly remarkable, as much on account of its height as its solidity; it is very useful in that it is kept lit night and day as a beacon for navigators throughout the whole sailing season; mariners know the fire and direct their courses accordingly, for it is visible a day's sail [100 miles] away. By night it looks like a brilliant star; by day one can perceive its smoke.

When Yûsuf ibn-ash-Shaykh, another Spanish Moor, visited the tower in 1165, he found it no longer used as a lighthouse. Instead, a small mosque had been installed on top in place of the beacon. Faith had triumphed over utility. Being an experienced builder and architect, ibn-ash-Shaykh carefully measured the tower, and we rely on his figures today. (Idrîsi's seem to be somewhat exaggerated.) We cannot, however, confidently translate inb-ash-Shaykh's dimensions into modern units, because he gave his measurements in cubits and we do not know which of several possible cubits he meant.

[de Camp adds in a footnote:] Forster (p. 147) says that an earthquake brought down the uppermost part of the lighthouse about 1100. If Idrîsi saw the tower before this happened, his figures might be partly reconciled with those of ibn-ash-Shaykh, who measured the tower when it was actually lower than it had been a century before. I doubt, however, if the tower ever exceeded 600 feet, as Idrîsi's figures indicate.

(The reference above is to Forster, E. M.: Alexandria (A History and a Guide). Garden City, N. Y.: Anchor Books, 1922-66.)


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Reviews of Ivan Varbanov's "Greek Imperial Coins And Their Values"

From the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board. Captured here in case the thread is deleted from Forum.

1. From "Bobicus", 5 July 2005:

Greek Imperial Coins And Their Values
Volume I: Dacia, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior
(English Edition)
Ivan Varbanov, ©2005 Adicom Publications

Summary: The long awaited English version of Varbanov's guide to coins of the Balkans Peninsula is completed and published. This reference is vastly superior to the translation of Moushmov which is available for free on the internet. It is a comprehensive guide to the coins of the cities of Moesia Inferior. 5821 coins are described and a substantial number of the coins are illustrated both observe and reverse. Each coin description includes a citation, if one exists, as well as a value in Euros for the coin in VF condition. Probably the best affordable guide to the coinage of Moesia Inferior and Dacia that is available in English.

Contents and a more detailed review: Greek Imperial Coins begins with a section dedicated to describing the variety of reverses found on the coinage of the Balkans. This section is approximately 18 pages long and is vastly superior to the analogous section in Sear's Greek Imperial Coins, because all of Varbanov's types are illustrated. There are listings of the major types, including Deities, Personifications, Colonial Types and Animals. All of the descriptions include at least one or more photographs. In the case of the Deities, details of the scenes and motifs they are likely to be found with are described as well as their Greek and Roman names. The section covering the Deities is the best overall guide that I have seen regarding the Gods on coins.

The rarity scale that Varbanov uses is explained in the next section. The rarity scale begins with R1 (Quite common, more than 1500 examples) and concludes with R10 (Very rare, only 1 or 2 examples known). I much prefer this type of scale with many well defined graduations, to those found in the older RIC volumes (CC, C, S, R, R1, R2) or Van Meter (VB1 – VB6), where each of these gradients might mean just about anything.

After these introductory sections, the coinage catalog begins. As a prelude to each City and Province there is a very brief historical overview. Then follows the actual coin descriptions. The coin listings are Grouped by City, then by Emperor (or family member) and then by Reverse Legend. The observe legends and types are contained in tables at the start of each Emperor section, very much like RIC.

Dacia: Approximately 8 pages and 96 coin descriptions are devoted to Dacia.

Moesia Superior: Varbanov devotes 12 pages to Viminacium, and lists approximately 145 coins. This section contains my only disappointment in the book. A distinction is made for the dates in the exergues, but it isn't very consistent. This strikes me as being a major oversight for a catalog of Viminacium. For those fluent in German, and with deeper pockets, the section in AMNG is vastly superior to what is found here.

Moesia Inferior: This section is the main focus of Greek Imperial coins. This sections listings are superior and make this reference a "must have" for those who only know English, or read German poorly. Approximately 400 pages and 5700 coin listing are spread amongst the 7 cities (Callatis, Dionysoplois, Istrus, Marcianoplois, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Odessus, and Tomis). The coinage of each of these cities is covered in detail with appropriate references to AMNG and other sources. After a glace at the listings for Nicopolis ad Istrum and Marcianopolis approximately 25% of the listings are hitherto unpublished. These are the coins that are frequently found in unclean coin lots from the Balkans, and this reference should be owned by those who clean or collect these coins. Comparing the listings in Varbanov against the same listings in AMNG is very difficult for me, but my impression is AMNG will cite more sources for many coins, and possibly provide more descriptive material on some coins. But Varbanov is very richly illustrated and on most pages photographs, of the observes and reverses, of at least 4 coins are shown.

Conclusion: If you have an interest in the coins of Moesia Inferior, and can afford $145.00 for a reference, put in your order today.

2. From Curtis Clay, 29 June 2006:

This was my assessment of Vols. 1-4 of the Bulgarian edition of Varbanov's catalogue, from another Forvm thread:

"Attempts to be a complete cat. of the provincials of Moesia, Thrace, Macedonia. Excerpts descriptions and illustrations from the specialist mint studies and articles, many in Bulgarian and difficult to access and read for Western Europeans and Americans. Also excerpts CNG, NAC, Gorny, Lanz, Hirsch, Rauch, and Peus cats. from c. 1990 on. Some coins added from private collections.
"Accuracy is middling, errors fairly common. One very bad practice is sometimes resorted to, the repetition of an obv. image with a rev. it doesn't go with, because the source illustrated the rev. only of that coin but Varbanov wanted to show both sides!
"That's vols. 1-3, arranged by province, then mint, then emp., then rev. legends and types in alphabetical order. Vol. 4 is totally different: a SELECTIVE cat. of provincials of the rest of the empire, Spain, Africa, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Alexandria, arranged first BY EMPEROR, then geographically under each emperor, in other words a copy of Sear's Greek Imperial book but with Moesia, Thrace, Macedonia excluded. Since order by emperors rather than mints ruins the subject, this is of minimal value. Hopefully they won't even bother to translate this vol. into English.
"Vol. 5, which as far as I know hasn't yet appeared in Bulgarian, is scheduled to cover the autonomous coins of Moesia, Thrace, Macedonia."

An opportunity arose and I have finally acquired Vols. 1-2 of the English translation. It is certainly a great improvement over the Bulgarian edition, for three main reasons:

1. The translation itself, which is generally excellent, with no major or distracting errors. At last English-speakers can read the catalogue at a glance. I had almost given up consulting the text of the Bulgarian edition, it was so tedious to have to look up almost every word in the dictionary, and occasionally to have to check the equivalencies of the Cyrillic letters in order to sound out the words. "Variant" is "variant" in Bulgarian too, but it looks very different in Cyrillic letters!

2. Greatly improved paper, printing, and binding. First edition: ordinary copypaper, text and illustrations photocopied with streaks when the toner got low, pages merely stapled together so the book will not stay open or lie flat. English edition: glossy paper, no more streaking of the printing, sewn binding so the book will lie open on your desk. The illustrations, mostly from sale catalogues, have often lost sharpness in the reproduction, but remain usable.

3. Many new illustrations and listings. For example Sev. Alex. with either Mamaea or Maesa at Marcianopolis, 10 coins ill. in the Bulgarian edition. The English edition repeats six of those illustrations, upgrades two of them with better specimens, omits two without replacement, and adds 16 new illustrations, for a total of 24 coins illustrated. 53 coins of these sorts are described in the first edition, 10 illustrated; 62 such coins in the second edition, 24 illustrated.

As to errors, apparently nobody informed Varbanov, so most of the old ones unfortunately remain, and some new ones have been perpetrated in the English edition! The following are merely a few typical examples.

Some of the mismatched illustrations of the obv. of one coin and the rev. of another have been replaced with new and correct illustrations from auction catalogues, but many others remain, and some have also been added. Vol. II, Anchialus 178, for example, joins a rev. of Sept. Sev. at Anchialus copied from AMNG pl. VI.28 with an obv. of Sept. Sev. at PAUTALIA taken from Ruzicka, Pautalia, pl. X.14! In the Bulgarian ed., II 652, only the rev. from AMNG had been used. Pity the scholar who is overjoyed to think he has discovered a die link between a genuine coin of Pautalia and this Anchialus pastiche fabricated by Varbanov!

Vol. I, Nicopolis ad I. 3115 = 1st ed. 2455. The description specifies Caracalla under gov. Tertullus, but the ill. is of Elagabalus under gov. Novius Rufus.

Vol . I, Tomis 4695 = 1st ed. 3707, Ant. Pius with rev. Tyche, however the ill. coin, copied from Sear GIC 1354, is of Nicopolis not Tomis! The very same ill. is also correctly used under Nicopolis, 2123 = first ed. 1685.

Vol. II, Augusta Trajana 1368 = 1st ed. 443, text says Geta, but the ill. is of Caracalla as sole Augustus.

Same mint 1386 = 1st ed. 497 serves up a unique coin of Severus Alexander at Aug. Traj. under gov. Sicinnius Clarus. Coins of Sev. Alex. at this mint are otherwise totally unknown. Unfortunately Clarus actually served as gov. under Septimius Severus, and the rev. illustrated is probably from a coin of Plautilla. The Sev. Alex. obverse, in contrast, comes from a coin of Marcianopolis under gov. Tereventinus, same die as Berk List 87, 642, and many others in my photofile. It is hard to understand how this monstrosity came about and why it was not excised by a critical author or proofreader long before making it into print in a first and now second edition.

At Pautalia, coinage ends under Caracalla. Coins attributed by some authors to Elagabalus are actually all of Caracalla, as Ruzicka explicitly states in his monograph on Pautalia, p. 14. Yet since Mouchmov had earlier described coins of Elagabalus from Pautalia, Varbanov took over Mouchmov's error in his first edition, though he could of course find no illustrations of those alleged coins.

In his second edition, Vol. II, 5484 and 5489, Varbanov pretends to find such illustrations, taking them from auction catalogues where the coins in question were correctly attributed to Caracalla! 5484, Varbanov alleges, is a coin of Elagabalus, with rev. Elagabalus and Julia Paula holding a globe between them. But wives do not support globes with their emperors, they clasp hands, and both of the figures shown are togate males. The obv. is actually Caracalla, and the rev. shows Septimius and Caracalla, being from THE SAME REV. DIE as Varbanov 5285, which is correctly attributed to Caracalla.

A collector, seeking no more than to attribute his own coins, is unlikely to be bothered or misled by such errors and fantasies, however. The majority of the descriptions are accurate, and it is very useful to have them and the many illustrations gathered in one place, and now made generally available through the English translation.

I understand that, despite the high price, Vols. 1-2 are already out of print, but maybe some dealers still have copies to sell, or the rapid sale may inspire a reprinting.

3. Curtis Clay, an addition on 17 November 2008:

Further to Moonmoth's recent thread under Roman Provincial Coins: I would agree that Varbanov's arrangement of the coins in the alphabetical order of their reverse legends was a serious mistake, because, as Bacchus commented, you often can't make out the exact spelling of the beginning of the rev. legend on a coin you want to attribute, so have to search through all the possible variants in Varbanov.

Moreover, Varbanov himself sometimes misreads the rev. legends, so lists them in incorrect order, for example I, 3180, rev. legend begins VPA not VP, so this coin is identical to 3202, which is actually from the same dies!

How annoying and impractical that Varbanov didn't simply follow the much more logical and useful order adopted by AMNG, namely

1. Separate not only the emperors and empresses, but also the coins of emperors showing different ranks: coins of Caracalla Caesar before those of Caracalla Augustus, and so on.

2. Under each emperor or rank of an emperor, list first all coins that name a governor or local magistrate, bringing together all coins naming the same magistrate because they were obviously struck during one and the same period, and arranging the magistrates in their apparent chronological order. Under each magistrate, separate the denominations, listing the largest coins first and the smallest last. Finally under each denomination, list the coins in the order of their reverse types, for example first gods and goddesses, then the emperor, then architectural types, then animals, then inanimate objects.

3. Second under each emperor or rank of emperor come the coins WITHOUT any magistrate's name, again divided by denominations, and within each denomination by reverse types.

This order is so much more practical and easy for attributing coins, and also gives one such a head start in understanding the denominational structure and chronology of the coinage, that it's like the difference between day and night!


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What is Nemesis carrying?

Nemesis appears on several Roman provincial coins carrying either one or two items chosen from a range of possibilities which indicate the various nature of her functions. Some are easy to identify, such as a pair of scales for equity or Dikaiosyne, and a cornucopia for abundance. Others are more obscure.

She often carries a short rod in her right hand. At different times this has been called a goad or a cubit rule. There is sometimes a rod in her left arm; never in both on the same die, so it may represent the same thing, even though when carried on the left it is longer, more detailed and usually has a hook-like finial at the top. This longer rod in the left arm has sometimes even been called a short torch, a parazonium, or a sword. On at least one die, this longer rod has measuring divisions along its length, so I will refer to it as a cubit rule. You might also see this called an arshin. The short rod in the right hand might or might not be the same thing, but it is safest to call it just that, a short rod.

She sometimes carries a rhombus-shaped object in her left hand. This has been called a ribbon, a bridle or a sling. The most common interpretation is a bridle, so for convenience I will call it that, though not with complete confidence.


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Description of the statue of Apollo by Bryaxis

Bryaxis' statue, in the temple of Apollo in Daphne, a suburb of Antioch, appears on a bronze quarter nummus struck under Maximinus II and a tetrassarion of Trebonianus Gallus. Both these coins are from Antioch. Apart from coins like this, it is known today only from ancient descriptions, such as this one by the rhetorician Libanios of Antioch.

Libanios, orat. 61:

And a mental effort makes the apparition [of the Apollo] stand before my eyes — the gentleness of its form ... the offering bowl, the kithara, the tunic reaching to the feet, the softness of the stone at the neck, the belt around the chest keeping in place the gold tunic in such a way that some of it is held tight and some billows out ... he seemed like one who is singing a melody."

(Extracted from "The Art of Ancient Greece, Sources and Documents," by Jerome Jordan Pollitt.)

This is not the Bryaxis who worked on the Mausolem in Helikarnassos in the 4th century BCE, but a later man, who also produced at least one statue of Serapis in Alexandria.


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What does "Delta Epsilon" stand for on coins of Antioch?

The letters Delta Epsilon, Δ Є, appear on many coins of Antioch, often very large. There are two possible explanations. One is that it stands for something like Demosia Exousia or ΔHMAPXIKHΣ EXOYΣIAΣ, Greek for Public or Tribunician Power.

The other, proposed by Butcher in "Coinage of Roman Syria", is that it stands for Δ EΠAPXEIΩN, "of the four eparchies," and is related to the imperial cult at Antioch (and later at Laodicea).

The letters S C often also appear on coins from Antioch, and probably stand for Senatus Consulto, as they do on Imperial bronzes.


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Dionysos explains how much one should drink.

The Greek playwright Euboulos, in about 375 BCE, had the god Dionysos talk about how many kraters of wine and water should be drunk at a symposium. This paragraph is from a surviving fragment of his play "ΣEMEΛH H ΔIONYΣOΣ", "Semele or Dionysos", and both of the following translations are on Wikipedia; the first in the article on the Symposium, the second in an article on Ancient Greece and Wine. Neither translation is attributed.

First version:

For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more — it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

Second version:

Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes, the eight is the policeman's, the ninth belong to biliousness, and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture.

Although the first translation mentions kraters specifically, the Wikipedia commentary on the second version says that "bowl" means "kylix." This is probably an error. In "Eubulus: The Fragments" by R. L. Hunter, Hunter gives the word used as κρατηρες, kraters, and says that when the fragment mentioned three kraters, it borrowed some ideas from the three traditional toasts drunk (from kylikes) before a symposium, which caused confusion among earlier editors.


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Curtis Clay's comments on Philip V. Hill's dating of Severan and other coins

In May 2007 the subject of Hill's dating arose in the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board. Curtis Clay commented on Hill's "The Coinage of Septimius Severus and his family of the Mint of Rome, AD 193-217" and also ""Hill's book on the coinage of Hadrian and Pius".

Of the first, Clay wrote:

The book is a disaster, because simply a list of so-called results, without any argument to show why a certain undated coin should belong to a particular year and issue, and in fact very largely based on pure conjecture, with the result that dates off by one, two, even up to five years are the rule rather than the exception.

Yet the results are presented as hard fact, and will naturally be accepted as such by non-specialists, as for example by David Sear in his new edition of Roman Coins and Their Values. Do you wonder how David Sear knows the exact dates of every undated Severan coin of 193-218? He takes the dates from Hill, and a notable percentage of them are wrong!

Of the second, and then enlarging his comments to both, he wrote:

... that book covers Trajan too, and all of Hill's dates are taken over by Sear in the new RCV.

That book does have a text containing arguments, but often the "arguments" consist of mere statements of the "results" in words, with liberal use of "might", "could", "probably" and so on, indicating that we are really only dealing with guesses!

Hill was himself aware of the conjectural nature of his results, which should have prevented a clear-thinking author from allowing them to be published. So he begins his Conclusion of the AD 98-148 book with the statement: "It is in the nature of a study such as this that the arguments should occasionally be empirical and the conclusions even arbitrary, but wherever possible logical reasons have been advanced to justify the arrangement and dating of the coins."

On the contrary, the coins can indeed be arranged and dated with a considerable degree of certainty, but Hill had not undertaken the necessary studies, of hoard composition, die links, and so on, to come anywhere near that optimal result!

Examples of some of Hill's more egregious errors:

1. His whole "cyclical" theory of production at the mint, taken over from Robert Carson's BMCRE VI, postulating that the metals were coined just one at a time, first aurei, then denarii, then bronze coins, is wrong. In fact the mint normally produced silver coins and bronze coins simultaneously, and gold too at the same time when required.

2. Hill wrongly eliminates the coinage of Antoninus Pius as Caesar under Hadrian, arguing incorrectly that the coins that call him only Caesar were in fact issued after his accession as a tactical move to persuade the reluctant Senate to consecrate Hadrian. Unfortunately this impossible result has now been enshrined in Sear's new RCV!

3. Hill dates Hadrian's sixth largesse and the coins commemorating it to 137 AD. The correct date is approximately 131-2 AD, according to my die study of the aurei, and assuming a reasonably even production of denarii year by year from 128 to 138.

4. As I showed in my 1972 Oxford thesis, Julia Domna's VENVS FELIX rev. type, which is common on sestertii, can be dated with near certainty to 194-5 AD on the basis of die links on sestertii and aurei and comparison to the contemporaneous coinage of Septimius. Hill's impossible date for this type is 199, a year after the production of bronze coins at the mint of Rome had been reduced from an ample flow to the merest trickle, and ignoring the fact that Julia's VENVS FELIX type was copied at the Alexandrian mint for denarii which ceased production in the course of 195!


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Did the Romans call a die engraver a "celator?"

No, they didn't, although the word is used that way quite often these days. Here's how Curtis Clay explained it on the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board in May 2010:

It will be impossible to hold back the tide among collectors, but may I object once more that "celator" does not mean "die engraver" in Latin, so should not be given that meaning in English?

According to Seltman, Masterpieces of Greek Coinage, pp. 8-9, the artists who enjoyed the highest reputation in Greece were those "who worked delicately in precious stones, ivory, gold, silver and bronze," who were called "toreutai" in Greek and "caelatores" in Latin.

These artists were NOT die engravers, but Seltman thinks that some Greek cities employed them, for example Kimon at Syracuse, to engrave their finest dies.

NO ancient source, as far as I am aware, calls a die engraver a "celator". In the Trajanic mint inscriptions, for example, die engravers are called "scalptores" or "signatores", and there is no mention of "caelatores".

The mistake of misinterpreting what Seltman said and thinking that ALL die engravers could be called "celators" apparently goes back to Wayne Sayles, who when founding his magazine for ancient coin collectors in 1987 decided to call it the Celator and adopted the following motto: "The Celator is named for and dedicated to the coin die-engravers of antiquity whose art remains as powerful and appealing today as in their own time."

Since then "celator" has become a very widespread word for "die engraver" among collectors, but few academic or museum numismatists make this mistake!


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Comments on Kraft's theories about Fel Temp "hut" coins

There have been several theories about the meaning behind the image on the "hut" coins of Constans and Constantius II. On 24 November 2010, Curtis Clay commented on the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board:

Konrad Kraft's argument, convincing to me, is that the Hut type refers to Constans' resettlement of Franks within the boundaries of the Roman empire, namely in Toxandria, in 342 AD.

K. Kraft, Die Taten der Kaiser Constans und Constantius II., Jahrbuch für Num. u. Geldgeschichte IX, 1958, p. 179: "We may therefore conclude that the Hut type on the coins strongly suggests that Constans arranged an official resettlement of Franks in Roman territory on the left bank of the Rhine in 342 AD."

Kraft shows that Mattingly was almost certainly wrong to associate the legend FEL TEMP REPARATIO with the 1100th anniversary of Rome's foundation in 348. It seems likely that the new coinage with that legend was actually introduced a couple of years before 348, maybe as early as 344.


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Curtis Clay's comments on Caracalla's denarius showing a river god and captives

Reverse of a silver denarius of Caracalla showing the emperor with a river god and two captives The reverse of a silver denarius of Caracalla showing the emperor with a river god and two captives.

At the start of 2011 I acquired this denarius of Caracalla showing the emperor with a river god and two captives. Curtis Clay had commented on this and similar types on the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board in September 2008:

"R. Ziegler sees evidence in provincial coinages of Asia Minor for troop movements from the Danube to Syria c. 206-7 AD, and there is inscriptional evidence too that trouble was brewing again with the Parthians around that time.

According to Ziegler, the victory and military coin types of 207, in particular the rivergod type of Caracalla and the PACATOR ORBIS type, bust of Sol, of Septimius and Caracalla, probably reflect Roman successes in coping with this new trouble. Whether Caracalla actually traveled to Syria to direct the operations remains uncertain; the types might suggest so, but we can't be sure that they are not merely recalling the emperors' successful Parthian expedition of ten years earlier.

The two river gods at Caracalla's feet in the VIRTVS AVGG type must be the Tigris and the Euphrates, as on the Trajanic model. The third figure in Trajan's type is Armenia wearing her characteristic tall tiara, in Caracalla's type it will be Mesopotamia or a Parthian captive.

It can hardly be doubted that Caracalla's VIRTVS AVGG type was struck in 207, just like the dated denarii that show the same rev. type and a portrait of just the same age on the obverse. Both types surely belong to the same issue, the scarcer version with descriptive legend (8 spec. in Reka Devnia hoard) perhaps being struck first, followed by the commoner version with dated legend (22 spec. in the hoard).

I doubt that it is more than chance that multiple specimens of these two types seem to have been emerging lately. Any hoard that might be responsible would of course not have contained just these two types, but many other contemporary and near contemporary types too, of both Caracalla and the other members of the Severan family."


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The content of this page was last updated on 18 February 2011