Numismatic and History Discussions > Greek Coins

Incuse coinage of Magna Graecia and Pythagoras

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JBF:
I would like to invite people to check out my articles on Pythagoras' (530 BC) background in celature and on how the incuse coins of MG represent Pythagorean teachings.

I know that the current conventional wisdom amongst the academic world is skeptical towards past claims like these, but I believe that over a series of article,
(including some not yet written), I am quite able to make my case.  But either way, let me know what you all think. :)

academia.edu

John Francisco

PS sorry if I should have posted this in some kind of different way, this is my first post.  JBF :)

Taras:
Hi John,
first of all.. congratulations for your works, they're very interesting!  +++
Problems concerning numismatic semiology in Magna Graecia are often set aside by scholars, who prefer to focus on metrological and weight issues (surely useful studies, but much more boring!  :P)

The issue "Pythagora and incuse coinage" always fascinated me, and for some time I have been studying the topic.
I want to share with you my thoughts to try give new substance to the "Pythagorean" hypothesis.
I apologize in advance if my English is not perfect.

As you wrote:

--- Quote from: JBF on January 14, 2013, 08:19:39 pm ---I know that the current conventional wisdom amongst the academic world is skeptical towards past claims like these".
--- End quote ---

I think today are skeptical positions to be outdated.
In fact the date on which the phenomenon of incuse coinage in Magna Grecia would have began is conventionally indicated around 550 b.C., however, that argument does not rest on solid scientific foundations. It is basically related to an obsolete issue wich correlated a specific coin type with the date of the destruction of Siris ( Siris, the only Ionian colony in Italy, was destroyed by the Achaean colonies of Kroton, Sybaris and Metapontion allied together, at the end of the first half of the VI century b.C.):
Until the sixties it was believed that the coins with legend " :GreeK_Sigma: :Greek_Iota: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Iota: :Greek_Nu: :Greek_Omicron: :GreeK_Sigma: -   :Greek_Pi_2: :Greek_Upsilon:  :Greek_Xi_2: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_epsilon: :GreeK_Sigma: " were minted in the Ionian colony.


7,81 g
Photo courtesy of British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals. Reg. Num. RPK.p287.1.SirBux

By this assumption it seemed clear that the incuse coinage should have began before the destruction of the city, so was established by scholars on conventional date of 550 b.C.

In fact, today it is obvious to the majority of scholars that these coins were not minted in Siris, but in another city, probably named Sirinos, gravitating into the orbit of the Sybarite "empire", on the tyrrenian side.
Indeed the Ionian colony of Siris never minted coins.
It seems clear, therefore, that in Greek Italy no coinage existed before the fall of Siris. In fact it would not be plausible that this rich city, devoted to trade much more than its achaean neighbors, had stayed outside to such an important phenomenon such as coinage, if it had already been initiated in the region. (some bibliographic references: "Scritti di Numismatica" by A. Stazio, "Siris-Heraclea" by Lorenzo Quilici, "Siris" by U. Cozzoli, "Osservazioni storico-linguistiche intorno allo statere d'argento di Siri e Pixunte" by I. Cazzaniga)

So, now we can imagine that incuse coinage began after 550 b.C. (destruction of Siris), and before 510 b.C. (destruction of Sybaris).
However, this time interval is still too large to give arguments to the relation between Pythagoras and incuse coinage.

I want to point that some scholars (L. Quilici in "Siris-Heraclea", G. Pugliese Carratelli in "PdP CXXII", T. J. Dumbabin in "The western greeks") they suggest a later date for the destruction of Siris, around 540-530 b.C.; following the assumptions of these scholars the Pythagorean supposition assumes more consistency (Pythagora arrived in italy in 532 b.C.)


As you John write in your article:
There is an argument that the spread fabric incuse coinage could not have been made by the Pythagoreans because the coins predate Pythagoras’ arrival in Magna Graecia.  One could equally say that if the spread fabric incuse coinage is Pythagorean as shown by its symbolism, then the dating of the coins to before Pythagoras’ arrival in 532 must be wrong.

In fact I agree with you, I think it is wrong!

I think that the incuse coinage in southern Italy started concurrently in Kroton, Sybaris and Metapontion, around 530 b.C. (Attilio Stazio, http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attilio_Stazio, probably the greatest scholar in MG coinage, had the same idea), properly in the same years in which Pythagoras arrived in Kroton from Samos.
We should also record that Dicearco from Messine reports how in the last years of the century Pythagoras went to live in Tarentum. In the same years incuse coinage started in Tarentum!!.

Well, I have to better explain myself now.
I shall open a metrological digression to make clear my thoughts.

The relative chronology concerning the three sizes of flans for incuse coinage is widely shared.
First the Spread flans (larger than 25 mm, till 30 mm), after the medium flans (between 22 and 25 mm), and at the end of incuse coinage, before the double relief switching, the dumpy flans (less than 22 mm, till 17 mm).

Here a sample from the first stage of the coinage of Metapontion:


Noe class III, Nr. 57 (this coin)
30 mm, 7,99g
Photo courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett, object Num. 18203391
http://www.smb.museum/ikmk/object.php?id=18203391

Noe writes at pag 49 of his work: "Modern scholars have tended to lower Head's chronology, though there is as yet no certain indication of the date of the earliest incuse issues and 550-540 remains as plausible estimate for the first coins of Sybaris and Metapontum."

Ok, let's go on...
here three samples from Kroton, showing the three stages, from earlier to later:

Spread flan

30 mm, 7,82g
Photo courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett, object Num. 18215959
http://www.smb.museum/ikmk/object.php?id=18215959

Medium flan

24 mm, 7,92g
Photo courtesy CNG

Dumpy flan

17 mm, 7,97g
Photo courtesy CNG


Today scholars agree that the incuse coinage in Kroton started about 530 b.C. (you can see in the link under the first coin that also the Berlin museum accepts this date). In the past it was believed that Kroton started to mint incuses on 550 b.C., like Metapontion and Sybaris. Then, between the seventies and eighties, scholars focused their attention on a very earlier specimen minted in Kroton (spread flan, with no symbols, probably the first serier of the Kroton mint) stored in the Berlin Museum, ex coll. Loebbecke, which was overstruk on a Corinthian coin like this:


8,61g
Photo courtesy Nomos

Kraay, Bicknell and Garraffo dated this coin about 530 b.C.
This evidence led scholars to lower the chronology for the earlier incuse staters of Kroton from 550 to 530.

Now I want to bring to you another evidence, which could hypothetically allow us to lower the chronology also for the Metapontion early staters, giving substance to the idea that incuse coinage in South Italy started at the same time, after the arrival of the philosopher of Samos.

In 2009 has been published by A. Polosa the catalogue of ancient coins in the Archaeological Museum of Sibari (http://donum.numismatics.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=175673&shelfbrowse_itemnumber=1113).
I immediately bought it with much enthusiasm, because in the volume was illustrated in detail the "Amendolara Hoard", the most archaic hoard ever found in south Italy, in Amendolara, the village in which my father was born!
Well, putting aside my personal nostalgia, Amendolara is situated on the coast, about halfway between Sybaris and Metapontion. The hoard contained 42 coins, all spread flans: 13 Metapontion, 28 Sybaris, 1 Kroton

Here the Starer of Kroton:


29 mm, 8,182g
National Archaeological Museum of Sybaris, inv. 3904


But is the coin listed 2 the one I want to bring to your attention:


27 mm, 8,276g
National Archaeological Museum of Sybaris, inv. 3869

This type is listed in Noe, class 1
It is probably one of the first series of the mint.
Well, as reported by the scholar who compiled the catalogue, this coin is overstruck on a spread flan Krotonian stater.

The photo is not much clear, but are visible traces of the Koppa and the Ro of Kroton, near the Tau of Meta.



So, resuming:
Some years ago the fact of an overstrike by an earlier stater of Kroton on a Corinthian coin lowered the dating to 530 b.C.
Now, the overstrike of an earlier stater of Metapontion on a Krotonian coin, what conclusion should lead us to?

In conclusion, I reiterate my hypothesis: Incuse coinage in Southern Italy started not before 530 b.C., and this makes it plausible a Pythagorean role in the matter.
Naturally all this is only a personal idea, without any scientific claim.

Bye

Nicola

JBF:
Very interesting.  Charles Seltman thought that Noe type 1 were not the earliest (his essay on the Italiote coinage), your
overstrike might demonstrate that.
I don't know Italian, so the way you lay out the material is new, and informative to me.  My theories are dependent on meditating
on the coinage on the one hand, and on sources concerning Pythagoras on the other (I don't mean 'meditating' literally).
My academic background is in philosophy, which means that I don't consider the theories as certain or as fact, although I think
that my standards for proof is higher than most people.  But if I sound doubtful on some portion, please understand that that
probably says more about me, than it does on the plausibilty of some theory of mine..

I like Stazio's (and your) idea that the first three mints started at the same time, but I don't think so, because there seems to be
an implied numbering in the coins.  Kroton is obviously three with its tripod.  Metapontum is referring to Demeter and always included
with Demeter is Kore.  Together they are 'the two goddesses,' expressed in literature in the dual case.  Kore of course becomes Persephone,
who is the 'maiden who should not be named.'  Thus she is not explicitly referred to, but is always (implicitly in our life) there with Demeter.

That leaves Sybaris, and this may be reaching, but the letter 'A' (alpha) is also the number one.  It comes from the Phoenician letter,
which in turn comes from (I think) the cuneiform symbol for a bull.  The type of Sybaris is, of course, a bull.  Okay, like I said, maybe it
is reaching.  But Pythagoras did travel the known world (and probably beyond), soaking up knowledge.  So he probably did know
the Phoenician alphabet, and to what the letters originally referred. 

If the mints all started up at the same time, I think that there wouldn't be an implicit numbering, which is there, or at least I think it is
there.  But all that is to say is that Sybaris was before Metapontum, before Kroton.  It could be a matter of a few years or even just months,
but probably not a decade or more.

If one looks at the spread fabric incuse staters as a set, Sybaris, Metapontum, Kroton, Poseidonia, Kaulonia, and as a _Pythagorean_ set (like the
Pythagorean cosmogony) then the dating solves itself, Pythagoras arrived in Kroton around 532 BC, and the coins have to after him.

I would like to hear what you think, also there is a whole area of numismatics that is unknown to me because of language difficulties (not just
Italian).  I'm fairly convinced that there is nothing in English that is solid enough to trip up my theories.  I don't however know about scholarship
in Italian (or other languages).  You come at it from a different perspective than me, one about which I would love to hear.  Also, your English is
fine, probably better than mine;)
Kind regards,
John

JBF:
Let me back up,
Pythagoras was a mathematician and explored number theory and geometry, not so much for its own sake, but as a way to understand and get in touch with the cosmos.  He explored odd, even, square numbers, primes and so on, but he also thought that one was god, two was female, three male, four justice, etc.
In other words, he got into areas like number mysticism and sacred geometry for religious reasons.  Not only did he get into number mysticism and sacred geometry, but he also got into etymologies as a way of telling something about a thing.  For example, about him it was said something like 'Pythagoras spoke publicly (agorein) like the Pythian oracle.'  Because he got into etymologies and number mysticism, we should suspect that he got into other kinds of symbolism.  In this Pythagoras would be well within the company of other Archaic thinkers, like Pherecydes of Syros, who was said to be Pythagoras' teacher, Heraclitus, who criticized but also thus commented on Pythagoras, and Aeschylus, the tragedian.  This playfulness with words is not limited to only the Greek Archaic age, but also other Archaic ages such as the Celts.  It (fanciful etymologizing) is characteristic of Archaic ages and bits of the Pythagorean legend refer to this as well.  Plato took issue with it in _the_Cratylus_, so it was still a serious issue even then.  It also comes out in canting puns on coins, such as the seal for Phocaea, or the rose of Rhodes.  But whereas other poleis dabble in it on their coins, the Pythagoreans pursued it quite avidly, primarily in the Achaean coinage of Magna Graecia.  One example in the incuse coinage is how the coinage of Kaulonia depicts Apollo purifying himself in the valley (Aulon) of Tempe after slaying the Serpent at Delphi.  Aulon is pointed out by N.K. Rutter to be an alternate name for Kaulonia.

Does that help explain some things about the numbers that I associate with the coins of Sybaris (1), Metapontum (2) and Delphi?  I hope that it helps, more than it hurts.  It is probably bad form to answer one's own posts, but I wanted to clarify a little.  I do hope that clarified things a little, rather than just muddy up the waters! ;)  If there is anything that you want explained further, either because of language difficulties or just because I am being a little obscure, please let me know.   Thanks!

Taras:

--- Quote from: JBF on January 15, 2013, 10:32:19 pm ---I would like to hear what you think, also there is a whole area of numismatics that is unknown to me because of language difficulties (not just
Italian).  I'm fairly convinced that there is nothing in English that is solid enough to trip up my theories.  I don't however know about scholarship
in Italian (or other languages).  You come at it from a different perspective than me, one about which I would love to hear.  Also, your English is
fine, probably better than mine;)
Kind regards,
John

--- End quote ---


Hi John :)
these days I'm very busy and I have little time for my numismatic passion.
Briefly, I can tell you that I understand your point of view, and It intrigues me so much!
However I think that a "phenomenological" approach like yours needs to be integrated to philological and positivistic evidences, to construct a theory that can be widely accepted by the majority of the numismatic world community.
As soon as I get a little time I'll give you a list of Italian pubblications that could help you in your research, you could ask help to the Department of Linguistics of your University to translate some parts (Some years ago, when I was a researcher in neuroscience, I often did so in my University for texts in languages ​​I don't know).

One last thought:


--- Quote from: JBF on January 15, 2013, 10:32:19 pm ---It could be a matter of a few years or even just months, but probably not a decade or more.
--- End quote ---


When I wrote that the three mints in my opinion concurrently started their activity, I meant something like this, surely not the same day! But we will never know this, I think, unless we could have a time-machine :)
The greatest virtue of a scholar: to tolerate not knowing.
bye ;)

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