Numismatic and History Discussions > Greek Coins

Incuse coinage of Magna Graecia and Pythagoras

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I'm vaguely aware of the theories about the religious origin of coinage, but I have a hard time conceptualizing the religious origin.  I'm not saying that it is wrong, I am just saying that I have a hard time conceptualizing it.  Part of the problem is that _everything_ in Archaic life has a religious undertone.  One way of looking at ancient Greece is that ancient Greece is the beginning of secular society, giving birth to philosophy, history, mathematics, and in a way, science.  But before that, everything was religion, the scribes controlling "culture" were attached to the temples.  One thing Pythagoras did was go from temple to temple, learning what he could.  He is very religious, but at the same time he is like Prometheus stealing the fire from Heaven.
One thing that supports the religious interpretation of the origin of coinage is the inscriptions of donations from individuals of a single obol at Delphi.  Such small individual donations seem to fit this idea of the religious origin of ancient coinage.  Still, its one of those things that I look at it, and it makes sense, and then I blink and I am back to "normal" economic theory, such as is expressed by Aristotle concerning the origin of coins (Politics).  It is hard to understand how everything is religion, although looking at coinage as for services, more than goods is probably a good way to look at it.
I think of the Pythagoreans as like a secret society, they had there secret signs and codes and ways of recognition.  Looking at these coins, a Pythagorean would recognize references to teachings about religion, the cosmos, economy, whatever.  A Pythagorean could also read _into_ the coins, other lessons or teaching that are not so much "put" there, but rather the coins are open to such an interpretation.  For example, Noe interprets the coins of Metapontum as referring to Metapontum's agricultural wealth.  Personally I don't think that that was what the barley-ear type was referring to, but it is a good explanation that anyone, including Pythagoreans, could give if the moment required it.

Jon Papadopoulos has an economic interpretation of the spread fabric staters that is interesting.  I'll try to remember to mention it more later.


What do the legends on the incuse coins mean?
Well, it sounds like a silly question, they're ethnics right?

SU  stands for Sybaris
MET (and META, etc.) stands for Metapontum
QRO stands for Kroton
POS stands for Poseidonia
KAUL stands for Kaulonia
PAL/MOL stands for Palinuros/ Molpa

_BUT_, look up these ethnics in a Greek (in my case) English Lexicon.

SU, I got nothing for SU, but the problem is that there are too many words for sigma upsilon.
MET= MHTHR or mother, as in Demeter, one should remember that this early in Greek history eta is a consonant, not a vowel, and 'E' stands for both long and short E, so in 530 BC, it would be MET, not MHT, an abbreviation for MHTHR.  The type for Metapontum is the barley-ear of Demeter.
QRO, which later becomes KRO, stands for either  :Greek_Kappa: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Tau: :Greek_epsilon: :Greek_Omega: kroteo or  :Greek_Kappa: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Eta: :Greek_Mu: :Greek_Alpha:, in other words, "to strike or weld together" or "that which is hammered or welded together."  Of course, the type for Kroton is a bronze tripod.
POS might be  :Greek_Pi: :Greek_Omega: :GreeK_Sigma:, again this time period is before 'O' becomes "omicron" (little o) and omega (big 0),
 :Greek_Pi: :Greek_Omega: :GreeK_Sigma: means "how" and may refer to how to act, namely with Dike or justice.  The depiction of Poseidon, in addition to being natural type for Poseidonia, is a good example of retributive justice.  Poseidonia is also the fourth incuse mint and 4 was associated by the Pythagoreans with justice.  Four is a square number, and represents "square" dealing (fair dealing).  Also Dike starts with the letter  :Greek_Delta: which is also in Greek the number 4.
KAUL has long been recognized by numismatists to be referring also to  :Greek_Alpha: :Greek_Upsilon_2: :Greek_Lambda: :Greek_Omega: :Greek_Nu: or in Engish "valley" referring to the valley of Tempe where Apollo purified himself after slaying the Python.  The type for Kaulonia is Apollo, purifying himself with laurel branches.  But of course, KAUL is not exactly the same as AUL, but perhaps the K is KAI abbreviated to K to avoid haitus.  The Greeks didn't like having two words next to each other with vowels (English use of "an" is probably similar), so therefore, KAI AULON becomes KAULON
In the Great Scott Lexicon (the large Liddel-Scott lexicon), there is a rare word  :Greek_Mu: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Lambda: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Beta: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Iota: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Nu: meaning the "young of a wild swine."  The type for Palinuros/Molpa is a wild boar, and so therefore, MOL can also be referring to "the young of the wild swine."

My apologies for the mixed Greek letters and upper case latin letters referring to the same ethnics/ words.  I'm too tired (and lazy) to clean it up right now.  All I am really doing is looking up the ethnics in a Greek dictionary.  I hope that it is as obvious to you, as it is to me, that the legends correspond to the types in a way that is in addition to their use as an ethnic.

Kind Regards,

I've got a question for people reading this thread on the incuse coinage and Pythagoras, and I would love to hear other people' opinion on this.  Did the Pythagoreans have any influence on the founding of the Roman Republic?  In 510, two things happened, first of all, Kroton destroyed Sybaris, and (presumably) caused the collapse of the Sybaritean empire.  Second, the Roman (Etruscan) kingship fell, and the Roman Republic began.  Sybaris had close relations with the Etruscans, and when they fell the Etruscan kingship of Tarquinus Superbus collapsed as well.  To me, it is neat to think that maybe Kroton and the Pythagoreans had more involvement than just incidentally creating a power vacuum.  Of course, all this is only at the level of being a neat idea, there is evidence, but nothing I would consider proof.  But what do other people think?  could the Pythagoreans have given Rome its start and to what degree does Rome (indirectly) owe its fortunes to the Pythagoreans?  Or does such a suggestion deny the unique and extraordinary character of the Roman Republic?

For numismatic "evidence"of this, look at some of the early Aes Signatum and Aes Grave.  One Aes Signatum in Kent, Hirmer and Hirmer 'Roman Coins' p. 4 has a bull on one side walking one way, and a bull on the other side, walking the other way (Sear Roman Coins and their Values pictures a broken one of these), kind of like the bull of Sybaris, on the obverse in relief walking left (hand turned right) and on the reverse in incuse walking right (head turned left), the Aes Signatum is like a nod to the Sybaris coin.  Or an Aes Grave that has a right hand on one side, and left hand on the other, or the outside of a shell on one side and the inside of a shell on the other.

I put "evidence" in quotation marks because looking just at appearances, there is a similarity, but I don't think it needs to go further than that.  The incuse coinage (530 BC) has a lot of symbolism wrapped up in it, I don't think that the Roman Aes Signatum (265 BC) or Aes Grave have anything near the depth of meaning, but what do I know?  Rome is not my area, and there is a lack of sources for the early Republic as it is.

If someone can post pictures of these rare Aes Signatum and Aes Grave that look like they are showing opposite(s) I would be most greatful if they would add them to this thread.  And please, What do you think of idea that maybe the Pythagoreans influenced the early Roman Republic, am I on to something? or just on something?  "When all you have is hammer, everything looks like a nail."  Maybe I'm just seeing nails everywhere. ;)

Earlier post should read ' :Greek_Kappa: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Tau: :Greek_Eta: :Greek_Mu: :Greek_Alpha:, not  :Greek_Kappa: :Greek_Rho: :Greek_Omicron: :Greek_Eta: :Greek_Mu: :Greek_Alpha:.

If I was going to recommend an incuse for someone's general collection of ancient Greek, I would recommend a spread fabric stater of Metapontum or Kroton, or a triobol of Metapontum with the incuse bull's head on the reverse (or is it just a bull's skull?).  The barley-ear is a symbol of the mysteries of Demeter and their association with life after death.  Pythagoras died at Metapontum, or maybe he just apotheosized??  The tripod on Kroton represents, on the one hand, the foundation myth of Kroton and the role that Delphi plays in it, and on the other hand, the central role that Apollo, particularly the Pythian Apollo played for the Pythagoreans.  The Metapontine triobol is a neat little coin, and I suspect that one might actually count it as a joint issue, made by Metapontum, but also by Sybaritean refugees, which group, however, I am not sure.  The type for Sybaris is a bull.

I still would like to hear whether people might think that the Pythagoreans had something to do with the founding of the Roman Republic.  I'm curious about whether those good Roman values, might be Pythagorean values at heart.  Of course, people are not familiar with the Pythagoreans, and so maybe I am asking too much.  But don't let the obscurity of the topic be a bother, it's all just supposition any ways! ;D

Kind regards,


For anyone who might be interested in learning further about Pythagoras and the incuse coinage, I give a list of my articles.  These are published
on [John Francisco]  and are accessible through google, or probably, any good search engine.

1  "A Pythagorean Cosmogony and the Spread Fabric Incuse Staters of Magna Graecia."  This article compares the types of a the spread fabric incuse staters (Sybaris, Metapontum, Kroton, Poseidonia, Kaulonia) to a Pythagorean cosmogony given by the church father Hippolytus in his 'Refutation of all Heresies.'

2  "Pythagoras of Samos, Celator"  This article gives most of the evidence in ancient literature for the conclusion that Pythagoras was trained in the traditional
business of celature, craftsmanship in precious metals and gems.  This argument does not deal with the coinage, except indirectly in that coins are weights and Pythagoras was said to standardize weights and measures.

3   "A Note Related to 'Pythagoras of Samos, Celator'"  This note brings up some physical evidence for Pythagoras as a celator besides the coins, specifically a bronze die weight from Sybaris.  The primary source for this is in Italian which I do not read, an English summary is far from adequate, but for me it will have to suffice.  I leave it to more capable scholars to see if more can be gleaned by looking at this interesting artifact.  "A Survey of Numismatic Research, Vol 1, Ancient Numismatics"  'Magna Graecia' by Attilio Stazio (transl by Theodore V Buttrey, Jr.)  mentioning Zancani Montuoro 'Un peso di e l'argento di Sibari' AIIN Vol 12-14 (1965-67) pp. 21-30 pl. 18.

4   "Pythagoras and the Incuse Coins of Magna Graecia"   The name may be a little misleading, but this article deals with the basis for starting to look at the incuse coins as Pythagorean artifacts, starting with the geometry (rectilinearity) of the incuse staters of Kroton.

5   "A Poseidonia stater and its Geometry"  This shows how well a hexagon made up 6 equilateral triangles maps onto a Poseidonia stater.

6   "An Inscription about a Pythagorean(?) at Delphi"   This deals with an inscription of a donation of 100 drachmae at Delphi by a certain 'Mentor,' sent by what probably was the Pythagorean community in Heraclea Lucania.

Other articles are in the works.


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