Numismatic and History Discussions > Greek Coins

Incuse coinage of Magna Graecia and Pythagoras

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Okay, good.  Let's see if I can come up with something ;)

First of all, am I sure that we have all the types of spread fabric staters amongst the five?  Emotionally, I am sure, but logically we cannot be sure.  We have enough mints that are represented by only one, two or three coins that we should not have total confidence that we have it all.  However, with that caveat, I have got a set of theories that I am following until I am either satisfied with them, or until they (individually or collectively) explode!!  And you all get to watch! :) I do think that the big five are the only spread fabric mints, although we should always remember that the Ami(naioi) and Sirinos- Pyxoes used Sybaris' type and weight standard, as did So[ntia], although on the Chalcidian standard. 

The spread fabric are the big five, Sybaris, Metapontum, Kroton, Poseidonia and Kaulonia.  (and Ami[naioi] and Sirinos-Pyxoes) Poseidonia is on the Phokaian standard, not the Achaean like the rest.
In the medium fabric, Poseidonia drops out of the incuse family, Sybaris as a stater becomes rare, Palinuros-Molpa, Tarentum Apollo Hyakinthios, Tarentum dolphin rider and Laus get introduced.  These are after the destruction of Sybaris I.
So[ntia] and Rhegion and Zankle are introduced on the Chalcidian standard, after coinage gets introduced into the Chalcidian colonies in Sicily??
Kroton, Metapontum and a very rare issue of Sybaris are on the dumpy fabric.  Incuse coinage halts with the general revolt against the Pythagoras, which causes the fall of Sybaris IV, the rise of Thurium and the Pythagoreans giving up on being active in politics.

We should remember that we also have rare joint issues between Kroton and Sybaris; Kroton, Sybaris and Laos, in the time of the medium fabric.  I think that the barley-ear and the incuse bull's head on Metapontine triobols can be included in the joint currency.  Double relief coinage coinage "replaces" the incuse coinage, although some places (Ami[naioi], Sirinos-Pyxoes, Son[tia], Palinuros-Molpa) never again mint Greek coins.

To get back to the initial question, about whether we have all the types of spread fabric staters, I think we do, because together they make up a really nice
set in the Pythagorean cosmogony given in Hippolytus.  Animal (Sybaris' bull), Vegetable (Metapontum's barley ear), Metal (we would say mineral, Kroton's bronze tripod).  The force of strife or war, (antipathy, Poseidonia's Poseidon wielding a trident) and the opposite force of peace or love (sympathy, Kaulonia's Apollo purifying himself at the valley of Tempe).  Animal, vegetable, mineral, war and peace
I think that I have summarized the field of what are basically dealing with when we say incuse.  My apologies at not making it clearer, giving it like a laundry list. :P
next step, So[ntia] and Laos!

In order to understand Laos, we first have to understand Sybaris and also Sirinos-Pyxoes.
The bull is in the process of being converted, it is turning _from_ left, _to_ right.  We can see this
better on the coinage of Sirinos-Pyxoes, where the writing is boustrephedon, or as the bull turns.  This kind of writing is from right to left in one line, then left to right, going both in the "normal" direction and then retrograde (and then normal, retro, normal, etc.)  For the particular Sirinos Pyxoes stater to which I am referring, the ethnic begins in exergue, going in the same direction the bull's body is going, in retrograde N I R I S, the ethnic then turns with the bull's head and in front of his nose, reads going the "normal" direction O S.  The bull is not just looking back over his shoulder, but is in the process of turning around, from the left to the right.

We actually have a story of a bull of Pythagoras being converted, in this case the story is set in Tarentum, but it makes more sense to believe that the story was originally from Sybaris, but changed in location when Sybaris installed a (democratic) tyrant who persecuted the aristocracy and (supposedly) the Pythagoreans.  Beans are a symbol of voting and democracy.
(61)  At Taras he [Pythagoras] saw an ox, in a field of mixed fodder, munching on ripe beans as well.  He went over to the oxherd and advised him to tell the ox to abstain from beans.  The oxherd made fun of his suggestion.  "I don't speak Ox," he said, "and if you do you're wasting your advice on me: you should warn the ox."  So Pythagoras went up and spent a long time whispering in the bull's ear.  The bull promptly stopped eating the bean-plant, of his own accord, and they say he never at beans again.  He lived to a very great age at Taras, growing old in the temple of Hera.  Everyone called him "Pythagoras' holy bull" and he ate a human diet, offered him by the people who met him. (Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Life, tr. by Gillian Clark).

From what is the bull is being converted, and to what is he being converted?  Just look at all the negative connotations that the direction left has (sinister, gauche) to all the positive connotations the direction right has.  One of the left labels on the list (Aristotle actually has a list of 10 opposites, assigned to the Pythagoreans, see his Metaphysics, book A), is evil, another is the many which in democratic terms becomes the hoi polloi. So the bull in the story gets converted from a life of, what we would call, "sin," to being a model Pythagorean who will have nothing to do with beans.

But in reality the bull was not content with just following the Pythagorean way, there was a democratic coup in Sybaris which installed the tyrant Telys into power, and two years later war broke out, and Sybaris I was destroyed. 
Looking at the numismatic record, I believe that it was during this short democratic phase that coinage continued and we see on the one hand, secondary symbols such as wreathes or branches, and on the other hand, the workmanship on the bull becomes quite crude.  In 510 however, Sybaris I falls to the Krotoniates, and not coincidently, the Etruscan kingship (Tarquinus Superbus) falls in Rome.  Refugees flee to Poseidonia, Laos and Skidros.  A new regime is installed in Sybaris, probably lead by aristocrats who had fled the democratic regime of Telys.  Miletus mourns the destruction of Sybaris I, but when Miletus falls in 493 Laos and Skidros do not mourn, (Herodotus) perhaps because Miletus had gone back to business as usual when the new regime was installed at Sybaris II.

I should also point out that I think the bull on the coins of Sybaris is not a river god, but represents Zeus of Mt. Ida, the Cretan Zeus.  The belief that the bull is a river god is based on the river god on the coins of Laos and later Thurian coins which have fish in exergue.  The coins of Laos, however, are really the exact opposite of the Sybarite bulls, whereas I see the addition of fish as an attempt to change the significance of the coin.  Offhand, I do not know if there are in literary sources that mention the significance of Thurium's type.

Sybaris I has a bull going from left to right, being converted away from democracy to a rule of the best (aristocracy), Laos on the other hand, has a man-headed bull going from the right, turning to the left.  Away from Aristocracy to Democracy.  It is conscious reversal of the Sybaris type.  Also, you don't get more universal than Zeus in Greek polytheism, you can get more specific as far getting into gods or goddesses of a particular place than a river god, but a nymph would not have such a wonderful juxtaposition as this river god.  It says 'you can go the other way, but we, here, are going to do it this way, the democratic way.'  'Not only that but our name itself shows that we are for the people.'  Laos means "the people at large," albeit distinct from the demos= the body politic.  Liddell Scott Greek English lexicon.

but that doesn't answer your question, maybe Laos coins represent a pro-democratic heretical sect of "Pythagoreans."  There were such groups.  Maybe all the die engravers in the area were trained in the incuse style, the crude "imitations" shown and discussed by Noe, might be practice dies from a die engraving school. 
I don't know.  But I can tell the democratic man-headed bull is "playing off" of the symbolism of the Sybarite bull.  I can tell that much.  Whether they are a part of the Pythagorean dialogue or apart from the Pythagorea dialogue, I can' tell.  I think that the Pythagoreans had a plan concerning what types for coins they wanted, but I don't think that that plan survived unscathed and was implemented completely.  Laos may be an abberation, it may mess the whole Pythagorean "message" up, but it couldn't do that if it wasn't incuse.  It is like a little guy giving the great Pythagorean system, the finger.  "Yes, there are great gods, but there are little gods too and we're going to support the little guy." 
As far as making a coin is concerned, the Pythagoreans did not have total control of the process, they still had to deal with the politics on the local level.  Could they have suggested something besides Poseidon for Poseidonia?  probably not.  Why did the Apollo Hyakinthios type at Tarentum last for such a short time?  How does the man-headed bull of Rhegium fit in with the other incuse coins?  Or does it?  How does the introduction of the Chalcidian standard fit with the picture?  I don't know.  Laos fits in, but perhaps only as a counterargument to Sybaris.  Or do these two as "opposites," however, "fit in" in a different way with Poseidonia and Kaulonia, which are also "opposites" or the Apollo Hyakinthios and the dolphin-rider of Tarentum, which are also a pair saying something about friendship, another Pythagorean ideal?  I cannot tell what the politics behind the Laos stater were, but I can tell it must have been interesting.  It is like a "Pythagorean" anti-Pythagorean coin which means we probably need to rethink what a Pythagorean was.  Or in other words, there are a lot of people in the Archaic and classic period who intellectually come out Pythagoreanism, but are not Pythagoreans in our narrow sense of the term.  The incuse coinage of Laos may be a result of those people, I don't absolutely know.  I'm still looking, and I'm open to suggestions.
Kind Regards,

I haven't figured out much about the So[ntia] coinage, that others can't figure out, but again the Pythagoreans didn't have total control of the creation process, but had to work with the political elements that were already there.  In the beginning, they were the hip, new thing on the block introducing a new technology that no one knew about.  Over time, though the locals would get their own ideas of what they wanted.  I suppose a real eye-opener was when Pythagoras convinced the 1000 at Kroton that Kroton should go up against the bigger city of Sybaris.  Some people in Kroton undoubtably said to themselves, "wait a minute, why are letting a non-native tell us to do such dangerous things?"  Kroton won, but Pythagoras went to Metapontum soon after that. 
One thing though is that So[ntia] has an abbreviated ethnic, whereas Rhegion and Zankle, also on the same standard, have a full ethnic, like Taras and Laos (LAFI-NOS, albeit split between both sides).  Maybe that means that Rhegion and Zankle are more contemporary with Taras and Laos, or then again, maybe not.  My guess is that the So[ntia] is earlier.  Of course, Zankle has two types of early coinage, the incuse and another before the Samian exiles take over in 493.

What a brilliant write!
Your thoughts are giving new life to those ancient metals, new words for those silent coins.
Thank you very much John.

With respect.

Look at the double ground line with a row of dots in between on the Laos stater shown earlier.
Ten dots, which for the Pythagoreans was a sacred number.  Now what do those ten dots mean?  I don't know.  Probably just an artistic convention dictated by Pythagorean numerology.  But I don't think the number of dots being ten was _just_ a coincidence.  Of course other incuse coins have double ground lines with dots inbetween (a good way to show parallel lines) and admittedly I don't know if those (Kroton, Sybaris) add up to ten, so maybe I am making too much of the Laos stater.  It's just ten dots, but for a philosophical cult which sees the mathematics behind everything, it also a sacred number and therefore we should at least entertain the notion that they would choose it for its aesthetics. 

kind regards,


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