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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Greek Coins ▸ Archaic OriginsView Options:  |  |  |   

Archaic Origins - The First Coins of Mankind

The coins below are among the first struck by mankind. Coins struck in the later classical and Hellenistic periods, but in archaic or archaized style are also included here. Click here to read "From the Origin of Coins to Croesus."


Kyzikos, Mysia, c. 550 - 450 B.C.

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Kyzikos, purportedly the first Milesian colony, was located on the southwest shore of the Propontis in ancient Mysia next to the river Aisepos. Its prosperity was due principally to its two fine harbors, which made the city a convenient stopping point for merchant ships trading between the Aegean and Black Seas. Its principal export was the tunny, of which its waters had abundant stock. The prevalence of winged beings in Kyzikene coinage is a reflection of archaic mythological convention that assigned wings to most divine or sacred entities as an immediately visible and understandable symbol of their nature, and in the case of gods, of their power to move at will across great distances. In the case of the winged animals, we should probably understand these to be attributes of or animals sacred to a particular Olympian god.
SH86217. Electrum stater, Von Fritze I (Nomisma VII) 104 & pl. 3, 23; Boston MFA 1433; SNG BnF 245; SNG Cop -; SNGvA -; BMC Mysia -, VF, tight flan, edge cracks, weight 16.091 g, maximum diameter 19.9 mm, die axis 0o, Kyzikos mint, c. 550 - 450 B.C.; obverse winged dog seated left, head turned back right, curved archaic wing, wearing collar, tunny fish below to left; reverse quadripartite incuse square; extremely rare; $6500.00 (€5525.00)
 


Ionia, c. 650 - 600 B.C., Striated Type

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Mankind's first coin type with an obverse and reverse! Rare and important. The earliest dated coin hoard was deposited in the foundation of the Artemision, the temple of Artemis at Ephesos, as an offering during construction, c. 600 B.C. These earliest coins, which included this type, were struck from electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver found as nuggets in the rivers and streams of Lydia and Ionia. This striated type is the first type to have an obverse design in addition to the reverse punch. Because of its simple obverse design, it is described by some authorities as the first true coin.
SH87928. Electrum hekte, 1/6 stater, Milesian standard; Weidauer 6, Traité I 12, SNGvA 1769, SNG Kayhan 680, Karwiese Artemision I.6, SNG Fitzwilliam -, Rosen -, Zhuyuetang -, VF, light marks, earthen deposits, weight 2.293 g, maximum diameter 10.2 mm, Ionia, uncertain mint, c. 650 - 600 B.C.; obverse flattened striated surface; reverse two rough approximately square incuse punches; rare and important; $6000.00 (€5100.00)
 


Western Anatolia, c. 620 - 600 B.C., Plain Globular Type

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Certificate of Authenticity issued by David R. Sear.

Unpublished! The majority of the earliest electrum issues were struck on the lighter Milesian weight standard, with hectes weighing approximately 2.35 grams. This example, however is on the heavier Phocaic standard that was used at mints such as Cyzicus, Mysia and Phocaea, Ionia.
SH85577. Electrum hekte, Phokaic standard 1/6 stater; unpublished, EF, flan cracks, weight 2.721 g, maximum diameter 8.96 mm, uncertain western Anatolia mint, c. 620 - 600 B.C.; obverse plain globular surface; reverse one small incuse square punch; extremely rare; $2850.00 (€2422.50)
 


Thasos, Thrace, c. 480 - 463 B.C.

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Nymphs are nature spirits who appear as beautiful, young nubile maidens. They dwell in mountains, valleys and groves, by springs and rivers, and also in trees and cool grottoes. Nymphs love to dance and sing and are the frequent target of satyrs. Satyrs are male companions of Pan and Dionysus with goat-like features, including a goat-tail, goat-like ears, and sometimes a goat-like phallus. As Dionysiac creatures, Satyrs are lovers of wine and women and ready for every physical pleasure. They are obsessed with nymphs.
GA87298. Silver stater, SNG Cop 1013; Svoronos HPM p. 97, 12, pl. X, 21; McClean 4198; Franke-Hirmer 436; BMC Thrace p. 218, 28; HGC 6 331, gVF, well centered and struck, light tone, die wear, weight 8.833 g, maximum diameter 23.1 mm, Thasos mint, c. 480 - 463 B.C.; obverse nude ithyphallic satyr kneeling-running right, carrying in his arms a struggling nymph, raising her right hand in protest, both with long strait hair indicated with lines, she wears a long chiton, her palm is facing, Θ (Thasos) below; reverse quadripartite incuse square; ex Steven Battelle, ex Harlan J. Berk, buy or bid sale 198 (7 Jul 2016), lot 74; rare with Θ; $1200.00 (€1020.00)
 


Phaselis, Lycia, c. 530 - 520 B.C.

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Phaselis was founded in 690 BC by settlers from the island of Rhodes. In the same year, the great Rhodian seafarers also founded Gela, on the island of Sicily, thus extending their influence across the Greek world. The colony of Phaselis was the one purely Greek city in Lycia and differed in language, culture, and alphabet from the adjacent cities of the region. It should be noted that the coinage of Phaselis is among the earliest, if not the earliest, of all silver coinage struck in Asia Minor. Struck circa 530 B.C., this coin is roughly contemporary with the silver issues of King Kroisos of Lydia and represents the dawn of this medium of exchange in Asia Minor.
GS87793. Silver stater, Heipp-Tamer Series 3, Em. 1a, 25-27 (V-/R25 [unlisted obv. die]); Asyut 734; SNGvA 4390; Weber III 7291; SNG Cop -; SNG Delepierre -; BMC Lycia -, VF, tight flan cutting off nose of boar, bumps and marks, test cut, weight 10.967 g, maximum diameter 20.2 mm, Phaselis (near Tekirova, Turkey) mint, c. 530 - 520 B.C.; obverse Prow of galley right in the form of an abstract boar's head, with foreleg and large apotropaic eye, three round shields on gunwale; reverse incuse square punch, random wear pattern within; $750.00 (€637.50)
 


Roman Republic, Large Domed Ingot, Aes Formatum, 4th Century B.C.

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Called aes formatum by Haeberlin, this very rare bronze currency was a precursor to the issues of aes grave but later than aes rude. Presumably, molten bronze-iron alloy was poured into a shallow hole in the dirt. This left a disc-shaped metal mound with a flat reverse. Broken examples are much more common than complete ones like this.
AR11900. Cast bronze Aes Formatum, Haeberlin p. 4, pl. 2.7; 1.64 kg (3 lbs, 10 oz), maximum diameter 14.6 cm, Italian mint, 4th century B.C.; obverse convex obverse; reverse flat reverse; the denarius is in the photograph to indicate the size, denarius not included, international shipping at the actual cost of postage will require additional charge; very rare; $720.00 (€612.00)
 


Kyzikos, Mysia, 600 - 550 B.C.

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Kyzikos was founded around 675 by Milesian colonists on the south coast of the Propontis (now Marmara Sea), halfway between the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. The location was ideal for tuna fishing. Schools of tuna passed every spring to enter the Marmara Sea to spawn; schools passed in the fall going back to the Mediterranean. In the archaic period, the tuna catch was the main source of income for the city. In the 5th and 4th centuries, Kyzikos had an important role in trade between the Black Sea and Greece, especially in grain trade from the southern Russian region, which supplied the growing needs of Athens.
SH89445. Electrum hemihekte, Hurter-Liewald III 5.2; SNGvA 7255 (fish above off flan); cf. BMC Mysia p. 18, 2 (hekte); SNG Cop -; SNG BnF -, gVF, well centered and struck, scratches, light earthen deposits, many small edge cracks, weight 1.299 g, maximum diameter 8.7 mm, Kyzikos (Kapu Dagh, Turkey) mint, 600 - 550 B.C.; obverse head of tuna fish left, two pellets right, smaller tuna fish right above; reverse irregular quadripartite incuse square; extremely rare; $700.00 (€595.00)
 


Lapethos, Cyprus, King Sidqmelek, c. 449 - 420 B.C.

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Excavation finds date Lapithos to as early as 3000 B.C. In the 4th century B.C., Lapithos was one of the nine kingdoms of Cyprus. During the Persian rule, Lapithos was settled by Phoenicians. After Peisistratos, king of Lapithos, along with Nicocreon of Salamis, and Stasanor of Curion helped Alexander the Great capture Tyre, Alexander declared Cyprus free. The last king of Lapethos, Praxippos, was subdued by Ptolemy I in 312 B.C. Under Roman rule, Lapethos had more than 10,000 inhabitants, produced copper, earthenware and produce, and was a port and a shipyard. Lapethos was given the name Lambousa ("shining") perhaps because of its beauty or perhaps because of its lighthouse. The apostles Paul, Barnabas, and Mark passed by Lapethos coming from Tarsus. According to Barnabas, during his second tour with Mark, they stayed outside the walls because they were denied access to the city. In late antiquity, Lapethos enjoyed great prosperity but was heavily damaged by Arab incursions. The population often had to flee and take refuge in the interior. After the Byzantine recovery of Cyprus from the Arabs in 965, Lapithos's refugees returned to rebuild, but chose to stay away from the sea, relocating it at the foot of mountain Pentadactylos.
GS87792. Silver stater, BMC Cyprus p. 30 f., 7-9, pl. VI, 6-8; Traité II p. 823, 1361-1363 and pl. CXXXVI; Bank of Cyprus p. 94 & pl. VII, 2; Tziambazis 48, F, struck with worn damaged dies, weight 10.789 g, maximum diameter 21.5 mm, die axis 180o, Lapethos (Lambousa, Cyprus) mint, c. 449 - 420 B.C.; obverse Phoenician legend: King of Lapethos, head of Athena left, wearing a crested Corinthian helmet; reverse Phoenician legend: of Sidqmelek, head of Athena facing, wearing a double-crested helmet with bull’s horn and ears, all within an incuse square; very rare; $650.00 (€552.50)
 


Cyprus, Early 5th Century B.C.

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The obverse die was used to strike three different issues, with different reverses. This type is from the third issue, when the ankh was engraved over the ram, and the obverse die was heavily worn. The published type has no reverse symbol. This variant with an ankh left on the reverse is apparently unpublished; we know of two other examples, one received by Forum together with this coin, the other Leu Numismatik, web auction 6 (9 Dec 2018), lot 355 (the Ankh not described). Two additional unpublished varieties known from auctions both have an anchor on the reverse left and, one with only an ankh reverse right, and another with samekh over an ankh on the reverse right.
GS87794. Silver stater, Apparently unpublished variant; cf. Zapiti-Michaelidou pl. VIII, 2; Asyut pl. XXXII, N; Troxell-Waggoner p. 35, 8-9; Tziambazis -; Traité -; BMC -, aVF/VF, struck with the worn obverse die (as are all coins from this issue), slightly off center, light bumps and marks, weight 10.662 g, maximum diameter 18.6 mm, die axis 270o, uncertain Cypriot mint, early 5th century B.C.; obverse ram walking left, ankh symbol is superimposed on and above the ram's side and back; reverse laurel branch with two leaves and three fruits; ankh symbol on left; all in dotted square within incuse square; extremely rare; $600.00 (€510.00)
 


Roman Republic, Fragment of an Aes Formatum Brick, 4th Century B.C.

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In Coins of the Roman Republic in The British Museum, Grueber wrote, "In the find at Vulci, besides the aes rude and the aes signatum there was a number of rough brick-shaped pieces in very poor condition, without any imprint and nothing to indicate their value; their weight varying from an ounce to a pound...These pieces would appear to be intermediate between the as rude and the aes signatum." In Aes Grave, Das Schwergeld Roms und Mittelitaliens, published in 1910, the same year as the British Museum Catalog, Haeberlin differentiated these cast shapes from aes rude and introduced a new term for them, aes formatum.
RR87168. Cast bronze Aes Formatum, Haeberlin p. 4, pl. 4 , 1-3; fragment of a brick shaped aes formatum, 214.5g, 62.1x47.6x15.4mm, broken from the end and includes one corner, VF, very rare; $400.00 (€340.00)
 




  



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REFERENCES

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Catalog current as of Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
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The Archaic Origins of Coinage