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Persian Empire

[Head, B. V., The Coinage of Lydia and Persia, 1877; Babelon, E., Les Perses Achmnides, 1893; Rapson, E. J.,'Countermarks on early Persian and Indian Coins' in Journal R. A. S., 1895.]

The Persians, like the Medes and Babylonians, were unfamiliar with, or felt not need of, coined money before the capture of Sardes by Cyrus and the conquest of the Lydian empire B.C. 546, when for the first time they came into direct contact with the Greeks of the coast lands of Asia Minor. How soon after these events they began to issue gold staters of the royal Persian type is a somewhat doubtful point, but the Darius Hystaspis, B.C. 521-486, coined gold money of the finest quality we are told by Herodotus (iv. 166), Δαρειος μεν γαρ χρυσιον καθαρωτατον απεψησας ες το δυνατωτατον νομισμα εκοψατο, and, if the accepted derivation of δαρεικος from Δαρειος is a true one,[1] it may be inferred that Darius was the initiator of Persian coinage. It Seems probable, therefore, that the gold Daric was first struck in the reign of Darius, and moreover at the Sardian mint, which may then have been reopened after having

1 According to M. G. Bertin (Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch., 1883-4, p. 87), the word Dariku occurs on a Babylonian contract tablet date five years before the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus. But there is no evidence that it there signifies a piece of money. According to Oppert and Revillout (Ann. de Num., 1884, p. 119) the word δαρεικος comes from the Assyrian darag mana, i.e.'degree' or 1/60 of the mina . The accepted derivation of δαρεικος from Δαρειος is, however, far more probable. been closed since the fall of Croesus, for it is hardly likely that either Cyrus or Cambyses would have allowed it to continue the issue of the Croesean gold staters after the Persian conquest. That Sardes should be place of mintage chosen by Darius for his new Persian coinage is not surprising, when it is borne in mind that the processes of minting were fully understood there , and that skilled die-sinkers and moneyers would be more easily obtainable there than anywhere else in the Persian empire.

The output of the darics during the reigns of Darius and Xerxes, doubtless from other centres as well as from the old Sardian mint, must have been enormous, for we read that the Lydian, Pythius, at the time of the expedition of Xerxes, possessed as many as 3,993,000 of them, a sum which the king increased to 4,000,000 (Hdt. vii. 28).

Following the example set by Croesus, Darius employed practically pure gold for his new coinage, though with the addition of about 3 per cent. of alloy which, as experience had taught the moneyers, was necessary for slightly hardening of the metal.[1] The weight of the Daric, 130 grs., was rather heavier than that of its predecessor the Croesean stater (126 grs.) by about 4 grs., an excess partly, perhaps, due to the 3 per cent. of alloy added to the pure metal. It may be doubted, however, whether the intrinsic value of the Daric exceeded that of the stater of Croesus, which was of absolutely pure gold.[2]

For the derivation of the weights of the Lydian and Persian gold staters see Haeberlin (Z. f. N., xxvii. pp. 1 ff.), who is of opinion that the Crosesean stater was the fiftieth part of the Babylonic Royal Gold Mina of 409.31 grammes, and that the Daric was the fiftieth part of the same mina raised in weight by 1/36 to 420.68 grammes.

The Babylonic and Persic Silver Minae in their various forms (see Haeberlin, op. cit.) were derived from the corresponding Gold Minae on the basis of the relation of gold to silver as 1:13.3. The standard Persian silver coin , the siglos or shekel, was in weight the hundredth part of the silver mina, and in value the twentieth part of the contemporary gold daric , hence:

1 AV Daric of 130 grs. x 13.3 = 1729 grs. AR = 20 Persic Sigloi of 86.45 grs.
10 Persic Staters of 172.9 grs.
15 Rhodian Didrachms of 115 grs.
30 Rhodian Drachms of 57 grs.

5 AV Darics of 130 grs x 13.3 = 8645 grs. AR =

1 Persic Mina of silver, = 100 sigloi.

300 AV Darics of 130 grs. x 13.3 = 518700 grs. AR = 1 Persic Talent of silver, = 6000 sigloi.

That the relative values of gold and silver (1:13.3), and consequently of the daric and the siglos, were maintained down, at least, to the end of the fifth century B.C., we learn from Xenophon (Anab. i. 7. 18), who states that Cyrus the younger presented 3,000 darics to the Ambracian soothsayer Silanus as the equivalent of 10 talents.

The types and denominations of the Royal Persian coins are as follows:

1 This, perhaps, may have been one of the reasons for the prolonged use of electrum instead of gold at Cyzicus and other mints.
2 The specific gravity of a Croesean stater as taken by me (N. C. , 1887, p. 303) was 20.09, and that of a daric, 19.09. The specific gravity of 24 carat gold is 19.28.


FIG. 362

The king bearded, in half-kneeling posture r., crowned with the royal kidaris and clad in long robe, kandys; at his back, quiver; in his r. a spear, and in l. a bow. Irregular oblong incuse (cf. Fig. 362).
AV Daric 120 grs.

Of this type there are two varieties. On one of them the king is beardless, and is clad in a long close-fitting spotted robe with sleeves to the elbow and trousers to the knee. Within the incuse, on the reverse of the specimen in the British Museum, is a small naked seated figure(?), and, outside it, an incuse bearded head with stag's horns, as countermarks (Head, Coinage of Lydia and Persia, Pl. I. 17). It has been conjectured that the darics of this type were issued by Cyrus the younger.

The other variety differs from the original daric in that the king hold in his r. hand a short dagger in place of the long spear (Head, op. cit. , Pl. I. 16).

The king as above in half-kneeling posture drawing bow, and without spear.
[N. C., 1892, p. 38, Pl. III. 12.]
AV 1/12 Daric 10.5 grs.
Head of king bearded, r.
[Z. f. N., xxiv. Pl. IV. 6.]
AV 1/54 Daric 2.39 grs.

These small pieces are the only subdivisions of the gold daric at present known. None of the half-darics mentioned by Xenophon (Anab. i. 3. 21) have been discovered, and it may be that by τρια ημιδαρεικα Xenophon simply meant a sum equivalent to a daric and a half.


1. The king beaded, in half-kneeling posture r., crowned with kidaris and clad in kandys; at his back, quiver; in r., spear, in l., bow. Irregular oblong incuse. [Head, Coinage of Lydia and Persia, Pl. I. 25].
AR siglos 86.45 grs. max.
2. Variety; king beardless, as on corresponding daric supra (attributed to Cyrus the younger). Similar. [Babelon, Perses Achm., p. 11. Nos. 96, 97].
3. The king bearded, half-kneeling r., crowned with kidaris and clad in kandys with belt and buttons in front; at his back, quiver; in r., dagger, in l., bow. Similar. [Head, op. cit., Pl. I. 26].
4. The king bearded, crowned and clad as above, half-kneeling and drawing bow; at his back, quiver. Similar [Head, op. cit., Pl. I. 28].

5. The king, half-length, bearded, crowned with kidaris and clad in kandys; holding in r. bunch of arrows, and in l., bow. Similar. [Head, op cit., Pl. I. 29.].


6. The king as on No. 4(?). Similar. [Babelon. op. cit., Pl. II. 11]
1/3 Siglos 27 grs.
7. The king bearded, half-kneeling r.; in r., dagger, in l., bow. Similar. [Imhoof, Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., p. 245.]
1/6 Siglos 10.5 grs.

The sigloi, like the early electrum hectae, frequently bear numerous small punch-marks. In both cases these seem to have been stamped upon them by private merchants or money-changers. This custom was very prevalent in India, and it seems certain that, wherever the sigloi may have been minted, many of them were thus countermarked for currency in India, as is proved by the identity of their punch-marks with those on the square Indian punch-marked coins (Rapson, Journ. R. A. S., 1895).

A close examination of the darics and sigloi shows that, not withstanding their general uniformity, there are differences of style. Some are distinctly archaic and date from the times of Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), B.C. 521-425, while others are characterized by successive modifications in the physiognomy of the king which suggest rude attempts at portraiture. A notable instance of this is the beardless head, presumably of Cyrus the younger, B.C. 401-400. On this subject see Babelon (Rev. Num., 1908, pp. 161 ff.)

The darics and the sigloi are the only coins bearing Persian types which I am inclined to accept as strictly Royal currency. There are, however, various other coins with more or less modified royal Persian types which were probably struck by Satraps of the Great King, or military commanders in his service or in that of Alexander the Great, for the payment of their troops by sea or land, or for local circulation only. Among these the most remarkable are the double darics.

Double Darics, &c.

FIG. 363.

On the break up of the Persian empire after the battle of Arbela, B.C. 331, when Alexander found himself master of all Asia, it is certain that he cannot at once have substituted his own coinage for the royal and Satrapal Persian money then current in the East. There was necessarily a period of transition, during which some of the satraps and generals appointed by Alexander to govern various portions of his newly conquered Asiatic dominions were authorized to strike coins with Persian types. Among these was Mazaeus, satrap of Babylon B.C. 331-328, who issued both gold and silver coins, the former anonymous, the latter occasionally bearing his name in Aramaic characters. The gold coins attributed to Mazaeus during his government of Babylon are the double darics (Fig. 363), which differ form the earlier darics not only in fabric and style but in the fact that they bear symbols and Greek letters or monograms in the field of the obverse, e.g. a wreath or behind the kneeling archer, and Μ or Χ in front (Imhoof, Die Mnzsttte Babylon, p. 2). The incuse reverses of these double darics are easily distinguishable form those of the earlier darics, as they are ornamented with broad irregular wavy bands in high relief. The few darics which resemble the double darics in this respect may probably be classed with them (cf. Babelon, Perses Achm., Pl. II. 20, 21).

In addition to the specimens attributed to Mazaeus, there are numerous others bearing various Greek ltters, monograms, and symbols, e. g. and wreath, fulmen, or grapes, ΦΙ, , ΛΥ Μ, Μ, &c. (see Babelon, op. cit., p. xix, and Imhoof, op. cit., Pl. I. 10, Daric with , Μ). These, according to Imhoof, were issued at Babylon after the death of Alexander, B.C. 323, and before the transference of the seat of government from Babylon to Seleuceia on the Tigris by Seleucus Nicator B.C. 312. It is probable, however, that they were not all struck in the Babylonian satrapy, it would seem that they soon became popular in the far eastern provinces of the empire, Bactria or Sogdiana, for nearly all the specimens in the British Museum were acquired in the Panjb. It is not improbable that, when the issue of double darics from the Babylonian mint came to an end, a new mint or mints may have been opened in those regions, where Indo-Greeks may have been employed as moneyers to engrave dies. That these Indo-Greek copies continued to be issued for a long time is evident from the gradual development into a symmetrical though meaningless pattern, , surrounded sometimes by fish-like ornaments). It is noticeable that on most of these Indo-Greek pieces the quiver at the king's shoulder is omitted. Among the specimens of Indian provenance the following are the most remarkable, one bearing the monogram and a satrapal tiara, and another the inscr. ΣΤΑ ΜΝΑ and (see Num. Chron., 1906, p. 5, and Pl. I. 1-4).

Unattributed Satrapal Coins[1] of the Royal Archer Type.


The king, as on the royal darics, half-kneeling r., holding spear and bow.
[Babelon, Perses Achm., Pl. III. 22.]
Prow of galley l.; on side of deckhouse, .
AV Stater 132 grs.

SILVER. Rhodian or Indian(?) standard.

The king, as on the double darics (but without quiver at shoulder), half-kneeling r., holding spear and bow.
[B. M. C., Ion., Pl. XXXI. 3.]
Incuse, half-oval in shape, surface usually granulated and adorned with fanciful snake-like devices and lumps in relief.
AR 238-219 grs.

1 Other satrapal coins are mentioned under the districts to which they have been attributed (see supra, pp. 596, 628, 720, and Babylonia, p. 816).

Similar; in field around king ΠΥ Θ Α ΓΟ Ρ Η[Σ].
[B. M. C., Ion., Pl. XXXI. 1.]
AR 228 grs.
Similar; in field l., ΔΗ , r., uncertain symbol.
[B. M. C., Ion., Pl. XXXI. 2.]
AR 226.5 grs
Similar; in field l., ~
[Imhoof, Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., p. 111.]
AR 231 grs.


Similar; uninscribed.
[Head, Lyd. and Pers., Pl. III. 22.]
Size .35
[B. M. C., Ion., Pl. XXXI. 4.]
(Ground-plan of Persian Fire-altar?)
Size .5.
The king half-kneeling r., drawing bow; behind him ΒΑ; countermark, star.
[B. M. C., Ion., p. 324; Imhoof, Kl. M., ii. 520.]
Incuse as on the silver coins.
Size .55

This series of coins has been attributed by Babelon to Memnon the Rhodian, as head of the Persian army which was victorious at Magnesia and Ephesus B.C. 336-334, but was afterwards defeated by Alexander at the Granicus (Babelon, Perses Achm., p. lxxix). The ornament on the gold stater has been taken for the Carian letter (Sayce, Transactions of Soc. Bibl. Arch., ix. Pl. I. 1887), a conjecture which seems to me very improbable.

But neither this nor any other local attribution hitherto suggested for these remarkable issues can be said to carry conviction.[1] From the conspicuousness of the inscr. ΠΥΘΑΓΟΡΗ[Σ] on the obverse of one specimen it is to be inferred that whoever Pythagores may have been he must have held high command in the service of the Great King, or a prominent position shortly after Alexander's conquest.

The incuse reverse on these coins is not an indication of date, and its strange ornamentation is unlike the work of a Greek die-sinker. There is therefore no sure criterion for determining whether the above described coins precede or succeed those of the following series, or whether they are the contemporary issues of another satrap.

SILVER. Rhodian(?) standard.

The king, as on the double darics (but without quiver at shoulder), half-kneeling r., holding spear and bow.
[Imhoof, Kl. M., Pl. XIX. 23.]
Satrap on saddled galloping horse, striking downwards with spear. or in field l.
AR 31 grs.
Similar; border of dots.
[Imh., Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., Pl. V. 18.]
Head of Satrap r.; plain border.
AR Obol 9 grs.
The king half-kneeling r., with quiver at shoulder and drawing bow; l.; r.; border of dots.
[Babelon, Perses Achm., Pl. XVII. 16.]
Satrap galloping, wielding spear; in field r., star; border of dots.
AR 232 grs.

1 See Num. Chron., 1906, p. 4, where I have pointed out that these staters, like the double darics, have been frequently found in Northern India.

Similar; before king, ΟΟΟΧ.
[N. C., 1877, p. 82.]
Similar; no letters.
[Babelon, Perses Achm., Pl. XVIII. 14, 15.]
Similar; r. Ο, beneath, dolphin.
AR 229 grs.
Similar; behind king and lion's head.
[N. C., 1877, Pl. III. 5.]
Similar; beneath, eagle(?) r.
AR 224 grs.
Similar; no letter or symbol.
[Ibid., Pl. III. 4.]
Similar; behind, eagle's heard r.
AR 224 grs.
Similar; in front, fulmen.
[Imh., Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., p. 108.]
Similar; no symbol.
AR 230 grs.
Similar; no symbol.
[Ibid., p. 108.]
AR 237 grs.
[N. C., 1877, Pl. III. 1.]
Similar; behind, head of bearded Herakles in lion-skin.
AR 229 grs.
Similar; behind king, ΒΑ.
[Imh., Kl. M., Pl. XIX. 24.]
Similar; behind, heard of bearded Herakles in lion-skin.
AR 232 grs.
Similar; in ex., ΒΑ; behind king, Ρ.
[Imh., Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., Pl. V. 19.]
Similar; behind, heard of bearded Herakles in lion-skin.
AR 233 grs.


Similar; but king holds spear and bow.
[N. C., 1877, Pl. III. 7.]
Similar; no symbol.
Size .5

This series of coins is assigned by Babelon (Perses Achm. , pp. cxxiii f.) to Euagoras II, who was satrap in Cyprus B.C. 351-349. The arguments for and against this attribution are briefly restated by Hill (B. M. C., Cyprus, p. cix). Imhoof (Zur gr. u. rm. Mnzk., p. 111), in agreement with Six (N. C., 1877, pp. 81 f.), is inclined to think that they may have been issued by Pixodarus at Halicarnassus for the payment of Persian troops. As, however, some specimens bear Phoenician characters, and as in fabric and style they are more like Phoenician than Carian coins, I am inclined to regard them as money issued by some Persian commander or satrap at a Phoenician mint. The reverse type suggests that they may be one of the various series attributable to Mazaeus, who was for a time the commander of the Persian cavalry, whom he led at the battle of Arbela. The fact that the great hoard of many thousand Persian sigloi and a few of these satrapal coins, discovered in 1823 in the island of Calymna (Num. Chron. ix (1846), p. 165), contained in addition some local pieces of Caria, Cos, Rhodes, and Calymna, scarcely proves that the Persian coins were also struck in Caria. The hoard, consisting in the main of sigloi, was probably an abandoned war-chest. Too much importance has, I think, also been attached to the Rhodian standard of these staters as evidence of a Carian origin. The Rhodian weight may well have been adopted almost anywhere by a Persian satrap merely for convenience of exchange, as fifteen of these staters of Rhodian weight would have been equivalent to two gold darics or forty silver sigloi. (See supra, p. 826.)


Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

Persia, a region of Asia, so called (according to Stephanus) from Pers, son of Medeas.

The people of this country - the Persians - were noted as the most corruptly addicted to luxury and pleasures.

Ptolemy describes the geography of Persia, as bounded on the north by Mdia, on the west of Susiana, on the east by the two Carmaniae, on the sought by the Persian Gulf.

As the empire of the Persians was in ancient times celebrated, so to this day it is an important state, and includes several extensive provinces, which are governed in our age by the Sophis, Kings of Persia.

Except  on a con of Philip senior, no mention is made of the Persian on Roman Imperial coins.


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