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Early Electrum Coins

The Charts.

As stated on the home page, I have developed some arrangements of the basic types of early electrum coins, grouped according to both (presumed) mint and period. These arrangements are presented in visual form on the accompanying "Basic Electrum Types" and "Northern Ionian Types" pages as charts of images of representative examples of the types. The principal chart deals with southern Ionia, Samos and Lydia, while northern Ionia (on the Phokaic weight scale) is treated separately. It is not practical to include detailed specific references to all the different coins in the charts, but those familiar with these types will no doubt recognise most of them*. Types known from recorded finds (although not always in the specific denomination shown) are noted - "A" means the Artemision finds and so on - see the key at the base of the diagrams.

The arrangements are based mainly on the style of both the obverse dies and the reverse punches, together with the evidence from the few finds that have been reported. (The schemes presented here are my own but readers will realise that they draw on the ideas of many other writers in the field). Thus the early issues of the Ionia A mint (which may or may not be Ephesus**) generally have neat clean punches, while on the later issues of what probably is Ephesus the punches show a "rat's nest" design of crossed sticks; similarly early Ionia B (Miletus?) types used rough punches which produced a variety of crude, often ropey or stringy impressions; these transitioned (it seems) to streaky punches, and eventually to more carefully engraved geometric and figurative designs. Ionia E and G types show punches with semi-random granular or more formal hashed designs, usually, in the case of Ionia G, with some cross-like or other 4-part symmetry, and so on. Readers will no doubt also be familiar with the 4-part "mill-sail" design which is nearly universal on the punches of the Phokaic weight issues of northern Ionia (although not always so evidently, it should be noted, on the issues of Phokaia itself).

Other important clues to assignment come of course from the weight scale of a given type, and, with certain types, the shared use of reverse punches. Careful note needs to be taken of the weights of the issues of the Miletus region, where the weight standard of the "stater" seems to have started out at a relatively heavy 14.4 gm and then declined to the more usual "Lydio-Milesian" standard of 14.1 gm used in Lydia (and Ephesus?). Note also that the coins of Colophon, while struck on the Lydio-Milesian weight scale, are stylistically similar to those of northern Ionia, with flattened flans and mill-sail punches. As well there are a number of other types, typically with geometric or floral designs, on the Lydio-Milesian weight scale but with rough four-part punches; these presumably also derive from northern Ionia (after the Persian conquest?), and typical examples are shown on the "Northern Ionian Types" chart.

To complete the picture the basic gold Croeseid types are included in the main chart, while the siglos of Darius is shown so as to confirm the transition to flattened reverses at Sardes that began under Croesus, and to emphasise the non-flattening of the earlier Croeseids. (It should be realised that this transition probably did not occur overnight but likely took some time; we may assume that initially only the lumpier flans would have been flattened, but eventually this became routine practice. Presumably this was also the case with the later issues of the electrum lion-head types of Weidauer Group XVI^).

*  The bulk of the images used here are from CNG or the British Museum, with others from a variety of well known sources such as Gemini, Kunker, Roma Numismatics and so on. Specific references for the various types can be found without too much difficulty in these sources, or in standard references like Weidauer, Rosen (Waggoner and the M&M Sale 72 catalog), Mitchiner (ATEC) and SNG Kayhan (Parts 1 & 2).

More images and details of these types can also be found on the Asia Minor Coins photo gallery - search for "archaic electrum".

** The actual origins of many of the types listed here are not known with certainty, so that mints are designated as Ionia A, Lydia B, and so on. Note that "Lydia" here means a mint controlled by Lydia which may or may not actually be in Lydia proper.

^  The practice of flattening the flans before punching seems to have started in northern Ionia (there are flattened seal heads of Phokaia in the Artemision find), after which it gradually spread south. It was perhaps first introduced to facilitate the striking of the four part reverses on the Phokaic and other northern Ionian types.

Dating.

Key events are noted but generally dates are given only in relative terms, so you can supply your own; personally I prefer (for the moment, and primarily for numismatic reasons) a minimalist low chronology, i.e, I assume that the bulk of the Artemision coins were deposited no later than c.570 B.C, and that the earliest figural types date from two decades or so before this terminal date, with the earliest regular unfigured coins dating back perhaps a further two or three decades*. I also (now) assume that the pot hoard derives mainly from some uncertain source (possibly "private" issues coined at Miletus, as Mitchener suggests), and was buried separately at the Artemision at around the same time as the main (Naos 2) deposits. (As we now know, the coins originally attributed to the pot hoard included two ring-ins, which I take to be the panther face type Head 53, and perhaps also the unfigured type Head 1).

The date given here for the Artemision burials is of course a lower limit, and archaeology seems to require a much earlier one, probably some time before 600 B.C. However, there is (to me) a possible numismatic problem with this dating - there seem to be rather more southern Ionian types overall in the pre-Artemision period than after it, so that an early deposit date implies an abundance of types before 600 B.C, leaving relatively few (although certainly common) types available to fill the long gap between the Artemision burials and the end of Croesus' reign. At first sight such an unbalanced distribution of types looks rather odd, but perhaps it just reflects an increasing standardisation, and possibly also centralisation, of coin production.

* It seems that we can probably now say that the coins found in and around the Artemision "basis" are primarily but perhaps not exclusively "foundation" offerings. They likely represent the sum of a number of burials, covering some time, rather than deriving largely from just one specific date. although it now appears that the bulk of the finds derive from the "Naos 2" level of the site. My own estimate of the "final date" of the Artemision types derives mainly from the fact that the coins in the finds do not include examples of the common Weidauer Group XVI lion-head types. These types were struck in substantial numbers, in issues which appear to have terminated around the time Croesus introduced his gold and silver coinage, so that they probably started at least a decade before the beginning of his reign, normally taken to be 560 B.C.

And note that the earlier we date the Artemision finds the more the Group XVI series has to be stretched to cover the period between the date of the finds and the end of Group XVI.

Private versus Civic Types.

It is well known that there are many more types than there are cities that might reasonably be supposed to have issued coins in this period, and it has often been assumed that the commoner types, particularly those repeating the same one or two dominant obverse designs, are civic issues, while smaller issues with varying obverse images are mostly "private" issues funded by local "merchants and bankers" (although probably coined, at least in the larger cities, at the official mint). This idea has been criticised on various grounds but once a (coined) money economy had been established it would seem not unlikely that the wealthier merchants (basically traders and wholesalers), for example, would have issued coins in order to facilitate local trade, particularly in the smaller cities which may not have been in a position to issue their own coinage. The coins may have been issued as credit tokens (in exchange for bullion or other goods) to small traders and shopkeepers, who could then have used them as change in settling accounts with their suppliers and customers, thus passing them into the local economy*. This is of course just what 19th century merchants in various countries did when they issued their own trade tokens to compensate for the scarcity of official small change.

Apart from these minor local types I also assume that some types, particularly those from limited series in better style, were primarily "prestige" issues of major cities, issued perhaps for some specific official purpose, or maybe by private persons as a public service (and likely also for political self promotion); examples may be the stylised "geometric" and bee/grain ear series of (it seems) Ephesus, where most denominations seem to be struck from only one pair of dies, and some of the archaising types in the Weid. 131-140 groups.

(Talking of archaising types, it is fairly obvious that many of the standalone full staters, such as those types featuring the Lis device, are late issues in archaic style, as evidenced in particular by the stylised punches. These types are mostly omitted here - most of them probably post-date Croesus anyway, particularly those with flattened reverses, and there are reasons to think that some at least are of Thracian origin).

*  Most likely the coins were issued at a small premium (seigniorage) to cover production costs and yield a profit to the issuer - after that they were likely valued in the market at their presumed bullion content. The trade off between cost and convenience to the users would have set the level of seigniorage charged by private issuers.

The Southern Mints.

It will be realised that the arrangement of the southern Ionian types here relies to a large degree on the conventional assignment of certain common early issues, in particular the striated types, to Miletus, and the obvious question is what is the basis for this? This is a good question and the answer seems to be that the two major cities of Ionia in this period were Miletus and Ephesus, and we know that later (post-Croesus) issues of Miletus featured the lion head with geometric reverses, so the striated types, which morph into lion types with (eventually) simple geometric reverses, go to Miletus, while the plain unfigured types go (conventionally at least) to Ephesus. Not totally convincing perhaps, particularly as, except for the Artemision, reported find spots for early types in Ionia are rare anyway*, and for this reason the plain types are here simply assigned to "Ionia A", which may have been, as Karwiese has suggested, a Lydian controlled mint in the vicinity of Ephesus, rather than a mint of Ephesus itself.

It is generally assumed that the "Lydio-Milesian" weight standard of most issues of the southern mints was based on a stater of c.14.1 gm. However, the actual situation is rather more complicated. As noted earlier, the weight standard for the earliest issues of Miletus itself was relatively heavy, with a stater of c.14.4 gm, based possibly on a didrachm calculated as 1/30 of a reduced Euboic mina of 432 gm, or perhaps even an Attic half-ounce (1/32 of the Phoenician/Attic market mina of c.460 gm)**. This standard then declined to c.14.1-14.0 gm by around the time of the Artemision deposits, while post Artemision staters, such as the framed lions of Miletus, rarely weigh much more than 14.0 gm, and often less.

On the other hand, we note that the smooth unfigured types of Ionia A don't seem to fit with the general picture for Miletus, as the average weight of these seemingly early types is actually fairly low, at around 14.0 gm, closer to the Lydian standard of 14.15 gm^.

With this in mind we can consider the interesting question of where to assign the relatively scarce "rough unfigured types" - the Boston MFA types in the chart here. These types manifest the same weight standard as the smooth types of Ionia A, rather than the somewhat heavier standard of the early Miletus types, so it's tempting to conclude that they could have been the predecessors of the smooth types at Ionia A, although equally they could have been the earliest civic issues of Ephesus itself. Either way they would seem to relate to Ephesus rather than Miletus. But whatever the case, it must be admitted that the light weight of both of these unfigured types remains a puzzle, so that we may have to revise our views at some time in the future. Perhaps the answer lies in Karwiese's idea that that Ionia A was under Lydian control, in which case it may have been that Lydia and its dependent mints used a lower weight standard than Miletus from the start. Going one step further, perhaps we might further surmise that Miletus ultimately reduced its weight standard to match Lydia's.

Another interesting problem involves the lion face/scorpion type, and the various other similar and presumably related issues. In the past the origin of this group of small but common types has been a bit of a mystery, and they have been variously assigned to Ephesus, Miletus, and more recently, Mylasa in Caria. These types have certain similarities to the lion head types of Miletus, and they could perhaps be assigned to Miletus as the smaller end of the reclining lion series. (We note that the low gold content of the scorpion type (c.40%) is comparable to that of the reclining lion types).

However the scorpion reverses don't really seem to fit at Miletus, and given this, and also the fact that two of these types appeared in the small Didyma find, it is possible that they derive from the latter city. The proximity of Didyma to Miletus could then explain both the similarities and, perhaps more importantly, the differences between these types and the smaller Milesian types. On balance though, these types seem rather too common to have derived from a relatively small city like Didyma, and the scorpion does connect to later dynastic issues in southern Anatolia.

An interesting addition to the range of issues is represented by Ionia Uncertain Mint I. The types here feature a range of semi-random scribbly designs on both sides not very different from those on the pebbly types of Samos, but struck on the Lydio-Milesian weight standard; this series has generally not been noticed in the past, although examples of some denominations can now be found in SNG Kayhan as coins 686-91 (685 seems to be a separate issue on a different weight scale).

Finally, I have now added the rare and interesting types from Borosthenes in the Black Sea to the chart. These are of course not issues of southern Ionia, but they are on the Milesian standard (more or less), and the stater recalls, it would seem, the rare reclining lion type Weid. 128 of Ionia K/Lydia D, complete with faux banker's mark. Note that the two denominations involved were struck from just one set of dies each, so this was a very limited coinage.

*  Although in 2005 a striated 1/6 stater was found at Miletus. An example of this type with the same punches is shown in the chart.

** Actually the earliest standard seems to have been even heavier, more in line with the Hitzl's (i.e, Boeckh's) estimate of 436.6 gm for the full Euboic mina - there are unmarked half-staters of (perhaps) Miletus weighing c.7.25 gm, corresponding to a stater of 14.5 gm, 1/30th of a mina of 435 gm. At Samos the earliest staters (actually Euboic/Samian tetradrachms) averaged 17.45 gm, 1/25th of a mina of 436 gm. (By comparison the Lydian lion-heads were all issued on a clearly lower stater standard of 14.15 gm, corresponding to a relatively low mina of 425 gm).

^ The origin of the Lydian weight standard is uncertain, but the Lydian stater is comparable to the Egyptian/Phoenician beqa, which is the (somewhat variable) standard used in the earliest coins of Tyre and Sidon. Scale (market) weights on a similar standard, with a mina of c.420 (= 14 x 30) gms, were relatively common in many Greek cities in the classical period, as Tekin has shown.

The related question of what determined the gold content of the Lydian (and other) electrum coins is hard to answer. At base the question depends depends on whether we take the coins to be tokens or real value issues, but let us assume the latter case for the moment. Taking the currently accepted value of the gold content of the Lydian coins of 54%, and assuming a gold/silver value ratio of 40/3 (as applied in Persia at a slightly later period), we find that an electrum stater of 14.15 gm would contain the equivalent of c.8.15 gm of gold, close to but significantly less than the weight of a Mesopotamian/Persian shekel. Alternatively, a slightly higher gold content of 56% (with a nominal gold/silver ratio of 9/7, based perhaps on a theoretical division of the stater into 16 parts) yields an equivalent 8.42 gm of gold, essentially the weight of the shekel.

However, for the moment at least we should probably not give too much credence to these calculations, or in fact any theory based on the supposed gold content of the late 7th to early 6th century electrum coins, given that the accepted figures for the latter tends to change with each new round of measurements. (As well, we can't be sure what gold/silver value ratio actually applied at this period, or, for that matter, whether the silver content was included in the value of the coins). And in any case, as we have seen elsewhere, quite different calculations apply if the coins are simply tokens.

The Northern Types.

With the northern Ionian types down to the end of Croesus we have virtually no find data to go on, so that the arrangement here is based mainly on style, and is necessarily fairly sketchy and often uncertain. With these types I have also relied to some extent on my impression that the earliest (crudest) northern issues mostly seem to have been quite light, generally weighing 1/12th stater or less. The heavier 1/6 stater seems have been relatively scarce to begin with, but after not too long it emerges and soon becomes the standard northern type. 1/3 staters seem to be non-existent and full staters are rare. As with many of the staters of this period, it is unclear exactly when and where the Northern types were issued, although the high gold content of two of these staters (c. 64-67%)* suggests they are relatively early issues.

The weight standard of the northern types seems to be rather variable. Thus most of the staters seem to be on a relatively high standard of 16.5 gm, and while some of the small types (generally issues in a finer style) are also on this standard, with a hekte of c.2.75 gm, the weights of most of the earlier small Northern Ionian issues (including the well known "swastikas") are on a lower standard, with hektes of c.2.6 gm, corresponding to c.15.4-15.5 gm for the stater equivalents. This figure can be compared with the standard post Croesus hektes of Phokaia itself where the stater weight declined slightly to 15.3-15.2 gm.**

One particular problem is the origin of the common "swastika" (or more likely, millsail) types - at first sight these types seem somewhat out of place among the other northern types but nonetheless they seem to have made up a significant part of the coinage of northern Ionia during (roughly) the period of Croesus, perhaps as some sort of universal type used by several cities. Apart from a few types like these the northern issues give the impression that before the fall of Croesus much of the northern coinage derived from limited "private" issues, often involving only one or two denominations, with only a few cities bothering with recognisably civic issues of any size.

One minor but distinctive subgroup of the Phokaic weight types worth noting comprises various (rare) types featuring mostly simple floral or geometric designs, but often, unlike other northern types, non-millsail reverses. Judging from their rather basic workmanship these were probably utilitarian types produced for local use in a minor city or cities, although where is unknown, and in fact it may be that these types were not Ionian issues in the first place.

Another minor problem here is the attribution of the crab type - the general style is Phokaian, but in the end the conventional assignment to the Carian city of Kos may well turn out to be correct.

The Mysian types of Kyzicus are not included here, and it is not clear when these were first issued (none were included in the Artemision finds, although of course Kyzicus is some distance from Ephesus). It is generally assumed that the earliest Kyzicenes were the simplest types, meaning primarily the fish head types, and it is likely that they were contemporary with the earliest Phokaian issues, or perhaps a little later.

It should be noted that the weight scale of the Kyzicene types is clearly different to that of the Northern Ionian types considered here. Thus the early Kyzicenes average 16.15 gm for the stater, midway between the heavy and light Phokaian weight standards.

Note that the Kyzicus stater coin doesn't match any of the actual market weights used at Kyzicus (which basically follow a binary/duodecimal system with varying mina standards), but it is very close to 1/30th of the mina of c. 480 gms, i.e, it possibly started out as a sexagesimal stater/double shekel on this standard (although it may be that this mina standard post dates the earliest Kyzikene coins).

* For the composition of the electrum alloy see Gitler et al, "XRF Analysis of Several Groups of Electrum Coins" in "White Gold - Studies in Early Electrum Coinage" ed. van Alfen & Wartenberg, ANS New York 2020.

** It's worth noting that the earliest northern staters weigh close to two Persian shekels of 8.4 gm, while the ultimate post Croesus Phokaian weight standard may have been based on a theoretical stater/didrachm of 1/30 of the contemporary Phoenician/Greek market mina of c.460 gm, which was originally deemed (in Athens c. 600 at least) to be 5% heavier than the Euboic mina which was ultimately the basis of the Attic coin weight scale.

Problems.

Astute observers will probably see that the schemes shown here have certain fairly obvious "holes";  e.g, there seems to be a paucity of early civic (i.e, common) types that can be confidently attributed to Ephesus (the earliest bee types are from the striated field period but they are quite scarce, and in any case they are rather crude and may not be official issues, and as well it is likely that the low grade electrum bee types Weid. 33 & 34 are relatively late precursors of the post-Croesus silver bees). One possible solution to this problem is to reassign the "panther face" types from Ionia B to Ephesus (in line with Mitchiner); the punch style fits reasonably well, but now we seem to be left with a gap in Ionia B (and was the lion/leopard a symbol of Ephesus?). Or were coins from some other mint (Lydia A perhaps) used at Ephesus in this period (i.e, was Lydia A the Lydian mint at Ephesus, as has been suggested?). As well, as we noted earlier, the light weights of the seemingly early unfigured types of Ionia A/Ephesus appear inconsistent with the weights of the early types of Miletus, but match the seemingly later lion-head types of Lydia.

Two particular problems are the Gordian Knot (Thunderbolt?) and Pebbly types on the Milesian scale. The crude style of these types suggests they are early issues, but the weight scale of the pebbly type is oddly low. Overall these two don't seem to belong with any of the other types here.

Another significant problem is the apparent lack of non-pictorial precursors of the "Lydian" lion-head types usually attributed to Sardes  (although as just noted perhaps the Ionia A mint is the same as Lydia A*, and note also that Ionia J, with its double lion head types, is possibly an early Lydian, or Lydian controlled, mint). As well there is the important question of how do the lion-head electrum types relate to the Croeseid gold and silver issues, particularly given that the later issues of Weid. Group XVI were clearly flattened before punching, while the earlier Croeseids were not. Another intriguing problem here concerns the putative Ionia K/Lydia D mint, which groups together (on the basis of shared punches) three types in quite different obverse styles.

Finally, with Samos we note that there seems to be a significant lack of later types, particularly a common type (or types) that could stylistically fit into the post-Artemision period. Mitchener assigns the lion face types to the period of Croesus, but these seem to be a rather limited (and perhaps earlier) series, and overall we don't seem to have enough types (or denominations) to fill the gap down to the first silver issues some time after 550 B.C. Perhaps Samos had fallen on hard times, or were they using somebody else's coins? More likely, I think, Samos was forced fairly early to abandon the use of electrum coins simply because the populus would not accept coins made of the highly variable Samian coin alloy**. This is an intriguing problem which surely needs further attention.

Problems like these suggest that we are still some way from a full understanding of the early electrum coinage, so that further revisions of the arrangements will likely be necessary. For example, as hinted earlier, some of the separate mints shown here may well be one and the same - make your own assessments (note in this regard that the apparent overlapping of the Lydian mints on the main chart should not necessarily be taken literally - see the caveat in the introduction to the chart). As well you should not automatically identify all (or in fact any) of the "Lydian" mints with Sardes, where again no early electrum types of any sort have actually been found (in noticeable contrast with the Artemision), although further east Gordion has produced a sizable hoard of lion-head types (single lion head, mainly Weid. Group XVI)^. Note also that all four "Lydian" mints include lion pad types - in the case of mints A, B and D this is evidenced by shared reverse punches (examples shown), while with mint C it is based on the similar styles of the reverses rather than any specific shared punch.

*  I am not as yet completely convinced by Karwiese's equation of the punches on the plain Ionia A types (e.g, Rosen Sale coin #4) and the Walwet types Weidauer 99-102. There are plenty of images of these types available online, and while the punches for the two types are quite similar, I'm not sure they are one and the same - but make up your own mind. Here the relevant punches can be seen in the second Ionia A (pot hoard) type and in some of the Walwet types, including the M&M lion's pad and the Walwet 1/6th immediately above it.

But even if the punches for the two types are different, they were clearly produced in the same way and hence perhaps at the same place, so that it is still quite possible that Ionia A could be the same mint as Lydia A. But note that the unfigured 1/6th staters of Ionia A mostly feature a square and a triangular (or circular) punch, whereas the Walwet 1/6ths involve two square punches (like those typical of most Milesian hektes), so that even if the two series are from the same mint they presumably date from different periods. And note also (again) the light weight of the Ionia A types, marginally lighter in fact than the Lydian coins.

** Like the later Attic silver coins the earliest Samian staters were probably tetradrachms, i.e, 1/25 of the full Euboic/Samian mina, and were therefore possibly meant to be valued as equal to 10 (Samian) tetradrachms weight of silver. This would only work in practice if the staters were struck on high gold content native electrum alloy, or some artificial version of it, which could be exchanged at 10:1 for silver. However if this was in fact the initial situation, it would seem that it didn't last too long, as the gold content of the pebbly type coins soon dropped to less than 50%.

Note that the rare electrum types struck on the "light Samian" standard (the Phoenician beqa perhaps?) of 13.2 gm (e.g, Weid. 204-6) were possibly late issues in archaic style which were associated with certain Samian silver "tetradrachms" on the same weight scale dated (conventionally) to the early 5th century. It would be interesting to know what the alloy content of these electrum types was and whether they were exchanged with the silver coins at 10:1, or at some other discounted value.

^  The Gordion hoard consisted entirely of "Lydian" lion heads, mainly Group XVI thirds and twelfths, plus a few Group XV thirds and one example of the single lion-head sixth Weid. 104. A few of the Group XVI thirds have dents on the reverses indicating perhaps some attempt at flattening the flans but none are fully flattened. There were no lion pads, which is odd given the presence of the Group XV thirds, as is the lack of Group XV twelfths; the absence of these types in this hoard surely tells us something - perhaps (e.g.) that there were no Group XVI lion pad issues? 

 

Ross Glanfield

Sydney, Australia

November 2012

Latest additions/revisions: 

29 Mar. '13: Chart of Northern Ionian types added. 
21 Sep. '13: Role of "swastika" types reconsidered. 
16 Jan. '14: Dating of Artemision finds explained. 
  9 Jan. '15:  Rough unfigured types reassigned to Ephesus or Ionia.  
20 July '15: Southern Ionian mints re-labelled (again). 
13 Oct. '15: The Milesian and Lydian weight standards reconsidered (The Southern Mints). 
16 Nov. '15: Heavy weights of finer style Northern types noted. Hektes of Phokaia reconsidered. 
11 Aug. '16: Some revision of Northern Types section and chart. 
19 Aug. '16: Borosthenes(?) types added. 
21 Nov. '17: Note on Kyzikene weights updated. 
  6 Feb. '22:  Dating of Artemision finds revised.  
15 Mar. '22: Discussion of Northern Ionian mints revised.

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