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Ancient Coin Profiles: Silver Stater of Tarsus

Ancient Coin Profiles: Silver Stater of Tarsus



Tarsus was an ancient city located on the southern Mediterranean shore of Asia Minor in what is now modern Turkey. It was already ancient when the Persians added it to their empire, with habitation going back to the Stone Age. It sat at the intersection of important regional and world trade routes, and as such, it saw its share of conquerors come and go. The Hittites, the Assyrians, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Crusaders, and the Ottomans (among others) all held sway over the port city. It suffered a decline in the 19th century, but the Turkish Republic under Atatürk invested heavily in infrastructure for the region in the early 20th century, leading to a modern-day revival.

The city is perhaps best known in the West for its ties to two great historical stories: it was where the Roman general Marc Antony first met the Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, and it was the birthplace of Saul of Tarsus, who would eventually embrace Christianity and become Paul the Apostle.

Cleopatra’s Gate in Tarsus

During the Roman Republic and Empire, Tarsus served as the capital of the surrounding province of Cilicia, by which name the coins of the region are often categorized.


Datames was a general who distinguished himself in the service of the Persian king Artaxerxes II. Datames’ father was the governor, or satrap, of the province of Cilicia. Because his father was held in such high esteem by the king, Datames joined the royal guard. Serving in this capacity, Datames impressed Artaxerxes with his skills in battle and gained the position of governor of Cilicia after the death of his father in the same war.

He proved his loyalty to the king when he defeated two rebellious provincial governors. This earned him command over the Persian forces against Egypt. Unfortunately, plots were raised against him, and Datames ended up turning his armies against Artaxerxes instead. Victorious on the battlefield, he was eventually betrayed and assassinated. His abilities as a general, however, earned him the admiration and respect of the later Greek and Roman cultures.


The stater is an ancient denomination of coin originating in the Greek cultural area of the eastern Mediterranean. Much like the shekel from which it was adapted, its name literally means “weight”. Originally made as ingots, the first stater coins on record consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring mixture of gold and silver, and were struck at Aegina, an island not far off the coast from Athens. In fact, the Aeginan stater is regarded as the first coin minted in Europe.

Silver staters minted by the great city-states of the ancient Greek world (such as Corinth, Thebes, Olympia, Syracuse, Delphi, etc.) established a standard that served as a model for similar coins throughout the Mediterranean and the interior of Europe for hundreds of years.


atlaslogoThe following description is based on the coin images accompanying this profile, supplied courtesy of Atlas Numismatics


The obverse features the head of a bearded man in a crested military helmet commonly referred to as “Attic”, though this naming convention refers to the style of helmet, and not a specific origin in the Attica region of Greece (home to Athens). Behind the head in the left part of the field is a bunch of grapes. Immediately in front of the man’s face are the letters “tdnm” in Achaemenid (Persian) Aramaic characters. The tie of a cape or cloak can be seen at the truncation of the man’s neck.

A ring surrounds the effigy, and a screw or spiral motif wraps around the entire ring – though the spirals in a portion of the ring in the upper right quadrant are missing, leaving only outlines to indicate where the spirals or dots once were.


The reverse features the head of a nymph, a common motif on the coinage of various Greek city-states around the Mediterranean–most famously represented by the effigy of the nymph Arethusa on coins from Syracuse in Sicily. This portrait, though, is interesting to modern eyes because it is in a three-quarter profile, with the head looking slightly to the left of but mostly head-on at the viewer. She wears her hair in an elaborate arc of curls, fully exposing her face. Long, loose-flowing locks can be found on either side of the bottom of her head. Tufts of hair flange up from each major curl. She appears to be wearing an earring in her left ear, and an ampyx, or headband (often made of metal), to hold the hair out of her face (it is partially exposed in the middle of her hairline). She also wears a moderately intricate necklace that serves as the truncation of her portrait. Numismatists commonly interpret the “dots” in her necklace as pendants, and on this coin, there are eight. Other specimens can have fewer.

The empty field between her hair and neck implies that her hair is pulled up in the back.

The most prominent feature of her face is her nose, which is rather large and directly connected to her semicircular eyebrows. Her lips are full and somewhat pursed. Her cheeks are broad and full. Great creases surround her nose and mouth area, emphasizing both the size of these features and the fullness of her face. Her chin appears to be slightly dimpled or creased as it protrudes somewhat from beneath her lips. The eyes of the portrait are engraved with a significant amount of detail, including incuse irises and pupils in relief.

A ring surrounds the effigy, and a screw or spiral motif wraps around the entire ring. The “spiral-ness” of the design is more apparent at the edges; in the middle on the left side of the reverse, the motif more closely resembles thick dots. On other specimens, and on other denominations issued under the authority of Datames, the “spirals” are more decidedly dot-like.

Coin Specifications

Nationality:  Greek
Issuing Authority:  Tarsus
Date: approx. 385-361 BCE
Metal/Alloy:  Silver
Denomination: Stater
Weight:  approx. 10.60-11.00 g
Diameter:  approx. 21.00 mm



CoinWeek IQ
CoinWeek IQ
With CoinWeek IQ, the editors and writers of CoinWeek dig deeper than the usual numismatic article. CoinWeek IQ provides collectors and numismatists with in-depth information, pedigree histories, and market analysis of U.S. coins and currency.

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