Ancient Gold Coin – Mysia, Cyzicus. Hekte circa 500-450
By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……
Cyzicus was one of the great trade cities of the ancient world. It was located on the Sea of Marmara and ruled by the Persian Empire until its capture by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE. It is also the source of a interesting ancient gold coin pictured above.
Starting in the first half of the sixth century BCE, the ancient gold coin electrum staters of Cyzicus became one of the most widely recognized Greek coins of their time. For many decades, the entire trade in grain in the Black Sea Region was transacted with coins such as this one. Perhaps due to the prominence and popularity of its coinage, Cyzicus was exempt from the restrictions placed upon other member states of the Delian League from minting their own currency, and was instead allowed to continue producing its aesthetic and highly varied types.
The Cyzicus electrum staters corresponded to 24 or 25 Attic drachms, making this coin, a hekte, worth about as much as an Attic tetradrachm.
Many types of ancient gold coin early electrum contain a “civic badge”, a particular design with the purpose of identifying the issuer of the coinage. Civic badges offer fascinating insights into the mindset of the ancient Greeks, in particular, the pride they held in their origins and ancestry.
Some of the most popular coinage of antiquity didn’t require an inscription because the design elements were so ubiquitously understood. These badges were used as symbols, representing the founding mythology, a pun on the city name, a crucial attribute of the economy, or the city’s devotion to a particular deity.
Tuna fishing was a cornerstone of the economy of Cyzicus, so much so that the animal became the defining feature of the coinage from the city. The early coinage shows a tuna fish by itself but other animals or mythological figures were added eventually, with the reverse retaining a simple incuse punch. It is believed that the obverse was changed once per year, introducing a new design along with a new emission.
This coin features two dolphins encircling Cyzicus’ tuna. The dolphins symbolize Poseidon, the god of the sea. As the brother of Zeus, Poseidon was among the most powerful of the Olympian gods. Greek mythology generally assigned attributes of the element to its presiding god, which was particularly apparent with Poseidon. He possessed a highly variable disposition, often calm and placid but periodically violently agitated.
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Mysia, Cyzicus. Hekte circa 500-450, EL 2.70 g. Tunny l. between two dolphins. Rev. Quadripartite incuse square. von Fritze 95. Rosen 471 (this coin). SNG France 236. Rare and in exceptional condition for the issue. Perfectly struck and centered on a full flan, Good Extremely Fine.
Ex Galerie des Monnaies 1977, 99 and M&M 72, 1987, Rosen, 213 sales.