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Ancient Greek Coins of Aiolis: The Minor Cities

By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..
The previous article that I wrote on Aiolis covered the larger commercial cities of Aigai, Cyme, and Myrina. I singled them out because these cities produced stephanophoric tetradrachms in the mid-second century BCE.

This article covers the rest of the cities in Aiolis, which is a small region on the west coast of Asia Minor (see Figure 1). It has Lydia to the east, Mysia to the north, Ionia to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west. Aiolis’ northern border is opposite the island of Lesbos, and its southern edge is near the river Hermus. The area was settled by Aiolians before 1000 BCE. Cyme was one of the earliest cities established in the region and was the mother city of many of the towns in the Aiolis. Cyme was also the largest city of Aiolis during the Hellenistic period.

In the eighth century BCE, 12 of the cities formed a confederation (dodecapolis) that was reduced to 11 cities when in 699, Smyrna was taken into the Ionian League. Parts or all of Aiolis were controlled successively beginning in the sixth century by the Lydians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Seleucids, and the Pergamenes. Attalus III, the last king of Pergamun, bequeathed Aeolis to the Roman Republic in 133 BCE.

Figure 1: Aeolis in western Asia Minor.
Figure 1: Aeolis in western Asia Minor.

Cities and Their Coins

Autokane

Autokane was a city that was located on a mountain of the same name, but its site is unknown. This city minted a variety of bronze coins in the fourth and third centuries. The head of either Zeus or Apollo is on the obverse, but the reverses include goddesses, like Hera or Athena, barley corns within wreaths, and poppy seeds. The city ethnic can be AUTOK, AUTOKA, AUTOKANA, or AUTOKANAIWN. One coin that is an outlier is a silver hemiobol (0.47 g.) that was minted in the mid-fourth century. It has Zeus on the obverse and a large poppy seed on the reverse with the ethnic AUTOKANAWN around it. There are only two of these known, and they are the only extant silver coins from Autokane.

Figure 2: AIOLIS, Autokane. a) 4th century BCE. AR Hemiobol. Laureate head of Zeus left/ poppy seed, AUTOKIANAWN around, 7.5mm. 0.47 g., unpublished. (CNG 102, Lot 403, $400 , 5/16). b) 3rd century BCE. AE 15mm. Laureate head of Zeus right / Helmeted head of Athenaright, AYTOKA, 2.92 g., SNG France 160. (CNG 199. Lot 134, $198, 11/19/08).
Figure 2: AIOLIS, Autokane. a) 4th century BCE. AR Hemiobol. Laureate head of Zeus left/ poppy seed, AUTOKIANAWN around, 7.5mm. 0.47 g., unpublished. (CNG 102, Lot 403, $400 , 5/16). b) 3rd century BCE. AE 15mm. Laureate head of Zeus right / Helmeted head of Athena right, AYTOKA, 2.92 g., SNG France 160. (CNG 199. Lot 134, $198, 11/19/08).

Boione

Boione was also a small town without much commercial activity. Between 320 and 280, the city minted some small bronze coins that had a female profile on the obverse and a bull standing right on the reverse with the city ethnic of BOIWNI (Figure 3) above. The city must not have minted very many since there are very few extant.

Figure 3: AIOLIS, Boione, 320-280 BCE. AE 12. Head of female left, wearing earring andnecklace / BOIΩNI, THΣ below, Bull standing right, 1.4 g., BMC 1 var.
Figure 3: AIOLIS, Boione, 320-280 BCE. AE 12. Head of female left, wearing earring and necklace / BOIΩNI, THΣ below, Bull standing right, 1.4 g., BMC 1 var.

Elaia

Elaia (elaion means “olive oil”) was supposedly founded by Menestheus, a king of Athens during the Trojan War. The historian Strabo places the city about 2 km south of the river Caicus and about 20 km from Pergamon, but its precise location is unknown. Eleia served as a port for Pergamon.

Elaia began minting small silver coins during the latter half of the fifth century. At first, these consisted of diobols (1.3 g.), and maybe hemiobols, that had Athena facing left (or right) on the obverse and a laurel wreath within an incuse square on the reverse (Figure 4a). The city ethnic of ELAI is around the wreath on the reverse.

Later, drachms (3.2 g.) were added that had Athena’s head on the obverse and either a pellet or a grain seed within an olive wreath on the reverse. The ethnic of E – L was on either side of the grain. Figure 4b shows a bronze coin of this type. Along with the drachms, diobols of the same type were also produced.

The city began minting bronze coins in the fourth century. Athena appeared on almost all the types until the second century when Demeter replaced her. The reverses were usually some combination of the olive wreath and grain seed (Figure 4b), though one coin did have a prow on the obverse instead of a goddess.

Figure 4: AIOLIS, Elaia. a) Circa 450-400 BC. AR Diobol (, 6h). Helmeted head of Athena left / Laurel wreath within incuse square ELIA, 11mm, 1.27 g., SNG München 382. (CNG 291, Lot: 85, $180, 11/21/12); b) Circa 340-300 BC. AE 10 mm. Helmeted head of Athena left / Barley-corn in olive wreath, E - L, 1.27 g., SNG Copenhagen 169-170. (CNG 61, Lot: 282, $150, 9/25/02).
Figure 4: AIOLIS, Elaia. a) Circa 450-400 BCE. AR Diobol (, 6h). Helmeted head of Athena left / Laurel wreath within incuse square ELIA, 11mm, 1.27 g., SNG München 382. (CNG 291, Lot: 85, $180, 11/21/12); b) Circa 340-300 BCE. AE 10 mm. Helmeted head of Athena left / Barley-corn in olive wreath, E – L, 1.27 g., SNG Copenhagen 169-170. (CNG 61, Lot: 282, $150, 9/25/02).

Grynion

Grynion was located on the coast about 7.5 km from Myrina and 13 km from Elaia. The city had a beautiful temple and oracle to Apollo and was a member of the Delian League. Alexander the Great’s general Parmenion destroyed the town in 334 as an example to other towns in the area. It was burned, and its inhabitants sold into slavery.

In the late fourth or third century, the city began minting one type of coin: a bronze coin with Apollo three-quarters facing left on the obverse and a mussel shell on the reverse. The city ethnic of GURNHWN is above the mussel. These coins appear to be relatively rare.

Figure 5: AIOLIS, Grynion. Circa 3rd Century BCE. Æ 16mm. Three-quarter facing head of Apollo, turned slightly left, wearing laurel wreath / GURNHWN, mussel shell, 3.42 g., SNG Copenhagen 202ff. (Triton V, Lot: 454, $600, 1/16/02).
Figure 5: AIOLIS, Grynion. Circa 3rd Century BCE. Æ 16mm. Three-quarter facing head of Apollo, turned slightly left, wearing laurel wreath / GURNHWN, mussel shell, 3.42 g., SNG Copenhagen 202ff. (Triton V, Lot: 454, $600, 1/16/02).

Larissa Phrikonis

There were a number of cities called Larissa in the Greek world, one of which was a major city in Thessaly. This Larissa was a strongly fortified city southwest of Cyme in Aoilis. It was largely destroyed during the Peloponnesian War in 405 but was rebuilt. It was destroyed again by the Celts in 279.

Larissa began minting silver fractions such as obols (0.75 g.), diobols (1.1g.), and tetrobols (2.8 g) in the fourth century. For the diobol, the obverse has a female head wearing a sphendone, and the reverse has an amphora. The tetrobol and obol have Apollo’s head on the obverse, and a reverse with an eagle flying upwards with wings spread (Figure 6a). The city name of LARISAI is on both sides of the eagle.

There is some doubt as to whether this coin and the obols are from Larissa Phrikonis on not, but the current consensus is that they probably are. In the latter half of the fourth century, the city produced a variety of bronze coins. The most common type has an obverse of a head and a reverse of an amphora with other symbols. The example in Figure 6b has a male head to the right obverse, and the reverse has an amphora with a grain ear to the right and the city name, ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙ, to the left. Another common reverse is a bull’s head, and a third type has a horned female river-god facing slightly right on the obverse and a reverse with the head of Apollo. The minting of coins stopped about 300 BCE.

Figure 6: AEOLIS, Larissa Phrikonis. a) 4th century BCE. AR Tetrobol. Laureate head of Apollo right / Eagle, with spread wings, flying upward, head left; club to lower left, 15mm, 2.82 g., Unpublished. (CNG 106, Lot: 323, $450, 9/13/17). b) 4th century BCE. AE 21 mm, bare and bearded male head right / Amphora, grain ear to right, ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙ, 7.51 g., BMC 1. (Numismatik Naumann 53, Lot 207, $386, 5/7/17).
Figure 6: AEOLIS, Larissa Phrikonis. a) 4th century BCE. AR Tetrobol. Laureate head of Apollo right / Eagle, with spread wings, flying upward, head left; club to lower left, 15mm, 2.82 g., Unpublished. (CNG 106, Lot: 323, $450, 9/13/17). b) 4th century BCE. AE 21 mm, bare and bearded male head right / Amphora, grain ear to right, ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙ, 7.51 g., BMC 1. (Numismatik Naumann 53, Lot 207, $386, 5/7/17).

Neonteichos

Neonteichos (“new walls”) was a small town about 6 km east of Larissa Phrikonis and west of the Hermus River. It may have been founded by the Aiolians as a temporary fort; otherwise, very little is known of its history. It did mint bronze coins starting in the 2nd century. Only one type was produced and that had the head of Athena on the obverse and an owl standing on the city ethnic of NE on the reverse (Figure 7).

Figure 7: AEOLIS Neonteichos. Circa 2nd Century BCE. Æ 17mm. Helmeted head of Athena right; helmet decorated with sphinx / Owl standing right, head facing, standing on NE, 3.68 g. BMC Troas 3. (CNG 122, Lot: 37, $121, 9/7/05)
Figure 7: AEOLIS Neonteichos. Circa 2nd Century BCE. Æ 17mm. Helmeted head of Athena right; helmet decorated with sphinx / Owl standing right, head facing, standing on NE, 3.68 g. BMC Troas 3. (CNG 122, Lot: 37, $121, 9/7/05)

Temnos

Temnos was just east of Neonteichos and located on a hill side above the River Hermus. It had a commanding view of the territories of Cyme, Phocaea, and Smyrna. Aside from that, little is known of the ancient city. It began minting silver and bronze coins in the fourth century. The silver coins were fractions–diobols and obols–that had either the head of Dionysos or Apollo on the obverse and a kantharos on the reverse with the city ethnic of TA (see Figure 8). In the second century, the city also minted hemidrachms with the Apollo obverse and a one-handled cup on the reverse.

Figure 8: AEOLIS, Temnos. a) 4th-3rd centuries BCE. AR Diobol. Bare head or Dionysos left / Kantharos: T-A flanking, 11mm, 1.55 g., Unpublished. (CNG 94, Lot: 481, $340, 9/18/13). b) 3rd century BCE. AE 13mm. Wreathed head of Dionysos right / Grape bunch on vine; flower to left, T-A flanking, 2.12 g., SNG Copenhagen 251-3 var. (no flower). (CNG 253, Lot 124, $75, 4/6/11).
Figure 8: AEOLIS, Temnos. a) 4th-3rd centuries BCE. AR Diobol. Bare head or Dionysos left / Kantharos: T-A flanking, 11mm, 1.55 g., Unpublished. (CNG 94, Lot: 481, $340, 9/18/13). b) 3rd century BCE. AE 13mm. Wreathed head of Dionysos right / Grape bunch on vine; flower to left, T-A flanking, 2.12 g., SNG Copenhagen 251-3 var. (no flower). (CNG 253, Lot 124, $75, 4/6/11).

In the third century, Temnos may have minted a tetradrachm that is a retro-type Alexander the Great coin with Hercules wearing a lion skin on the obverse and Zeus enthroned holding an eagle and scepter on the reverse. These are the same as those minted by Cyme and Myrina. Besides the name of Alexander on the reverse, there is a tall one-handled vase framed by vines in front of Zeus.

Bronze coins usually have Dionysos on the obverse and a bunch of grapes on the reverse with the legend TA (Figure 8). In the 2nd century, Athena sometimes appeared on the obverse and the reverse had Athena wielding a spear and shield or holding a Nike and a bunch of grapes with a spear over her right shoulder.

Tisna

The city was east of Cyme and south of Pergamon on the river Titanos. Other than that, there is very little known of Tisna. In the fourth and third centuries, Tisna produced a series of small bronzes. They all had the head of the river-god Tisnaios on the obverse and either a one-handled vase, a spearhead, or a sword in a scabbard on the reverse. The city ethnic of TIΣNAION is on the reverse. The one-handled cup was a common symbol on the coins of Cyme, so there may have been a relationship there. Figure 9 shows an example with the head of Tisnaios on the obverse and a one-handled cup on the reverse with the city ethnic split on each side of the cup.

Figure 9: AEOLIS, Tisna. 4th century BCE. Æ 16 mm. Head of river god Tisnaios left / One- handled cup, TIS-NAION, 3.45 g., SNG Copenhagen 283. (CNG 76, Lot: 693, $350, 9/13/07).
Figure 9: AEOLIS, Tisna. 4th century BCE. Æ 16 mm. Head of river god Tisnaios left / One- handled cup, TIS-NAION, 3.45 g., SNG Copenhagen 283. (CNG 76, Lot: 693, $350, 9/13/07).

Summation

Most of the coins for these minor Aiolian cities are bronze though there are some questionable silver fractions that are available from Autokane, Elaia, Larissa Phrikonis, and Temnos. I say “questionable” since some of the sources mention them, and some do not. I do get the impression that these silver coins are not easy to come by even though the prices do not reflect that they are especially rare. The bronze coins are relatively inexpensive and are readily available for sale. As shown in the figures above, they can be attractive coins.

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Reference

Classical Numismatic Group (CNG)

Grant, Michael. A Guide to the Ancient World: A Dictionary of Classical Place Names. Barnes and Noble (1986)

Head, Barclay V. Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics. Oxford (1887)

Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, ed. The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition. Oxford (1996)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol 2: Asia. B.A. Seaby Ltd. (1979)

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About the Author

Steve M. Benner has a Ph.D. in engineering from the Ohio State University and worked for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for almost three decades before retiring in 2016. He has been an ancient coin collector since the early 1970s and is a member of the ANS, the ANA, and the ACCG. He specializes in coins of the ancient Greek leagues and in Roman Imperial bronzes. Dr. Benner has published over 30 ancient coin articles in various publications and is the author of Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2008) and History and Coinage of the Ancient Greek Leagues, 5th through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2018).

Steve Benner
Steve Benner
Steve M. Benner earned his Ph.D. in engineering from Ohio State University in 1979 and went to teach at Drexel University for five years. After he left Drexel, he joined NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and retired from there after 28 years. Dr. Benner has been an ancient coin collector for over 50 years and is a member of the ANS, the ANA, the ACCG, and the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. (ANSW). Dr. Benner has written over 50 articles and two books on ancient Greek and Roman coins.

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