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Coins of Ancient Greek Pamphylia

By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..

Pamphylia was not a country unto itself but a region. It is located on the southern coast of Asia Minor (Modern Turkey) surrounded by Lycia to the west, Cilicia to the east, and Pisidia to the north. In ancient Greek, Pamphylia meant “of mingled tribes or races”, and the people who settled the region are said to have been from Argos, led by the hero Mopsos after the Trojan War.

Upon the defeat of Croesus in 547 (all dates are BCE unless otherwise noted), the region passed into the Persian Empire under Cyrus. Between 468 and 465, Cimon of Athens drove the Persians out, and the area joined the Delian League. The Persians retook the region late in the Peloponnesian War, and it was not free again until Alexander the Great drove the Persians out of Asia Minor in 334, after which it was controlled by the Seleucids and the Ptolemies.

In 190, Pamphylia was annexed to Pergamon by the Romans; later it may have become part of Cilicia before being absorbed into the Roman province of Asia in 44 BCE. During the Hellenistic Age, this area was a major trading hub for the western Mediterranean. There were two cities in Pamphylia that minted substantial Greek coins: Aspendos and Side; and three less prolific ones: Perge, Attalia, and Sillyon (see Figure 1).

Coins of Ancient Greek Pamphylia


Aspendos was located about 12 km from the coast on the river Eurymedon, which is where Cimon defeated the Persians in around 465. Ships from the coast could sail up the river to access Aspendos, making the city a major port on the Mediterranean. It was located on two large hills, and an agora (marketplace) lined with numerous structures was located on the top of the larger hill. These structures were later supplemented by the Romans with other buildings, including one of the best-preserved Roman theaters in the world. After Alexander, the city became populous and wealthy, trading in salt, corn, wine, oil, and horses.

Aspendos was one of the first cities in the region to begin minting coins in its own name. Around 465, Aspendos began minting silver staters (10.75 g.) and, to a much lesser degree, obols to the Persic standard. The stater had a hoplite warrior with a spear and shield on the obverse and a triskeles in an incuse square on the reverse. The city ethnic of ΕΣ is above on the reverse. The city ethnic can be either ΕΣ, ΕΣΤ, ΕΣΤF, or EΣTFEΔIIYΣ, which refers to the ancient name of the city (in Hittite or Phoenician), Estvediys. The obols (12mm, 0.96 g.) minted at this time had a vase on the obverse and the triskeles on the reverse. The triskeles means “three-legged” in Greek and is a very ancient symbol.

Pamphylia Coins

In 420, the stater style changed to what would become the most commonly known coin of Aspendos.

In Figure 3, the stater shown has two wrestlers on the obverse with between them and on the reverse is a slinger, ready to release a bullet, inside a dotted square with a triskeles to the right and the full city ethnic to the left. The city was known for providing slingers for armies. This type of coin was minted in large quantities.

The city also minted drachms (18mm, 5.37 g.) or half staters; these had a warrior (Mopsos) on horseback with a spear on the obverse and a boar standing on the reverse. The obol was changed to having a Gorgoneion, or head of Medusa, facing with tongue protruding on the obverse and the helmeted head of Athena right on the reverse.

The city also produced Alexander the Great (336-323) tetradrachms with the Herakles obverse and Zeus seated reverse during his lifetime (see Figure 9). In the middle of the third century, the city stopped minting silver coins.

Coins of Ancient Greek Pamphylia

The city began minting bronze coins at the start of the fourth century and continued to produce them down to the time of the Roman emperor Augustus. Their types are nothing like the silver coins, and there are too many types to be covered in this article. Figure 4 shows a typical example.


Side is located on a small peninsula about 20 km east of the mouth of the Eurymedon River. It was settled by people from Cyme in Aeolis in the seventh century but may have been the site of an earlier Hittite settlement. The name Side is Anatolian and means “pomegranate”. Side had a good harbor that allowed it to become a major trading port and was a hub of the slave trade. It was surrounded by high walls that had two gates in the eastern fortifications. The city had an excellent sewage system under the main street and has one of the best preserved latria (public toilets) in Anatolia. A temple to Tyche was located in the forum. Side citizens continued to use a local language into at least the second century BCE that has not been deciphered. Athena was the patron goddess of the city and appeared on its coinage. Alexander took the city in 333 and introduced it to Hellenistic culture, which flourished in the city down to the first century.

After Alexander’s death, Side was first controlled by Antigonos I; then Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt; and lastly the Seleucids. In 190, the Seleucids were defeated by Rhodes at sea and Side became independent. In the second century, Side became a wealthy commercial, intellectual, and entertainment center. However, Side was economically drained by its constant conflict with Aspendos and was eventually eclipsed by Attalia. It was a principal port for pirates in the first century until their defeat by Pompey the Great in 67.

The minting of silver coinage began in Side at about the same time as in Aspendos, around 470. The first coins were staters of the Persic standard (10.7 g.) and some silver fractions, tetrobols (3.45 g.) and obols (0.78 g.). Figure 5 shows an example of the first issues. It has a pomegranate inside a dotted circle on the obverse, and the head of Athena in an incuse square on the reverse. Another type of stater that is very rare has a raven on the reverse instead of Athena. The style of the fractions was the same as the staters.

At the beginning of the fourth century, Side changed its type of coins to one that had Athena standing holding Nike (later an owl) on the obverse and Apollo standing holding a phiale (a libation bowl) and sacrificing over an altar on the reverse (Figure 6). The reverse has an example of the local language that the Sidians used until late into the Hellenistic period. The style of the tetrobols was similar to that of the staters, and the obol had a lion’s head obverse and Athena in a crested Corinthian helmet reverse.

In the late fourth century and most of the third century, there seemed to be a hiatus of coin minting, because it is not until near the end of the third century that Side began minting again with a new type of silver coin. There are two denominations: a tetradrachm (16.9 g.) and a drachm (3.9 g.), both to the Attic (Corinthian?) standard. The obverse has Athena in a Corinthian helmet, and the reverse has Nike advancing left holding a wreath with a pomegranate to the left (Figure 7). These coins were minted in large quantities until late in the first century. In the third through first centuries, Side also minted bronze coins that are similar in type to that of the silver.

Perge, Attalia, and Sillyon

Perge was located on a wide plain between the rivers Katarrhactes and Kestrus and about 11 km from the mouth of the latter. The river made the land productive and provided access to the sea in spite of the city being 11 km from the coast. In the seventh century, the city was colonized by settlers from the Argolid Peninsula and Sparta and may have become a colony of Rhodes. The city had a famous temple to Artemis located on the acropolis in the northern part of the city. Perge did not start minting silver coins until about 250. This first type is a tetradrachm with a profile of Artemis on the obverse and a standing Artemis holding a wreath and scepter on the reverse (Figure 8). The legend on the reverse is AΡTEMIΔOΣ ΠEΡΓAIAΣ, which stands for “Artemis of Perge”. This type continued to be minted with some variations to about 150.

From about 211 to 188, the city also struck a tetradrachm type similar to that of Alexander the Great showing Herakles’ head on the obverse and Zeus seated on a reverse with Alexander’s name to the right (Figure 9). This was probably instigated by the Seleucids. It is unclear if the Artemis tetradrachms continued to be minted at the same time as these new tetradrachms or their minting stopped until after 188. Drachms and hemidrachms similar to the Artemis type were minted in the second century, and bronze coins were minted in the third through first centuries with Artemis appearing on almost all types.

Attalia was founded by King Attalus II of Pergamon in about 150 and became part of the Roman Republic when Pergamon was transferred to the Romans. Attalia is 18 km west of Perge along the coast. It was referred to as the “heaven on earth” because of its beautiful scenery and nice weather, and quickly became an important city.

Attalia minted only bronze coins, starting soon after its establishment. Figure 10 shows an example with Poseidon on the obverse and Nike on the reverse. Most of the themes on the coins are nautical–Poseidon, dolphins, rudders, and trident–but there were some that had Athena on them as well. The city ethnic is the name of the city ATTAΛEΩN.

Of Sillyon, little is known of its early history, and, in Hellenistic times, it has the same history as that of Pamphylia. Sillyon began minting silver tetradrachms (16.75 g.) of the same Alexander type as that of Perge but a decade earlier and stopped around 211 BCE (see Figure 9). No more silver coins were minted after that. Bronze coins were struck only in the third century and used the profile of Apollo, Ares, or Herakles on the obverse and a variety of reverse types like Zeus seated, a nude male standing, or a thunderbolt. Figure 11is an example of one of these bronzes and has Apollo on the obverse and a thunderbolt on the reverse. The city ethnic of ΣEΛY/NIYΣ is on the reverse.

Summation: Coins of Pamphylia

Most of the silver coins of Pamphylia minted by Aspendos, Sidon, and Perge are not very expensive and are readily available. This is especially true of the Aspendos staters (Figure 3) and Sidon tetradrachms (Figure 7), which were minted in large quantities. Of course, in Very Fine condition, they can be expensive (Figures 2 & 5); also there are a few that are rare and very pricey (Figure 6). As expected, the bronze coins are not very pricey (Figures 4, 10, & 11) but unfortunately are not easy to find for sale.

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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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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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