By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..
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This article is the second part on the coinage of Troas, a region of northwest Asia Minor adjacent to the Hellespont. Its history goes back to the Bronze Age and the Hittites, and Troy (Ilium), scene of the great battle described in the Iliad, is located near its coast. The cities of Troas have a rich numismatic history in the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
Troas was conquered by the famous Lydian king Croesus around 560 (all dates are BCE unless otherwise noted), but in 547, it became part of the Persian Empire. A number of its cities joined the Ionian Revolt in the 490s, only to be defeated and reabsorbed into the Empire. Upon being freed after the Persian Wars (499-441), Troas’ cites took varying sides during the Peloponnesian War (431-404). Alexander the Great freed the area from Persian rule in 334, and then it became part of his various successors’ domains. It was ceded to Attilid Pergamon in 188 and then bequeathed to the Roman Republic in 133.
This part covers the following cities in alphabetical order: Alexandria, Assos, Gentinos, Gergis, Hamaxitos, Ilion, and Kolone.
Alexandria was located on the west coast of Troas, north of Colone and almost opposite Tenedos. This city is different from the other cities in the Troas in that it was created during the Hellenistic Period. There was a city already on the site called Sigeia, but it was resettled in 306 by Antigonus I Monophthalmus and renamed Antigoneia Troas. Antigonus collected the populations of five other cities in the area to populate the town: Kebren, Kolone, Hamaxitos, Neandria, and Skepsis. However, in 301, Lysimachus changed the name to Alexandria Troas in honor of Alexander the Great (there were dozens of “Alexandrias” in the ancient world).
The city became the chief port of northwest Asia Minor and grew very prosperous, housing a population of 100,000 during its peak. Alexandria was known as a “free and autonomous city” as early as 188. Not much else is known of its history, and it was abandoned sometime during the Byzantine period.
Alexandria began minting coins right after its establishment beginning with gold staters and silver tetradrachms of Lysimachus (Figure 2). This gold stater has Alexander on the obverse and Athena seated on a throne on the reverse. The reverse legend is ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ, which means “of King Lysimachos.”
In the third century, Alexandria also minted the famous Herakles/Zeus tetradrachms that were common in Greek markets and the King/Apollo coins for the Seleucid Empire. The Alexandria mint continued to issue tetradrachms into the second and first centuries, but now the coin might have a god on both sides. In the third century, Alexandria began minting bronze coins. Almost all of them have Apollo’s head on the obverse either facing to the side or forward. A grazing horse was the most common reverse (Figure 3), but later a lyre or a tripod would be substituted. The city ethnic could be the entire name of the city, ALEXNDREWN, or just the first four or five letters.
Assos is located on the northern coast of the Gulf of Adramyttion west of Gargara. The city was settled by Aeolians from Methymna on Lesbos in the eighth or seventh century. The city had one of the few good harbors on the coast, and this made Assos a key shipping port into the Troad. It became part of the Lydian Empire until that fell, when it became part of the Persian Empire. After the Persian Wars, Assos joined the Delian League.
In the fourth century, the city had a golden age when its leader, Hermias, encouraged philosophers to move to the city. Aristotle himself moved to Assos in 348 and married Hermias’ niece. This period ended when the Persians conquered the city in 341 and killed Hermias.
As a port, Assos later suffered from its competition with Alexandria Troas and had to rely more on its agriculture. Like most of the cities in the Troas, Assos was in turn ruled by the Seleucids, Pergamon, and the Roman Republic. Today the city is a small village known as Behramkale.
At the start of the fifth century, Assos began minting silver coins–mostly drachms (3.57 g.) and fractions like tetrobols, diobols, and obols–to the Lydo-Milesian standard. The main type had a griffin on the obverse and a lion’s head on the reverse (Figure 4). The ethnic here is only AS, but later it expanded to ASSION. Another coin type had an astragalos (“knucklebone”) instead of a lion.
By the mid-fourth century, Assos started minting drachms (3.5 g.) and some fractions, along with the fractions already being produced. These had the head of Athena on the obverse and the same lion’s head on the reverse. This changed again late in the fourth century–the lion’s head being replaced with that of a bull facing forward (Figure 5)–and the weight of the drachm fell to about three grams.
In the mid-third century, Assos began minting the standard tetradrachm (17 g.) in the name and types of Alexander III of Macedon. These had the head of Herakles right, wearing a lion’s skin, and Zeus Aëtophoros seated left usually with the forepart of a griffin. This could have been for the Seleucids, though the coin could only have been for trade since this coin was the main coinage for trade by the end of the third century. The minting of bronze coinage began in the mid-fourth century. The bronze coinage mimicked the silver coinage in types.
All civic coinage stopped at the end of the third century – later to be replaced with Roman colonial coinage.
Almost nothing is known of Gentinos, not even its location.
It has been tentatively located near modern Ballı Dağ, Turkey, south of Ilium. It is mentioned as a member of the Delian League between 452/1 and 444/3, but that’s about it. It minted bronze coins from the third to the first centuries. The coins had the head of a female, probably Artemis, on the obverse, and a bee on the reverse. The bee could be in an incuse, a square, a wreath, or just plain (Figure 6). The city ethnic was ΓΕΝ or ΓΕΝΤΙ.
As with Gentinos, the location of Gergis is still undetermined–though it is believed to have been west of Gentinos, north of the Scamander River, and near the modern village of Karınkalı, Turkey. The army of Xerxes passed the city on its way to conquer Greece, and by the time of the historian Xenophon, Gergis had strong walls and an acropolis (a special high-status part of town on a hill), and was one of the chief towns of the Dardanian princess Mania. The city was believed to be the birthplace of the goddess Cybele, and her image appears on the city’s coins. King Attalus (170-133) of Pergamon transplanted the inhabitants of the city to a new site in the territory of Kyme on the coast of the Aegean Sea south of Troas. Afterward, a city called Gergetha or Gergithion, near Larissa Phrikonis, is found in the area.
In the late fifth century, Gergis began minting silver drachms (3.6 g.) and fractions initially with a griffin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse, but this was quickly replaced with a three-quarter facing Syble or Apollo on the obverse and the griffin on the reverse (Figure 7). The city ethnic is GERGISION, but on many coins it was abbreviated to just GER.
Also in the fifth century, Gergis minted silver hemidrachms (2.1 g.) and diobols that had a griffin on the obverse, the head of a gorgon (a gorgoneion) facing forward on the reverse, and no ethnic. This is very similar to the type of coin minted by Abydos (see Part 1) and Kebren at the same time. This implies that a monetary alliance or symmachy existed between these three cities.
Gergis minted bronze coins beginning in the fourth century that mimicked the types seen in the silver issues. All coin production ceased by the end of the third century.
Hamaxitos is located on the coast of the Aegean Sea south of Alexandria Troas and Kolone. It was founded by colonists from Mytilene in the eighth or seventh century. An origin myth says it was settled by Trojan Cretans that upon arriving had all their leather eaten by mice, thus accounting for the term sminthos as ‘mouse’ for Apollo. The city’s district included the temple of Apollo Smintheos, the salt pans at Tragasai, and the Satnioeis River.
Not much is known of its history during and after the Persian Wars, but it is known to have been taken from Mytilene after the Mytilenean Revolt in 427 and was on the Delian League’s tribute list for 425/4 and 422/1 for the relatively high tribute of four talents (equivalent to 24,000 silver drachms!). Hamaxitos derived a lot of its wealth from its salt pans and its excellent harbor.
It was freed from Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 403 but was free only until 399 when the Persian Empire reconquered the city. In 389, the Spartan Dercylidas freed it once again in 389. In 306, Antigonus I combined (synoecized) Hamaxitos, along with four other cities, to create Alexandria Troas, though some scholars have suggested that this did not happen to Hamaxitos until much later. After the synoecism, the temple was rebuilt and a new festival was created. The popularity of Apollo Smintheos grew during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and the city benefited from the number of pilgrims passing through its harbor. The city diminished to insignificance during the Byzantine period.
Hamaxitos began minting its own bronze coinage in the fourth century. These coins depicted a head of Apollo on the obverse and either a lyre or Apollo Smintheos standing right, wearing a long robe, quiver at shoulder, and holding patera (a shallow bowl) and bow (Figure 8) on the reverse. The ethnic legend is ΑΜΑΞΙ, though sometimes the “I” is dropped.
Ilion was settled by the Aeolians around 700 near the site of ancient Troy of the Iliad. There was a famous temple to Athena at the site where Xerxes sacrificed 1,000 cattle at on his way to attack Greece in 480. Following the Persian defeat in 479, Ilion came under the influence of Mytilene, as one of the so-called Actaean cities, until the unsuccessful Mytilenean Revolt in 428–427. Athens then brought Ilion into the Delian League, but in 410 it was returned to Persian control under the dynasts at Lampsacus until liberated in 399 by the Spartan general Dercylidas. However, the city was returned to Persian control by the Peace of Antalcidas in 387–386.
In 360, the city was controlled by Charidemus of Oreus, a Euboean mercenary leader, but was freed by the Athenian Menelaos the following year. In 334, Alexander the Great also sacrificed at the temple and the tombs of the Homeric heroes and freed the city from taxes. Around 310, Athens created a koinon (a regional state) of some of the cities of Troas not absorbed into Alexandrian Troas and those along the coast of the Hellespont. This koinon lasted until the first century CE.
In 302, Ilion was part of the Kingdom of Lysimachus, until his defeat in 281 at the Battle of Corupedium, when the city became part of the Seleucid Empire of Seleucos I Nikator. The city was sacked by the Gauls in 278. When the Seleucid Empire control of Asia Minor collapsed in 189, the city celebrated by issuing a series of tetradrachms call the “Magistrates Series”. Ilion soon came under the control of Pergamon and then the Roman Republic in 133.
Ilion began minting silver drachms (2.87 g.)) and hemidrachms in the latter half of the fourth century. Both silver coins have the head of Athena on the obverse and Athena Ilas standing left holding a spear. Later silver coins and the bronze coins have the ethnic for Ilion of ILI. By the end of the century, the city was also minting bronze coins of either this reverse or a different reverse, e.g., a hydria (water jug).
In the third century, Ilion minted some typical tetradrachms for the Seleucid Empire that had the king on the obverse and Apollo seated left on an omphalos (a religious stone artifact) on the reverse. In the second and first centuries, as mentioned above, Ilion issued an attractive series of stephanophoric tetradrachms (17 g.) that are the same type as the earlier drachm shown in Figure 9, though much nicer. Figure 10 shows one of these. On the reverse, the name of the magistrate (in reality, probably a wealthy citizen that paid to have his name on the coinage) is shown horizontally and vertically is the legend AQHNAS ILIADOS, “Athena of Ilion”.
Kolone is located on the Aegean Sea coast south of Alexandria Troas. In ancient Greek its name means hill or mound since it was located on a hill whose modern name is Beşiktepe (“Cradle hill”). Kolone was also known by its plural, Kolonai. It was probably founded by Aeolians from Mytilene in the seventh century and was controlled by the Lesbos city-state.
Kolone is little mentioned in ancient sources, but its history paralleled that of the other cities in the Troas. It was one of the Actaean cities that was forced to join the Delian League after the Mytilenean Revolt and paid a tribute of 1,000 drachms. As with some of the other cities of the Troas, it was forcibly reincorporated into the Persian Empire in the fourth century, then freed by a Spartan general, and remained semi-autonomous until around 306 when it was part of the synoecism with Antigoneia Troas. It was abandoned after that.
At the end of the fifth century, Kolone began minting small silver fractions of obols and hemiobols. The coins had Athena on the obverse and a star on the reverse (Figure 11). The star is sometimes depicted within a liner square. The bronze coins started being minted in the fourth century, and were very similar to the silver, except the star would have eight rays and the letters of the city ethnic, KOΛΩNΛEΩN, were between the rays of the star.
As with Part 1, Troas coinage is a mixed bag. There are some very attractive gold (Figure 2) and silver (Figure 10) coins that are expensive, but there are a number of coins that are reasonably priced for the collector (Figures 4 & 11) – especially the bronze coins (Figures 3, 6, & 8). Some of these coins are unique in that they are the primary extant evidence of the city’s existence, cities like Gentinos, Gergis, and Kolone. Their coinage is an insight into a city that may have otherwise been lost to time. The Troas is an area rich in history and well worth investigating further.
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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)
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).