By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..
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This article is the fourth and final part of the series on the coinage of Troas (or Troad), the northeast district of Asia Minor (Anatolia). Its history goes back to the time of the Hittites (1700 to 1200 BCE; all dates BCE unless otherwise noted), and its claim to fame was that the city of Troy (later Ilion/Ilium) was located there. Troy was the setting for Homer’s Iliad, which describes the siege of the city by the Mycenean Greeks around 1194.
This four-part series encompasses a brief history of the Greek city-states of Troas and their coins during the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods (seventh through first centuries) and covers their respective coinages. The area was dominated by a number of greater powers, including the Persians, the Macedonians, and finally the Romans. Most of the cities have a rich history of minting coins, while several are known almost exclusively from their coinage. This part discusses the following cities in alphabetical order: Sigeion, Skamandreia, Skepsis, Tenedos, Thymbra, and Zeleia.
Sigeion was located on the Sigean Promontory at the mouth of the Scamander River on the Aegean coast. This promontory was considered by the Greeks as the mouth of the Hellespont. The city was named after the ancient Greek word sige, meaning “silent place”, a term contrary to the reality of the area. It was settled by Mytileneans from nearby Lesbos in the eighth or seventh century.
At the end of the seventh century, the Athenians tried to conquer the city. Periander of Corinth arbitrated the dispute and found in favor of Athens. In the 540s, Mytilene recaptured Sigeion, but the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus retook the city and put his son in charge. Hippias, the tyrant’s other son, spent his exile in the city and put his name and an owl on the city’s coinage.
Sigeion was a member of the Athenian-led Delian League in the fifth century, being noted 15 times between 450/49 and 418/17, and initially paid a tribute of 1,000 drachmas that rose to 1 talent (6,000 drachmas) by 417. The Athenian general Chares ruled the city in the 340s and 330s and some of the city’s coinage may belong to this period. Sigeion become entangled in a dispute with Tenedos around this time as well. Lysimachos captured the city in 306 from Antigonos I, and, in 168, the city sheltered the fleet of Perseus of Macedon. The city was abandoned in the early part of the first century CE.
The influence of Athens can be seen in the coinage of Sigeion since Athena and an owl are the main symbols on the coins. In the late fourth and third centuries, Sigeion began minting silver drachms (3.1 g., which is light for an Attic drachm of 4.3 g.) and some fractions – but these fractions seem to be very rare. Figure 2 shows a drachm with the head of Athena facing three-quarters right on the obverse and an owl with a moon on the reverse. The ethnic for the city SIGE is to the right of the owl. I am not sure why the silver coinage is so scarce because the city seemed to be prosperous based on the Athenian tribute list.
Bronze coins were minted in the mid-third century, and most are identical to the type shown in Figure 2. Two less common types have a two-bodied owl or a crescent on the reverse. Figure 3 shows the latter type with the Athena obverse and crescent reverse with the ethnic to the right. The coinage stopped being issued by the end of the fourth century.
Almost nothing is known about Skamandreia except that it was probably located on the Skamander River maybe 32 km west of Skepsis.
Only bronze coins were minted by the city, and these were produced during the second half of the third century. The most common type is shown in Figure 4 and has the nymph Ide on the obverse and a fir tree and boar’s head on the reverse. The city ethnic of SKA is on the reverse.
One alternative type had a pinecone instead of a fir on the reverse. Another type had the head of Artemis on the obverse and on the reverse Artemis holding a bow and reaching for an arrow in her quiver. A rare third type that appears to have been minted by the satrap Autophradates I, just prior to mid-century (380-350) has a Persian head on the obverse and a horse’s forepart facing right and [S]KA on the reverse. This would indicate that the Persians had control of the city during this period.
Skepsis was located in the interior of Troas on the slope of Mt. Ida. There was a much older site called Palea-Scepsis about 12 km further up the slope that is considered the most ancient ruin in Asia Minor. Skepsis was incorporated into Antigonia (later Alexandria) Troas about 306 and was no longer an independent city. However, some years later the people returned to the city, and it became a mint for the Seleucids in the mid-third century. Also, Skepsis was one of the group of cities that minted stephanophoric (“wreath-bearing”) silver tetradrachms on the Attic weight standard in the late Hellenistic period.
The coinage of Skepsis is relatively easy to recognize since almost all the coinage both silver and bronze are of the same type, featuring the forepart of Pegasos on the obverse and a fir tree in an incuse square on the reverse (Figure 5). The city began minting silver drachms and fractions in the fifth century. The coin in Figure 5 has the city name of SKHYION on the obverse. Three other types used on small fractions were: 1) head of horse right obverse, same reverse; 2) full Pegasos flying right obverse, same reverse; and 3) forepart of horse obverse and bunch of grapes in an incuse square reverse. The use of grapes on so many of the coins would indicate that the region probably produced a great deal of wine, which may have been a major export. The minting of coins ended after the city’s incorporation around 306.
As mentioned above, the population returned to Skepsis sometime in the third century and seems to have flourished. As with several Troas cities in the early first century, Skepsis minted some very attractive stephanophoric tetradrachms. Figure 6 shows an unpublished tetradrachm with the name of the city, EKHWI2N, on the reverse.
The minting of bronze coins was started in the fourth century, and the types are the same as that of the silver coins. The one exception is a type that is quite different (I only found one of these) that has the archaic head of Dionysos right wearing an ivy wreath on the obverse and a bunch of grapes and a thyrsus (a staff tipped with an ornament like a pinecone) with SK on the reverse. This coin may or may not be a coin of Skepsis, but the reference to Dionysos would be appropriate.
Strategically located at the opening of the Hellespont, Tenedos is by far the largest city-state to be covered in this part, and the island is the third largest in Turkey. Both the island and the city are called Tenedos.
The island is mentioned in the Iliad as the place where the Achaeans waited for the Trojans to drag the Trojan Horse into their city. The island may have gotten its name from the Greek hero Tenes, who ruled the island and was killed by Achilles at Troy. Well-stocked graves indicated the city was very prosperous due to grape and olive production. Archaeology has confirmed that the city had a history that stretched back to the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000–2700).
In 493, the Persian Empire conquered the island, but the city later rebelled. During the fifth and fourth centuries, Athens had a naval base on the island and, in 450, Athens sent a fleet to boost its naval presence on the island. Tenedos was sacked by the Spartans in 389, but the Athenians defeated the Spartans when they tried again two years later. During Alexander’s campaign in Asia, the Persians retook the island and destroyed the city walls. Later Alexander’s commander Hegelochus retook the island and city, which then made an alliance with Alexander and sent 3,000 soldiers to join his campaign.
The island was not very suitable for extensive farming or grazing. Most items had to be imported. They did grow marjoram (an herb similar to oregano), a spice used in Greek cooking, and a major occupation was ferrying. The city suffered economically with the creation of Alexandria Troas around 306. In 133, the island was willed to the Roman Republic by Attalus III of Pergamon. In 73, Mithridates of Pontus was decisively defeated by the Romans in a large naval battle fought near the island. The city declined under the Republic but revived in the first century CE under the Roman Empire.
Tenedos’ minting began in the middle of the sixth century with didrachms (8.94 g.) and silver fractions. These had a janiform male/female head (“janiform” means one head with two faces) on the obverse and a double ax on the reverse (like Figure 8). The double ax, or pelekys, is the symbol most associated with the city. It was thought to refer to the decapitation penalty for adultery, but most likely it was a religious symbol or a trade unit of currency. The two figures on the obverse are probably Zeus and Hera, but some have suggested it is Tenos and his young stepmother Philonome.
A much rarer second type has a male head, thought to be Tenos, on the reverse (Figure 7). Writing above on the reverse is TEN-E (retrograde), the city ethnic. Tenedos and Lesbos are believed to be the first Greek coins to put lettering on their coins.
Figure 8 is a drachm (3.4 g.) that is the standard Tenedos-type coin. Below the ax on the reverse, it has a bunch of grapes and a cicada. Also, the city name, TENEDION, surrounds the ax. The bronze coinage was minted starting in the fifth century and used the same reverse as Figure 5 but had Artemis or Athena on the obverse. The issuing of both silver and bronze coins died off at the end of the fourth century (probably due to declining economics conditions). However, at the start of the first century, Tenedos was another of the cities that began issuing beautiful stephanophoric tetradrachms (16.5 g.) and drachms (see Figure 6). Figure 9 is a tetradrachm with the janiform obverse and the ax reverse within a laurel wreath. A monogram, a bunch of grapes, and the caps of the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) are below the ax and TENEΔIΩN above.
Thymbra was located on the plain formed by the river Thymbrios, which empties into the Skamander River. The city was about 7 km southeast of Ilium and was known for its large temple and sanctuary to Apollo (Apollo Thymbraios). Thymbra disappeared by the end of the fourth century.
Thymbra only minted bronze coins starting in the fourth century. They are of the same type: the head of Zeus obverse and an eight-rayed star on the reverse. The city ethnic of QU was placed between two rays.
Zeleia was located in the northeast corner of Troas at the foot of Mt. Ida and on the Aesepus River. It was about 12 km inland from the river’s mouth. Zeleia is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as a Trojan ally. The city was part of the Persian Empire by the late sixth century, and Arthmios of Zeleia was considered an outlaw because he brought Persian gold to the Peloponnesus. In 334, the city was where the Persian satraps met to decide on their strategy against Alexander’s invasion. Zeleia was abandoned sometime after the fourth century.
Zeleia began minting silver coins in the fifth century, mainly small fractions like hemidrachms and obols. Figure 11 is an example of the hemidrachm with a chimaera on the obverse and a facing gorgon in an incuse on the reverse. How these images relate to the city is unknown. These coins are rare and expensive.
The silver coinage stopped being issued by the fourth century and was replaced by small bronze coins with a standing stag on the reverse (Figure 12). The head of Artemis was on the obverse and the city ethnic of XELE around the stag was on the reverse. Another less common type of bronze was one that replaced the stag with a monogram within a wreath of grain ears and with the ethnic intertwined.
There are not a lot of good choices for the casual collector in the cities of this part. Almost all of the silver coins are expensive due to their scarcity (Figures 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11), but they are very attractive coins if the opportunity arises to get one at a bargain price. Even some of the bronzes can be more expensive than bronzes from other cities (Figures 10 and 12), but those of Sigeion (Figures 3 and 4) are less costly.
The cities of Troas provide a rich inventory of silver and bronze coins that represent some of the most beautiful coins on the market and–aside from some coins of which we have very few extant examples–are readily available from numismatic auctions and vendors.
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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).