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Oh, You Kid: Goats on Ancient Coins

Goats on Ancient Coins. Image: CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.
Goats on Ancient Coins. Image: CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..
GOATS WERE FIRST domesticated as long as 11,000 years ago, probably in the Zagros Mountains of Iran (Daly, 1). The goat (Capra hircus) became a vital and much-loved element of ancient Greek agriculture, providing milk, meat, wool, and skins. Sure-footed goats easily managed the rugged mountainous terrain of Greece, and could thrive on vegetation that other animals found unpalatable or even toxic. So it is not surprising that goats were frequently depicted on ancient Greek coins and adopted as the emblems of certain cities.

A symbol of fertility, the goat was a companion of the god Dionysus and the goddess Artemis. The constellation of Capricorn, one of the 12 signs of the zodiac, was imagined as a creature with the body of a goat and the tail of a fish. Greek mythology even imagined a race of lustful nature spirits, the satyrs[1], who had human bodies with the ears, tails, and hooves of goats.

Ionia

Ionia, (c) 600-550 BCE. Electrum Hekte. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Ionia, (c) 600-550 BCE. Electrum Hekte. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.

Possibly the earliest appearance of a goat on a coin is dated to c. 600 – 550 BCE, at the very dawn of coinage.

From an uncertain mint in Ionia (now the western coast of Türkiye), the coin is a very rare electrum hekte or one-sixth stater of 2.75 grams[2]. The animal depicted is a goat – or perhaps its wild relative, the ibex (Capra aegagrus)[3] with its legs folded beneath it and its head turned to look over its back. The abstract design perfectly fits the chunky round coin. A recent cataloguer described it as “a beautiful piece of wonderful Archaic style.”

Cyzicus

Cyzicus, (c) 550-500 Electrum Stater. Image: Nomos AG.
Cyzicus, (c) 550-500 Electrum Stater. Image: Nomos AG.

The town of Cyzicus (or Kyzikos)[4] on the Sea of Marmara grew rich harvesting the annual migration of tuna between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The fish, often described as a “tunny” (Thunnus thynnus), became the city’s emblem, appearing on its widely circulated coinage of chunky electrum staters, issued c. 550 – 500 BCE. The designs changed every year, so there is a great variety. The head of a billy goat appears on one type[5].

The great American numismatist Wayne Sayles describes this coin as a “masterpiece”:

A remarkably detailed beard and deeply modeled facial features mark this die as the work of a master engraver. It is unusually faithful to nature for such an early work, and it is all the more exceptional, considering that the coin itself is only about 1/2 inch in diameter (Sayles, 160).

Thraco-Macedonian Tribes

Thraco-Macedonia (c.) 520-480 Silver Trihemistater. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Thraco-Macedonia (c.) 520-480 Silver Trihemistater. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.

On the northern borders of the Greek world lived a number of peoples described as “Thraco-Macedonian tribes”. They controlled rich silver mines and learned the use of coinage from their Greek neighbors. Dated to c. 520 – 480 BCE, a rare trihemistater (or 1-1/2 stater piece) described as “the finest of only two specimens known”[6] depicts a kneeling billy goat, rather awkwardly struggling to rise to its feet.

Mytilene

Lesbos (c) 445 BCE Electrum Hecte. Image: Hess-Divo AG.
Lesbos (c) 445 BCE Electrum Hecte. Image: Hess-Divo AG.

The town of Mytilene on the Aegean island of Lesbos issued an extensive series of electrum staters and fractions. A superb little hekte dated to c. 445 BCE bears the front half of a bearded goat, his head turned over his back[7]. The reverse copies the rare and magnificent dekadrachm of Athens, with a spread-winged owl. Lesbos was part of the Athenian Empire during this century.

Evagoras

Cyprus (c) 411-374 BCE silver stater. Image: Nomos AG.
Cyprus Evagoras (c) 411-374 BCE silver stater. Image: Nomos AG.

The island of Cyprus developed a unique culture, with elements from the Greek, Phoenician and Egyptian civilizations. The city of Salamis (not to be confused with the Aegean island of the same name) was the capital of one of the kingdoms that divided the island. A king named Evagoras[8] ruled Salamis at the peak of its power (411 – 374 BCE). His coinage of silver staters[9] and gold quarter-staters[10], is inscribed in the “Cypriote syllabary”[11], a writing system derived from the ancient Minoans. The reverses bear a dignified recumbent goat as the royal emblem.

A cataloguer writes:

A devotee of Hellenic culture, Evagoras aligned himself with Athens at a time when the Persian Empire was powerful and ruled over much of the mainland near the island. Though he was showered with honors by the Athenians, Evagoras attracted the unwanted attention of the Persians, whom he was able to placate through crafty diplomacy and by providing naval support early in the 4th Century. When conflict with Persia became impossible to avoid by about 391, Evagoras proved a worthy and resourceful opponent, working with allies in Greece and Egypt to such a degree that he actually extended his authority into central Cilicia and Phoenicia. However, within a decade the Persians had overwhelmed him and he sued for peace. He was allowed to rule under terms, surviving another seven years until he was murdered as a consequence of court intrigue[12].

Antandros

Troas, Late 5th Century BCE silver tetrobol. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.
Troas, Late 5th Century BCE silver tetrobol. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.

Antandros, in the Troad region of northwestern Anatolia, was located on the forested slopes of Mount Ida[13], an important source of timber. The city’s coinage bears the head of the local goddess, Artemis. A goat standing beside a tree appears on the reverse of a silver tetrobol dated to the late fifth century BCE[14].

Mygdones or Krestones

Mygdones or Krestones, (c) 480-470 silver stater. Image: Leu Numismik AG.
Mygdones or Krestones, (c) 480-470 silver stater. Image: Leu Numismik AG.

The Mygdones and Krestones were Thracian tribes who lived in northern Greece and were strongly influenced by trade with their Greek neighbors. They controlled rich silver mines and produced an extensive series of staters and diobols bearing a billy goat[15]. For many years, these coins were attributed to the Macedonian city of Aigai.

In a brilliant paper, the American numismatist Catharine Lorber argues that these coins were produced by the Krestones or Mygdones. She writes:

The die cutting is accomplished, combining modeling with drill techniques so that the type is unified and readable at a glance despite its decorative accretions … The goat’s horns are exceptionally long, with a pronounced whiplash shape … The legs are typically well articulated, and the testes usually protrude between the hind legs (Lorber, 122-123).

Aigai

Aeolis. Aigai 4th-3rd centuries BCE bronze. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Aeolis. Aigai 4th-3rd centuries BCE bronze. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.

Aigai in the region of Aiolis in northwestern Anatolia was a major sanctuary of the god Apollo, who appears on the obverse of the city’s coinage. A goat appears on the reverse. This is a kind of pun on the city’s name, since aix (plural aiges) is the Greek word for “nanny goat”.

The head of a goat is realistically rendered on a rare and elegant small bronze coin dated to the late fourth or early third century BCE. Described as a “beautiful piece, very well preserved and of fine style.” this coin brought about $573 USD in a 2022 Swiss auction[16].

Paros

Paros (c) 490-480 BCE silver drachm. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.
Paros (c) 490-480 BCE silver drachm. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.

The island of Paros[17] in the Aegean Sea was famed for its fine white “Parian” marble, prized by Greek sculptors. For centuries, the coins of Paros depicted a goat, kneeling or standing, as the island’s emblem. A very fine silver drachma, in archaic style, dated to c. 490 BCE brought $6,000 in a 2023 New York auction[18].

The lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 – 468 BCE) mentioned this type in the dedication inscribed on the base of a statue to Artemis:

Of Artemis this is the statue, two hundred, yes, this was the price

It cost me in Parian drachmas, each bearing a goat as device.

This may be the earliest literary reference to a specific coin type (Seltman, 90).

Kelenderis

Cilicia, Kelenderis Silver Stater, (c) 410-375 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.
Cilicia, Kelenderis Silver Stater, (c) 410-375 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.

Kelenderis (today the coastal town of Aydıncık[19], Türkiye) was founded by Phoenician settlers in the eighth century BCE and became a thriving Greek city in the fifth century. Kelenderis adopted the goat as its civic emblem. A silver stater dated to c. 410 – 375 BCE and “struck from dies of beautiful style[20],” bears an elegant kneeling billy goat, his head turned to look backwards.

Ainos

Ainos, Silver Tetradrachm, (c.) 455. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Ainos, Silver Tetradrachm (c.) 455. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Ainos (c.) 372-369 BCE silver tetradrachm. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Ainos (c.) 372-369 BCE silver tetradrachm. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.

The city of Ainos (or Aenus, now Enez, Türkiye) in the region of Thrace was a prosperous seaport. The coinage features the head of the god Hermes, wearing a distinctive soft cap, the petasos. The reverse usually depicts a standing goat. An example pedigreed to the famous Jameson Collection brought over $53,000 in a May 2023 Swiss auction[21]. Frédéric-Robert Jameson (1861 – 1942), a French banker of Scottish ancestry, assembled an extensive collection of superb Greek coins.

Philip V

Kings of Macedon (c.) 221-179 bronze. Image: Numisfitz GmbH.
Kings of Macedon (c.) 221-179 bronze. Image: Numisfitz GmbH.

Philip V became king of Macedon at the age of nine and took power at the age of 17 in 221 BCE. Handsome and courageous, Philip was a popular leader. He fought successfully against a Spartan-led alliance in the “Aetolian War” (220 – 217) and came into conflict with the rising power of Rome in the First (214 – 205) and Second (200 – 197) Macedonian Wars. Seriously defeated at the Battle of Cynoscephalae[22], Philip was allowed to retain his kingdom but he was forced to disband his army and fleet, pay an indemnity of 1,000 talents[23], and send his sons to Rome as hostages.

A charming bronze coin of Philip, bears the head of Herakles on the obverse and a pair of goats lying side by side, with the single Greek letter phi (Φ) as the king’s initial[24].

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Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyr

[2] Leu Auction 13, May 27, 2023, Lot 127. Realized CHF 6,500 (about $7,174 USD; estimate CHF 2,000).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_goat

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyzicus

[5] Nomos Auction 24, May 22, 2022, Lot 164. Realized CHF 5,000 (about $5,144 USD; estimate CHF 5,000).

[6] NAC Auction 126, November 17, 2021, Lot 65. Realized CHF 7,500 (about $8,077 USD; estimate CHF 8,000).

[7] Hess-Divo Auction 332, May 31. 2017, Lot 43. Realized CHF 5,000 (about $5,167 USD; estimate CHF 2,500).

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evagoras_I

[9] Nomos Auction 24, May 22, 2022, Lot 242. Realized CHF 13,000 (about $13,373 USD; estimate CHF 4,500).

[10] NAC Auction 114, May 6, 2019, Lot 321. Realized CHF 32,000 (about $31,443 USD; estimate CHF 40,000).

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypriot_syllabary

[12] NAC Auction 114, May 6,2019, Lot 321. Realized CHF 32,000 (about $31,443 USD; estimate CHF 40,000).

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Ida_(Turkey)

[14] CNG E-auction 362, October 28, 2015, Lot 124. Realized $200 USD (estimate $200).

[15] Leu Numismatik Auction 11,May 14, 2022, Lot 52. Realized CHF 8,000 (about $8,014 USD; estimate CHF 5,000).

[16] Leu Web Auction 23, August 22, 2022, Lot 3326. Realized CHF 550 (about $573 USD; estimate CHF 75).

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paros

[18] CNG Triton XXVI, January 10, 2023, Lot 180. Realized $6,000 USD (estimate $3,000).

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayd%C4%B1nc%C4%B1k,_Mersin

[20] Roma Numismatics Auction XXVIII, July 5, 2023. Realized £800 (about $1,017 USD; estimate £500).

[21] NAC Auction 138, May 18, 2023, Lot 149. Realized CHF 48,000 (about $53,021 USD; estimate CHF 20,000).

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cynoscephalae

[23] Equal to 26 metric tons of silver, or 1,500,000 silver tetradrachms.

[24] Numisfitz Auction 1, March 26, 2023, Lot 132. Realized €85 (about $91 USD; estimate €25).

References

Daly, Kevin G. et al. “Herded and hunted goat genomes from the dawn of domestication in the Zagros Mountains”, PNAS 118 (2021)

Kraay, Colin. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. New York (1976)

Lorber, Catharine C. “The Goats of Aigai”, Pour Denyse: Divertissements Numismatiques. S. Hurter and C. Arnold-Biucchi, eds. Bern (2000)

Sayles, Wayne. Ancient Coin Collecting II: Numismatic Art of the Greek World. Iola, WI (1997)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 1: Europe. London (1978)

–. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 2: Asia & Africa. London (1979)

Seltman, Charles. Greek Coins. London (1955)

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Mike Markowitz - CoinWeek Ancient Coin SeriesMike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York, and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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1 COMMENT

  1. To Mike Markowitz; In your article about goats on ancient coins, I noticed you did not mention any Roman or Parthian issues with that type. There are many such types, and from other ancient mints I have not mentioned.

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