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Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..

This is the last article in a series on the Greek colonies on the northern coast of the Black Sea (Euxine Sea). The first article was on Olbia; the second was on Tyras and Chersonesus; the third covers the cities of Theodosia, Gorgippia, and Phanagoria in the Cimmerian Bosporos.

Figure 1: Ancient Greek Cities on the Northern Coast of the Black Sea
Figure 1: Ancient Greek Cities on the Northern Coast of the Black Sea

As mentioned previously, most of the colonies in the area that is now southern Ukraine and Russia were settled during the seventh through fifth centuries BCE. The soil in this region was very rich, referred to as the “Black Land”, and cities’ economies were based on fishing, agriculture, viticulture, slaves, and manufacturing. The area’s products were not only traded with the Greek cities of Asia Minor and Greece but also with local tribes, like the Scythians, Sindians, Sarmatians, Taurians, and Maeotians. Wine, weapons, vases, sculptures, slaves, and precious textiles passed through their hands, and as a result the cities became very wealthy.

Almost all the cities in this area became part of the Bosporan Kingdom, established in 480 BCE as a confederation to provide mutual support. It included the Taurian Peninsula (Crimea), the lower Kuban region, and the eastern Azov steppes. The member cities included Tiritaka, Nymphaeum, Hermonassa, Tanais, Theodosia, Gorgippia, and Phanagoria. The capital was at Panticapaeum (present-day Kerch), and, as a result, it became the most prominent city in the area.

In the latter part of the second century BCE, the local tribes began to attack the Greek cities, so the cities turned to Mithridates IV of Pontus for help. He succeeded in driving back the tribes, but he then took over the kingdom and ruled until his death in 63. After that, the Romans took over nominal control of the area.


Panticapaeum was founded by colonists from Miletos around 575 BCE on the site of an earlier Scythian village. Today it is known as Kerch in the Crimea. It is located on the far eastern edge of the Taurian Peninsula on the Kerch Straits, opposite the Taman Peninsula where Phanagoria was situated. The city grew wealthy on the fisheries in the straits and the trade that passed through them, as well as its own trade in grain, pottery, and metalworking.

Panticapaeum had a fortified acropolis and strong walls to protect the city. It also had many monumental buildings and temples to Apollo, Artemis, and Zeus. It created magnificent rock tombs for its principal citizens beyond the city’s walls. The city’s location was dominated by Mount Mithridates, the slopes of which were terraced and covered with the villas of the wealthy. Panticapaeum had an excellent port and covered about 250 acres at its greatest extent.

By the mid-fourth century BCE, the city was wealthy enough to begin minting its own gold coins.

Starting in 480, Panticapaeum was ruled by tyrants and eventually became the capital of the Bosporus Kingdom. In 438/7, the Spartokid dynasty took over the city and Kingdom and expanded the Kingdom’s control. The city benefited from its prominence in the Kingdom. The Sparokids continued to rule the city until the third century BCE when conflict between the members of the kingdom and attacks by the Scythians began to weaken the kingdom. In 108, the cities of the area requested the help of Mithridates IV against the Scythians. The Pontic king defeated the Scythians and incorporated the area into his kingdom, making Panticapaeum his capital. Upon Mthiridates’ death in 63, his son, Pharnaces II took over as ruler but only with the approval of Rome.

Coinage of Panticapaeum

Panticapaeum commenced minting gold and bronze coinage in the mid-fourth century BCE. These beautiful gold coins included staters and fractions. Initially, they were minted to a Bosporan standard of nine grams to the stater, but, by the end of the century, the mint switched to the Attic standard of 8.5 grams. An example of a gold stater of the Bosporan standard is shown below. The obverse has the head of Pan (a pun on the city’s name), and the reverse has a griffin that was believed to guard the sources of the gold in the Scythian hinterland. Below the griffin is an ear of grain that refers to the grain trade. The ethnic PAN is Greek for Pan, the first three letters of the city name and the god. The portraits may have been that of the Spartokid rulers. The gold staters of the two standards are essentially identical.

The gold fractions were the hemistaters (4.55 g) and 1/6 staters (1.51 g). The minting of gold coinage ceased by end of the century.

Pharnaces II, son of Mithridates, struck gold staters during his reign from 63 to 46 BCE. The coin had his head left on the obverse and Apollo seated on the reverse with the legend BAΣIΛEΩΣ BAΣIΛEΩN MEΓAΛOY ΦAPNAKOY above and below. The legend essentially says “This is a coin of the Great King, Pharnakes.”

Silver coinage was started in the fifth century and was minted into the first century. These coins were struck to the Persic standard of 5.55 to the siglos drachm, also referred to as the reduced Aiginetic standard. The typical silver coin of this period had the scalp of a lion on the obverse and an incuse punch reverse. The lion scalp is from Milesian coins, and the incuse could include a swastika or stellate pattern.

The denominations that were struck included the didrachm (9.4 g), drachm or siglos (5.6 g), triobol (2.79 g), diobol (1.86 g), hemiobol (0.46 g) and tetartemorion (0.23 g). The smallest denomination was unusual because it had an ant on the obverse and early catalogues attributed this coin to the city of Myrmekeion (“Ant City”).

Early in the fourth century BCE, the weight of the drachm was reduced to 4.7 grams. The incuse was no longer used, and it featured an obverse of a young or bearded satyr with a lion or griffin reverse. Some of the small denominations had a lion’s scalp obverse and a ram’s head reverse. The siglos and silver fractions were still issued with the majority being the half siglos or triobol.

Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

Midway through the fourth century, Panticapaeum changed their coin standard again, this time to the Chian standard of 15.6 grams to the tetradrachm. This was probably a response to a similar change at Amisos Pontus. In addition to the usual silver fractions, much larger denominations, such as tetradrachms, didrachms, tridrachms, and hexadrachms, were now minted. The coins have an obverse of the head of Apollo or a satyr, and the reverse that of a grazing horse, a satyr’s head, a lion, and/or a bull’s head.

Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

The issuing of silver coins stopped near the end of the fourth century and started up again at the start of the second. The initial coinage held to a reduced Chian standard, but by mid-century, the coinage standard was changed to the Rhodian and reduced Rhodian (3.2 and 2.7 grams per drachm). The Chian standard coins featured an Apollo profile on the obverse, and an eagle, lion, or grain ear on the reverse. The new coins had an Apollo-headed obverse with a tripod or kithara reverse for full Rhodian weight and the forepart of a horse reverse for the reduced weight drachms. For the reduced weight fractions, the head of Poseidon was on the obverse and a trident or star with a cornucopia on the reverse.

Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

As the Bosporan cities came under Mithridates’ influence the coinage changed again, this time to the Attic standard. The didrachm with Dionysos on the obverse and a wreath with a bunch of grapes and the name of the city inside is very similar to that minted in other Bosporan cities at this time (see my article on Theodosia, Gorgippia, and Phanagoria, linked above). The drachm had either an Apollo or Artemis obverse and a bow case, running stag, or grazing stag reverse. For the silver fractions, there are many types of obverses, usually the profiles of gods like Dionysos, Apollo, Athena, or Artemis, and reverses like a star, thyrsus, grain ear, dolphin, or cornucopia.

Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

Panticapaeum began minting bronze coinage about the same time as the gold coinage, mid-fourth century. Three size bronzes coins were initially struck: AA/A (25-33 mm and 11.4-19.9 g), B (18-24 mm and 3.5-8.15 g), and D (10-14 mm and 1.1-2.5 g). The AA/A denomination had the head of the satyr on the obverse and either a bow or an ox’s head on the reverse, but this denomination was discontinued before the end of the century.

Denominations C (14-20 mm and 2.45-7.52 g) and E (9-10 mm) were added in the third century. The B denomination usually had the satyr on the obverse, though other gods would also be used in later centuries, and the reverses were all types that have been mentioned for the precious metal coins, such as bull, griffin, lion, ram, eagle, etc., and some new ones, such as a prow. One type C denomination has a cornucopia flanked by pilei on the reverse that was similar to that seen on some Pontic coins.

Panticapaeum: Ancient Greek Coins of the Black Sea’s Northern Coast

Under the influence of Mithridates, the large bronzes coins were again struck, this time with a Poseidon obverse, a reverse with a ship’s ram, and the full name of the city. They soon switched to the god Men paired with Dionysos for AA/A, and Artemis paired with a stag and Apollo paired with a tripod for B. An A denomination was minted under Pharnaces II that had an Apollo obverse and eagle reverse. The variety of bronze coins struck at Panticapaeum during the first century is large and pretty much includes all the obverse and reverse types covered earlier.


Unlike most of the cities’ coins covered in this series of articles, many coins of Panticapaeum in silver and bronze are readily available and reasonably priced.

Of course, the gold staters can be very pricey, and ditto for large denomination-silver coins like the tetradrachms, didrachms, tridrachms, and hexadrachms. Even some of the early drachms and fractions can be hard to find. But, as shown above, many are available in good condition and at affordable prices. This is also true of the bronze coins. The bronze coins are readily available and can be obtained in excellent condition at a low price. This type of bronze is probably the most commonly recognizable coin of Panticapaeum.

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Cambridge Ancient History, VIII. Rome and the Mediterranean, 218-133 B.C.. Cambridge at University Press (1970).


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).

Hoover, Oliver D. Handbook of Coins of Northern and Central Anatolia, Pontos, Paphlagonia, Bithynia, Phrygia, Galatia, Lykaonia, and Kappadokia (with Kolchis and the Kimmerian Bosporos), Fifth to First Centuries BC [The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series, Volume 7]. Classical Numismatic Group, LLC (2017).

Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, editors. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press (1996).

McDonald, David. An Introduction to the History and Coinage of the Kingdom of the Bosporus [Classical Numismatic Studies, No. 5]. (2005).

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

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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