Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Archaic gorgon/incuse drachms said to be minted at Parion

(Price and Waggoner, Archaic Greek Coinage: the Asyut hoard, #612)

One of the most common archaic Greek coin types is the gorgon/incuse type. Unfortunately very little has been written about it. Poor specimens are common. Common and ugly coin types can be overlooked, especially without a story backed by a literary source. A very rare and beautiful coin might get several papers speculating upon its origin, even if only a few are known and it had little economic significance at the time. These gorgon/incuse types, which must have played a big role in someone's economy 2500 years ago, are nearly ignored by English-language scholarship. Perhaps this is because nearly all of the 60+ specimens currently offered coin collecting sites are wretched.

In 475 BC someone buried many silver coins near Asyut in Egypt, including the coin I show above. So we know the type was circulating in 475 BC. But where? The Asyut hoard contained only one specimen mixed with coins from all over the Mediterranean. The hoard evidence for this coinage is surprisingly is slim for such a common type in the coin trade. The editors of An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards cite just six hoards. No hoards including the type were found anywhere near Parion in Mysia, the supposed mint city given by every cataloger for the past 100 years.

Furthermore, the hoard evidence is a bit muddled because these coins come in three fabrics. The vast majority have a medium-thick flan and relatively low-relief gorgoneion with soft features. Medium-thick examples typically weigh 3.1-3.4g There is also a very thick type, with sloping sides, weighing 3.5-4.0g. Finally we have light specimens of a thin cupped fabric. For the hoards other than the one buried at Asyut we don't know which variety are being discussed. This is important because the fabric, style, and weights of the three types are so vastly different that we don't know if they are from the same period and mint.

I have attempted to do a die study of the very-thick specimens. I will post my preliminary results here soon. I have been hesitant to post, because what I am seeing is so strange, but there are so few specimens of very thick fabric examples that it seems pointless to sit on the data waiting for confirmation.

I also have a proposal for a mint city that makes a much better candidate than Parion. I had thought it was my own idea, but after much research learned it had been proposed in the early 19th century.

I have always been interested in the type but I recently had a chance to inspect the specimen from the Roland Maly collection. Maly's example looks artistically superior to most other examples. I believe it is from an early state of perhaps the first die. In upcoming posts I will attempt to show why I believe that.

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