Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Hunter had some odd coins

Last week I mentioned the so-called Sponsian gold coin.

Dr. William Hunter began to collect coins in about 1770, spending over £22,000. By the time of his death in 1783 he had 12,000 ancient Greek coins and a similar quantity of Roman coins.

The Greek coins were published the 1890s in three volumes (v1, v2, and v3; the author was George Macdonald). Some of the coins, like this tetradrachm, are unique.

vol. 2 p. 274 #6, pl. 48 #10) 13.6g 26.5mm

Although hemidrachms of this denomination are common in museum collections, this tetradrachm is unique. Nothing like it has shown up in 300 years.

This unique coin was first published by M. L. Dutens in 1776. George Macdonald assigned the tetradrachm to 200-133 BC – the period before the start of the Cistophoric-weight tetradrachms. Barclay Head dated it post-190 BC. Presumably he chose 190 BC to place the series after the Battle of Magnesia. This dating is odd because the hemidrachms were dated to 400-300 BC. Both Head and Macdonald thought this was 100 years later.

Perhaps MacDonald couldn’t date it to nearer to the hemidrachms because of the weight standard. The weight, 13.58g, is low for a tetradrachm. MacDonald felt the weight standard was 'Rhodian'. He called the gorgon/cow hemidrachm weight standard 'Persic'.

The HR monogram was used on Macedonian Artemis/club tetradrachms (167-149 BC), Macedonian Pan/Athena tetradrachms (277-239 BC), Macedonian prow/Poseidon tetrachms (294-288 BC), Babylon mint Athena/Nike gold staters (336-323 BC), Alexander Balas tetradrachms (Tyre mint, 150-145 BC), and bronzes of Kyme and Seleucis and Pieria. None of those issues seems possible to link to this tetradrachm.

It is possible that this is an 18th century fantasy. It would be worthwhile to look at all of the unique coins in Hunter's collection to see if they have any traits in common. Of all the coins in all the world's museums, this tetradrachm is the one I'd most like to inspect in person.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Was Sponsian Roman?

The “Sponsian” coin might be legit. I don't think it is Roman, and I don't think any Romans had an emperor named Sponsian.

The artistic style doesn't look Roman, nor does it look like the bronze barbarous radiates struck in Gaul imitating Roman coins.

What it looks like is this:

4.7g, 19.5mm

This is a gold aureus. It is from Andrei Sergeev's collection and currently in the State Historical Museum in Moscow. The photo is from the book Barbarian Coins on the Territory Between the Balkans and Central Asia (Moscow 2012; it is coin #224). It is with other coins found 'between the Balkans and the Dnepr basin'.

This coin has the obverse inscription ZZNZZTWZ ... ONIIʧWZNʧ.

Sergeev's catalog includes four other Ukrainian gold aurei from the same period. They are called Roman imitations, and perhaps they are, but perhaps they are not. They sometimes have pseudo-Roman inscriptions like IMPM... AXMINV.

2.7g, 18mm

Here is a silver coin find, said to have been found on the territory of western Ukraine, Khmelnytsky region near the Dnister river. This is about 500 km from Translyvania where the "Sponsian" coin was found. According to Vital Sidarovich, this type has also been found in south-west Belarus, in the area of the Wielbark culture. Often these types imitate Roman emperors, but this one doesn't seem to.

It is not clear if the inscriptions are portraits are always imitations of things seen on Roman coins. There is no reason they couldn't depict local chieftans.

Elsewhere, Barry Murphy has suggested the Sponsian coin is a cast imitiation. I haven't inspected it personally, but it looks struck, but corroded which gives it a cast look.