Type of the Month

October 2023: A close connection: Olivier Picard and Thasos

The Type of this Month is presented by Angela Berthold

We would like to dedicate our Coin of the Month for October to the honourable memory of Olivier Picard, who passed away on Thasos in September. This distinguished archaeologist and numismatist was one of the foremost experts on Thasian coinage, a subject he extensively covered in numerous essays spanning all minting periods.

For this occasion, we have selected a bronze type that is uncommon for Thasos. Unlike the customary depictions of Heracles or Dionysus, or their associated symbols, this coin showcases Demeter and the Dioscuri. Understanding how this came about requires a closer examination of the coin type and reference to Olivier Picard's writings.

These bronze coins belong to the heaviest bronze denominations ever minted on Thasos, weighing an average of around 8 grams. On the obverse, one finds the veiled head of Demeter in right-facing profile, adorned with a wreath of wheat. On the reverse, the Dioscuri are depicted in a staggered arrangement, distinguishable by the stars above their heads or on their caps. Vines with grapes, likely a homage to ancient Thasian motifs, encircle the Dioscuri; 'ΘΑΣΙΟΝ' is inscribed beneath their necks. It is worth noting that many coins of this type bear a countermark with a round motif of a club, usually on the reverse. Some coins with this motif are overstrikes on earlier types.

In a publication from 2000 on Thasian coins, Olivier Picard noted that this type lacks a connection to the preceding or subsequent bronze coinage, and it begins with unusually high weights. He includes chalkoi in this series, featuring the head of Heracles on the obverse and a pileus with a star (de style très pauvre) on the reverse (CN Type 20934). Picard characterized this coinage as a product of a brief period of monetary isolation for the island of Thasos, linking it to a short-lived tyranny around 310 BC. According to Picard, this aligns with the archaeological contexts in which this type has been found on Thasos, and the countermarks with the customary motif suggest that this was the intended way for these coins to circulate. The persons behind the tyranny and the significance of the coin motifs for it remain subjects of speculation.

This unique combination of Demeter and the Dioscuri can only be observed on coins from Roman times in Moesia, neighbouring Thrace, specifically in Kallatis and Tomis. In Kallatis, the Dioscuri are depicted on horseback, while in Tomis, they are represented by their caps. Around the same period, a similar motif is only known from Sicily, in Tyndaris, where only the caps with the stars are featured on the reverse of the coins. It is evident: there are still enigmas awaiting resolution in Thasian coinage.

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