Topography and History
Sestos was located on the Thracian Chersonese, on the side facing the Dardanelles. Opposite on the mainland of Asia Minor was the city of Abydos, whose coinage shares some similarities with Sestos. Sestos was an Aeolian foundation of Lesbos from the early 6th century BC.1 One of the most important routes between Europe and Asia passed through the city, whose port was the basis of its wealth as a main grain trading centre between the Black Sea and Thrace. There is archaeological evidence for high city walls that led to the port on a protected route.
A number of historical facts are known about the city: like the whole of the Chersonese, Sestos was originally under Miltiades’ control until it was taken over by the Persians; it was there that Xerxes crossed the Hellespont with the help of a pontoon bridge during his Greek campaign; it was a member of the Delian League ca. 480-479 BC; and tribute payments were made for at least the year 446/5 BC and probably lasted until the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. During the war, the Attic fleet used the port of Sestos as a naval base. After the Battle of Aigospotamoi in 405 BC, the city was occupied by the Spartan commander Lysander. Subsequently, in the 4th century BC, Sestos was controlled variably by the Spartans, Athenians, Persians, and finally the Odrysians under Cotys I. Alexander the Great was attracted to the city in 334 BC because he symbolically wanted to cross the Hellespont with his troops at the same place as Xerxes. After Alexander's death, the city belonged to the territory of Lysimachus. Even after the death of Lysimachus, Sestos' history of constant changes of power continued. Before it passed into Roman control, the city was under Ptolemaic, Macedonian, and Attalid influence.
Mythologically, Sestos is one of the sites featured in the tragedy of Hero and Leander. Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite in Sestos, lived there in a tower. Leander from Abydos fell in love with her and swam the Hellespont to meet her every night. A lamp she had lit in the tower showed him the right way, but when the light went out in winter due to a storm, he drowned. When his body was found washed ashore, Hero threw herself to her death from the tower.2
State of Research
The pre-imperial coins of Sestos were compiled for the first time in an article by H. von Fritze, in which he described the Menas inscription of the 2nd century BC, which had been handed down from Sestos. He distinguished two periods for this coinage on the basis of the styles, the mintmarks, and the types used.3 In Hoover's anthology, these bronze types are listed by nominal level.4 Roman coinage can be found in the corresponding volumes of RPC5 and online in their database,6 as well as in Varbanov.7 A comprehensive study of the coinage of Sestos remains a desideratum.
Minting System and Typology
Other than the Lysimachus coinage, only bronzes are known from Sestos.8 The pre-imperial coinage probably begins analogously to the other bronze coinage of the Chersonese in the mid-to-late 4th century BC. The motifs of the bronze coinage revolve around Demeter/Persephone and Hermes, whereby Demeter or Persephone is shown either seated on a cista mystica or as a profile head, sometimes with a wreath of ears of corn. Hermes also appears as a full figure standing or as a profile head; furthermore there are many types with a herm. In addition, the motif of an amphora often appears either as the main motif or as a mintmark. Furthermore, there are representations of Apollo and lyre, Dionysus and a thyrsus, as well as an unidentified head and cornucopia. These appear exclusively in the smaller denominations. The main types of Demeter and Hermes seem to allude to the grain trade to which the city owes its wealth.
The classification of these pre-imperial bronze types to the three bronze denominations common on the Thracian Chersonese is particularly difficult with regard to the transitions from one level to the other. It is also interesting to note the alternate spelling of the legend with H or A, such as ΣA or ΣH, in the earlier phase of bronze coinage.
It is often the case that the differentiation of the equally weighted types in the sense of an emission takes place via monograms and mintmarks. Some of these are known to us so far only from the literature without being able to record examples.9 Additionally, other types known from the literature cannot be verified on the basis of the material available to us.10
With regard to the Roman imperial period, coins for Sestos have so far been documented under the following rulers:11 Augustus, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian,12 Septimius Severus, Iulia Domna, Caracalla, Severus Alexander, Gordian III,13 Philip the Arab, and Gallienus. The lyre is the constant motif on the reverse from Augustus to Hadrian, and a reverse with a cornucopia has survived only from the reign of Augustus.14 After that, single-figure motifs of Genius, Homonoia, and Apollo are found on the reverse sides, very similar in their posture with an outstretched right arm; from Gordian III, Serapis also appears in this configuration. The familiar motif of Hero and Leander appears regularly on coin reverses from Septimius Severus onward.15 This motif, which is shared with the coinage of Abydos, thus remains the only one specific to Sestos and clearly linked to a local reference in the entire series of the city.
Our type catalogue represents the state of research as of January 2021 and does not take into account any coin types that became known later. Further information, especially on new types, is always welcome.
The attribution of some Lysimachus emissions to the mint of Sestos may be questionable. ↑
For example, Hoover 2017, 174 no. 1659. No evidence for amphora on obverse, compare here no. 1651 with the higher weight. ↑
In Varbanov 2007, no. 2983 is also a coin for Antoninus Pius. ↑
Varbanov 2007, no. 2979 with reverse caduceus and no. 2982 with reverse legend CACTIΩN, so far no voucher specimens known. ↑
Varbanov 2007, nos. 2988 and 2991 are either not verifiable or possibly identical to the two types in CN. ↑
- Fox 2015 = M. Fox, Two Numismatic Puzzles from 1st Century Sestus, in: B. Ciupercă, Archaeology of the First Millenium A.D. IV, Nomads and the autochthonous in the first millenium A.D., Istros (2015) 33–47.
- Fritze 1907 = H. von Fritze, Sestos. Die Menas-Inschrift und das Münzwesen der Stadt, Nomisma 1, 1907, 1-13.
- Hoover 2017 = O. D. Hoover, Handbook of Coins of Macedon and Its Neighbors. Part II: Thrace, Skythia, and Taurike, Sixth to First Centuries BC, The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series 3 (Lancaster/London 2017) 169–174.
- Isaac 1986 = B. Isaac, The Greek Settlements in Thrace until the Macedonian Conquest (Leiden 1986) 195–196.
- Schlüter 1985 = G. Schlüter, Hero und Leander auf den antiken Münzen von Abydos und Sestos, in: 25 Jahre Berliner Münzenfreunde 1960-1985, 1985, 51–69.
- Thompson 1986 = M. Thompson, The mints of Lysimachus, in: C. M. Kraay - G. K. Jenkins (Hrsg.), Essays in Greek Coinage presented to S. Robinson (1968) 163–182.
- Varbanov 2007 = I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins And Their Values III. Thrace (from Perinthus to Trajanopolis), Chersonesos Thraciae, Insula Thraciae, Macedonia (Bourgas, 2007) pp. 319–323.