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Coin Typology of

Samothrace

Topography and History

The Greek island of Samothrace is located in the northern Aegean Sea between Thasos and Imbros. It was home to the second most important mystery site in Greece, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods (Megaloi Theoi). The island was advantageously located, which allowed its inhabitants to control the sea route along the Thracian coast to the Hellespont and further into the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

Homer called the island "Thracian Samos."1. Among its first Greek colonists were the Samians, who founded a Greek polis on the island around 700 BC. During the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC, the Samothracians fought on the side of Persia, though after the Persian defeat, the island joined the Delian League.

In the Hellenistic period, Samothrace became a part of the Macedonian Empire and the sanctuary held significance for the Ptolemies. After the end of Diadochi rule, the island fell under Roman control.

  1. Homer Iliad XIII, 10–15. ↑

State of Research

The coinage of the island has only been briefly touched upon in research. Apart from a few essays, there is no comprehensive study on the coins of Samothrace. In 1898, N.B. Phardys published a work on its Hellenistic coinage.2 About a century later, Edith Schönert-Geiss presented an overview of the entire coinage of Samothrace in a paper.3 Almost all known earlier coins from the island come from the Kiourpet Hoard, which was discovered in 1930.4 W. Schwabacher was able to use this find to assign the early silver coins, which were often associated with other mints, to Samothrace.5

  1. N. Phardys ↑

  2. Schönert-Geiß 1996 ↑

  3. IGCH 696. The find contained about 100 silver coins (1 stater and 99 sub-units). ↑

  4. For more on the assignment of the coins to the island of Samothrace, see Schwabacher 1938, 112–115. ↑

Minting System and Typology

Samothrace began issuing its own silver coinage as early as ca. 500 BC. The earliest silver coins are staters (didrachms), drachms, and smaller denominations up to hemiobols, all minted according to the Euboean-Attic standard.6

Three groups of silver issues from the Late Archaic period (500–475 BC) can be distinguished. Of these, the first bears a sphinx on the obverse (squatting,7 seated,8 or with only the forepart as pictured on the obols9), which is coupled with various motifs on the reverse. These include an incuse square, a lion's head within an incuse square, or a bearded head of one of the Cabeiri with a pilos? within an incuse square. 10 The depiction of the sphinx could allude to the great sanctuary of the island as a special symbol. The second group of Late Archaic coins depicts the head of Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet, and the third features the head of a bull.11 The reverse sides feature varied motifis: an incuse square,12 a star within an incuse square,13 or a bull's head within an incuse square.14 The last two groups primarily consist of smaller nominal levels from diobols to hemiobols. Most of these earlier coins are anepigraphic, and only the staters and dracms bear the first letters of the city ethnic on the obverse or reverse.15

To date, there is no evidence for the emission of Samothracian coins during the Classical period. It was not until the final quarter of the 4th century or the very beginning of the 3rd century BC that the island began to issue its own silver and bronze coinage again. The dominant coin design for both metals until the 2nd century BC was the depiction of Athena's head (or bust on some later silver series) on the obverse and Cybele enthroned, left, on the reverse. The silver coinage of the polis during the 2nd century BC consisted only of tetradrachms and didrachms in a reduced standard.16 This type with the enthroned goddess on the reverse is the most well known of the island's bronze emissions of the Hellenistic period.17 Characteristic of all these issues, however, are the abbreviated ethnicon and the numerous changing magistrate names.18

In the third century BC, the mint issued tetradracms in the Attic standard.19 This is the so-called Lysimachus coinage,20 as well as a posthumous coinage modeled on the coins in the name of Alexander the Great. A second series of Alexandrian tetradrachms, issued ca. 172–168 BC, was minted in a reduced Attic standard.21 Also falling into this period are imitations of Rhodian drachms (so-called pseudo-Rhodian drachms). Alternating monograms, symbols, and magistrate names flank the issues described above.

The silver emissions of the early 2nd century BC were supplemented by bronze coinage in four denominations. Two further bronze series of a smaller monetary value were also added. These still bear the head of Athena on the obverse, but their reverse show instead a warrior on a prora22 or the head of a ram with a caduceus before it.23 Based on the coins excavated from the sanctuary of Samothrace, which have brought new insights into the reopening of the mint, all available evidence suggests that the prora series preceded that of the ram's head.24 A little later, the somewhat rarer type of the ram forepart appears on the reverse of the smaller nominal level.25

Around the 1st/2nd century AD, the dominant Athena/Cybele type reemerges and and features two novelties: first, the addition of a star on the obverse and, second, the inclusion of the ethnic written in full on the reverse.26

There is an opinion in the literature that the latest coins date from the years of Hadrian; however, no corresponding coins are known.

  1. Hoover 2010, 70. ↑

  2. CN_Type19373; CN_Type19374; CN_Type19394; CN_Type19571; CN_Type19393. ↑

  3. CN_Type19399; CN_Type19763. ↑

  4. CN_Type19401. ↑

  5. CN_Type19571; on the Cabeiri on Samothracian coins, see Schwabacher 1952, 49–51 ↑

  6. Designated as Sphinx Group I, Sphinx Group II, and Athena Group according to Schwabacher 1938 ↑

  7. CN_Type19572. ↑

  8. CN_Type19574. ↑

  9. CN_Type19573. ↑

  10. CN_Type19373; CN_Type19374. ↑

  11. For silver: CN_Type19480; CN_Type19481; CN_Type19482; CN_Type19483. ↑

  12. E.g.: CN_Type13157; CN_Type13160; CN_Type19465 etc. Hoover 2010, 74, Denomination B. ↑

  13. From Phardys 1898, all the magistrate names mentioned on these coins were listed for the first time. ↑

  14. CN_Type20091; CN_Type19760; CN_Type10002. ↑

  15. CN_Type19508; CN_Type20088; CN_Type20101. ↑

  16. CN_Type10003; CN_Type20080; CN_Type20090. ↑

  17. CN_Type13106; CN_Type13087. The depiction of a warrior on the prow of a ship may commemorate a particular naval victory or allude to the power of the Great Gods to save sailors in distress. According to Hoover (2010, 75), Denomination D. ↑

  18. E.g.: CN_Type12946; CN_Type13101; CN_Type13108. According to Hoover (2010, 75), Denomination D. ↑

  19. According to Gadbery (1992), these coin series invalidate the commonly held view that links the reintroduction of local coinage at Samothrace to the liberation of the island after the death of Lysimachus in 281 BC by pushing back the date of the renewed mintage by two decades or more ↑

  20. E.g.: CN_Type19467; CN_Type13127; CN_Type13125. ↑

  21. CN_Type19486; CN_Type19485; CN_Type19484. ↑

Special Features of the Coinage

Among the peculiarities of the Samothracian coinage are the so-called pseudo-Rhodian drachms, minted ca. 171–168 BC according to the reduced Rhodian standard (with a drachm of ca. 2.8 g). Depicted is the head of Helios on the obverse and a rose blossom with bud on the reverse.

These imitated coins were associated with Samothrace by epithets and magistrate names. So far, seven types of coins are known to us.

A particular clue for the association of this coinage with the mint of Samothrace are the accompanying symbols of the ram and the caduceus, which are associated with the Pelasgian Hermes and the Cabeiri, who were worshipped as an important cult on the island. Much more decisive for the attribution of these coins to Samothrace, however, is the fact that we have here the same names that appear on bronze issues or even on posthumous Alexander coins.27 These names do not occur on Rhodian drachms. According to R. Ashton, two large issues with the name Gorgos and the symbol of a torch (with or without a star) could also be assigned to Samothrace.28

R. Ashton29 has argued in his article that these coins were probably struck in support of Perseus's war against the Romans and served to pay Cretan and other soldiers during the Third Macedonian War. Since Rhodian coins circulated in Crete and were thus a familiar and trusted currency for the Cretans, it seems likely, in his opinion, that they demanded payment in this form.

  1. For this, cf. CN_Type19745; CN_Type19744; CN_Type19736; CN_Type10003. ↑

  2. Ashton 2002, 73–78 ↑

  3. Ashton 1998, 29–30. ↑

Bibliography

  • Ashton 1988 = R. Ashton, Pseudo-Rhodian Drachms from Samothrace, in NC 146 (1988), 129–134.
  • Ashton 2002 = R. Ashton, Clubs, Thunderbolts, Torches, Stars and Caducei. More Pseudo-Rhodian Drachms from Mainland Greece and the Islands, in NC 162 (2002), 59–78.
  • Gadbery 1992 = L.M. Gadbery, Samothracian Coins, in Samothrace 7: The Rotunda of Arsinoe (1992), 331–339.
  • Hoover 2010 = O. D. Hoover, Handbook of Coins of the Islands, The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series Vol. 6, 2010, 69–75.
  • IGCH 696 = Thompson, Margaret, Mørkholm, Otto, Kraay, Colin M. and Noe, Sydney Philip, An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (New York, 1973), no. 696.
  • IGCH 1774 = Thompson, Margaret, Mørkholm, Otto, Kraay, Colin M. and Noe, Sydney Philip, An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (New York, 1973), no 1774.
  • IGCH 858 = Thompson, Margaret, Mørkholm, Otto, Kraay, Colin M. and Noe, Sydney Philip, An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (New York, 1973), no. 858.
  • SNG COPENHAGEN = Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Copenhagen. The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals. Danish National Museum. Part 7: Thrace 2: Odessus - Sestos. Islands. Kings and Dynasts (Copenhagen 1953).
  • SNG KIKPE = Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Greece 7. The KIKPE collection of Bronze Coins (Athens 2012).
  • Phardys 1898 = N. Phardys, Νομισματικά Σαμοθράκης, in JIAN 1 (1898), 253–262.
  • Schönert-Geiss 1996 = E. Schönert-Geiss, Zur Münzprägung von Samothrake: Ein Überblick, in ΧΑΡΑΚΤΗΡ. Αφιέρωμα στην Μάντω Οικονομίδου (Athen 1996), 271–276.
  • Schwabacher (1938) = W. Schwabacher, Ein Fund archaischer Münzen von Samothrake, in: Transactions of the International Numismatic Congress London 1936 (1938), 109–120.
  • Schwabacher 1952 = Cabiri on Archaic Coins of Samothrake, in ANSMN 5 (1952), 49–51.

Map with Mints of typology