Lion and bull coin types such as this were the world's first
silver coins. Kroisos was the Lydian king of legendary wealth about whom the expression "rich as Croesus"
was coined. The coin features a lion similar to that on the earlier Lydian electrum coins but without the sunburst
or "nose wart," as well as a bull, with the reverse being an incuse square used in the minting process
of very early coins. The very earliest of these pieces, gold coins that can be described as prototypes or transitional
pieces, do have a sunburst, as Harlan Berk pointed out in his Oct. 1990 Celator article. Berk also argued persuasively
that the lion on all of these coins is leaping at the bull. This particular specimen, as with many coins of this
type, is countermarked, in this case on the edge (not seen in the above photo) with a symbol that looks similar
to the Greek letter pi.
The lion attacking the bull motif on this coin type has been variously theorized as symbolizing the sun and moon,
spring and winter (the fall of the constellation Taurus corresponded to the date of the spring sowing), strength
and fertility, Asia Minor and Europe, and Lydia and its neighbor Phyrgia. One possibility I haven't seen mentioned
is that the lion represents the Lydians' supreme god, or Baal, and the bull represents Zeus, the supreme god of
the Greeks, though Henri Frankfort in his 1956 book The
Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient suggested
a "conflict between divine forces." A lion comprised the heraldic emblem of the kings of Lydia. Zeus
took the guise of a bull in his seduction of Io. The lion and bull motif was featured on other ancient coins as
well, including Mazaios' coins described later in this site. And it was used as well on figural art, from this
and earlier times, and no doubt meant different things to different peoples.
In the past all Kroisos-type lion and bull coins, or croeseids, were thought to be minted by Kroisos, which Barclay
Head indicated in his 1901 reference BMC Lydia and his 1911 reference Historia
Numorum and which L.-E. Cousinery first proposed
in the 1830s. But hoard evidence over the past 70 years has caused virtually all numismatists to believe that some
or many of these coins were minted by the Persian conquerors of Lydia after Kroisos' defeat c. 546 BC, including
Cyrus II (reigned c. 550-529 BC), Cambyses (reigned c. 529-521 BC), and Darius I (reigned c. 521-486 BC). Some
sources indicate that Kroisos died at the time of the Persian defeat of Lydia, but others indicate that the Persian
king Cyrus spared Kroisos' life, with Kroisos becoming his advisor.
Among the numismatists supporting the contention that some or many croeseids were minted after Kroisos are Colin
Kraay, Ian Carradice, G.K. Jenkins, E.S.G. Robinson, and John Anthony. Some numismatists, including Martin Price,
have gone so far as to state that all croeseids were likely minted after Kroisos. But these coins were called croeseids
even in ancient times, by Pollux among others, which is evidence that at least some of them were likely minted
by Kroisos. Croeseids (Kroiseioi stateres) were among the few coins named in ancient times after the ruler
who minted them, two others being Dareikoi of Darius and Philippeioi of Philip II.
In their October 2005 American Journal of Archaeology article "New Archaic Coin Finds at Sardis," Nicholas
Cahill and John H. Kroll conclusively show based upon new coin finds in an archeological context that at least
some croeseids were minted by Kroisos.
A comprehensive analysis of die links, hoards, and style by Cindy L. Nimchuk, published in the June 2000 issue
of the Journal of the Classical & Medieval Numismatic Society and vetted by the noted numismatist Dr. C. Arnold-Biucchi,
persuasively shows that some croeseids were minted after Kroisos' defeat. From her work, Nimchuk believes in fact
that all of the silver half staters, including the coin pictured above, were minted after Kroisos, specifically
c. 525-490 BC, and all of the smaller fractions were minted after c. 525 BC as well. She believes that the silver
staters ended production c. 525 without indicating if it were possible to distinguish the issues minted during
Kroisos' reign from those minted afterward or even commenting on this subject, an unfortunate omission. In general,
the earlier Kroisos-type coins tend to be more naturalistic while the later ones tend to be more stylized, though
it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Most attribution catalogs also recognize that some of these coins were minted after Kroisos, including Sear, SNG
Cop., SNG von Aulock, SNG München, SNG Kayhan, SNG Fitz., SNG Lockett, Dewing, Rosen, and Gulbenkian.
Despite the consierable body of evidence and expert opinion indicating that many croeseids were minted after Kroisos,
many dealers and auction houses, including high-end ones, attribute them as coins minted by Kroisos and make no
mention of the possibility of them being minted later. A coin of Kroisos is a coin minted by the inventor of bimetallic
coinage and is an example of the world's first silver or gold coinage. A coin minted after him is a copy, and though
it may be the first Persian coinage, it's still a copy.
According to an analysis I did of high-end auction houses selling Kroisos-type half staters, the most common denomination,
over the past several years, Peus Nachfolger (3 lots), Tkalec (2 lots), and Leu Numismatik (1 lot) described these
coins as being minted after Kroisos. Münzen & Medaillen (3 lots) described them as being minted c. 550-520
BC, which is both during and after Kroisos' lifetime. Similarly, Numismatic Lanz (2 lots) described them as being
minted after 550 BC. CNG (15 lots), Künker (8 lots), Gorny & Mosch (4 lots), and Baldwin's (1 lot) described
all the half staters they auctioned as being minted by Kroisos.
Croeseids were produced in gold as well as silver, with the design the same with each metal. Rare electrum pieces
also exist, which like the rare lion-and-bull gold coinage depicting the lion with a sunburst are transitional
pieces linking Kroisos with his father, Alyattes. The denominations of the silver coins were stater, half stater
(siglos), third stater (trite), sixth stater (hekte), twelfth stater (hemihekte), twenty-fourth stater, and forty-eighth
stater. The gold coins were issued in denominations from stater to twenty-fourth stater and were struck according
to an earlier, heavier standard and a later, lighter standard.
These coins were succeeded by the running king-type Persian sigloi (silver) and darics (gold), which were typically
crudely designed (and are often maligned by collectors today). Sardis (also spelled "Sardes," "Sardeis,"
and "Sart") continued to mint coinage during the Greek and Roman periods and afterward as well. Sardis
came under the control of Alexander the Great in 334 BC, the Seleukids in 282 BC, Pergamon in 180 BC, Rome in 133
BC, the Sassasians in 616 AD, the Arabs in 716, and the Ottoman Turks in 1315. It was destroyed by the Mongols
in 1402 and was rediscovered by archeologists in the 20th century.
Another interesting aspect of the Kroisos-type half stater pictured above is that the surfaces show signs of crystallization,
also called intergranular corrosion, reticulate corrosion, or embrittlement. The process of crystallization is
an example of one of the things that can happen to a coin over very long stretches of time, of how time changes
numismatic metal. It happens with relatively pure silver coins that are alloyed with small amounts of copper and lead, as
were most ancient Greek-era silver coins, even those not intentionally debased, since the refining technology at
the time couldn't remove all impurities. Because of the inherent instability of silver alloys at room temperature,
the copper and lead separate from the silver over time, leaving the metal spongy and brittle. Crystallization happens more with
some coin types than others, even those made from similar alloys, as a result of the conditions in which the coins
were minted and buried.
You can sometimes but not always see evidence of crystallization on the coin's surface in the form of a crystalline
pattern made up of regular perpendicular ridges, as on this Kroisos siglos. Sometimes the crystalline pattern takes
the form of a swirling network, as on this Corinth trihemiobol
of Doug Smith. The metal isn't becoming crystallized, but the crystalline structure of it is becoming visible.
Highly crystallized coins are prone to breaking, with thinner coins more prone than thicker coins such as this
one. Visibly crystallized coins typically have a lower market value than those without such signs, but crystallization
can also be an eye-appeal positive, providing interesting evidence of how numismatic metal changes over the millennia.