"Official" city coins and
"barbarous" tribal coins
Lysimachos Lion


Lysimachos large denomination bronze (AE 20, 4.9g), c. 297-281 BC, Sear Greek 6819v., SNG Cop. 1150







The obverse of these coins depicts what some numismatists interpret as a young male, others the goddess Athena. Regardless, the figure is wearing a crested Attic helmet. The reverse of this bronze coin depicts a running or leaping lion and a spear head along with the legend, in Greek, "Of King Lysimachos." An earlier version of this same type, issued before Lysimachos declared himself King of Thrace, has a delta-upsilon on the reverse, short for "Of Lysimachos," instead of "Of King Lysimachos" (Sear Greek 6825).

Lysimachos, one of Alexander the Great's generals and like Alexander a student of philosophy, inherited Thrace after Alexander's death in 323 BC. He was the successor who was given the warlike Thrace, according to the first century AD Greek theologian Justin, because of his bravery and military prowess.

For the first 17 years of his reign, Lysimachos struck only coins in the style of Alexander and Alexander's father Philip II or used coins struck by others, primarily Kassander/Cassander, the king of Macedon who murdered Alexander's mother, widow, and son Alexander IV. When Kassander died in 297 BC, Lysimachos began striking large quantities of his own coinage, including the famous tetradrachms featuring a deified portrait of Alexander the Great as well as various types of bronze coins, including this one.

The lion was Lysimachos' badge. He participated in lion hunts with Alexander and was said to have killed a lion with his bare hands. But along with his bravery, Lysimachos was also known for his ruthlessness, as were many ancient rulers. He had his own son, the loyal Agathokles, killed after being persuaded by his current wife that this offspring of his first wife was plotting against him.

Unlike two other of Alexander's successors and previous generals, Ptolemy I and Seleukos I, Lysimachos founded no dynasty. Though Lysimachos and Seleukos were once comrades, the 80-year-old Lysimachos was killed in battle against the 78-year-old Seleukos at Koroupedion in 281 BC. "Lysimachos" in Greek means "one who ends strife," yet Lysimachos' life was full of strife to the end.









Thracian imitation Lysimachos bronze (AE 19, 5.1g)







The ancient Thracians, a fierce, warlike tribal people living at the periphery of the ancient Greek world, copied a number of different Greek coins for local use, including those of Lysimachos. The course features of the devices and the illiterate, globularized legend reveal this coin as a "barbarous copy."

Many of these coins appear on the market, but as far as I know, unless they're very crudedly engraved, they're not identified as tribal or imitative issues. Almost all dealers reference both the official Greek coins and the tribal imitations to either Sear or SNG Cop. Other attribution references that have been used include Laffaille (Collection Maurice Laffaille -- monnaies grecques en bronze, Pierre Strauss, 1990), Grose/McClean (Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Greek Coins, S.W. Grose, 1923), Winterthur (Griechische München in Winththur, Hansjörg Bloesch, 1967), and SNG Tübingen. I have yet to find a printed reference that includes coins of this type attributed as Thracian, tribal, or imitative.

Compared with the official Greek issues, the imitatives don't look Greek. Among the differences, which may not all be present in all of the imitatives: an exaggerated helmet crest, a simplified rendering of both Athena and the lion, globularized legends where the letterforms were made with connected dots, and a low relief flan. Finally, the existence of countermarked pieces of this type, including one of the specimens below, likely indicates that these pieces, struck outside an official Greek mint in areas controlled by the Thracians, were monetized for use within Greek-controlled areas.

Sometimes the imitative issues are attributed by dealers as Celtic imitatives, but they're not included in any Celtic printed or online references I've seen, and noted Celtic coin expert Chris Rudd, in an e-mail exchange, said that there's little likelihood that these and other tribal coins of Southeast Europe are Celtic. I believe they're possibly undocumented issues of Thracian tribes in areas near those controlled by Lysimachos, the Macedonian ruler and successor to Alexander the Great whose territory included Thrace.

Many other ancient peoples issued coins whose designs imitated those of ancient Greek or Roman coins, most notably the Celts but including as well Germanics, Dacians, Thracians, Anatolians, Kolchians, Huns, Persians, Baktrians, Indians, Ceylonese, Arabians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Samarians, Judeans, Philistines, and Egyptians.










Thracian imitation Lysimachos bronze (AE 20, 4.8g)







This tribal imitative is most distinguished by the exaggerated helmet crest and low-relief fabric. The lion appear to be turning its head three-quarters frontward, but this is just an illusion caused by lighting and small chips in the coin's patina.









Thracian imitation Lysimachos bronze (AE 20, 6.6g)







Here's another tribal imitative an exaggerated helmet crest and low-relief fabric. This one is further distinguished by the bulbous nose on Athena and the sloppy engraving of the lion and the legend.









Thracian imitation Lysimachos bronze (AE 18, 2.9g)







This small and thin tribal imitative is crudely engraved, and the legend has nearly disappeared.









Thracian imitation countermarked Lysimachos bronze (AE 20, 6.2g)







This imitative is countermarked with an image of the Great God of Odessos, recognizable if you turn your head to the right while looking at the obverse. The seated figure is holding a scepter in his right hand with his legs stretched out to the left. Odessos was a Greek colony in Thrace on the Black Sea, and this tribal coin no doubt was counterstamped to render it legal tender in the city. I've seen another Thracian imitative of a Lysimachos lion bronze countermarked with a star.









Thracian imitation countermarked Lysimachos bronze (AE 18, 4.1g)










This imitative is countermarked with the same the Great God of Odessos as the previous piece, but in this case on the reverse.









Lysimachos middle denomination bronze (AE 15, 2.4g), c. 297-281 BC, Sear Greek 6820, SNG Cop. 1159, Weber 2731







This is one of two smaller denominations of the same Lysimachos bronze type as the coin illustrated at the top of this page. This one depicts just the forepart of the lion on the reverse.









Lysimachos small denomination bronze (AE 13, 1.9g), c. 297-281 BC, Sear Greek 6821, SNG Cop. 1170, Pozzi 2663







This is the smallest denomination of the same Lysimachos bronze type, depicting a lion head facing forward. A rare variety of the same denomination depicts the lion head facing right. The above specimen is a bit heavier than others I've seen, which is probably just commentary that the weight of bronzes weren't tightly controlled because they were largely fiduciary, with their monetary value significantly higher than their instrinsic value.





Other pages of mine on coins copying Athens, Alexander the Great, Lysimachos, Parion, Thasos, Constantine the Great, and other coins can be found at my site on Ancient Imitative Coinage.








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