Miletos Lion




Miletos twelfth stater/hemihekte/diobol (1.18g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 525-494 BC, Sear Greek 3533, SNG Cop. 952-953, SNG Kayhan 464-475, SNG Tübingen 2096, SNG München 703-706, SNG Fitz. 4533, 4537, SNG Hart 976, SNG von Aulock 2082, Dewing 2294, Rosen 584, Klein 426-427







This small fraction from the Greek colony of Miletos, depicting a dramatic, stylized head of a roaring lion, is the most affordable of all sixth century BC coins. "This was by far the common currency of western Anatolia in the archaic period," according to Koray Konuk in his 2003 book From Kroisos to Karia. The difficulty in finding die links, as with Weidauer Type 16/Mitchiner Group D Lydian Lion trites, indicates a large emission, as does the frequency of these coins appearing in the ancient coin marketplace.

The lion was Miletos' civic badge. Like the Lydian Lion, the Miletos Lion diverges from a realistic, representational depiction of a lion head with artistic flair. It's head and pellety mane fill the flan. Part of the lion's body is sometimes visible below the jaw, and less commonly its front paw is visible below its mane. What looks like its tongue between its jaws -- it's sometimes described this way -- is actually the lion's body curved behind its head, which you can see more clearly in some well-struck specimens in which the head of the lion doesn't fill the flan (SNG Kayhan 468 shows this particularly well, SNG Cop. 953 moderately well). This coin type in the past has typically been described as the lion facing one direction with his head reverted or facing the other direction. The above coin, for instance, would have been described as the lion left with head reverted. But more sources are following a more commonsense approach in describing the lion as it looks, with its head facing one direction and its body reverted, so the above coin is described as the lion facing right with body reverted.

The reverse of these coins is mysterious and may represent the sun, a star, or a flower and is described in the literature in a multitude of ways: sun symbol (in which case it may refer to Apollo, Miletos' patron god), ornamented star, stellate pattern, starlike floral ornament, floral star, flower, floral design, or rossette.









Miletos twelfth stater/hemihekte/diobol (1.14g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 525-494 BC, Sear Greek 3532v., SNG Cop. 944-950, SNG Kayhan 476-482, SNG Tübingen 2087-2095, SNG Manchester 1222-1226, SNG Fitz. 4532, 4534-4536, SNG Hart 975, SNG von Aulock 2080, Dewing 2288-2293, Rosen 582-583, Klein 424







This is a second major Miletos twelfth variety, facing left with body reverted. With the above specimen part of the lion's body, not well defined, is visible beneath the head. The lion mane is more pointilistic on this variety than the previous. The dots of the lion's mane are similar to those of modern counterfeits of this left-facing variety that are documented in the Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1984), though these particular fakes are characterized by a long, thin muzzle that looks like a poodle's. An authentic subvariety of this type features a reverse in which the four thickest rays are thinner and less pronounced (Sear Greek 3532, SNG Cop. 951). The twelfth, also referred to as a hemihekte or a diobol (and sometimes as an obol), is most common Miletos Lion denomination. I've seen published specimens weighing between 0.85g and 1.27g. A smaller fraction, a twenty-fourth stater, features a rough incuse square on the reverse (Sear Greek 3531). There's also a rare electrum (SNG Kayhan 444-452) and bronze (SNG Kayhan 488-489) type of the same design.

Miletos was a Greek colony in Asia Minor settled before 1500 BC during the first migration of Indo-European speaking peoples, which also led to the rise of Mycenae. Miletos is perhaps best known as the birthplace of science, and the of the first scientist, Thales, who lived during the sixth century BC, shortly before this coin was minted. Thales believed that the world was ordered and governed by underlying laws, not chaotic and manipulated through the whims of gods. He was an astute observer of the natural world, finding connections and patterns, and he described the world in systematic terms. It was from Thales that civilized people have replaced myth and dogma with rational inquiry, though much myth and dogma remain.

Miletos was prosperous and prominent, and it established numerous colonies throughout the Greek world, reportedly more than 90 in all. In the sixth century BC it was one of the first Greek cities to mint coinage before coming under Persian domination. During the early fifth century BC Miletos played a leading role the Ionian Revolt of the Greek cities in Asia Minor against Persia in a losing effort and was sacked c. 494 BC. Some of the above coins were likely minted in support of that effort.

Miletos' freedom was restored by the Athenian-led victory over Persia at the Battle of Salamis c. 480 BC, one of the great turning points in history. In the fifth century BC Athens adopted the Milesian alphabet, which became the Greek standard. Persia regained control of Miletos c. 386 BC, but the city was freed again by Alexander the Great c. 334 BC. Miletos was prominent during the Roman era but declined after its harbor silted up during the Christian era in the fourth century AD. By the Ottoman era the once leading city of 100,000 was just a small village before being completely abandoned in the 17th century.









Miletos twelfth stater/hemihekte/diobol (1.1g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 525-494 BC, Sear Greek 3533, SNG Cop. 952-953, SNG Kayhan 464-475, SNG Tübingen 2096, SNG München 703-706, SNG Fitz. 4533, 4537, SNG Hart 976, SNG von Aulock 2082, Dewing 2294, Rosen 584, Klein 426-427










This is the same variety as the first coin on this page, with the lion's head right and body reverted, only its obverse was struck extremely off center. All that's on the flan is the lion's well-defined paw, facing left, and a bit of the lion's mane above it. Typically even on well-centered specimens there isn't enough room on the flan for the lion's paw. The reverse incuse of this specimen was made from a worn die and is poorly defined. Errors like these can bring substantial premiums in the marketplace with modern coins, but they're fairly common with ancient coins. Coins struck this off center, however, are seen less commonly.









Ancient fourree counterfeit of Miletos twelfth stater/hemihekte/diobol (0.8g), copy of from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 525-494 BC, Sear Greek 3532, SNG Cop. 944-950







This ancient fake copies the variety with the lion facing left. It's lightweight, and the breaks on the reverse show evidence of a copper core (the brown on the obverse appears to be just toning). This piece, despite its light weight, has seen considerable wear, with the obverse nearly worn past identification, though you can still see the lion's eye and the gaping mouth. The reverse clearly identifies the piece for what it is.

Fourrees are more common with larger silver coins that have more intrinsic value and that offer the forger a larger payback for taking the risk of death for engaging in counterfeiting.
Here are other pages of mine on Ancient Fourree Counterfeits.









Miletos light twelfth stater/hemihekte/diobol (0.95g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 400 BC, SNG Cop. 954-955, SNG Kahan 483-487, SNG Hart 977, SNG München 709, Klein 425







This is the third and last major variety, most likely a later revision of the same coin, slightly lighter in weight and with a more delicate pattern on the reverse. I've seen published specimens of this subtype weighing between 0.76g and 1.11g.

Similar-looking retrograde (imitative) coins of the same style as Miletos twelfths, in larger denominations, were minted in the fourth century BC in Karia/Caria, Asia Minor, and are inscribed just above the lion's nose with the name of the satrap who issued them (Sear Greek 4950, 4951, 4953).

Other lion types from Miletos include coins depicting the entire body of a lion reclining with his body reverted (Sear Greek 3439), the top of a lion's scalp (SNG Kayhan 453-461), a standing lion looking back (SNG von Aulock 2087), a crouching lion (Sear Greek 4500), and a standing lion looking back on the reverse with Apollo on the obverse (Sear Greek 4501-4508).









Miletos forty-eighth stater/trihemitartemorion (0.24g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 420-390 BC, cf. SNG Kayhan 944-946, cf. SNG Berry 1045, cf. Rosen 407-408, cf. Klein 432 (all with pellets in reverse field), cf. SNG Tübingen 3000 (lion left, no pellets)







This tiny coin, which has a diameter of only 6mm, has a similar obverse as the larger Miletos silver fractions. The lion, as with the larger fractions, has the same pellety head. Its reverse, though, features a quail (sometimes identified as a dove, a peacock, a bustard, or a roadrunner, other times merely as a bird). The bird sometimes has a small head, long neck, and large body, as on this specimen, other times a larger head, shorter neck, and smaller body. Both the lion and the bird can face right or left. The reverse of these coins usually has one or two pellets on it, less commonly none, as with this specimen. I've seen published specimens ranging in weight from 0.17g to 0.30g.

It's not certain that these coins were minted in Miletos, though Bärbel Pfeiler's frequently cited 1966 Swiss Numismatic Review article "Die Silberprägung von Milet im 6. Jahrhundert v. Chr." argued for Miletos. The dealer I bought this coin from attributed it to Miletos, as did the Swiss auction house Jean Elsen with a similar specimen in a recent auction. Two other cities suggested for the mint in the literature are Samos and Mylasa. SNG Berry and Early Greek Coins from the Collection of Jonathan P. Rosen by Nancy M. Waggoner (Rosen) attributes these merely to "Asia Minor: Uncertain." SNG Kayhan attributes them to Mylasa? (with a question mark). SNG Helsinki attributes them to "Caria: Uncertain Mint." Miletos is in the province of Ionia, and Samos is off its shores. Miletos is very close to the neighboring province of Caria, and Mylasa is in Caria.

When I bought it, this well-preserved specimen was very darkly toned, but a quick soak in lemon juice and a gentle rub with a soft toothbrush lightened it and brought out its details. Fractions are typically more worn than larger denominations, having circulated more. They're also typically more corroded, having been hoarded less. Many were dropped and lost and were in direct contact with soil, showing up as individual finds, rather than having been placed in a jar with other coins, receiving some protection that way, and showing up in a hoard.









Miletos ninety-sixth stater/trihemitartemorion (0.13g) from Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), c. 420-390 BC, SNG Helsinki 922







This is the smallest fraction of the roaring lion head design, a ninety-sixth stater. This specimen weighs 0.13g and measures about 5mm in diameter. The bird has a larger head than with the previous forty-eighth stater and looks more like a dove. Two pellets, of unknown meaning, appear on either side of the bird. The bird and pellets are surrounded by an incuse square.

Tiny silver fractions like this were the pocket change of the ancient Greeks before the advent of bronze coinage. Some people today contend that the ancient Greeks carried fractions like this in their mouths when going to and from the marketplace, based on the plays of the Aristophanes, including Birds, c. 414 BC, and Assemblywomen (Ekklesiazusae), c. 392 BC, both of which survive, and Aiolosikon, which survives only in fragments or later quotes. In Birds, a character describes himself looking up in surprise and accidentally swallowing an obol. In Assemblywomen, a character describes himself going off to market with a jawful of coppers to buy some flour. In Aiolosikon, a character describes himself carrying a two-obol piece in his mouth. But Aristophanes was a comic playwright, and elsewhere in Birds he talks about purses or money bags. Greek garments didn't have pockets. Instead of people carrying small change in their mouths, which would have been unsafe and uncomfortable, a more credible scenario may have been that they carried coins in purses.

The Miletos ninety-six stater, though, isn't the smallest ancient coin. Perhaps the smallest ancient Greek coin was an Athenian silver one-sixteenth obol, weighing about 0.045g, about one-third the size of the above coin. This isn't the smallest or lightest in history, however. The lightest, according to Alan Herbert, was the 1/512 mohar, or jawa, of Nepal, weighing 0.01g, a coin that the Standard Catalog of World Coins calls "easily the smallest coin in the world." It was issued by King Jaya Prakash Malla, who ruled from 1736 to 1768.

The lightest U. S. coin, weighing 0.80g and measuring 14mm in diameter, was the three-cent silver piece minted from 1851 to 1873. The smallest, with a diameter of 13mm, was the Type 1 gold dollar minted from 1849 to 1854. In comparison, a current U.S. dime weighs 2.27g and is 17.9mm in diameter.

Doug Smith has an interesting page about
Greek Fractional Silver Coins. Bob O'Hara has an excellent site in which he pictures and describes quite a number of Ancient Greek Coins of Miletus, and Roland A. Mueller has another interesting Miletos ancient Greek coin page.








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