Asia Minor and the Birth of Coinage (AMBC)

(FWF-Projekt: P30147–G25)


Leitung: W. Fischer-Bossert

The aim of the project is to reconstruct various major series of the early electrum coinage of Asia Minor (7th and 6th centuries BC). Both the increasing availability of the relevant material and the options provided by digital photography make it possible to study the often tiny electrum coins die per die, and, by doing so, reveal the structure and rhythm of the issues. In addition to corrected readings of coin legends and hoard evidence, die-links between series of different obverse type establish important chronological keystones.

The project relies upon a database of early electrum coins that was built up in the past five years. It comprises more than 9,000 entries collected from museums’ holdings all over Europe and the US, private collections, and auction sale catalogues. Soon after the database was launched, it became clear that the number of series of the early electrum coinage is by far larger than expected; the task of arranging this vast material is still in progress. It seems that beyond those major and well-known series — such as the royal Lydian coinage, the coins of Miletus and Phocaea, the Cyzicene series and so forth — a plethora of minor series existed resulting in a total of three to four-hundred series.

While we do not know all the political entities and potential issuers of coins in the hinterland of the Lydian kingdom and among the Greek cities of Asia Minor, it is clear that this high figure of several hundred series does not refer to an equal number of issuers. It is well known that some issuers generally adopted other obverse types from time to time—the coinages of Cyzicus and Phocaea kept changing types in rapid succession— and a few die-links combining coins from Lydia and Ionia show that other issuers participated in a greater network of wandering craftsmen.

The project focuses on series that are known from more than hundred specimens each — for instance the royal Lydian coinage signed KUKALIM and WALWET, or the coinage signed by a certain Phanes — and those coinages represented by one or more specimens in the so-called foundation deposit of the Artemision of Ephesus. The die-studies will take into account hoard evidence as well as metal analyses (some will be commissioned by this project), thus not only leading to a firmer chronology of issues, but also to a better understanding of king Croesus’ introduction of a bimetallic currency. What at first glance appears to be a process of creeping debasement that eventually made a currency reform inevitable might turn out to be much more complex than commonly thought. Not least, historical research on the Lydian monarchy and the Greek poleis will benefit from this work, as well as monetary economics, as the early electrum coinage is the very cradle of what is called money today.

Hekte of Phanes (Ionia, ca. 625-600 BC), © Gemini Numismatic Auctions, Chicago