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The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 48, November 23, 2014, Article 28

THE BIGGEST ANCIENT COINS

How do you follow up a great article on THE TINIEST ANCIENT COINS? With another one on the largest ancient coins. Here's an excerpt from Mike Markowitz' November 18, 2014 CoinWeek article, "Metal Monsters: The Biggest Ancient Coins". -Editor

heavy metal biggest ancient coins

Dodekadrachms!
Our earliest numismatic monsters come from Paeonia (now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), issued about 480-465 BCE by a Thracian tribe called the Derrones. They mined silver and formed it into lumpy 30-40 gram coins, which they traded with the Greeks, their civilized southern neighbors. Despite their irregular weight, these rare coins are considered 12-drachma pieces or dodekadrachms. On the obverse, a man drives an ox-cart on a field decorated with a Corinthian-style helmet. The reverse bears a triskeles – three running legs arranged in a pinwheel pattern. This rare type has sold in recent auctions for prices ranging from about US$5000 to over $30,000 for the coin illustrated here.

Heavy Bronze/br/>

Heavy bronze biggest ancient coins

Olbia was a Greek colony on the northern coast of the Black Sea (now part of Ukraine). Lacking silver, the Olbians–beginning about 450 BCE–issued large cast bronze coins nearly 70 mm in diameter and weighing up to 140 grams. On the obverse, a gorgoneion defiantly sticks out her tongue. To us this image is amusing, but to ancient Greeks it was a protective amulet that repelled evil spirits. On the reverse, an enormous soaring sea eagle clutches a dolphin in its talons.

The early Roman Republic also lacked silver, and during the third century BCE various cities cast crude bronze coins called aes grave (“heavy bronze”). The largest pieces weighed a full Roman pound (about 325 grams), and there were a range of fractions down to a half-ounce. Romans were accustomed to using bronze ingots as money, so the inconvenience of these clumsy monsters was relative.

Each denomination had a characteristic symbol and mark of value. The obverse of the one-pound “as” bore the double-faced head of Janus, god of doorways. The reverse showed the prow of a warship, with its heavy bronze ram. Many of these pieces originate from a large 19th century Italian hoard. New finds are uncommon, and a controversial agreement with Italy restricts their importation into the US. Prices range from US $3500 to over $7500 for exceptional specimens.

The Eucratidion

Plate_Diet Baktria, in northern Afghanistan and Tajikstan, was a prosperous Greek kingdom established by successors of Alexander the Great beginning about 250 BCE. Little is known about King Eucratides, who ruled Baktria c. 171-145 BCE. He fought the Parthians and conquered parts of northern India. He commissioned the largest surviving gold coin struck in antiquity: a 20-stater piece, 58 mm in diameter, weighing 169.2 grams. That’s nearly five and a half ounces. The unique example was found in 1867 in Bukhara (Uzbekistan), nearly 300 miles northwest of the Baktrian heartland. Eventually acquired by Napoleon III, it resides today in the Bibliothéque nationale in Paris.

On the obverse we see the king in profile, wearing a plumed cavalry helmet. On the reverse, the twin heroes Castor and Pollux carry long lances and palm branches and ride prancing horses surrounded by a carelessly lettered inscription: “Great King Eucratides.” The Smithsonian in Washington has a similar 15-stater gold piece of Eucratides that most experts regard as a 19th century fantasy.

To read the complete article, see:
Metal Monsters: The Biggest Ancient Coins (www.coinweek.com/ancient-coins/metal-monsters-biggest-ancient-coins/)

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE TINIEST ANCIENT COINS (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n44a27.html)

THE BOOK BAZARRE

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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