Black Sea. Istrus. c. 4th century BC

Black Sea. Istrus. c. 4th century BC


AR Quarter Drachm, 1.57g (11mm, 12h). Two young heads tete-beche, River god Istros (?) / Eagle on dolphin l., above ΙΣΤPΙΗ.

References: SNG BM Black Sea 250

Grade: Sharp strike. Mint State (gk1259)

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A wonderful article written by William C. Saslaw and Paul Murdin from the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge does a nice job of laying out an argument that a solar eclipse was the motivation behind the imagery on the coins of Istrus.  For those interested in learning more about these delightful coins see

To summarize: the imagery on the coins of Istrus are a numismatic enigma conjuring up several theories.  The most believable version is that the images of the two heads, one reverted, would have signified the nearly total eclipse of the sun visible at Istrus in 434 BC.  While there is no dating on the coins, nor a ruler’s name assigning it to a certain time period, all theories are mere conjecture, however, the the eclipse theory is one that seems to make the most sense based on astrological data.

The reverse imagery shows an eagle holding a dolphin in its talons. The eagle is presumed to represent Zeus and as dolphins were common in the Black Sea region it is likely that it shows the Greek control over the region, a political federation or a military victory over the area.

The other theory for the obverse die is that the heads are actually the Dioskuri, brothers born separately but later considered identical twins. The Romans named them Castor and Pollux.

Whatever the case these coins provide one of the most interesting and enigmatic images of the Greek world.