Mysia, Cyzicus. 550-450 BC

Mysia, Cyzicus. 550-450 BC


Double-bodied sphinx with one head facing, wearing ouraios; both a top tunny left / Quadripartite incuse square.

References:  cf. Von Fritze I 128 (unlisted denomination); cf. Greenwell (same); Boston MFA -; cf. SNG BN 280 (hekte)

Grade:  Very rare type with only two noted in Coin Archives. Lovely sharp strike with interesting imagery. Some cracks on the edges as is typical with electrum coins. EF (gk1176)

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The electrum issues of Cyzicus are among the most beautiful of early Greek coinage. It is also one of the more mysterious. The Cyzicus staters and hektes (⅙ staters) were one of the “global” currencies in the ancient Greek world. Other far-reaching currencies were the Athenian tetradrachms, the Persian gold darics and the vast coinage of Alexander the Great. The great difference between the coins of Cyzicus and those mentioned above was that Cyzicus was in and of itself a relatively unimportant coastal city in Asia Minor. It did not have precious metals at its disposal like the great silver mines of Laurium used by Athens or the power that forced tributes and raw material like the Persians or Alexander. This remains a mystery among academics. The coinage of Cyzicus was produced without interruption for over 220 years. Although the area was overseen by both the Persians and the Athenians during its coin production, the mint and the coinage was never tampered with. In fact, the coinage of Cyzicus was truly a trade coinage, accepted and utilized by all (even the Athenians) as a means of acceptable payment. There was no writing on the coinage but only the appearance of the tunny that denoted its origin of minting. The coins of Cyzicus were so trusted by all that despite the varying levels of gold to silver ratios, the coins were never test cut. Just like the U.S. dollar or the Euro is accepted as a trusted form of payment today, so was the Cyzicenes during its production. 

The other interesting characteristic of the coinage was the diverse range of images. Many scholars have studied this aspect and attempted to explain why it was so. A very good article written by the late Leo Mildenberg (The Cyzicenes: A Reappraisal”, from the AJN 5-6, 1993/4, p. 1-12) gives a wonderful summation of the coinage and of which my write-up is based, explains that the tunny and the reverse incuse was enough to establish the stability of the currency. With that underlying assumption, the coinage was able to employ fascinating imagery that would appeal to a wide variety of people and places all over the Greek world. Most of the Cyzicences were used outside of Cyzicus and had to appeal to the masses. The local currency of Cyzicus was in silver and named magistrates. This more mundane currency was okay for home but abroad the electrum coinage created was meant to impress. One other technical difference in the production of these coins was that the reverse, not the typical obverse die, was set in the anvil. This may explain why there were so many different obverse dies as they were set in the striking hammer causing them to have a much shorter shelf life. The minting authorities obviously used this to their advantage.

This particular coin has a double-headed Sphinx which was a mythical creature composed of a lion’s body and human head. There are so many more interesting varieties. Collecting the staters of Cyzicus would certainly be a exciting endeavor.