Mysia, Cyzicus. c. 450 BC
Mysia, Cyzicus. c. 450 BC
EL Stater, 16.10g (17mm). Bearded satyr with pointed ears and long, thick tail, kneeling to l., holds a tunny by the tail in his r. hand, the l. rests on his hip / Four part square incuse.
Pedigree: Former Dutch private collection
References: Greenwell pl. II, 19. Von Fritze 122. Boston 1461. SNG France -
Grade: Good metal with no significant cracks which are typical with Cyzicene staters. Overall slight wear but good centering and pleasant. Good VF+ (gk1215)
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The electrum issues of Cyzicus are among the most beautiful of early Greek coinage. It is also one of more mysterious. The Cyzicus staters and hektes (⅙ staters) were one of the “global” currencies within the ancient Greek world. Other far-reaching currencies were the Athenian owls, the gold darics of Persia and the 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 satyr holding a tunny fish which was the symbol associated with Cyzicus. Satyrs were wild, lewd, snub-nosed followers of the god Dionysus. They are depicted with the ears and tails of horses and are cowardly and grotesque. Satyrs were the embodiment of all that was ugly in the god Dionysus, allowing the god himself to remain beautiful and attractive.