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Amazon Kyme

This map (a detail from The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1923) shows the western edge of Asia Minor (a.k.a. Anatolia or modern Türkiye) around under the Greeks and Romans. I've added the highlight for Kyme (Cyme) on the map.

My coin of interest today is a nice large AE, a civic issue from the city of Kyme in Aiolis, just under 11 grams and 21.5mm - smaller that a US quarter or 1 euro coin and about as thick as both put together. There are other ancient "Kyme"s - once near Naples in Italy and the other in Euboea.

As an aside: user experience can make a big difference to whether or not I will go back to a given dealer/auction house. I don't usually advertise the dealers that I buy from, however Savoca deserves credit for their overall experience. This coin arrived almost as quickly as I paid for it - they are the of ancient coin dealers and always prompt and professional in their communications. Eventually, I may give in and pay the price for an AR Tetradrachm of Aeolis, Kyme. So far I haven't been able to convince myself that the price-point is acceptable. This coin makes a fine alternative in my view, and it is a coin that is harder to find, especially in nice condition, than the tetradrachm. The imagery and this particular example better condition and the flan noticeably heavier than most others of this type in ACSearch (about 20 similar coins to compare in ACSearch with Pythas as magistrate).

Greek: Aiolis, Kyme, Civic Issue Æ (21.5mm, 10.93g, 6h), circa 250-190 BC, Pythas, magistrate Obv: Diademed head of Amazon Kyme to right Rev: Horse stepping to right, one-handled cup to lower right below raised foreleg; KYMAIΩΝ above, ΠΥΘΑΣ below Ref: SNG von Aulock 1635; SNG Copenhagen 102

The obverse references a myth of the founding of the city by the Amazon Kyme.

"And there are certain cities, it is said, which got their names from the Amazons, I mean Ephesus, Smyrna, Cymê, and Myrina."
-Strabo, Geography, Book XXII, Chapter 3.21 

The Amazons were a fierce tribe of female warriors, known for their archery and horse riding, who fought against the Greeks.

"When their children were born the babies were turned over to the men, who brought them up on milk and such cooked foods as were appropriate to the age of the infants; and if it happened that a girl was born, its breasts were seared that they might not develop at the time of maturity; for they thought that the breasts, as they stood out from the body, were no small hindrance in warfare; and in fact it is because they have been deprived of their breasts that they are called by the Greeks Amazons."
-Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, 3.53 

Myrina was Queen and Kyme one of her generals. Diodorus Siculus describes that Myrina named other cities after "the women who held the most important commands, such as Cymê, Pitana, and Prienê".

There are many supposed etymologies for the name Amazon and the similarities in the sounds of these words may have fueled the stories. One o the most commonly shared is the origin from ἀ and μαζός, a form of μαστός ("breast"), and means "without a breast". The breast as a "hindrance in warfare" is often connected to archers especially. There story may come from this word-similarity, as with several other imagined etymologies: e.g a story that the Amazon's did not know grain and were meat & fruit-eaters only ἀ μάζα (without cereal food).

A more recent interpretation is that the Amazon myths are based on Scythian women who were Ἀμάξοίκος (wagon-dwellers). see Kazmer Ujvarosy (2016)

Herodotus tells a story of the Amazons and the Sauromatae or Sarmatians (an Iranian people in western Scythia - today in modern Ukraine):

"About the Sauromatae, the story is as follows. When the Greeks were at war with the Amazons (whom the Scythians call Oiorpata, a name signifying in our tongue killers of men, for in Scythian a man is “oior” and to kill is “pata”), the story runs that after their victory on the Thermodon they sailed away carrying in three ships as many Amazons as they had been able to take alive; and out at sea the Amazons attacked the crews and killed them. But they knew nothing about ships, or how to use rudder or sail or oar; and with the men dead, they were at the mercy of waves and winds, until they came to the Cliffs by the Maeetian lake; this place is in the country of the free Scythians. The Amazons landed there, and set out on their journey to the inhabited country, and seizing the first troop of horses they met, they mounted them and raided the Scythian lands."
-Herodotus, The Histories, IV.110 

The reverse of this coin ( the prancing horse) has several proposed explanations:

  • a connection to the cavalry training of the Amazons (or training of youth in horse riding)

  • a prize that recognizes Kyme's leading role in Aiolis

  • a reference to local horse industry

  • and others

I am not confident in the dating of this coin, although the auction results are all consistent. Asia Minor coins has two dates associated with the three coins that are generally in this category. AMC #40 references both 250-200 BC and 165-140 BC. The shared obverse and reverse images with the tetradrachms does make me wonder if they might be from similar time period (165-140 BC).

Strabo explains that the people of Kyme were not known for their brilliance:

"The largest and best of the Aeolian cities is Cymê; and this with Lesbos might be called the metropolis of the rest of the cities, about thirty in number, of which not a few have disappeared. Cymê is ridiculed for its stupidity, owing to the repute, as some say, that not until three hundred years after the founding of the city did they sell the tolls of the harbour, and that before this time the people did not reap this revenue. They got the reputation, therefore, of being a people who learned late that they were living in a city by the sea."
-Strabo, Geography, 13.3.6 

Dan Crompton’s translation of the Philogelos (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: The World’s Oldest Joke Book [2010]) has has a whole chapter on jokes about people from Kyme. Here's a sample:

I suppose that this book reminds us that some humor hasn't changed much in 2000 years. How many Kymeans does it take to change a lightbulb?

I was hoping I might find some overlap of my magistrate (Pythas) with other coins, but so far no luck. I don't have a reference that offers much on these bronzes of Kyme - the two Lindgren book and my 3 volumes of SNG France (the wrong ones) came up blank (Lindgren 396, and BMC 68 both not very informative (BMC on Cyme)).


These additional papers reference hoards of AR Tetradrachms which I hoped would shed some light on magistrates, but so far not particularly relevant to my coin above.

  • "Commerce ('Demetrius I' hoard), 2003 (CH 10.301)", Catherine Lorber, in O. Hoover, A.R. Meadows, and U. Warterberg, eds. Coin Hoards X: Greek Hoards (New York, 2010), pp. 153-172.

  • "The Gaziantep Hoard", 1994 (CH 9.527; 10.308) A. R. Meadows and Arthur Houghton

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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
May 28, 2022

Sulla, I spotted a typo in the sentence "Strabo explains that the people of Kyme (we) not known for their brilliance:", change to (were) 😏.

May 28, 2022
Replying to

Thanks Al, I owe you some editor fees 😀

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