Between the Seleucid and Attalid Kingdom
A countermarked coin arrived this week and took me on a research dive into Seleucid and Attalid countermarks on Attic tetradrachms. Why were these coins marked, and at what location? Can I more narrowly assign a date to my coin? While only touching the surface on this topic, this post is a summary of what I’ve found, so far, on this particular coin, and links with resources for more information.
A 27-28mm, 16.25g, tetradrachm from Pamphylia – as I have mostly drachms and denarii, the scale of this coin already makes it a special coin in my collection. Reasonably well centered, even wear, pleasing style, light toning and the counter-mark, all add up to an interesting and attractive coin.
PAMPHYLIA, Side, c.205-150 BC, AR Tetradrachm, ST–, magistrate
Obv: Helmeted head of Athena (guardian deity of Side from its founding) right; countermark: Seleukid anchor within oval incuse
Rev: Nike advancing left, holding wreath; to left, pomegranate (a symbol of Side), Σ T mark of the issuing magistrate
Ref: Seyrig, Side 20; SNG France –
This coin is an Attic standard tetradrachm, the weight standard adopted by Phillip II of Macedon that spread rapidly with the expansion of the Macedonian Empire and increased use of money in the Greek world, over 300 years of the Hellenistic period.
I could easily get carried away with a long post on the history of Side, founded by Greek settlers from Kyme of Aeolis, on the southern Mediterranean shores of modern Turkey. I will refrain as there are many good sources starting with the wikipedia to visit. Arrian, wrote in the second century AD of Alexander the Great in Side:
“Alexander now went towards Side, whose inhabitants are Cymeans from Aeolian Cyme; they give this account of themselves, that as soon a they reached that land, the first to leave Cyme, sailing thither to colonize, they forgot their native tongue and talked a foreign language straight away, and that not the Persian of the natives there, but their own idiom, in fact a new dialect; henceforward the citizens of Side had been many foreigners, contrary to the ways of their neighbors.”
Side is important to see on the map, located during the time of this coin between the Kingdom of Pergamon to the West and the Seleucid Empire to the East. The borders of this map were redrawn by the Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC between Rome and the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus III lost to Rome and was pushed East of the Taurus Mountains and had to pay indemnities to Rome (link for more from Appian).
State Validation of Foreign Attic Silver Coins
There are competing theories on the Attalid, Seleucid countermarks, where they were minted, at what exact time period, and whether or not there is any relationship to the introduction of Cistophori in Pergamon. Alain Bresson provides an exhaustive overview, with an overwhelming amount of data, that draws several conclusions:
Pamphylia and the coinage of Pamphylia played an active role as hub between Attalid (Pergamon) and Seleucid Empires. Coins countermarked both in the Attalid and Seleucid kingdoms moved back and forth playing a major role in commercial traffic between Attalid western Asia Minor and Seleucid northern Syria
After 175 BC, when Eumenes II introduced the new cistophori and created a closed currency system, countermarks granted Pamphylian tetradrachms the right to circulate in the kingdom (before the 160s BC reduction of autonomous Sidetan tetradrachms). Before 169 BC and until perhaps 150, the Pamphylian tetradrachms with the Seleucid countermark (anchor, and facing helios head) were recognized in the Seleucid territory.
The third conclusion - a hypothesis that I hesitate to accept – that Pamphylia actively negotiated these privileges for their currency with both kingdoms.
Andrew Meadows, published data on locations, finds, countermarks and relative size of issues to inform the debate and hypotheses on the rationale for countermarking. He writes that counter-marking of Attic weight coins as “comparatively rare, and when it occurs appears from the surviving evidence to be highly episodic”. He gives an overview of 5 key events when this occurred:
Egypt, lath 4th century BC - not specific in the region of host coin origin, perhaps related to closure of the currency system by the Ptolemaic authorities.
Byzantium c 230’s-220’s BC - Byzantium (prow of a ship+BY+) & Calchedon (Apollo, Demeter, or,Persephone+) appears to have been applied to a random sample of Attic weight coins likely to have been in general circulation in the 230s-220s BC.
‘Cistophoric’ Countermarks, c. 180s BC – very narrowly applied to coinage from 4 Pamphyla mints and 80%, disproportionately, from Side. The date narrowly assigned to 180 BC.
Anchor and Facing Helios, c. 170s BC – non-Seleucid coinage, as with my tetradrachm, being re-authorized within the Seleucid kingdom after the Peace of Apameia. Alexander tetradrachms outnumbered coins of Side at the time.
Tyche head, late 150s-140s BC and other coinage which are arguably civic counter-marks as cities regulated coinage in their markets e.g. Smyrna and Tyche head. This is the main focus of the article and has more depth of coverage in the paper.
Demetrios I Soter paying his mercenaries?
Harold Mattingly, in an article from “From Coins to History”, uses hoard evidence, and two other examples of countermarking, to propose that the anchor counter-mark was minted in Lycia/Pamphilia and is from Demetrius I as he prepared to invade Syria in 162 BC declaring his arrival and authority before he controlled any mint.
"The invading force was largely mercenary, and Lycia/Pamphylia was an excellent recruiting area, and Ptolemy VIII had found a few years earlier, when planning to seize Cyprus from his eldest brother. From Tripolis, Demetrios advanced to Apamea, which is suggestively near the find spot of Ma’arrat hoard. It was surely buried during the fighting for the control of the approaches to Antioch. If I am right in my conjecture the countermarks throw an interesting sidelight on Demetrios’ venture, though not any longer on the economic policies of the Seleucid empire." -H. Mattingly, From Coins to History, pp.52-56
Demetrios I, was born c. 186 BC, reigned 162-150 BC as Seleukid King. He was the son of his Seleukos IV Philopator and his sister Laodike III, Princess of Pontus. At 10 or 12 years old, under the terms of the Peace of Apamea, he was sent to Rome as a hostage. After the death of his uncle, Antiochos IV, and appointment of 9-year old cousin to the throne, Demetrios I escaped Rome circa 162/1 BC to return to Tripoli and take over as king.
Demetrios married his sister Laodice IV, whom no neighbors would accept as a bride given his troubles with Rome and her previous marriage to an enemy of Rome. Although Rome recognized him as King in 160 BC, the Roman senate was never too warm to him, and he further irritated the Ptolemies with an attempt to take over Cyprus in 154 BC. With support of the Roman Senate, Egypt’s Ptolemy VI, and Pergamon’s Attalus II, a questionable “son of Antiochus IV” named Alexander Ballas, killed Demetrios in battle and took over as Seleucid King in 150 BC.
There seems to be hoard evidence, from O. Hoover (2008), that at least brings into question Mattingly's timelines. Regardless the historical context is still relevant to the Seleucid, the countermark, the region where and years when this coin was minted and circulated.
There is relatively recent, new data and hypotheses on Selecid and Attalid countermarks. I only touch the surface in this post and much more can be found in the references. There is no debate about the anchor countermark being Seleucid, and I've updated the date range of my coin a bit more narrowly to c. 205-150 BC and the date range for the countermark being applied to between 175-150 BC. As for where the countermark was struck - location remains elusive although Besson makes a case that 91% of anchor-countermarked Pamphylian coins from hoards come from the Seleucid Levant or from the regions immediately neighboring. Coins of this type have been countermarked by both the Attalids (cistophoric countermark) and Seleucids (anchor and Helios) and offer no shortage of excuses for more reading...
Bresson, A. (2014). “Coins and Trade in Hellenistic Asia Minor: the Pamphylian Hub.” in B. Wojtek, ed. Proceedings of the conference “Infrastructure and Distribution in Ancient Economies.” Vienna, Austrian Academy.
Houghton, A. (2004). Seleucid Coinage and Monetary Policy of the 2nd c. B.C. Reflections on the Monetization of the Seleucid Economy, Topoi. Orient-Occident Année 2004 Suppl. 6 pp. 49-79
Bauslaugh, R. (1990). Cistophoric Countermarks and the Monetary System of Eumenes II. The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), 150, pp. 39-65
Robinson, E.I. (1929). ARRIAN XXVI,4, W Heineman, London, pp.109-11
Mattingly, H. B. (2004). From coins to history: selected numismatic studies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press
Medows, A. (2018). Civic Countermarks on the Silver Coinage of Asia Minor in the 2nd Century B.C. Proceedings of the Second International Congress on the History of Money and Numismatics in the Mediterranean World, Suna & İnan Kıraç Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations, Antalya, 5-8 January, 2017 (Antalya, 2018), Pp. 185-219
Veselý, Petr (2013). Demetrios I, SELEUKIDTRACES.info
Thonemann, P. (2016), The Hellenistic World: Using Coins as Sources, University of Oxford