Coins from Abdera, Thrace
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
This year I have explored the coins of Asia Minor or the Anatolian peninsula. Anatolia called this by the Greeks, meaning "The East" is the region east of Greece. Asia Minor refers to roughly the same region as Anatolia. I use both terms loosely and as synonyms. On this journey, I am reminded often of the comment of Francesco Gnecchi in a book published by Spink 1903, describing those new to ancient coins:
"Among a hundred individuals who begin to collect one can count on ninety at least setting to work on a general collection, and that because nearly all are ignorant of the vastness of the material before them."
- Roman Coins, Elementary Manual by Francesco Gnecchi, translated by Alfred Watson Hands
Reference Map of Asia Minor under the Greeks and Romans (Public Domain Image)
Happily ignorant, I didn't consider the vastness of Anatolian history as I started. The coins of this region: from Archaic, to Classical, to Hellenistic, and Roman Provincial are numerous and diverse. The Hellenistic Period starts with Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends in 31 AD with the Battle at Actium and the beginning of the Roman Empire under Octavian/Augustus.
My coins of interest today come from just outside of Asia Minor on the far Northwest region on the map above: Thrace and the city of Abdera. Three of the coins are from the Classical period, and one after the death of Alexander the Great, Hellenistic. The geographic boundaries of Thrace varied over time, it was defined at its broadest by the Danube to the north, the Euxine Sea (Black Sea) the the east, Macedonia to the South and Illyria to the west. Under the Romans it became the provinces of Moesia Inferior and Tracia.
Thucydides, c. 460-400 BC, writes about the region and Abdera during the 5th century war between Athens and Sparta, The Pellopenesian War:
"The empire of the Odrysians extended along the seaboard from Abdera to the mouth of the Danube in the Euxine. The navigation of this coast by the shortest route takes a merchantman four days and four nights with a wind astern the whole way: by land an active man, travelling by the shortest road, can get from Abdera to the Danube in eleven days. Such was the length of its coast line."
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 2.97
Herodotus writes sometime near 425 BC about Thrace:
"The Thracians are the biggest nation in the world, next to the Indians. If they were under one ruler, or united, they would, in my judgment, be invincible and the strongest nation on earth. Since, however, there is no way or means to bring this about, they are weak. The Thracians have many names, each tribe according to its region, but they are very similar in all their customs, save the Getae, the Trausi, and those who dwell above the Crestonaeans."
- Herodotus, The Histories 5.3
Founding Stories for Abdera
According to Greek legend Abdera in Thrace was founded by Hercules:
"The eighth labour that he [Eurystheus] enjoined on him [Hercules] was to bring the mares of Diomedes the Thracian to Mycenae. Now this Diomedes was a son of Ares and Cyrene, and he was king of the Bistones, a very warlike Thracian people, and he owned man-eating mares."
-Apollodorus, Library, 2.5.8
Hercules gave the mares to his follower, Abderus, a son of Hermes, and native of Opus in Locris, but the mares killed him. Hercules founded a city Abdera beside the grave of Abderus.
Herodotus reports that, circa 540 BC, Cyrus the Great, and one of his generals, Harpagas, invaded Teos, Ionia on the western coast of modern Turkey, the Teians fled north by ship to Abdera.
"The Teians did the same things as the Phocaeans: when Harpagus had taken their walled city by building an earthwork, they all embarked aboard ship and sailed away for Thrace. There they founded a city, Abdera, which before this had been founded by Timesius of Clazomenae; yet he got no profit of it, but was driven out by the Thracians. This Timesius is now honored as a hero by the Teians of Abdera."
-Herodotus, The Histories, 1.168
Home to Scientists and Philosophers
Democritus was one of the originators of the idea that everything is composed of "atoms", along with other concepts for which he is recognized as one of the founders of modern science. He was born in Abdera, Thrace in circa 460–457 BC.
Protagoras of Abdera (c. 490-420 BC) is another of its famous citizens is considered the first sophist and a participant in debate with Socrates (c. 470-399 BC) in a dialog by Plato (c. 428-347 BC).
"The main dialogue begins when Socrates starts to question Protagoras about what he teaches his pupils. Protagoras asserts that he educates his students in politics and in how to manage personal affairs. But Socrates questions whether this is really a subject that can be taught."
Battle with the Triballi Tribe
Diodorus Siculus, writes of a terrible battle, c. 376-375 BC, between Abdera and the Triballi tribe, who were driven by famine to invade nearby territories.
"A stubborn battle took place, and since the Thracians suddenly changed sides, the Abderites, now left to fight alone and surrounded by the superior number of the barbarians, were butchered almost to a man, as many as took part in the fight. But just after the Abderites had suffered so great a disaster and were on the point of being besieged, Chabrias the Athenian suddenly appeared with troops and snatched them out of their perils. He drove the barbarians from the country, and, after leaving a considerable garrison in the city, was himself assassinated by certain persons."
-Diodorus Siculus, Library, 15.36
Roman Sacking During the Third Macedonian War
Livy writes of Abdera in 170BC, of Roman praetor Lucius Hortensius sacking Abdera and beheading their leaders and selling their people into slavery. A delegation from Abdera arrived in Rome to appeal to the Senate:
The senate regarded this as a disgraceful proceeding and they made the same decree in the case of the Abderites that they had made the previous year in the case of the Coronaeans, with instructions to the praetor to announce the decree to the Assembly. Two commissioners, C. Sempronius Blaesus and Sextius Julius Caesar, were sent to restore the Abderites to freedom, and to inform Hostilius and Hortensius that the senate considered the attack upon Abdera as utterly unjustifiable, and demanded that search should be made for all who were enslaved in order that they might be set free."
-Livy, The History of Rome, 43.4
Coins from Abdera, Thrace
Thrace, Abdera, circa 395-360 BC, AR tetrobol, Protes, magistrate, 15mm, 2.76g
Obv: ΑΒΔ, Griffin springing left
Rev: Three grain-ears within linear square; EΠI ΠPΩ-TEΩ around; all in incuse square
Thrace, Abdera, circa 346/345-336 BC, AR Hemisiglos (hemidrachm)
Obv: ΕΠΙ - Χ-ΑΡΜ-Ο, griffin leaping left, forepart and forpaws raised, with feathered wings, tail curling and closed beak.
Rev: ΑΒΔ-ΗΡΙ-ΤΕ-ΩΝ, laureate head of Apollo, left, within linear square
Thrace, Abdera, circa 336-311 BC, Hemisiglos (hemidrachm), 14mm, 2.59 g, Pithedoros, magistrate
Obv: ΑΒΔΗ/ΡΙΤΕΩ, Griffin springing left
Rev: ΕΠΙ ΠΥΘΟ-ΔΩΡΟ, Laureate head of Apollo right within square linear frame
Ref: May, Abdera 553
Thrace, Abdera, ΗΡΟΔΟΤΟΣ (Herodotos), magistrate circa 300-250 BC, Bronze Æ
Obv: ABΔHΡITΩN, griffin springing left
Rev: [...]ΔΟΤOY, laureate head of Apollo right Size: 17mm, 4.83g
Abderans and Roman Jokes
By the 1st Century, Abdera had fallen from greatness, and the people of Abdera were ridiculed by the Romans as illustrated by this comment from Cicero:
"My mind however is supremely calm, and regards the whole thing with utter indifference: the more so that I am told by many that Pompey and his council have determined to send me to Sicily on the ground of my having imperium. That is worthy of Abdera! For neither has the senate decreed nor the people ordered me to have imperium in Sicily."
-Cicero, Letters to Atticus VII.7
Perhaps a reaction to the history of teachers, scientists and philosophers and a joke on academic logic. Philogelos, a 3rd Century AD joke book, has ~18 jokes about the stupidity of the people of Abdera and intellectuals generally e.g.
"An egghead was writing a letter from Athens to his father. Wanting to show off over how well his studies were going, he added this postscript: 'I pray that when I come home I shall find you on trial for your life, so that I can show you how great an advocate I am'."
The coins above are amazingly well preserved artifacts of Abderan artistry in the 4th centuries BC.