• sulla80

Greeks, Wolves, and Cleopatra?

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Some of my favorite coins have been random auction finds, rather than the result of careful planning. This coin is in that category, a quick search for price comparison, the price was right, the look intriguing: a prone wolf, an incuse "A" reverse, light wear, decent strike and great toning. I hadn’t noticed one of these before, and decided to bid.

Argolis, Argos, circa 90-50 BC, AR Triobol, Hieron (IEPΩNOΣ), magistrate

Obv: Forepart of wolf at bay left

Rev: Large A; I-E/P-Ω/NO-Σ in three lines around; below crossbar, eagle standing right on thunderbolt; all within incuse square

Size: 14mm 2.43g

Ref: BCD Peloponnesos 1177-8


A few things I can share about this coin: it comes from Argos, Argolis on the Peloponnese peninsula:

Modified map from Wikipedia under CC 3.0 License


Plutarch tells of a legend that provides at least one explanation for the wolf on these coins - Apollo Lyceius the patron god of the city:


"...Danaüs first landed in the country, near Pyramia in the district of Thyreatis, and was on his way to Argos, he saw a wolf fighting with a bull; and conceiving that he himself was represented by the wolf (since both were strangers and were attacking the natives), he watched the battle to its end, and when the wolf had prevailed, paid his vows to Apollo Lyceius (the wolf-god), attacked the city, and was victorious, after Gelanor, who was at that time king of Argos, had been driven out by a faction. This, then, was the significance of the dedication." - Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 32.4


Similar coins with wolf and "A" for Argos go back to the very early 5th century BC. The wikipedia describes Argos as "one of the oldest continuously inhibited cities in the world". Argos is where the Argead dynasty originated, which includes Philip II of Macedonia and Alexander "The Great". Although it also mentions a theory that they claimed this origin only to reinforce their Greekness – Appian reinforces this theory:


"There is an Argos in Peloponnesus, another in Amphilochia, another in Orestea (whence come the Macedonian Argeadæ), and the one on the Ionian sea, said to have been built by Diomedes during his wanderings, -- all these, and every place named Argos in every other country, Seleucus inquired about and avoided." -Appian, Syrian Wars 10.63


Then there is an interesting note on a CNG coin of this type referencing a BCD sale from LHS: “It would be interesting to suggest that the eagle on thunderbolt on the reverse of this coin refers to Cleopatra and that this issue, and others similar to it (with the massive wolf on the obverse), ought to be down-dated to the 30s. The fact that this issue definitely seems to have been struck in haste (many of the specimens known to us are mis-struck), might be evidence for this theory, but it unfortunately does not seem to be compelling at this time.”


Cleopatra VII? CNG cites https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=296342

The LHS auction cites J. H. Kroll, "Hemiobols to Assaria: the bronze coinage of the Roman Aigion", Numismatic Chronicle (1996). Thanks to Ed Snibble for the reference.


Denomination? a triobol is the same as a hemi-drachm and this coin is often called by either name in catalogs


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