top of page
  • sulla80

A Coin of Massalia


Marseille Greek Colony, P. Puvis de Chavannes, 1869, oil on canvas, commissioned in 1867 by the city of Marseille for the west wing of the Longchamp Palace. Public domain image with thanks to the Wikimedia Commons.


Athenaeus in Book XIII of Deipnosophistae quotes Aristotle's "Constitution of the Massaliotes" on the origin story of Massalia. Nannus was king of the Segobrigii tribe in southern France - "nonos" means "dwarf" and hence the reason for the explanation.

"The Phocaeans who inhabit Ionia were traders and founded Massalia. Euxenus of Phocaea was a guest-friend of King Nanos — which was actually his name. Euxenus happened to be visiting when this Nanos was celebrating his daughter’s wedding, and he was invited to the feast. The wedding was organized as follows: After the meal, the girl had to come in and offer a bowl full of wine mixed with water to whichever suitor there she wanted, and whoever she gave it to would be her bridegroom. When the girl entered the room, she gave the bowl, either by accident or for some other reason, to Euxenus; her name was Petta. After this happened, and her father decided that the gift had been made in accord with the god’s will, so that he should have her, Euxenus married and set up housekeeping with her, although he changed her name to Aristoxene. There is still a family in Marseille that is descended from this woman: it is the Protiades, Protis being the son of Euxène and Aristoxéné."

My coin of interest today comes from Massalia, Gaul, modern Marseille, France (also spelled Massilia). Massalia was an ally of Rome from at least early 3rd century BC. A copy of Michel Clerc's Massalia : histoire de Marseille dans l'Antiquité, 1929, wasn't particularly informative for coins.


There is a nice catalog of coin images - organized by series in: Les drachmes de Marseille, essai de classement typologique préliminaire (IVe-1ersiècleavantJ.-C.). Jean Charra, Archéologie en Languedoc. n024, 2000, pp. 125-150.


Catalogue # 1124 in Series 11 on page 132 matches the issue of my coin.



In total there are 25 series in Charra spanning the 4th to the 1st century BC.


Other Examples

There are no examples of this specific coin in ACSearch (with Φ/K in front of the lion on the reverse) although quite a few similar variants. There are is one example in the SixBid Collector's Archive (25-Jun-2021 Zöttl E-Auktion 4 Lot 10). This is one is in pretty bad shape and might be a double die match. A second example found in CoinArchives may share one die, and is in nicer condition. It is interesting to note that the very sparse Wikipedia entry for Massalia shows the reverse of this coin (different die) from the Numismatic Museum of Athens.


Early References

The coin is documented as # 676 in G. MacDonald (1899), Catalogue of Greek coins in the Hunterian collection volume 3, Hunterian Museum (University of Glasgow); Glasgow, J. Maclehose and Sons, p.676.

Numiswiki at FORVM Ancient Coins lists a few references for the coins of "Gallia" which are mostly not digitized and has some useful information:


Babelon (1901) provides a little information on the founding of Massalia:

"Finally, about the time when Ionia became dominated by the kings of Lydia, the Phocaeans decided, in large numbers, to emigrate far away. They went around the year 600 BC, to found Massalia on the coasts of Gaul, which quickly became a powerful center of Hellenic civilization."

A variant of this coin can be found on Plat III of de la Tour, H. Atlas de monnaies Gauloises. (Paris, 1892). M. Clerc shows a similar coin on p.361 fig 8, #11.

The coins of this general type (Artemis and Lion) first appeared in the late 3rd century and underwent a shift to a lower weight of ~2.7g in response to the introduction of the Victoriatus in Rome.

"About the close of the third century a change takes place both in the style and in the weight of the Massalian coins. Head of Artemis, with quiver at her shoulder [B. M. Guide, Pl. 44. 1].ΜΑΣΣΑΛΙΗΤΩΝ Lion AR. 42-40 grs. (about 2.7 grams). This reduction in the weight of the drachm was sudden, not gradual. It was the result of the adoption, for commercial reasons, of the standard of the Victoriatus (see Haeberlin in Z. f. N., xxvi. p. 238)."
-Numiswiki at FORVM Ancient Coins 

Here's a Victoriatus from some time after 218 BC.

Victoriatus after 218 BC, AR 16mm., 2.60g

Obv: Laureate head of Jupiter right

Rev: Victory r., crowning trophy; in exergue, ROMA

Ref: Crawford 44/1


The Coin

This coin dates roughly to 150-130 BC a time when the Celtic tribes were problematic and Rome was intervening in support of Massalia.

Gaul, Massalia, AR Drachm (2.78g), 150-130 BC, lighter standard

Obv: Draped bust of Artemis right, diadem radiated, with Φ/K before. The hair is divided into three braids, two are tied, one on the head, the other behind, the third goes down the back of the neck to the shoulder. Shoulder visible behind bow and quiver. Pearl necklace. Earring with three pendants.Tiara with four points. Small lock of hair on the cheek.

Rev: MAΣΣA above the lion, ΛIHTΩN in exergue, lion advancing right with Φ/K before and tail passing under the right hind leg.

Ref: De La Tour 944 (variant); Sear 76 (variant), Jean Charra 1124, BNF 1031-1034, Laugier 117/4


Relationship with the Roman Republic

David Sear's "Greek Coins and their values" (Volume 1: Europe), 1978 has a short reference that describes the colonization in 600 BC and then alliance with the Roman Republic about two centuries later which was valuable to Rome for maintaining communication with Spain, strategically located where Rome could maintain awareness of the activities of both Carthage and Gallic Celts.


An interesting study in BMC Ecology and Evolution, from R.J. King et al. of Y-chromosome DNA showed a strong Greek influence on the modern population in Provence (estimating that 17% of the Y-chromosomes of Provence may be attributed to Greek colonization).

"The Greeks from both mainland Greece and Anatolia made a major  contribution to the development of western European culture through  their Mediterranean colonies (Italy, France, and Spain) during the Iron  Age. Haplogroup E-V13 may trace the movement of the Ionian Greeks to key  areas of France and Corsica that introduced viniculture to Western  Europe"
- RJ King et al.(2011) The coming of the Greeks to Provence and Corsica

Cambridge Ancient History volume VIII had a few relevant references including p.80 mentioning that in 394 BC, the Romans dedicated a gold bowl to the ORACLE of Delphi in the treasury of Massalia, and Massalia claimed a connection to Rome from the time of their founding in the 6th century when the visited the Tiber on the way to founding Massalia.

"In the time of King Tarquinius, a company of Phocaeans from Asia, sailing up the Tiber, formed an alliance with the Romans, and proceeding from thence to the inmost part of the gulf of Gaul, built the city of Massilia amidst the Ligurians and the savage Gallic tribes, and performed great exploits there, both in defending themselves against the fierce Gauls, and in attacking, of themselves, those by whom they had previously been molested."
-Justinus 43.4 

The road from Rome to Spain shown here using Stanford researcher's ORBIS the Geospatial Model of the Roman World, an amazing resource that calculates the time (1419km and ~48.5 days by foot) and cost (1916 denarii per person by carriage) of traveling from place to place. ORBIS is roughly based on a time period of 200 AD and probably still a usable approximation for distance and path, but prices in denarii would require taking into account four centuries of inflation to be relevant for the 2nd century BC time of this coin.


When Celtic tribes in the mid-second century (154 BC) were threatening Massalia, Rome intervened and in 123 conquered the Ligurians, and two years later the Allobroges and Arverni tribes forming the province of Gallia Transalpina (modern day Provence). In 118 BC, the Roman colony of Narbo Martius (modern Narbonne) was formed and competed with Massalia. Julius Caesar conquered all of Gaul between 58 and 50 BC and Massalia supported Pompey with Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus as proconsul of Gaul the Roman was besieged by Caesar in 49 BC.


These coins were imitated by Celtic tribes and several sources note that there are more Celtic imitations than Greek coins known. This perhaps explains why there seems to be more more published material on the Celtic imitations than on these light standard drachms or tetrobols.

An abstract "Scorpion Lion" from a Celtic (Cenomani) coin imitating a coin of Massalia.


Marseille's coat of arms today features a lion and a bull.

Image Source: Superbenjamin, used under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This Roman Republican coin was minted in Massalia in 82BC by proconsul of Gaul C. Valerius Flaccus at a time when Sulla made advances against Q. Sertorius in Spain. Sertorius had left Rome when Marius, six time consul and rival of Sulla died and before Sulla was returning to Rome to take control after the First Mithridatic War. Sertorius outlived Sulla and was eventually assassinated.

"Fortune he ever found harder to deal with than his open foes, and yet he made himself equal to the experience of Metellus, the daring of Pompey, the fortune of Sulla, and the power in Rome, though he was an exile and a stranger in command of Barbarians."
-Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 1.5 

C. Valerius Flaccus; 82 BC. AR Denarius; Massalia mint

Obv: Winged and draped bust of Victory right; X to left

Rev: Aquila between two signa inscribed H (hastati) and P (principes), respectively

Ref: Crawford 365/1; Sydenham 747a; Valeria 12; RBW –.

Notes: this denarius was the first to show the legionary eagle (aquila) and standards as the main design element. This design influenced later issues, including Cn. Nerius and the legionary series of Mark Antony.


Overall some useful references and information found on the Artemis/Lion coin of Massalia and a few remaining sources that I would like to consult.


Additional References beyond those linked inline:

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page