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Tears of Chios

On my way to India this past week, I had a short layover in Athens. Sadly, on this trip, I only saw the Athens airport, where I picked up some unusual chewing gum.

"Chios Gum Mastic" also known as "Tears of Chios" is the dried resin of the mastic tree which is in the same family as the pistachio. Pistacia lentiscus is the source of this resin which has been harvested on the island of Chios for more than 2500 years. The resin is harvested by slicing the bark to initiate the formation of tears of resin. Chewing these little resin pearls they become a white chewing gum that has a pine and cedar flavor.


Herodotus mentions gum-mastich in his Persian Wars written about 495 BC.

"Again, Arabia is the most distant to the south of all inhabited countries: and this is the only country which yields frankincense and myrrh and casia and cinnamon and gum-mastich."
-Herodotus, The Persian Wars, III.107

Ancient Medicine

Pliny in book XII.XXXVI of Natural History discusses this mastic:

"the kind most highly praised is the white mastich of Chios, which fetches a price of 10 denarii a pound, while the black kind costs 2 denarii. It is said that the Chian mastich exudes from the lentisk (mastic tree) like a kind of gum."

In another chapter, he lists 22 remedies of the mastic in Book XXVI.28 of Natural History beginning with:

"The seed, bark, and tear-like juices of the lentisk are diuretics, and act astringently upon the bowels: a decoction of them, used as a fomentation, is curative of serpiginous sores, and is applied topically for humid ulcerations and erysipelas; it is employed also as a collutory for the gums."

Galen cites in his "Method of Medicine" Book VII.11 multiple uses of Chian mastic including use in a cure for kakochymia (an imbalance or unhealthy condition) in the walls of the stomach. The best remedy being made by mixing aloes with "cinnamon, balsam wood, hazelwort, spikenard, saffron and Chian mastich."


Pistachia Lentiscus Source: Plate 130 from the work "Medicinal-pflanzen" (medical plants) by H. A. Köhler, published in 3 volumes.


Modern Medicine

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recognized Chian mastic as an herbal medicinal product in 2014 (See: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/medicines/herbal/mastic). Modern publications describe various anti-inflammatory effects of the gum:

"There is now substantial evidence to suggest that mastiha demonstrates a plethora of favorable effects, mainly attributed to the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties of its components. The main use of mastiha nowadays, however, is for the production of natural chewing gum, although an approval by the European Medicines Agency for mild dyspeptic disorders and for inflammations of the skin has been given."
-"Overview of Chios Mastic Gum ( Pistacia lentiscus) Effects on Human Health", Soulaidopoulos et al., Nutrients, 2022 Jan 28;14(3):590, doi: 10.3390/nu14030590

Chios is an island, east of Athens in the Aegean sea.


I have two coins that were attributed to Chios when I purchased them and minted in the name of Alexander the Great. Researching these coins turned up some differences from the dealer attributions.


A Chios Drachm Die Study

Robert Bauslaugh did a die study of these posthumous issues from Chios in 1979. (See: Bauslaugh, Robert. “The Posthumous Alexander Coinage of Chios.” Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society), vol. 24, 1979, pp. 1–45.)


Bauslaugh's study showed heavy die linkage in these coins (a small number of dies used) which enabled a solid sequencing. Initially, based on the attribution, I took this coin for one of Barslaugh's series 2B which is linked with Price's 2318 - there are other coins of this type attributed by CNG e.g. this one from 2011: https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=1048166.


A look at the plate coins from Bauslaugh's article raised many questions about my first coin - the style of my coin is just not right and the "grapes" are missing....so what's going on?


Then I found a few other coins in ACSearch with the same die that are attributed to Mylasa and an look at Margaret Thompson's 1986 article on the “The Armenak Hoard (IGCH 1423)” quickly confirmed that my coin is not from Chios at all - but rather from Mylasa (Price 2488). The style of coins in Thompson's article are a better match for my coin.


Alexander III 'the Great' (336-323 BC), AR Drachm, 4.23g 17mm, Mylasa, postumus issue from 300-280 BC.

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin.

Rev: AΛEΞANΔPOY, Zeus seated left on throne, holding eagle and scepter. Control: Monogram in left field.

Ref: Price 2486

These coins were assigned to Mylasa in 1981 by Price in her article “The Alexandrine mint of Mylasa” in Quaderni Ticinesi X.  Price was less certain about the city (putting a question mark next to this mint assignment and referencing Thompson). 

Mylasa was located about 300km south east of Chios in ancient Caria (modern Turkiye).

Looking at my second coin attributed to Chios - more questions come up: why isn't this coin in Baulaugh's die study? It didn't take long to find another article on these coins by Catherine C. Lorber, “The ‘Pseudo-Chios’ Mint: A New Drachm Mint in Asia Minor.” The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), vol. 180, 2020, pp. 21–38. Coin 83 resembles my coin, although Lorber describes a M in the circle for this coin and my variation does not show up in the publication, so I am uncertain about my attribution to pseudo-Chios mint.

I find few other examples of this particular coin from N&N London which are variously attributed to Chios, or an unknown, Ionian mint, or Pseudo-Chios.

Alexander III 'the Great', posthumous AR Drachm (4.07, 19.5mm), Chios, circa 290-275 BC

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin headdress

Rev: Zeus Aëtophoros seated left, holding eagle and sceptre; AΛEΞANΔPOY to right, X within vine wreath in left field, bunch of grapes below.


Entertained by the thought of ancient chewing gum - I tried another brand that had larger "tears" and seemed much fresher and more flavorful.


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