The land comprising the modern nation of Turkey, commonly called
Anatolia or Asia Minor, was home to hundreds of mints that produced
many remarkable coin types in electrum, silver and copper or its alloys.
Although a myriad of opportunities exist for the collector of
ancient coins, an especially good one is in the bronze coinage of Asia Minor.
The great variety of designs, sizes, places of origin and issuing
authorities makes Greek and Roman coins of Asia Minor a fascinating
pursuit, whether one is new to the field or an experienced collector
looking for a new challenge.
Greek and Roman bronzes were struck in Asia Minor for nearly nine
centuries, from just before 400 B.C. through the late fifth century
A.D. Thereafter, bronze coinage continued to be struck by the
Byzantine Empire and its regional rivals.
Although coinage was invented in Asia Minor, bronzes do not seem
to have been struck there until at least a few years after they were
issued in Sicily, Italy and Greece, Greek bronzes being produced in
those nations perhaps as early as 420 B.C. The first Greek bronzes of
Asia Minor may have been struck on Samos, an island just off the
western coast. Currently they are dated from about 412 to 405 B.C.
Two extremely interesting issues from the city of Astyra in Mysia
from about 400 to 395 B.C. are dedicated to the Persian commander
Tissaphernes. The reverse of one shows Tissaphernes on horseback and
another bears his bearded portrait; in both cases he is identified by
the accompanying inscription “Tissa.”
Beyond issues from a few
mints, including Ephesus, Magnesia, Clazomenai and Colophon, one is
hard-pressed to find many bronzes of Asia Minor that for certain
predate 350 B.C. However, once the idea took root — largely after the
Persians were overthrown by Alexander III “the Great” in 330 B.C. —
this region became the most prolific issuer of ancient bronzes.
The denomination names are not known for most of the coins, and
they typically are now categorized by their diameter. A coin of 22
millimeters in diameter is normally described as an “AE22.” An equally
generic value is placed on the composition of the metal, be it copper
or one of its alloys, such as brass, bronze or leaded-bronze. In
general, they are all described as “bronzes.”
Since hundreds of cities in the region struck bronzes, some
collectors try to acquire at least one coin from each city. This
provides a challenging goal for any collector. Since many of these
coins are rare, yet not necessarily valuable, building a collection
requires constant searching and an up-to-date check list.
designs on such coins are remarkably varied, and a great many themes
can serve as collecting goals: deities, animals, plants, sea
creatures, mythological creatures, buildings, ships, athletic games,
armor, weaponry and musical instruments, to name just a few.
Greek bronzes were struck by independent cities in Asia Minor well
into the period of Roman presence, which started strongly in the
latter part of the second century B.C. In this early phase the Romans
had little interest in forcing the Greeks to adapt to Roman ways.
Indeed, they preferred to interfere as little as possible, lest it
create inefficiencies that would reduce the tax revenue and resources
they hoped to gain.
It was only after nearly two centuries as
masters of Asia Minor that the imprint of the Roman monetary system
began to show. It becomes noticeable after the fall of the Roman
Republic in the civil war that culminated in 31 B.C. with the defeat
of Marc Antony by Octavian at the Battle of Actium.
Even so, the fundamentals did not change, and cities still issued
coins for local use in their own name (with Roman permission, of
course). The coins issued by Greeks under the authority of the Roman
Empire are called Roman Provincial or Greek Imperial coins, and they
are avidly collected.
Just as in earlier times, these coins had patriotic designs that
tended to celebrate the most famous aspects of their city. The only
difference was that the obverse usually bore the portrait of a Roman
emperor, empress or caesar, and “local” designs were limited to the reverse.
Denominations also did not radically change. The traditional
“Greek” silver coinages based on the drachm — roughly equal to a Roman
denarius — continued to be used at the few mints that the Romans
allowed to coin silver. Bronzes were equally “Greek” in character,
being struck in sizes ranging from less than 15 millimeters to more
Collectors today are fortunate that the Romans allowed the Greeks
to preserve some sense of identity within their empire; coins were a
perfect format for that expression, even if Rome was the final
authority in their lives.
Like the autonomous Greek coinages of earlier centuries, Roman
provincial bronzes are often collected by the issuing city. More than
600 Greek cities and Roman colonies issued coins in the Roman era, a
good percentage of which were in Asia Minor. Needless to say,
attempting to find even one example from each city is a major task
that requires perseverance.
Since the reverse types tend to reflect aspects of local culture,
that is, perhaps, the most popular source of collecting interest. The
full range of types defies satisfactory description, though the most
common types present a local deity or deities.
Collecting by issuer is also a popular approach for provincial
coins. This includes not only emperors, empresses and caesars but
their relatives, both living and deceased. An active cult for emperor
worship resided in Asia Minor, and cities vied with one another to
demonstrate the degree of their devotion in hopes of earning honors
By the late third century A.D., Roman monetary policy had greatly
advanced. Standard “imperial” coinages were being struck empire-wide,
and there was no longer a need for provincial coins. The legacy of
provincial coinage in Asia Minor ended with issues of the emperor
Tacitus (A.D. 275 to 276), after which the only provincial mint that
remained was in Alexandria, Egypt, until it, too, closed in A.D.
Thereafter, all of Roman coinage was produced at imperial