Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Small Ancient Coin of Teos

Although I publish some research and many book reviews on numismatics, I do not buy much material. While working as the international editor for Coin World (1999-2000), I learned that I lack the collector’s passions for rarity, perfection, and completeness. But I do participate in the hobby and attend shows and conventions. So, sometimes things come home with me, as did this diobol from Teos.

diobol 9x11 mm 0.9 grams
Similar to Kinns 95 (different magistrate)
not in SNG, BMC, etc.
The obverse shows a griffin (gryphon) and the letters THI for “of Teos” (genitive case) and A/\Y the beginning of the magistrate’s name ALYMPIOS. That name appears in the reverse along with THI and a lyre or chelys. The stringed instrument typically had a tortoise shell for the sounding board but this coin was struck weakly at the bottom. That is also why the Sigma is missing from Alympios’s name. 

The town had a good harbor, but fell into hard times after the collapse of the Ionian Revolt. Many of its natives fled to Abdera in Thrace, which is why that town also took the gryphon for its ethnic.Teos recovered somewhat during the Hellenistic era, which is when this series was issued. (Drachma and staters from archaic Teos are better known.) The coin is small, especially considering that at this time (320-294), a day’s wages for a rower on a galley or a citizen at assembly was at least a drachmon, three times as much as a diobol.

Teos happened to have been the home town of Protagoras, who lived about 150 years earlier. (Protagoras was also said to have come from Abdera, which was the home of Democritus, who was his teacher.) The poet Anacreon (582-485 BCE, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica) was a Tean. Knowing their classics well, 18th century English revelers wrote a song “To Anacreon in Heaven” the melody of which became our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The best history I found is at New Advent, the Catholic Encyclopedia Online:
Here too was the home of a body of bacchanalian artists who furnished actors for the theatres of Asia and the Archipelago. It was the beginning of the ancient theatre. In order to further commerce and the pursuit of the fine arts, Teos, after having saved the fleet of the Roman prætor Regulus from Antiochus, King of Syria, secured for its territory in 193 B.C. from Rome and a great number of Grecian cities the right of perpetual asylum, this privilege being largely due to the temple of Bacchus. During the Christian era almost nothing is known of this city. --
Searching VCoins and other sites, I compiled a file of images and citations. Mine is the only one with the ethnic and magistrate on the obverse. That worries me, so I am sending off to David Sear for attribution.



  1. That coin is over 2000 years old? It was worth around 30 USD 2018? I'm fascinated by coins and media of exchange in general. It seems like people in the past were more practical in having coins and bills that were really worth something. You could buy a nice house with a reasonable number of bills and meal at a restaurant with coins. Now US has a bunch of coins that are basically worthless and bills that seem comical: a bill that won't buy a cup of coffee or bottle of filtered water.

    I guess that's because we're going to electronic methods. I'm a huge fan of fiat money and fractional reserve banking, but I think electronic payment is too much of abstraction for the human mind. It's weird when you pay cash for things like a doctor's visit or car repair, the person taking the money seems shocked and sometimes takes an attitude of "Oh my, you just turned over a day's pay at a good job. I'll make sure you're completely satisfied and look for ways to keep the cost down." They don't do that if you swipe a card because it hides the exchange of value.

    Once I was in the dentist's chair and the dentist mentioned I was paying out of pocket. Without meaning to make a joke, I said, "I have $600 in my pocket, but I need up to $200 for the my car in the shop across the street. So let's postpone anything over $400." He laughed b/c the money was literally "in my pocket". I see no logical reason money shouldn't be bits in a computer, but I feel like it's a level of abstraction for value that is hard for the human mind to make.

    I think of this because I wonder if the average transaction involving that coin over 2000 years ago involved people more keenly aware of the value trading hands than people today swiping their card for $31.27 at a gas station or restaurant.

  2. Interesting perspectives. Thanks. Paying cash for services is sometihing to consider. Like you, I have no problems with modern money. I do point out, though, that all money is an abstraction, a symbolic exchange of social status. I understand economic calculation is a consequence of that.