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Greek: Macedonia-Eion

Notes from John Mixter on December 8, 2006:

This artistically interesting issue with an animal that is not commonly seen on Greek coinage is generally considered to have been issued at the Macedonian seaport town of Eion1. Eion occupied a site on the mouth of the river Strymon (modern Struma) and was a place of considerable strategic importance during the Persian invasions of Darius I and Xerxes I and later to the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. The coinage of Eion is generally regarded as fifth century (circa 510/500-437 BC)2 and features a bird most often described as a goose.3 The significance of the goose type presumably makes reference to the scenes from rural life at the time, as with other iconographic themes on coins of other cities in this region. It is said that aquatic birds still frequent the shores and marshlands of Lake Cercinitis at the mouth of the Strymon near where Eion is believed to have once been located.4 This beautiful and realistically designed composition draws attention to the die engravers skill at creating an illusion of depth, which is accomplished by placing two geese standing side by side with wings closed and the rear animal slightly forward. The representation of pictorial depth is a new influence on Greek coinage achieved in this instance by the technique of superimposition. The sophistication of the engraving on these animals is surprising, especially when you consider that the actual die the artist had to work with is less than seven and a half millimeters in diameter, in relation to the overall flan size of nearly twelve millimeters. The curve of the necks and the incredible minuteness showing the eyes and bills, the wing feathering and under tail on the forward goose, the breast portion of the wing on the far goose and all four legs slightly angled, is truly remarkable. Even the two legs on the forward goose appear slightly longer and wider apart, while on the rear goose they appears shorter and closer together, adds to the illusion of depth. Adding to the detail engraved on this coin’s die are the Greek letter H and an ivy leaf (including the stem) appearing in the upper left field. The function of this letter and symbol are yet unexplained. However, it has been conjectured that the ivy leaf and the other symbol employed on the Eion coinage, a lizard or salamander, might be denominations markers or designed to enrich or modulate the meaning of the coin type itself.5 One additional aspect is that the Eion mint seems to have made its dies smaller than the intended flans so many examples, particularly those of the later series like this coin, have plenty of metal outside the dotted border. The reason for this unusual minting practice is unclear, but nevertheless makes for exceptionally attractive examples. The reverse depicts a small, shallow quadripartite incuse square.

1 The attribution of these coins with a goose or geese to the town of Eion is due in large part to their having been frequently found in the locality.

2 Scholars differ on exactly when the coinage of Eion ended. Mitchiner (p.391), among others, notes that the coinage ended when the Athenians besieged the town during 476/475 BC. Barclay Head (Historia Numorum, Chicago, 1967, p. 197) and Ernest Babelon (Traité IV, pp. 673-674) suggests that the archaic-style coinage lasted until 437 BC. This date marks the establishment of the city of Amphipolis. Eion was only about three miles from Amphipolis and from this date onwards it served merely as a seaport for this larger more famous city. As Reginald Poole noted (BMC Macedonia, p. xvii), “…after 437 [Eion] became secondary to Amphipolis, after which it is not likely to have had a separate mint,” and therefore ending Eion’s coinage. In support of this theory is the thin, spread fabric and shallow incuse development on many examples (this coin included), coupled with the developed control letters on the associated trihemiobols (Ά, Η, Θ, Ν) and symbols (lizard and ivy leaf), all point to a later date as well. The most important evidence to support this later date is the presence of eight (8) trihemiobols in the Aidhonokhorion hoard with a burial date of circa 370 BC (Catharine Lorber, Amphipolis: The Civic Coinage in Silver and Gold, Los Angeles, 1990, pp. 39-40).  All in all, this suggests that a date of 437 BC is quite plausible for the end of Eion’s coinage, and lends credibility of a date for this coin somewhere between 450-437 BC. I would like to thank Catherine Lorber in a private correspondence for the information regarding the developed control letters, symbols and hoard evidence.

3 A few references list the animal as a duck or swan, but most refer to a goose.

4 Head, p. 197.

5 I would like to thank Catherine Lorber for this information.

Macedonia-Eion, AR Diobol, c.475-450 BC
(No legend)
Goose, standing right, head reverted, lizard left above, retrograde N below, all in dotted border
(No legend)
Irregular incuse quadripartite square
10mm x 11mm, 1.02g
SNG Copenhagen 174; SNG ANS 277

Consignor notes: aVF.

Macedonia-Eion, AR Tritartemorion (1/8th Drachm), c.450-437 BC
(No legend)
Two geese, jugate, standing right, both heads right, ivy leaf with stem and H monogram in left field
(No legend)
Irregular incuse quadripartite square
9mm x 12mm, 0.39g
SNG Copenhagen 181
Ex John Mixter Collection; Ex H D Rauch, Auction 76, Lot 232, October 2005