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Numismatics, Economics, and the Hellenistic Cyclades, - or How Numismatic Evidence Can Reveal New Sub-regional Dynamics

John A N Z Tully

This study reassesses the evidence for Hellenistic Cycladic numismatic production.  In keeping with scholarship on the Cyclades more generally, previous scholars have identified a unified Rhodian iconographic and metrical influence on production and circulation across the entire Cyclades.  This paper argues that numismatic production was sub-regionally focussed, and enables us to identify four hitherto unrecognised economic systems.

First, a brief review of the twenty-one islands which minted bronze issues during this period confirms that their issues stylistically, iconographically, and epigraphically proclaim their independence and their own identity.  They do not encode a relationship with any external party, either hegemonic or non-hegemonic, including Rhodes.

Second, it presents the positive evidence for the four sub-regional numismatic systems identifiable in the Hellenistic Cyclades, respectively involving Paros and Naxos, Tenos and Andros, Aegiale, and Ceos.  The numismatic networks centred on Paros and Naxos, and Tenos and Andros, which are better attested, both lasted for at least a century, and involved, at least for a time, their own unique weight standard.  

Finally, the paper explores the ramifications of this reconceptualisation.  First, the clear evidence for contemporaneous decay of the silver standard produced on Naxos and Paros both points to the strength of their sub-regional connection, and provides an important data-point allowing us chronological insight into the structural changes occurring in the Aegean at this time which are associated with the rise of Rome.  Second, the metrological consistency we here identify indicates that the islands did not arbitrarily choose the weight of production each time they minted.  Instead, there was policy and continuity, here expressed through a desire to maintain the same numismatic standard over successive issues.  Third, the evidence for independent standards suggests that we can speak of attempts on the part of the states involved to profit both through the very fact of the overvaluation itself, and possibly also by requiring the conversion of (some) other currencies, a policy long recognised for Ptolemaic production in Egypt, and argued by Bresson recently for Rhodes.

Cumulatively, this paper demonstrates the existence of closed currency systems among states that could never be claimed to be among the first rank in the Hellenistic period.  It thus raises the question how far such epichoric standards may remain unrecognised elsewhere in the Greek world because of past scholarly focus on reading the evidence as compatible with the well-known ‘international’ Hellenistic standards.

Session/Panel Title

Economic Integration and Disintegration: New Approaches to Standards and Denominations in Ancient Greek Coinage

Session/Paper Number


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