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Silver Coinage, Sovereignty, and Symmachia: Byzantion and Athens in the Fourth Century B.C.

Nick Cross

CUNY Graduate Center

In this paper I reexamine Byzantion’s first autonomous issues of coinage in the classical Greek period and how their dating can have an impact on the interpretation of Byzantion’s politico-economic relationship with Athens. This approach broadens the topic of money and sovereignty from a local to an interstate context. By so doing, this case study demonstrates the compatibility of a city-state both minting its own coinage and possessing a formal political alliance (symmachia) with Athens.

I begin the first half of the paper with the numismatic evidence. Although situated at an economically advantageous point on the Bosphorus Strait since its foundation in the seventh-century B.C., it was not until late in the classical period that Byzantion issued an autonomous coinage: silver drachms and hemidrachms on the Persian standard with other denominations on the Chian standard. The obverse of these issues contains a bull standing on a dolphin accompanied with the legend ΒΥ; the reverse an incuse square of mill-sail pattern. There is considerable debate over the dating of these coins. Many, following Edith Schönert-Geiss (Die Münzprägung von Byzantion I: Autonome Zeit [Berlin 1970], position them in the context of the Peloponnesian War when Byzantion seceded from the Athenian Empire, in which case the new coinage is a strong assertion of sovereignty and indicates liberation from the economic domination inherent in an alliance with Athens. I, however, dispute this scenario, positing that the context of alliance renewal with Athens in the fourth century B.C. is more appropriate than revolt.

As it happens, Georges Le Rider (Revue numismatique 13 [1971] 143-153) anticipated this alternative dating for the new coinage but offered no explanation for its inception. My contribution in the second half of the paper is to build on Le Rider’s numismatic work by incorporating previously ignored epigraphic and literary evidence for the reestablishment of alliance ties between Byzantion and Athens in 390/389 B.C. (Hell. 4.8.27), 383 B.C. (IG II2 41; Isoc. 14.28; Dem. 20.59-60), and 377 B.C. (IG II2 43, line 83; Diod. Sic. 15.28.3). The revised historical context, which emerges from this interdisciplinary approach depicts a new Byzantian coinage that coincides with the reconstruction of a politico-economic relationship with Athens. In sum, this case study of the first autonomous issues of Byzantian coinage engages with the specific theme of the role of money in classical Greek interstate alliances as well as with the broader study of money and sovereignty.

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Sovereignty and Money (Joint AIA-SCS Panel)

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