MAJESTIC, POWERFUL, SWIFT, and intelligent, the eagle has held a strong handle on human resource since the earliest times. The bald eagle, native to North America, features prominently on the Great Seal of the United States, and on many classic and modern american coins. The U.S. $10 gold piece was called an “ Eagle ”, and the current one-ounce silver bullion coin bears the same name .
The golden eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos ), native to the Old World, is frequently seen on ancient coins. A research for the term “ eagle ” on the Coin Archives Pro database, which presently lists over 1.8 million auction records, found 128,257 hits. “ Eagle ” and “ Tetradrachm ” ( a coarse collectible ancient ) produced 24,099 records. Eagles appear on eight coins listed in Harlan J. Berk’s 100 Greatest Ancient Coins .
The earliest appearance of an eagle on a coin dates from about 600-550 BCE : an electrum hekte ( or “ one-sixth stater, ” 1.86 gram ) from an unsealed mint in Ionia, on the easterly shore of the Aegean Sea. The boo is shown with wings outspread, the carriage called “ eagle displayed ” in heraldry ( Fox-Davies, 233 ). A alone, alike mint with a pelleted margin and affect on a different weight standard ( 2.58 grams ) is cited as “ one of the earliest attempts in numismatic artwork to represent a dame in flight ( Rosen, 13 ) ”.
Reading: Eagles on Ancient Coins
A more advanced render of an eagle appears a hundred belated on an electrum stater, possibly from Abydos ( near modern Canakkale, Turkey ). The dame stands with close wings, its head turned looking back .
A cataloger writes :
“ As the animal-familiar of Zeus, the eagle makes numerous appearances on greek coins, yet it rarely occurs as a standalone design with the bird in a classifiable perplex, such on this stater [ 1 ]. ”
The person wing feathers are carefully engraved on this rare coin. merely three examples are known
The city of Kroton ( or Croton ) in the southerly italian region of Calabria was founded in 710 BCE by greek colonists. The philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras founded his school there circa 530 BCE. Because his founder was a gem engraver, and because these artisans besides carved the dies used the strike ancient coins, some numismatists have speculated that Pythagoras was involved somehow in the design of Kroton ’ s distinctive neologism. On a silver nomos issued c. 500-480 BCE, the overrule is an incuse flying eagle, with the feathers on the soundbox represented as dots [ 2 ]. An “ incuse ” blueprint, technically unmanageable to execute well, is sunk below the differently flat coat of the coin [ 3 ] .
The city of Elis in Greece managed the hallowed web site of Olympia, where the Olympic games were held every four years beginning in 776 BCE. Foreign coins were not accepted at the games, so visitors had to exchange their money for special issues that produced a kempt profit for Elis .
For about two centuries, Elis maintained a high standard of art on this neologism, which much included an eagle, the companion of Zeus. A graphic eagle in flight, grasping a rabbit in its talons and tearing it with its beak appears on a coin of Elis, struck c. 450-440 BCE and pedigreed to the celebrated Spencer-Churchill solicitation [ 4 ], realized over $ 32,000 USD in a 2019 swiss auction [ 5 ] .
Akragas ( today Agrigento ) on the south coast of Sicily was the island ’ s second-largest city after Syracuse. About 409 BCE, Akragas issued a massive ash grey dekadrachm ( a 10 drachma piece, weighing over 42 grams ) to honor a local champion, Exainetos, winner of the Olympic chariot race. The obverse, by the master engraver Myron, shows the sun god Helios driving his chariot across the flip as an eagle soars above. The rearward, attributed to the engraver Polyainos, shows a match of eagles exulting over a hare they have just killed .
On Berk ’ randomness list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is # 8 ( p. 50 ). It brought $ 572,000 in the 1990 sale of the Nelson Bunker Hunt collection. When it appeared again at auction in October 2012, the bid was $ 2,477,647–a world-record price for an ancient mint [ 6 ]. The buyer, an arabian sheik, reportedly never paid for it. Less than 10 specimens of this mint are known. A few years ago, I saw the British Museum’s specimen on loanword to the local museum in Agrigento. A pair of carabinieri armed with submachine guns stood guard to either slope of the display case .
Alexander the Great
When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Achaemenid Empire, he captured a huge store of cherished metallic — by one appraisal some 200,000 talents [ 7 ] or about 6,000 tons — that the Persians had hoarded for centuries. He ordered this flatware and gold to be struck into coins and put into circulation, vastly expanding the money provide of the ancient Mediterranean, fueling about three centuries of social, cultural, and economic development known to modern historians as the Hellenistic era [ 8 ] .
On the reversion of his silver tetradrachm, Alexander placed an image of Zeus enthroned, an eagle perched on his offer right hand. On well-executed high-grade coins, the bird and the deity about seem to be locked in eye reach. On Harlan Berk ’ randomness list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is # 20 ( 63 ). The mint proved so democratic that it was placid issued by numerous mints for centuries after Alexander ’ s death at Babylon in 323 BCE. An especial example, “ among the finest known, ” brought $ 5,500 in a 2018 US auction [ 9 ] .
Perseus was the last king of Macedon, ruling territory in northern Greece and the Balkans. The growing involvement of Rome in Greek affairs led to repeated wars. The armies clashed near the town of Pydna in 168 BCE, and the macedonian phalanx was cursorily routed by the Roman legions .
Perseus lived out the rest of his life in quilt as a guest of the Roman Republic. A silver tetradrachm possibly issued for the coronation of Perseus in 179 or 178 BCE bears a boldface portrayal of the king, with the name “ Zoilos ” ( either the engraver or a mint official ; opinions are divided ) inscribed below [ 10 ]. On the reverse, a lissome eagle grasps a thunderbolt in his talons, surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves and acorns .
A cataloger writes :
“ The spectacularly fine portrait, and the beautifully made eagle, are among the glories of all Hellenistic Greek coinage. ”
On Berk ’ mho list, this type is # 67 ( p. 78 ). only about 30 examples are known .
Gold Coins of the Roman Republic
gold was not a regular share of the Roman Republic ’ s circulating coinage and was entirely issued for wartime emergencies. In 211 BCE, during the war against Hannibal, a series of fine-looking gold coins appeared, denominated as 60, 40, and 20 asses. The tan as was a standard Roman whole of value. These are some of the few ancient coins inscribed with their denominations. The invert bears an eagle clutching a bombshell, above the give voice ROMA. Greek die engravers were probably employed for this extra issue. merely about 11 examples of the 40 as type are known [ 11 ] .
On Berk ’ sulfur tilt of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is # 71 ( Berk, 75 ) .
Cleopatra VII, the survive ruler of Egypt ’ s Ptolemaic dynasty was, arguably, the most celebrated woman of ancient history, and her scarce portrait coins command fabulous prices. One of the rare was a silver tetradrachm strike in her honor by the semi-independent city of Askalon ( today Ashkelon, Israel ) c. 41 BCE [ 12 ]. A standing eagle was common on Ptolemaic coins. On this type, the eagle is quite sketchy, and crudely executed. Coin dies for reverses, which wore out promptly, were often assigned to less skilled engravers .
On Berk ’ randomness list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is # 30 ( 82 ). only about four examples are known .
The Shekel of Tyre
The Phoenician deal city of Tyre ( now Sur, Lebanon ) was famed for the honor of its silver shekel. They were the only coins accepted by the Temple in Jerusalem for requital of the annual tax required of all Jews, tied though they bore the double of a pagan god, Melqarth, and a living creature, the eagle. This technically breached the Commandment against “ engraved images. [ 13 ] ”
Around 19 BCE, the purity of Tyrian shekels fell from 95 % to barely 80 %, creating a crisis for the Temple authorities. The priests decided to set up their own mint to strike coins of satisfactory fineness [ 14 ]. This may have been in Jerusalem, but some sources dispute this. The israeli numismatist Ya’akov Meshorer ( 1935-2004 ) wrote “ as an formula of contempt for the Tyrian design on the shekels, the Jerusalem mint executed them with demonstrative pronoun crudeness. ”
On Berk ’ second list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is # 62 ( 94 ) .
Of all the emperors who ruled Rome, Elagabalus ( 218-222 CE ) is surely the strangest, with his intimate eccentricities scandalizing conservative Romans. But like most emperors, Elagabalus ’ improbable rise to the throne was due to the “ plot ” played by power brokers behind the scenes ; in this example, that played by his herculean grandma, Julia Maesa, sister of the empress Julia Domna. On coins, Elagabalus used the mention “ Antoninus Pius ” – dry, since this was besides the name of the most priggish emperor butterfly of the second century ( rule 138-161 ) .
Elagabalus was the familial high priest of a syrian sun deity in the city of Emesa ( now Homs ), worshipped in the shape of a conic black stone thought to be a meteorite ( it may go without saying, but stones that fell from the flip powerfully affected the imagination of ancient people ). curiously, the trope of an eagle was believed to appear on the stone ’ s surface. On the reverse of a gold aureus of Elagabalus, we see the rock hold on a ceremony chariot, with the inscription CONSERVATOR AVG ( “ Preserver of the Emperor ” ) .
In a 2013 swiss auction, an example of this coin, “ extremely rare and among the finest specimens known, ” sold for over $ 114,000 [ 15 ]. On Berk ’ s list, this type is # 76 ( p. 112 ) .
Each Roman numerous carried a gilded silver eagle on a pole as its sacred standard. Losing an eagle in battle was a dishonor, and Rome made extraordinary efforts to retrieve any eagles captured by her enemies. A veteran soldier called the aquilifer ( “ eagle pallbearer ” ) carried the standard. He wore a leo ’ sulfur fur draped over his helmet indicating his limited status .
legionnaire eagles, and lesser small-unit standards called signa, appear frequently on Roman coins, notably on the common legionnaire denarii of Mark Antony. An outstanding late exemplar is a gold aureus of Septimius Severus, struck in 193 CE to honor Legion XIV ( Gemina Martia Victrix ) [ 16 ] .
eminence that the numerous ’ s number is written as XIIII. The “ subtractive ” notation of Roman numerals ( “ IV ” for 4, “ IX ” for 9, and “ XL ” for 40 ) was a late development ).
After the flop of the Roman Empire in the West, much of Italy was ruled by the Ostrogoths from their capital at Ravenna on the Adriatic. Surrounded by marshes, Ravenna was highly defendable .
The city of Rome had fallen into a long descent, but a mint located there continued to strike coins, including belittled change in bronze .
Eagles appear frequently in Ostrogothic artwork, notably on beady brooches used to fasten cloaks [ 17 ]. An eagle clutching a palm branch appears between two stars on a rare decanummium ( a four-gram coin that might have been the price of a bum of bread or a cup of cheap wine ) struck c. 493-518 [ 18 ] .
modest change was in chronic short supply in the ancient populace and much remained in circulation until wear flat. It is strange for a decanummium to survive in good circumstance .
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[ 1 ] NAC Auction 88, October 8, 2015, Lot 410. Realized CHF 60,000 ( about $ 62,048 USD ; estimate CHF 60,000 ) .
[ 2 ] CNG Electronic Auction 439, March 6, 2019, Lot 8. Realized $ 5,500 USD ( estimate $ 3,000 ) .
[ 3 ] The U.S. $ 5 half eagle and $ 2.50 quarter eagle gold coins, issued from 1908 to 1929, were incuse on both sides .
[ 4 ] Captain Edward G.Spencer-Churchill ( 1876-1964 ) was a notice collector of art and antiquities and a cousin of british statesman Winston Churchill .
[ 5 ] NAC Auction 116, October 1, 2019, Lot 149. Realized CHF 32,000 ( about $ 32,083 USD ; estimate CHF 18,000 ) .
[ 6 ] NAC Auction 66, October, 17, 2012, Lot 6. Realized CHF 2,300,000 ( about $ 2492,144 USD, but never actually paid ; calculate CHF 1,750,000 ) .
[ 7 ] The Attic endowment was 26 kilogram ( 57 pounds ) of closely arrant silver ; see hypertext transfer protocol : //leowiki.com/coinweek-podcast/coinweek-podcast-145-ancient-coin-weight-standards
[ 8 ] hypertext transfer protocol : //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenistic_period
[ 9 ] Goldberg Auction 106, September 4, 2018, Lot 1034. Realized $ 5,500 USD ( estimate $ 2,000 ) .
[ 10 ] Harlan J Berk, Sale 178, March 15, 2012, Lot 58. Realized $ 14,750 USD
[ 11 ] NAC Auction 45, April 2, 2008, Lot 5. Realized CHF 120,000 ( about $ 118,203 USD ; estimate CHF 40,000 ) .
[ 12 ] Roma Numismatics Auction 13, March 23 2017, Lot 428. Realized £70,000 ( about $ 87,686 USD ; estimate £50,000 ) .
[ 13 ] Exodus, 20:4-6
[ 14 ] Harlan J, Berk Sale 204, July 18, 2018, Lot 112. Realized $ 1,500 USD ( estimate $ 1,300 ) .
[ 15 ] NAC Auction 72, May 16, 2013, Lot 698. Realized CHF 110,000 ( about $ 114,643 USD ; estimate CHF 60,000 ) .
[ 16 ] NAC Auction 24, December 5, 2002, Lot 128. Realized CHF 13,000 ( about $ 8,834 USD ; estimate CHF 14,000 ) .
[ 17 ] hypertext transfer protocol : //www.themorgan.org/objects/item/290015
[ 18 ] NAC Auction 75, November 18, 2013, Lot 418. Realized CHF 1,500 ( about $ 1,645 USD ; estimate CHF 1,200 ).
Berk, Harlan. 100 Greatest Ancient Coins. 2nd edition. Pelham, AL ( 2019 )
Fox-Davies, A.C. A Complete Guide to Heraldry. New York ( 1978 )
Francisco, John. “ Pythagoras and the Incuse Coins of Magna Graecia ”, Celator 26 ( April 2012 )
Kraay, Colin. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. New York ( 1976 )
Meshorer, Ya ’ akov. A Treasury of jewish Coins : From the irani period to Bar Kokhba. Amphora Books ( 2001 )
Read more: Bitcoin Mining
Rosen, Jonathan. Archaic Coins : An exhibition at the J.Paul Getty Museum. Malibu, CA ( 1983 )
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Mike Markowitz is “ Second Consul ” of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a dangerous collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame interior designer, historian, and defense analyst, who writes for StrategyPage and Defense Media Network. He designed the game Alexandros, which won the 1991 Charles Roberts Award for “Best Pre-WWII Wargame”. He has degrees in history from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. He has worked as a technical writer, editor and flight simulator for a variety show of aerospace and defense mechanism firms. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
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