Cherronesos Lion


Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.11g), from Cherronesos, Thrace (present-day European Turkey), c. 400-350 BC, with reverse of pellet and crested Corinthian helmet, Sear Greek 1603v., SNG Berry 502







This coin from the Greek colony of Cherronesos is the single most common of all early lion coins, frequently appearing on eBay and at coin shows. It features on the obverse the forepart of a lion with tongue sticking out and looking backward, and on the reverse a four-part (quadripartite) incuse square consisting of two raised quarters and two lowered quarters, typically adorned with mint symbols on the two lowered quarters. These coins are typically described as the lion facing one direction with its head reverted, though if it's facing that direction and as its face is part of its head, it makes more sense to describe them as the body reverted, which is what I will do.

Cherronesos hemidrachms (less frequently referred to as triobols, half sigloi, or quarter staters) are typically seen with the lion left with body reverted, as above, but one variety depicts the lion right with body reverted (McClean 4054, SNG Lockett 1180).

The lion's curving body, tucked-in front paws, and head turned completely backward are abstracted renditions of reality that permit the design to aesthetically, and strikingly, follow the curvature of the coin. With well-preserved specimens, the lion's mane is marvelously detailed, despite the coins' small size, and the lion's body is clearly demarcated into chest, midsection, and hind quarters. Another attractive feature of these coins is the plethora of reverse symbols, which include but aren't limited to a pellet, cicada, scorpion, tunny fish, flower, torch, trowel, ram's head, caduceus, rooster, bee, wine leaf, bucranium, conch shell, scallop shell, dot in a circle, boar head, pileus, plow, sunburst, club, bow, and helmet.

David Van Meter in his 1990 book Collecting Greek Coins described Cherronesos hemidrachms as lacking in artistic merit, but clearly aesthetics in situations like this is subjective and a matter of judgment.

The reference with the most extensive catalog of Cherronesos hemidrachm varities is the 1923-1929 (reprinted in 1979) three-volume Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Greek Coins by S.W. Grose (McClean, also referred to as Grose), with 64 specimens illustrated and 71 listed. BMC Thrace, Weber, and SNG Cop. also cover these coins extensively. The specimen above wasn't in any of them, though it was in SNG Berry. Barry Murphy has an excellent page attributing these coins according to their reverse symbols.

The weights most commonly seen for Cherronesos hemidrachms in the marketplace are 2.3g to 2.4g. The acceptable range is somewhat larger. Of the 71 Cherronesos hemidrachms listed in McClean, ignoring the three lightest, which at 1.61g, 1.62g, and 1.66g are undoubtedly fourrees (though they're not described as such), the range is between 2.05g and 2.57g. The mean weight is 2.35g and the median weight is 2.32g. The 2.05g to 2.57g range represents a 25 percent difference in weight between the lightest and heaviest. This wide range of weights, or lack of consistency, is typical with Greek fractions, which were likely used as semifiduciary coinage, backed as much by the trust in the issuing authority as the bullion value of the metal.

The above beautifully engraved, struck, centered, preserved, and toned specimen is the nicest Cherronesos hemidrachm I've ever seen, obtained through a Gorny & Mosch auction. It exhibits only the tiniest hint of wear on the very highest part of the lion's mane at the center of the obverse and a bit of roughness on the reverse. The line descending from the pellet on the reverse was caused by a tiny crack in the reverse die. At 2.11g, this specimen is at the light end of the acceptable range, with 7 McClean specimens being lighter than 2.11g and 61 being heavier.

These coins are sometimes described as being from Tauric Cherronesos or Tauric Chersonese, even by major auction houses, but this is a mistake. "Cherronesos" (also spelled "Cherronesus," "Chersonesos," "Chersonesus," and "Chersonese") is the Greek word for "peninsula," and there were no fewer than 28 geographical areas referred to in the ancient sources as "Cherronesos." Tauric Cherronesos, which is present-day Crimea, Ukraine, is the peninsula in the northern Black Sea on which the city of Pantikapaion/Panticapaeum was situated. Thracian Cherronesos, which today is called the Gallipoli peninsula and is part of Turkey, is the peninsula in the northeast Aegean Sea on which the cities of Kardia/Cardia and Lysimachia were situated. The spellings seen most commonly are "Cherronesos," "Chersonesos," and "Chersonese."

Earlier Thracian Cherronesos coins such as this one are broadly attributed to Thracian Cherronesos while later ones are attributed more specifically to Kardia/Cardia, those that include the name of this city in the inscription. Kardia was founded as a colony of Miletos in the late seventh century BC. Cherronesos hemidrachms may have been minted in Kardia or by a confederation of cities and towns within the peninsula Cherronesos.

The dating of Cherronesos hemidrachms isn't consistent. At the time of this writing, Gorny & Mosch, Fritz Rudolf Künker, Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger, and Pegasi Numismatics dated them c. 480-350 BC (as did Barclay Head in Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics, SNG Cop., McClean, and Weber), H.D. Rauch and John C. Lavender c. 400-350 BC (as did David Sear in Greek Coins and Their Values), Numismatica Ars Classica c. 380-350 BC, Barry P. Murphy c. 350-310 BC, and Münzen & Medaillen c. 350-330 BC. Classical Numismatic Group sometimes dated these coins c. 400-350 BC, sometimes c. 350-300 BC (as did SNG Lewis, SNG Manchester, SNG Aarhus, Dewing, and Klein), and sometimes c. 4th century BC (as did Colin Kraay in Archaic and Classical Greek Coins).

The large number of varieties and the frequency of these coins on the market today indicate that Cherronesos hemidrachms were issued in great volume over a long period. They're thought to have been used in ancient times in support of trade with the cities along the coast of the Black Sea. Cherronesos was under the control of Athens from 560 BC to 338 BC, aside from a brief period during this time when it was controlled by Persia. It was taken over by Philip II in 338 BC, Pergamon in 189 BC, and Rome in 133 BC. The area was later controlled by Byzantium, then the Ottoman Turks.









Ancient fourree counterfeit Cherronesos hemidrachm (1.5g)







Here's a silver-plated bronze counterfeit of a Cherronesos hemidrachm minted in ancient times. The coin's now exposed bronze core, and its light weight, give it away. The orange is the exposed bronze inner core; the green is the area separating this inner core from the silver plating, sometimes called the "eutectic" layer, and is believed to consist of 72 percent silver and 28 percent bronze. The built-up area running horizontally near the center of the reverse is encrustation, and it covers any mint mark that might have been there.

In ancient times, punishment for making counterfeits such as this one could be death. Despite this, there are many surviving fourree counterfeits of ancient coins. They're considered collectable by many, and they typically sell for about 25 to 40 percent of what the same official ancient coin would sell for.

The word "fourree" is seen with alternate spellings, including the French "fourrée," "fouree," "fourre," and "foure," with the term derived from the French word for "stuffed." Less frequently the Latin term "subaeratus," meaning "bronze beneath," is used. Fourrees are as old as coinage, and in fact existed before coinage in the form of electrum-plated pieces of base metal. Here are other pages of mine on Ancient Fourree Counterfeits









Test-cut Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.3g), McClean 4076, SNG Cop. 843, with reverse of wreath and pellet







Because of the presence of counterfeit coins in the ancient world, such as the previous specimen, many authentic coins were cut with a chisel, or test cut, to determine whether or not the coin was of good metal under the surface. Larger denominations such as tetradrachms were much more commonly test cut than smaller coins such as Cherronesos hemidrachms. The fact that these coins are seen, not infrequently, test cut attests to their use as intercity trade currency as opposed to the way most Greek silver fractions were typically used, as intracity marketplace currency. The above coin has a fairly unobtrusive test cut on the reverse within in the pedals of the flower.









Harshly cleaned Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.0g)







This specimen illustrates how a coin can be damaged in modern times as well as ancient times. In this case, instead of a person in ancient times taking a chisel to it to reveal its interior, a person who found it more than two millennia later (or someone else close to the source) took what was likely steel wool to it to clean off horn silver (gummy silver chloride corrosion).

The cleaning of this coin, among other things, nearly obliterated the reverse mint marks, making it impossible to distinguish them, though the bottom one could be a bunch of grapes. The surfaces of this improperly cleaned coin look a bit like the surfaces of ancient coins that are crystallized/embrittled.









Barbarous Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.0g), Topalov-, Dessewffy-, Dembski-, OTA-, BMC-







This "barbarous imitation" was likely minted by a Thracian tribe living near the Greek colony of Cherronesos. Imitative tribal coinage such as this was common in the outlying regions of the classical world as peoples who traded with the ancient Greeks and Romans emulated their ways. The coin's simplified, pointilistic styling is typical of such coinage. This specimen has partly delaminated surfaces, with the parts of the outer layer having flaked off from the metal underneath.

Tribal coinage hasn't been as extensively studied or documented as city coinage, but this specimen appears to be unlisted.
With grapes and a pellet on the reverse, this imitation imitates the Cherronesos variety attributed as McClean 4079, Dewing 1304, SNG Lockett 1183, and SNG Berry 501.









Barbarous Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.2g), possibly unlisted










Here's another imitative Cherronesos hemidrachm, also likely minted by a nearby Thracian tribe, though it diverges from the original in a completely different way from the previous coin. Instead of being pointilistic, the styling is simplified in a blocky way. The reverse incuse is totally different from the original and exhibits a test cut. This piece copies an earlier official Cherronesos hemidrachm with a simple reverse of two pellets, Sear 1602, McClean 4056, Dewing 1301, SNG Cop. 824-826, BMC Thrace 8-9.









Bulgarian School counterfeit Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.2g), copy of McClean 4117-4118, with reverse of lizard, pellet, and monogram










This is the most commonly seen modern forgery of a Cherronesos hemidrachm, sold as authentic repeatedly for years by the same counterfeit scammer(s) on eBay. The fakes of this type always copies the same Cherronesos variety, coming from the same set of dies, and when the weight is given it's between 2.1g and 2.4g. One specimen that I've examined in person weighs 2.29g.

The seller operates out of Germany and Las Vegas using different eBay I.D.s. He appears to be from Bulgaria, and these appear from their styling to be originally engraved, pressed Bulgarian School forgeries. This scammer has operated on eBay openly for eight years, selling hundreds of fakes of ancient coins and antiquities, the same ones over and over, to many thousands of people. One of his eBay I.D.s, victoriantiquities, was canceled by eBay in Nov. 2007 but only after more than 2,400 transactions.

Here are other copies, sold by the same seller under three different eBay I.D.s, that illustrate different ways that the forger toned, corroded, and otherwise artificially aged this
same fake.









Bulgarian School counterfeit Cherronesos hemidrachm (weight unknown), copy of McClean 4094, with reverse of fish, pellet, and monogram










This is another Cherronesos forgery sold by the same seller as the previous one. Unlike the previous fake, this one isn't pressed but cast, based on its muddy details and the existence of other copies with the same flan shape and defects (see below). Some forgery workshops in Bulgaria make both pressed and cast fakes, according to Ilya Prokopov in his 2005 book Counterfeit Studios and Their Coins.









Bulgarian School forgery Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.6g), copy of McClean 4079, Dewing 1304, SNG Lockett 1183, SNG Berry 501, with reverse of grapes and pellet







This pressed copy is larger and heavier than authentic Cherronesos hemidrachms. From its styling, it's likely a product one of the students of the Bulgarian replica maker Slavey Petrov, and thus a "Bulgarian School" forgery. Slavey, who's known by his first name, marks some but not all of his work with "COPY," "SL COPY," or a similar designation. According to Slavey, the above piece isn't one of his. More on Slavey replicas.









Lipanoff Studio forgery Cherronesos archaic tetrobol (3.5g), copy of Sear 1349







This is a Lipanoff Studio forgery of an earlier type, without symbols on the reverse. It's not a very faithful copy, however, with the fields being too flat and the flan being too wide and thin, with too much space separating the lion from the coin's edge, and with the incuse being of a different type. The Lipanoff Studio is one of a number counterfeit studios making ancient coin copies operating out of Bulgaria. More on the Lipanoff Studio.









Questionable Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.3g), copy of McClean 4076-4077, with reverse of wreath and pellet










This is a probably modern forgery, sold as an authentic coin by a volume eBay seller who didn't respond to an email questioning it. Its being modern rests on four arguments:

1. Exaggeratedly long claw. The lion has a paw with an exaggerated claw. I've only seen one specimen documented in the literature with an exaggeratedly long claw, McClean 4125, though the symbols on the reverse are different than on this piece. Most Cherronesos lion hemidrachms have regular paws or paws off the flan. The Lipanoff Studio fake illustrated above has an exaggerated claw.

2. Exaggeratedly long neck. None of the 126 Cherronesos hemidrachms of all varieties illustrated in McClean, SNG Cop., Weber, SNG Lockett, and SNG Berry feature a lion with a neck like this. The only other piece I've seen with a neck like this is the Lipanoff Studio forgery illustrated above.

3. Unusual design of wreath. Specimens having the reverse of this coin, with a wreath and pellet, can be attributed among other ways as McClean 4076-4077, SNG Cop. 843, and BMC Thrace pg. 183, 14. BMC doesn't illustrate this variety, but McClean and SNG Cop. do. Neither the McClean nor the SNG Cop. specimen of this variety features a wreath like the wreath on this coin, which has a clearly demarcated circle separating the outer leaves from the inner leaves. Further, none of the three specimens of this variety that Barry Murphy illustrates at his site on these coins exhibits a wreath like this either.

4. Unusually thin flan. The flan on this coin looks unusually thin. These issues without letters, like this coin, are earlier than those with letters and are usually on dumpier flans. This coin has a wider, thinner flan characteristic of latter varieties.

This piece appears originally engraved, pressed, artificially worn, and artificially toned. It appears to be a more sophisticated deception than the fairly crude Lipanoff forgery illustrated above, though it may well be a later work by the same copyist, who chose an unusual and interesting obverse variety, with an exaggeratedly long claw, as his model while again failing to accurately replicate other key design and fabric characteristics of this coin type.









NT Ancients replica Cherronesos hemidrachm (2.4g), copy of SNG Fitz. 463, with reverse of sun, pellet, and A







This is a cast replica of a Cherronesos hemidrachm sold as a replica but without any "COPY" or similar countermark. It's the correct weight and diameter and consists of .999 silver. According to the maker, it's a pressure cast made with the lost wax process, and it was artificially toned and rubbed with an eraser at the highpoints. This is a moderately convincing copy, without an obvious edge seam but with the details exhibiting some mushiness. Replicas like this are often sold as authentic, either deliberately or by mistake, so as with counterfeits, documenting can help.









CopyCoins replica Cherronesos hemidrachm (1.9g), copy of Weber 2422, with reverse of star, two pellets, and monogram










Here's another cast replica of a Cherronesos hemidrachm. It's slightly underweight and and has the remnants of a casting seam along the reverse plane. According to the maker, it consists of pure silver, but it doesn't ring when tapped and appears to be made of debased silver or base metal.









Cherronesos diobol (1.35g), from Cherronesos, Thrace (present-day European Turkey), c. 450-400 BC, possibly unlisted, cf. Sear 1602, SNG Cop. 24-25, Dewing 1301, McClean 4055-4056, and BMC Thrace 8-9 (hemidrachm with two pellets), Rosen 135 (obol with two pellets), Sear 1350, SNG Berry 500, Weber 2403, BMC Thrace 2 (diobol without pellets), Pozzi 2316 (diobol possibly with pellets)










Though hemidrachms are by far the most commonly seen denominations of these coins, other denominations exist as well. A tetradrachm features the entire body of the same lion on the obverse and a portrait of Athena looking left on the reverse (Sear 1348, Weber 2400, SNG Lockett 1179). Smaller denominations, featuring an incuse square on the reverse without any symbols, include a tetrobol (Sear 1349, Weber 2401-2402, BMC Thrace 1), diobol (Sear 1350, SNG Berry 500, Weber 2403, BMC Thrace 2), obol (BMC Thrace 3), and hemiobol (BMC Thrace 4).

The above specimen is a diobol and may be unlisted, though Pozzi illustrates a diobol and describes it as possibly having pellets (unlike with the above photo, the Pozzi photo does not clearly show pellets). The above piece illustrates well the transition of these coins over time. The earlier pieces, as the above, depict the lion with both front paws clearly delineated, while later pieces depict only the right paw or the right paw closely overlapping the left one (when the paw or paws are still on the flan). The earliest coins have rough incuses without symbols. These are followed by neat incuses, first those without symbols then those with two pellets, two or one pellet with accompanying symbols, and symbols without pellets. It's uncertain what the pellets signify, though one possibility is that they denote an obol's valuation, with this original meaning being discarded when the hemidrachms were introduced, the pellets gradually disappearing. I haven't seen any obols, however, with one pellet.









Cherronesos hemiobol (0.33g), from Cherronesos, Thrace (present-day European Turkey), c. 450-400 BC, BMC Thrace 3







The above specimen is the smallest denomination seen, a hemiobol, and appears to be documented only in BMC among the major references for Cherronesos coins. It's an earlier specimen, having a neat incuse without symbols.

Though this appears to be a rare coin today, it's not clear if it was minted in small numbers in ancient times. Small Greek fractions haven't survived the millennia as well as larger coins, having circulated more in ancient times and having less metal to permit identification after the corrosive effects of being in the ground for 25 centuries. Being smaller and less impressive, they're also not as sought after by collectors or museums and are underrepresented in reference sources. I bought the above specimen on eBay Germany from a volume dealer in Germany who attributed it only as a Greek silver fraction.









Cherronesos bronze (AE10), c. 400-350 BC, Sear 1607v., SNG Cop. 845, Pozzi 2317







Thracian Cherronesos issued bronze coins depicting a lion's head as well. The reverse features a wheat grain (sometimes referred to as corn) and the inscription XEP/PO, which is short for "Of the Cherronesians."

Various varieties of this type exist. The lion's head can face left or right, there can be a linear circle around the obverse, as above, or a dotted circle. On the reverse below the wheat grain there can be a small lizard, as above, or a bunch of grapes or pellet. Attributions for these include Sear Greek 1607, SNG Cop. 844-846, Winterthur 1200, McClean 4126-4129, and BMC Thrace p. 186 53-55.

One variety, with a similar lion obverse and both a wheat grain and a tuna on the reverse, has a reverse inscription KAP[delta]IA, for "Of the Kardians," and can be attributed as SNG Cop. 871. Here's such an
AE-11, weighing 1.1g (image courtesy of Mediterranean Coins).

These bronzes are seen far less frequently than the silver hemidrachms and aren't nearly as charming stylistically. Like bronze coins in general, they're also typically more corroded, bronze being a more reactive metal and thus more susceptible to the ravages of the soil and the air over the millennia.








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© 2013 Reid Goldsborough

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