Thracian Tetradrachms

  One of the fascinating things about these coins is how their design incrementally changes from strictly representational to evocatively abstract.  

  "Proud." This Thasos tetradrachm was likely struck by Thasians on the island of Thasos, Thasos being a Greek colony in Thrace, though some might attribute it as an early imitation. Dionysos on this specimen is the best I've seen on a coin. 16.8g, 31mm. Göbl -, CCCBM -, Lukanc -, Castelin -, Kostial -, Dewing -, SNG Cop. -, SNG Lockett -, SNG Ash. -, cf. SNG Fitz. 1827, cf. Münzen and Medaillen 29 lot 567.  

  "Enervated." This Thasos-type tetradrachm may have been struck by Romans in Macedonia to support Rome's war effort against the Thracians (though most catalogers and dealers would probably identify it simply as a Thasos tetradrachm). Much like the ancient Greek world at the time, Dionysos on this coin is languishing, with sleepy eyes and a puffy face. Herakles on the reverse, however, stands tall, handsome, and provocative, with sharply defined muscles and boldly thrusting his naked pelvis forward. The metal is characteristically dull gray. 16.7g, 31mm. Göbl Class I, Lukanc 413.  

  "The Schnoz." A number of Thasos-type tetradrachms, like this one, feature a portrait of Dionysos with a huge honker of a nose that would have made Jimmy Durante proud. Herakles on the reverse looks like he's wearing Superman's cape. The legend is still intact, and the coin retains all of the major design elements of Thasos tetradrachms. The flan is slightly convex/concave, as were many of these coins. The reverse is slightly off-center. 16.7g, 31mm. Göbl Class II, Lukanc 707, "Celtic Coins in the Royal Netherlands Cabinet at the Hague," D.F. Allen, coin 133.  

  "Punch Drunk." Dionysos has a weak chin and puffy eyes on this Thasos-type tetradrachm, and the legend is beginning to become pointilistic. But Herakles is well-styled, and the coin retains the major design elements of the originals. 16.7g, 32mm. Göbl Class II (No. 5), Lukanc 767.  

  "Mealy Mouth." On this Thracian tetradrachm, Dionysos looks as weak as Herakles, with bulging chest and leg muscles, looks strong. A mealy-mouth, weak-chin Dionysos is fairly common on both Thasos-type and Thracian tetradrachms. The legend on this coin is badly blundered, and the lion scalp on Herakles' left shoulder has transformed into a flowing diadem. The coin is slightly curled at the edges -- a number of Thracian tetradrachms have severely curled edges. But perhaps the most interesting characteristic of this coin in that it was overstruck on an Aesillas tetradrachm (thanks to David MacDonald, an overstruck coin specialist, for pointing this out). On Herakles' left knee, you can see remnants of the Q (short for Quaestor -- looks like an English P) that's on the reverse of these earlier Macedonian coins of the Roman quaestor Aesillas. Additionally, there are faint remnants of what are likely Alexander's hair locks at the metal disturbance on Dionysos' cheek. In both cases, there wasn't enough metal to completely fill the die with the restruck coin. A number of Thracian tetradrachms were struck on Aesillas tetradrachms as well as Athenian New Style tetradrachms. 16.4g, 34mm. Göbl Class III, Lukanc 1311.  

  "Broken Man." Here's a Thracian tetradrachm that I bought like this, broken into four pieces. The seller said it had been broken in transit. This highly crystallized piece illustrates well what happens to silver coins internally as they age. All nearly pure silver crystallizes over time because of the inherent instability of silver and the small amounts of copper and lead that even "pure" ancient silver is typically alloyed with. The copper lead separate from the silver over long stretches of time, causing voids between the silver grains and making the coin spongy and brittle. You can sometimes see under magnification feather-like crystals on the coin's surface, especially near the edges, though other times the crystallization is completely internal and invisible ... unless you're looking at a broken coin. Here's picture of this coin's broken edge. Highly crystallized ancient silver coins emit a thud when you tap them (gently!) with another coin, while less crystallized ancient silver coins emit a tink and uncrystallized modern silver coins typically emit a ring. If you look closely at the reverse of the above coin, you'll see a crescent-shaped crack in the left field, indicating that this part of the coin is ready to break off as well. 14.2g (with some of the metal that was between the broken pieces missing), 34mm. Göbl Class III, Lukanc -.  

  "Angry Young Man." The move toward abstraction begins in earnest among the coins illustrated here with this Thracian tetradrachm, which like similar coins is thought to have been struck by the indigenous Thracians on the Thracian mainland to support their war effort against the invading Romans. Dionysos on this coin looks like he's had a bad millennium, with an angry, mean expression on his face. The lion scalp has disappeared from Herakles' left shoulder, as has the monogram from the reverse left field. The legend is badly blundered, indicating the die was produced by an illiterate engraver. The edges of the obverse are visibly hammered, and the flan is slightly convex/concave. 15.8g, 34mm. Göbl Class III, cf. Lukanc 1150.  

  "Giraffe." On this Thracian tetradrachm, Dionysos has long neck, unusual horizontal wavy lines for hair, a large angular nose, and a mysterious protuberance rising from his nose. The berries of Dionysos' diadem have disappeared, as have the lion scalp from Herakles' left shoulder and the monogram. The legend is illiterate, with the Greek letter theta having transformed into a sun symbol. 15.3g, 33mm. Göbl Class III, Lukanc -, cf. Youroukova 125.  


  "Nose Job." Dionysos has a large hooked nose and a weak mouth on this weakly struck and porous Thracian tetradrachm. Herakles has a bird-like head and very long neck. A number of these coins depict Herakles with a beak. The spiral in Dionysos' hair may represent a sun symbol. 16.2g, 33mm. Göbl Class III, Lukanc -.  

  "Smash Mouth." With his weakly struck, receding mouth, Dionysos on this Thracian tetradrachm looks like he got the bejesus kicked out of him by Herakles (or the Romans). But this couldn't have been the Herakles on the reverse, who's a bubble boy, with a body, face, and nimbus (halo) of dots. The legend, consisting of strokes or ribs, has given up all pretense of being made up of letters. The obverse is slightly off-center -- most Thracian tets are well centered. 15.9g, 29mm. Göbl Class IV, cf. Lukanc 1223.  

  "Square Face." Dionysos looks almost all-American on this Thracian tetradrachm, with his square face, protruding nose, and jutting chin. Herakles is also pretty tough-looking, with exaggerated chest and leg muscles. Unlike most Thasos, Thasos-type, and Thracian tetradrachms, Herakles is facing right. The flan is curled, but by the look of the wrinkle lines on the reverse, the coin was likely flattened a bit at some point in its life. 16.5g, 31mm. Göbl Class IV, Lukanc 1613.  

  "Strong Man." Dionysos is bearded and has a hook nose and muscular face on this deeply curled Thracian tetradrachm. It's slightly lightweight but has a medium-size flan and thick edges, has a very dark patina, and is a variety not included in Lukanc, so I initially suspected it of being a fake. But laboratory testing determined that it's made of pure silver, that its surfaces are coated with silver sulfide (toning), and that it's in the correct specific gravity range. The edge of the flan was presumably hammered to make it flat and perpendicular to the coin's surfaces -- some other ancient coins have similar "peened" edges. 14.3g, 31mm. Göbl Class V, Lukanc -.  

  "Jowly." This is a beautifully designed, struck, and preserved Thracian tetradrachm. Dionysos is skillfully abstracted, consisting of simple lines, dots, curves, and hatches (hatched or triangular markings were used decoratively on pottery in Thrace since at least the 3rd millennium BC). Herakles sports spiked hair, sometimes described as a "radial nimbus" or halo. The legend, as on all highly abstracted specimens, has been transformed from letters into dots. The flan has an attractive frosted silver appearance. 15.4g, 31mm. Göbl Class V, Lukanc 1756, "Celtic Coins in the Royal Netherlands Cabinet at the Hague," D.F. Allen, coin 133.  

  "Picasso." Here's another beautifully abstracted Thracian tetradrachm, one with an obverse and reverse design reminiscent of Picasso. Herakles sports spiked hair, female breasts, and arms that have grown into the club and lion skin they once held, reaching nearly to the ground. 16.0g, 28mm. Göbl Class V (No. 21), Lukanc 1765, Castelin 1376.  

  "Cezanne." This striking coin, one of the most beautifully designed Thracian tetradrachms I've seen, features an angular, Cezanne-like rendering of Dionysos and a Herakles with a bird's beak and feet and dots accentuating his erogenous zones. Like most Thracians tetradrachms, this specimen is well-centered on both obverse and reverse. This specimen appears to have slightly smoothed surfaces. 15.8g, 33mm. Göbl Class V, Lukanc -.  

  "Snake." The reverse of this specimen is among the most abstracted Thracian tetradrachm reverses, with Herakles nearly indistinguishable. The four circles around central dots on the reverse may be sun symbols. The horizontal club is reminiscent of the club on the reverse of Macedonian tetradrachms issued under Roman rule in the second and first centuries BC. On the obverse, Dionysos has snake-like hair. This coin is one of a number of Thracian tetradrachms of the same variety that recently reached the market. Some experts have questioned the authenticity of this variety, but as yet there is no proof that it is anything but authentic. 16.1g, 32mm. Göbl Class V, cf. Lukanc 1889, 1890.  

  "Abstracto." The obverse of this well-preserved specimen is among the most abstracted of all Thracian tetradrachm obverses, with Dionysos completely indistinguishable. On the reverse, the club is growing out of Herakles' left arm and his right arm ends with a scissor hand that looks like it could do someone some serious harm. This is a wild coin in every sense. At the edges, the flan is visibly hammered and severely curled. The flan as a whole is thin and among the largest of Thracian tetradrachms, with a diameter of nearly 40mm. 16.8g, 39mm. Göbl Class V, cf. Lukanc 1830, 1831.  


Abstraction Progression


Imitations and Thrace

Art and Barbarism

Chronology and Attribution

Origins and Collecting



More Info

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2013 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.