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Ephesus the Greek times : History from coins

The Earliest Coins at Ephesus
Ephesus' great temple of Artemis has provided evidence for the earliest coins yet known from the ancient world. The first structures in the sanctuary ( link ), buried deep under the later temples, date back to the eighth century BCE, and from that time on precious objects were used in the cult or dedicated to the goddess by her worshippers. Some dedications were individually buried on the site of a sacrifice; various objects were collected and buried in bothroi, sacred pits, since they were still the goddess' property, and some deposits likely resulted when fire or flood destroyed the cult building and buried the objects within its remains. Many such objects have been found among the foundations below Ephesus' successive temples of Artemis; they include bronze belts and ornaments, bears' teeth, amber imported from the Baltic, gold and ivory statuettes, and small lumps of precious metal called electrum (a naturally-occurring combination of gold and silver) that represent the earliest coins.

These early coins were in several groups, but one of the most important was the 19 coins found in an undecorated pottery pitcher. This type of pot is datable and, unlike the precious metal coins it contained, was not of very great value, and wouldn't have been around the sanctuary for long. It dates to the third quarter of the seventh century (650-625 CE), which means that all the coins within it should have been made at that time or before, but not after.

But how far back should the coins go? Robinson, who first published the coins from the temple of Artemis, treated them as if this was a standard coin hoard of later times, which generally contains contemporary coins that were taken from open circulation. These coins from Ephesus, however, were different. They could have been dedications that were slowly collected in the temple of the goddess, not purses of money currently in use. Many of the other objects that were found around them date well back into the early seventh century.

The earliest stage of coinage probably consisted of the simplest types: slugs of electrum made up into a series of standard weights. There is some question as to whether the weights are based on a Greek (Milesian), Lydian, or Egyptian system, but as the metal electrum naturally occurs in Lydia, in the Pactolus river close to the capital Sardis, it was probably a Lydian ruler who issued them. The next types have striations on the front and punches in the back; the punches were probably meant to show that the coin was pure metal all through, though any forger could have eluded this test by punching a lead slug first and then coating it with a little electrum. This is probably why images were added to early coins with, and then without, striations, becoming the first true coin types: the particular image signifies the issuer of the coins, whose power and good name guarantees their value.

In his first book of Histories (written during the fifth century BCE) the Greek historian Herodotus of Halikarnassos chronicled the deeds of the earlier Lydian kings, especially the famous Croesus (561-547 BCE) who conquered Ephesus at the beginning of his reign and gave columns to the new temple of Artemis. Herodotus claimed (I.94) that the Lydians were the first to issue silver and gold coinage. A recent find of a gold fraction from beneath the fortification walls of Sardis, which were destroyed in a war between Croesus and the Persians in 545 BCE now confirms that Croesus did issue a bi-metalic coinage. In addition, a metal refining complex ( link ) of the 6th century BCE has been found on the banks of the Pactolus river; among the artifacts were items used for cupellation and cementation, processes that remove impurities from electrum and separate it into its main components, pure gold and pure silver.

Ephesus and the Persian Empire
Ephesus. 5th Cty BCE. Obv. greek letters E-Φ Bee. Rev. Incuse. Silver. 

The last king of Lydia, Croesus, attacked Ephesus around 561 BCE, despite the fact that the Ephesians had tied a rope between the city and the temple of Artemis (whose status as an asylum was supposed to protect it). Croesus may have even moved the city to the area around the Artemision. Croesus, however, was conquered by Cyrus, king of Persia; and after that, Cyrus sent his general Harpagos to conquer Ephesus, which became part of the Persian Empire in 546 or 545.
Ephesus. 5th Cty BCE Silver fraction (1/64th Milesian stater?). Obv. Bee. Rev. greek letters ΕΦ. Eagle head. Silver.

In the sixth and fifth century, Ephesus itself, like many Greek cities, minted silver coins with its own symbol on them; in Ephesus' case, the bee . These coins were a valuable economic instrument, but they are also an indicator of the city's pride in its identity. Ephesus, however, was not completely autonomous; it was generally under the rule of an outside empire.
Ephesus. C.340-330 BCE. Hemidrachm. Obv. greek letters Ε-Φ. Bee. Rev. Quadripartite square incuse. Silver

Many of the main cities of Ionia revolted from Persia in 500-494 BCE, but Ephesus stayed aloof (and escaped the consequences of revolt).

Alexander and his successors at Ephesus
Alexander the Great took Ephesus without a fight. Alexander did not put his portrait directly on the coins he issued, but the young Herakles that does appear on the obverse of his silver coins certainly has features that resemble other portraits of Alexander. He had good relations with Ephesus, and offered to rebuild the Temple of Artemis, which had burnt down on the day of his birth; he was politely refused.

During this period Ephesus issued an important series of Rhodian standard tetradrachms in the years between c.405 - 325BCE. The names of the magistrates responsible for the coinage were presented on the reverse.
Ephesus. 2nd Cty BCE. Silver drachm. Obv. greek letters Ε - Φ Rev. greek ΑΠΟΛΛΟΔΩP[ΟΣ]. Deer and palm tree. Silver.

Between 319 and 302 BCE Ephesus was ruled by Antigonos Monophthalmos and his son Demetrios Poliorketes. They probably minted at Ephesus, according to E. T. Newell, though neither the name of the city nor its symbol appear on their coins.
In 295 BC Ephesus was finally captured by Lysimachos, a former bodyguard of Alexander the Great, who defeated Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus. Lysimachos didn't put his own portrait on his coins, however, but that of Alexander . Lysimachos re-founded Ephesus, and renamed it in honor of his second wife Arsinoe ; when the Ephesians wouldn't move from around the Temple of Artemis back to Mt. Pion, he stopped up the waterways until they had to move to avoid the floods. Lysimachos also killed his heir, son of his previous wife, apparently for the benefit of Arsinoe. This prompted his former ally Seleucus I to invade, and Lysimachos was killed in 281.

After Lysimachos' death, Ephesus fell into the hands of varying Seleucid and Ptolemaic rulers. In 202 BC it was captured by Antiochus the Great. On his defeated in 190 BC at the battle of Magnesia, the Romans presented Ephesus to Eumenes, the king of Pergamon. During the second century BC Ephesus minted a long series of Attic standard drachms, with the magistrates name on the reverse .

The Attalid rulers initiated an important new coinage around 166 BCE– the cistophoroi (named from the cista mystica – the sacred chest from the cult of Dionysos which was shown on the coins). Ephesus began minting cistophoroi around 138 BCE .

The last Attalid, Attalus III, willed his kingdom to Rome in 133 BCE, and from that point on Ephesus became part of the Roman province of Asia.




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