Ancient coins of the towns on the Black Sea border
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Istros lepton, IVth-IIIrd century B.C.
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lepton from Istros (Histria), 4th century BC, reverse lepton from Istros (Histria), 4th century BC, obverse
12 mm diameter, 1.55 grams, 2 mm thick, bronze, 4th - 3rd century BC
Reverse: Greek thalassic symbol: sea eagle clawing a dolphin, inscription IΣ[TPIH] (ISTRIE)
Obverse: head of Apollo to the right

The piece above is a small divisionary coin, probably used on daily shoppings. It is quite difficult to assume what was such a coin called by the Istrian population.

Some assumptions are still possible. In the third century B.C. the ratio silver to bronze was 120 to 1 (the information refers to central Italy and especially to Rome, but even so we can extrapolate it to the Greek world). At the times you read about the value of a coin was given by the value of the metal comprised. Accordingly to this ratio, a silver obolus weighing something around 0.7 grams would have been equivalent to a bronze obolus of around 80 grams. As an obolus was worth 8 chalci, and a chalcus was worth 7 lepta; it turns that the coin could be a lepton (the coin weight and the theoretical weigth calculated as described are remarkably matched - 1.5 g).

Word chalcus derives from the Greek city of Chalkis' name (Chalkis - Chalcis, in the island of Euboea), a renowned place in antiquity for metalworking and where it seems that the first bronze coins were struck in Greece. By the way, chalkos in Greek would mean copper. Word lepton derives from leptos, that would mean small in Greek. Another term used for the obolus eighth is hemitartemorion.

We think that lepton is a fairly correct name, nevertheless denomination AE12 is 100% correct.

Due to the technical striking process, many ancient coins have a convexo-concave shape, the shape being called scyphused (after Greek skyphos, meaning cup). This coin illustrates this feature of ancient coinage particularly well.

schyphus shaped lepton from Istros (Histria), 4th century BC, reverse (looking inside it)

According to historian Nicolae Iorga, the dolphin clawing eagle ensign we see on the reverse - used like a coat of arms by Histria - was given to the Greek world by the city of Sinope (also a colony of Miletus). Olbia, Sinope of course and many other Greek colonies struck coins bearing this thalassic symbol.

Silver Histrian drachmae circulated over the entire area of the later Dobrogea, having been found also in Muntenia and Moldavia. Other values apart from one drachma (weighing 7-8 grams in the 5th century and 5-6 in the 4th century BC) were also struck. There exist also drachma quarters, oboli (1 obolus = 1/6 drahma), hemioboli (1 hemiobolus = 1/2 obolus = 1/12 drahma) and even less valuable divisionary coins. The bronze pieces must have circulated inside the city and its immediate vicinity only.


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