British, Ancient and World Coins (16 September 2020)

Date of Auction: 16th September 2020

Sold for £850

Estimate: £150 - £200

Greek Coinages, CRETE, Knossos, Æ Unit, 360-320, κνωσιον, head of Ariadne right wearing crown of grain, meander border around, rev. κνωσιον, Minos seated right on low throne holding sceptre, 22mm, 5.48g (Le Rider –; Svoronos, Crète –; SNG Copenhagen –; McClean –; BMC –). Some minor pitting, otherwise good very fine with an attractive patina; unlisted in the standard references, possibly UNIQUE £150-£200


Unlisted in the standard references and major collections, this charming bronze is seemingly a unique specimen of an early Knossian issue. During the sixth to fourth centuries BC Crete was an economic backwater that lagged behind the rest of the eastern Mediterranean in terms of coinage development. The prevailing view is that the minting of bronze coinage only began on the island around 260 BC, a hundred years after the phenomenon had emerged elsewhere in the Greek world. The island’s first bronze issues were supposedly minted at Knossos, consisting of Chalkoi with a portrait of Artemis on the obverse, and a portrait of one of various deities on the reverse (Sheedy, Aegina, the Cyclades, and Crete, 2012, p. 121).

The present coin can be dated significantly earlier than 260 on stylistic grounds. Its types are almost identical to those found on a mid fourth fourth century silver Stater of Knossos (Svoronos Crète, 14 = Le Rider pl. XXXV, 3). While the two coins do differ in their reverse legends, which reads μινωσ on the Berlin coin, providing us with the identity of the seated figure, certain consistencies in style confirm them to be contemporary with one another, and a striking date of the early fourth century.

The portrait of Ariadne, with its fleshy idealising features, is clearly a classical work and a product of the fourth century, showing as it does strong affinities with the head of Arethusa seen on Euainetos’s famous early fourth century decadrachms of Syracuse. The seated figure of Minos on the reverse further supports this dating. The die sinker’s attempt to show perspective has resulted in Minos’ right leg appearing awkwardly large; a stylistic feature seen on seated figures depicted on eastern Mediterranean coins throughout the fourth century, particularly on the plentiful satrapal staters of Tarsus.

The production of bronze coins that so closely mimic silver issues is intriguing, particularly during the classical period when textual sources report distrust in fiat base metal coinage. Epigraphical evidence from Gortyna on Crete reveals that even in the second half of the third century magistrates felt it necessary to legislate a fine against any person who refused to accept bronze currency, presumably in an attempt to combat considerable lingering suspicion. As Sheedy suggests, it would appear that the use of bronze coinage did not become widespread on Crete until the Hellenistic period. This coin appears to represent a unique surviving example of an earlier, short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful experiment with base metal coinage