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Trove of silver coins found in ancient Greek city of Phanagoria

Phanagoria is one of the largest ancient Greek cities located on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Its ancient settlement is located on the Taman Peninsula, on the shore of the bay that opened towards the Cimmerian Bosporus (Kerch Strait). In 2014, the State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve was established on the site of the ancient city and its necropolis, where the expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences carries out full-scale complex archaeological research.

Trove of silver coins found in ancient Greek city of Phanagoria
Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Some time ago, during the excavations of the late archaic layer on the acropolis of Phanagoria, the rarest find was made - a treasure of the oldest Bosporan silver coins in an Ionian jug. The uniqueness of the discovery lies not only in the fact that it is the sole such finding in the Black Sea region, but also in the fact that this set of coins made it possible to finally and quite accurately establish the date of minting of the oldest coins in what is today Russian territory.

The jug, which contained 162 silver coins, was hidden in the wall of the house where the goldsmith probably lived. It is apparent that a man of this profession could accumulate a significant fortune. The house of the goldsmith was destroyed in a fire that occurred in the early 5th century BC. At the same time, the destruction in this area of the city was quite widespread: other residential houses and public buildings, as well as city defensive structures built of adobe bricks in the third quarter of the 6th century BC were destroyed at the same time.

The exact date of the disaster was established by two criteria. The first was the completely unexpected discovery on the ruins of the city defensive walls of a marble slab with an inscription written in Persian cuneiform script. It was made by order of the Persian king Xerxes, son of Darius I. Although the fragmentary text cannot be read in a meaningful way, the very fact of finding such a document is of exceptional historical importance given almost all the inscriptions of the Persian kings were found in Iran.

Trove of silver coins found in ancient Greek city of Phanagoria
Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
It is known that Xerxes, like his father, devoted his life to the conquests of various territories in order to expand his vast empire from Afghanistan to Egypt. But the main focus of his aggressive policy was on the subordination of Hellas and which ended by 479 BC with the defeat of the Persians.

The second important factor in the analysis of the Phanagoria treasure is contained in the report of Diodorus of Sicily (XII.31.1), which states that after 480/79 BC the Cimmerian Bosporus was ruled by the Archaeanactids, a Greek dynasty of the Kingdom of Bosporus.

The combination of these and some other facts leads to the conclusion that in 480 BC Phanagoria (along with other Black Sea Greek cities) was captured by the Persians, who, in all likelihood, established the Archeanactid regime.

The number of markings found on the coins in the treasure suggests that they were produced within about a quarter of a century, which would date them to the turn of the 6th and 5th centuries BC. On the obverse of the coins is depicted a lion's head, while the reverse is stamped with a four-part incuse square.

The reason for the appearance of coins at such an early time on the northern edge of the ancient world is the subject of heated debate between numismatics and scholars in the field of ancient Greek economics. Nevertheless, it is obvious that about half a century after the coins were struck, the ancient Greek cities in the Bosporus (modern Kerch and Taman Peninsulas) attained a high level of development.

Source: Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences [trsl. TANN, September 13, 2019]


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