Signed Coins of Magna Graecia

*Lucania, Velia @ 300 BCE didrachm
Obv: helmeted head of Athena left with pendant earring (must look good in battle);
Dolphin on helmet phi (signed by Philistionos) on the neckpiece
Rev: Lion walking right; UELHTWN in exergue. Above Trident between phi and Iota
Similar to Sear 454; Williams 503 (same dies)

One of the fascinations associated with collecting ancient coins is that it provides a direct link back into time. In terms of both history and art, you can hold in your hand a piece of history that was crafted by a skilled artisan, struck by a craftsman who was probably a slave, spent by a citizen of that state, and lost to the earth for some mysterious reason. This ancient linkage can be heightened when you are privileged to own a coin with the signature of the celator (engraver) who created the die. The coin of Velia signed by Philistionos pictured above is one such example, but there are many others. That many of these coins were signed by the artist rather than a ruler or magistrate, speaks volumes about the esteem in which these celators were held. Several of these master engravers served two or more city states. Kleodorus, engraved dies for Velia and Thouroi in Lucania in southern Italy (Magna Graecia) ; Aristoxenes worked in Taras, Calabria and Metapontum, Lucania; and Eukleidas served both Himera and Syracuse in Sicily.

It is interesting that the signing of dies, climaxed in Sicily and southern Italy at the time when many believe that the engraving reached its height in classical artistic merit. These signed coins are some of the most beautiful of antiquity, and it seems the artists and the city administrators recognized this. Some of these masters are known only by their signatures of one or more letters while others are known by their full names. What follows below is a list of some of the most prominent Greek celators of Magna Graecia and Sicily with links to examples of their coins on the Wildwinds web site of Dave Surber or the Magna Graecia site.

SICILY, Syracuse:
SICILY, Katane:
SICILY, Himera.
Calabria, Taras
Lucania, Thouroi
Lucania, Velia
Lucania, Metapontum
*Some additional information on the coin above. The F (phi) on the helmet is associated with the signature of Philistionos. However the meaning of the phi-Iota on the reverse remains a mystery. This inscription seems to appear on coins of several regions inclusing Aitolia on mainland Greece. As these letters are the beginnings of several common Greek names, it seems likely they represent magistrates or mint directors. Some believe this may represent a coin denomination name, but there is little to support this. The mystery of those letters remains. Thanks to Ed Snible and James Gossett for their expertise and efforts in finding the answers to questions I posed about this inscription on the Greekcoin listserve!

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