By Daniel Wolf Ph.D. and Catharine Lorber

Copyright 2007 by Daniel Wolf Ph.D. and Catharine Lorber
Revised 2/17/2008
Revised 3/19/2009

Ptolemaic bronze diobols of the early third century BC (AE28, 18gm nominally) comprise a lengthy and varied group of issues. In using the term diobol for coins of this module we follow the demonstration of Davesne 1998, especially pp. 54-55; see also Lorber 2005, pp. 136-137. In some earlier works this same denomination is identified as an obol (e.g., Hazzard 1995, p. 65; Weiser 1995, nos. 7, 10-15, 17-18 and D). It was tentatively identified as a hemidrachm by Milne 1938, pp. 203-204.

These coins all have a laureate Zeus obverse and an open-winged eagle on the reverse, standing upon a thunderbolt. Svoronos catalogued well over a hundred varieties sharing the same iconography but with different letters, monograms, and symbols in the reverse left field and/or between the eagle's legs, beneath its tail, or to the right of its tail. Considered together, these coins are thought to have been issued over a period of 30-40 years (from perhaps as early as the 290s BC to the time of the coinage reform of the late 260s BC), spanning parts of the reigns of two monarchs, Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus. They comprise the principal bronze denomination of the pre-reform period, a long-running and consistent coinage whose sheer numbers point to an important role in the monetary system. One subgroup of these coins stands apart stylistically. Its properties merit a focused analysis.

We refer to one series of bronze diobols of Ptolemy II that have a reverse with a Galatian shield in the left field and a control letter or monogram below the shield, between the eagle's legs, or near its tail. In addition one coin has come to light with monogram above the shield. This group comprises twelve issues with various letters or monograms on the reverse:


  1. With control letter near the eagle's tail
    • Svoronos 615 - ALPHA (possibly LAMDA)
    • Svoronos 617 - DELTA
    • Svoronos 619 - NU
    • Svoronos 622 - SIGMA
    • Svoronos 623 - PHI
  2. With monogram or control letter under the shield
    • Svoronos 612 - NK monogram
    • Svoronos 616 - ALPHA
    • Svoronos 620 - NU
    • Svoronos 624 - PHI
  3. With monogram above the shield
    • Private Collection - NK monogram
  4. With control letter between the eagle's legs
    • SNG Copenhagen 115 - GAMMA
    • ANS inv. 1944.100.76064 - DELTA

Some of these types are shown in Illustration 4.

These types have distinguishing properties that imply origin outside Alexandria. We believe that additional observations not previously reported allow us to attribute these as imitative Ptolemaic bronze diobols issued at Syracuse under the reign of Hieron II (275-215 BC). These observations also lead us to a separate analysis and classification of Svoronos 610 (similar to above, with Galatian shield but lacking other controls).

Table I. Notes

Svoronos catalogued a single specimen of 616 (British Museum: BMC 26,23). Recent examination of this specimen reveals a letter NU (thus Svoronos 620). Svoronos also recorded a single specimen of 617 and its illustration (Plate XII #19) shows a NU control letter (thus Svoronos 619). A Svoronos 617 specimen reported in the ANS collection (see Table II.) merits examination. Svoronos sole recorded specimen of 622 (Plate XII #20) shows a coin with PHI control (thus Svoronos 623).

Wolfram Weiser has taken the first step along the path we wish to pursue, tentatively attributing one type (Svoronos 612, Weiser 1995, pp. 29-30, Illustration D) to Hieron II of Syracuse. We characterize this as a tentative step because Weiser places a question mark (?) in the regnal and mint attributions [HIERON II. VON SYRAKUS(?), 275/269. AE Obolos, Syrakus(?)]. Weiser also notes that the mint of Köln 18 (Svoronos 610) is unknown [unbekannte Münzstätte] and its date of issue was likely prior to 265. Köln 18 is then followed by discussion distinguishing "Alexandrian" and "Magna Graecia" styles that apparently coexist in Svoronos' corpus under number 610. Weiser considers Svoronos 610 specimen psi (= SNG Milano 42) to be "schon in grossgriechischem Stil" [already in Magna Graecia style]. He says of Köln 18 (Svoronos 610) that it corresponds to the only example illustrated by Svoronos showing "Alexandrian rather than Magna Graecia" style and contrasts this with the style of Illustration D (Svoronos 612). In these comments Weiser reiterates his tentative attribution of the type represented by Illustration D, using the tantalizing adjective "Sicilian" with a question mark [sizilischen(?)]. A Hieron II portrait bronze (Weiser 1995, Illustration E) is subsequently described in the text but without comment on its relation to the two preceding entries and illustrations (Köln 18 and D).

Clearly Weiser has noticed the issues of style and origin that this series presents. The tentative attribution to Syracuse and Hieron II (for Svoronos 612, Weiser 1995, pp. 29-30) is noteworthy though, alas, the presentation is enigmatically truncated.

We shall now present five types of evidence that support Syracusan origin for the types listed in Table I, tentatively suggested by Weiser for Svoronos 612:

I. Comparative Stylistic Evidence
II. Reverse Border Typology
III. Die Axis Variety
IV. Find Locations
V. Metrology, Manufacturing Technique, and Control Links to Portrait Bronzes of Hieron II

I. Stylistic Comparisons of Early Ptolemaic Bronze Diobols

Differences of style are best illustrated by comparing bronzes of related series. There are four series of late Ptolemy I and early Ptolemy II diobols. These series share a number of features:

The distinguishing features are the presence and positions of letters, monograms and/or symbols on the reverse, constituting 4 series:

Consistent styles of Series A, B, and C contrast significantly with Series D, which we believe is a separate category of issues originating in Syracuse.

Half-denomination coins (obols) with similar control symbols and locations are also known that correspond to Series A, B, and C, while no such coins have been reported corresponding to Svoronos 610 and Series D. The obols related to Series A, B, and C are likewise consistent in style. For example, Series A diobols are matched by obols of (nominally) 9 grams which depict Alexander with an elephant skin headdress on the obverse, an open-winged eagle on thunderbolt on the reverse, and control letters, monograms, and symbols analogous to those seen on the diobols of Series A (e.g. Svoronos 225). We also know of obols of analogous main design features which are congruent on their reverses to to Series B (e.g. Svoronos 565, with SIGMA over SHIELD and control letter in the eagle's legs) and Series C (e.g Svoronos 582, with SIGMA over SHIELD over ALPHA/CHI/RHO monogram and control letter in the eagle's legs). No coins have been reported or catalogued in reference works which are the obol analogues of Svoronos 610 or Series D, which sets those diobols further apart as a distinct family of issues.

I a. Style Continuity of Series A, B, and C

Obverse renderings of these three series, with some die variations, share several stylistic features:

Reverses of these three series are also remarkably similar:

I b. Style Features that Distinguish Series D

The style of Series D coins is easily contrasted with the preceding series.

Obverses of this series are markedly varied and clearly differ from those of Series A, B, and C. Students of Ptolemaic bronzes easily notice that types such as Svoronos 619, 615, etc. present a laureate Zeus that is, as Weiser notes, of "Magna Graecia" (South Italian/Sicilian) style.

Reverses of Series D also present several stylistic differences from the others:

The eagles of Series D are similar to those seen on third century BC bronze coins of Italian and Sicilian origin. Illustration 6 shows some examples of eagle renderings on other bronzes of Sicily and Italy. The obverse and reverse styles set Series D apart from Series A, B, and C and suggest a different origin of the dies and artistic designs.

We now draw attention to two additional aspects of the manufacturing technology that have not been discussed by others. We believe they are important and further the argument that these coins were not made in Egypt.

II. Reverse Border Typology

II a. Dotted Reverse Borders in Series A-C

All the coins that belong to Series A-C have dotted borders on both obverse and reverse. The dotted reverse border is a universal characteristic of Ptolemaic bronzes issued by Alexandrian and provincial mints of Tyre, Cyprus, and others.

II b. Continuous Circle Reverse Borders in Series D

Series D is also distinguished from the products of known Ptolemaic mints by circlular, rather than dotted, reverse borders on almost all examples on which a reverse border is visible, Illustration 5. The exceptions (dotted reverse borders) are three Svoronos 619 from the same dies, Illustration 10. The obverse border of Series D is the usual dotted type. The circular reverse border is so unusual that it would alone suffice to distingish Series D. Circular reverse borders are also found on Syracusan bronzes of Agathocles, Hicetas, Pyrrhus, and Hieron II. Illustration 7 shows circular borders of some third century BC Syracusan bronzes.

III. Die Axis Variations of Svoronos 610 and Series D

Egyptian and provincial bronze coins of Ptolemy II Philadelphus are nearly uniform in their die axis of 12h (0 degrees) with only slight deviations (Callataÿ 1996, p. 88). SNG Copenhagen notes the die axis of many third century BC Ptolemaic bronzes and it is easy to see from this reference and from examining numerous specimens that this is the case. In contrast, Series D was struck from loose dies, yielding varying die axes. Varying die axes of Series D coins are recorded in SNG Copenhagen, SNG Milano (including a number of issues misattributed by Svoronos and listed under his no. 610), and other publications. The die axes of specimens in the American Numismatic Society are available through the society's online database. One of the authors (Daniel Wolf) has examined some specimens of Series D coins in commerce and in private collections, providing further support of this observation.


The variable die axes that distinguish Series D from Series A-C have been overlooked. As minting practices for Ptolemaic bronzes appear to have been well controlled for orientation on other issues, the variable die orientation virtually assures that Series D originated outside the control of Egyptian mint administration. The use of loose dies is consistent with the practice of Syracuse, among many other mints. Specifically, the Hieron II portrait bronzes with which we associate Series D coins exhibit varying die axes. Of 67 pieces (Svoronos 610 and Series D) in collections or commerce for which die axes are reported, the entire range of angles is represented. The die axes of Svoronos 610 coins are highly concentrated on vertical (11h and 12h, 25 of 27 specimens), contrasting with the wider angular distribution of Series D.

IV. Sicilian Finds of Ptolemaic Diobols

Giacomo Manganaro has provided a limited corpus of Ptolemaic coins found in Sicily, including hoard coins, specimens that reside in museums and private collections, and a few examples recorded from commerce (Manganaro 1989). More than half of these coins are bronze diobols of Ptolemy II (nominally 28mm, 18gm), predominantly with a shield in left field. Of those coins that can be identified more precisely, nearly two thirds are examples of Svoronos 610 and most of the rest belong to our Series D. These same varieties are entirely lacking from hoards found in Egypt, Cyprus, or Coele Syria, and they have not been reported from excavated sites in Ptolemaic territory, with the sole exception of Ras Ibn Hani in Syria (Augé 2000, pp. 62-63). (The Ras Ibn Hani excavation coins are not catalogued or illustrated, but Augé lists Svoronos 610, 615, 617, 620, and 622 among the varieties represented in the excavations, without specifying quantities.)




"Ptolemy II"

Sv. 610

Series D

Manganaro reference

Palermo Museum Private Collection 5 with shield . . .
Gangi Monte Alburchia archaeological zone . . 1 p. 530, p. 549, 75
Museo Civico di Messina Grosso Cacopardo 16 with shield 2 1 p. 531, p. 549, 80-81
Museo Civico di Messina Collezione Civica 6 with shield . . p. 531
Patti (near Messina) In trade with Armando Marino 1 . . p. 530
Randazzo Vagliasindi coll. 1 . Sv. 617 p. 528, p. 545, 42
Troina . 1 . . p. 529, p. 546, 44
Bronte . 1 . . p. 528, p. 545, 40
. Meli collection 1 . . p. 528, p. 545, 43
Biancavilla Canon Portrale 3 . Sv. 619 p. 528, p. 545, 36-39
Centuripae Dr. Scarlata . 1 . p. 528, p. 544, 29
Morgantina Morgantina hoard, 1975 . 1 . p. 527, p. 543, 22
Aidone (near Morgantina) Collection of an attorney . 1 . p. 529, p. 546, 45
Syracuse Museum Casale excavations, Piazza Armerina . 1 . p. 529, p. 546, 49
Herbessus Montagna di Marzo hoard, 1929 (IGCH 2242) 2 . . p. 527
Zelanea (Acireale) Can. S. De Maria . 2 . p. 528, p. 544, 24-25
Acireale Private collection . 1 . .
Catania Private collection . 1 . p. 528, p. 544, 28
Catania Rag. V. De Simone . 1 . p. 528, p. 544, 31
Megara Sambataro coll. . 1 1 p. 529, p. 546, 50-51
Syracuse Museum Marchese Corrado Castelluccio (Noto) . 4 . p. 530, p. 547, 55, 59, 61-62
Syracuse Museum Marchese Corrado Castelluccio (Noto) . . Sv. 619 (2) p. 530, p. 548, 63-64
Syracuse Museum Marchese Corrado Castelluccio (Noto) . . Sv. 623 (3) p. 530, p. 547, 56-58
Syracuse Museum Marchese Corrado Castelluccio (Noto) . . 1 p. 530, p. 547, 60
Syracuse Museum From Noto . . Sv. 620 (2) p. 530, p. 548, 65-66
Syracuse Museum . . . Sv. 624 p. 530, p. 548, 67
Avola . . 1 . p. 529, p. 546, 52
Avola Avola hoard, 1915 (IGCH 2249) . . 1 p. 528, p. 543, 23 (*)
Modica Prof. A. Maltese 1 . . p. 529, p. 547, 53
Agrigento Museum . 4 1 . p. 531, p. 550, 86



32 (27 with shield)




(*) The coin is attributed to Ptolemy I by Manganaro, but the illustration seems to show a shield in the left field and stylistic features of our Series D.

The above table leaves us with the impression that the Ptolemaic bronze diobols of particular interest to us, Series D and Svoronos 610, are found almost exclusively in eastern Sicily. Manganaro's cautious statement that his inquiries yielded very limited results for the west leaves open the possibility that a different methodology might have located more Ptolemaic coins in western Sicily (Manganaro 1989, p. 551). For the material actually reported, however, it is noteworthy that there is a concentration of examples in Messina, perhaps predominantly examples of Svoronos 610, whereas most examples belonging to Series D repose in the Syracuse Museum (and all but one of these came from Noto). This different pattern of circulation, if confirmed, would support the distinction already made between Svoronos 610 and Series D on the basis of style, reverse border, and die axes.

The three hoards cited by Manganaro all associate diobols of Ptolemy II with bronze coins of Hieron II, the Mamertines, and Rome: Montagna di Marzo (Herbessos), 1929 (IGCH 2242); Avola, 1915 (IGCH 2249); and Morgantina, 1975(?). The last of these contained some bronzes of Hieron II with the Dioscuros reverse overstruck on diobols of Ptolemy II.

In his interpretation of the Ptolemaic coins found in Sicily, Manganaro did not emphasize the strange preponderance of bronze diobols of Ptolemy II, nor did he recognize that these particular types represent a rather narrow sample from the abundant bronze varieties of Philadelphus' reign. Manganaro submitted that the importation of Ptolemaic bronze coins into Sicily should be associated specifically with the trade in Rhodian wine in exchange for Sicilian grain, a trade that was centered above all in Delos (Manganaro 1989, p. 517). To support this interpretation, he pointed to the presence of stamped Rhodian amphora handles in Sicily, which indicate that the period of greatest importation fell in the years c. 240-108 BC (Manganaro 1989, p. 518). Manganaro ultimately argued that the Ptolemaic coins were introduced to Sicily by Sicilians who served temporarily in Egypt, or who frequented international trade centers like Delos, Alexandria, and the Piraeus (Manganaro 1989, p. 521). Such Sicilians would have brought Ptolemaic coins back with them either as souvenirs, or to use in the course of their next trip. Manganaro raised the possibility that Ptolemaic coins may have exchanged at par with the coinage of Hieron II in market centers like Syracuse (Manganaro 1989, p. 521).

Manganaro's ideas do not adequately explain the peculiarities of the record he assembled. There is a chronological mismatch between the predominance of coins of Ptolemy II and the peak of Rhodian wine importation beginning in the reign of his successor. If Ptolemaic coins really served as the exchange medium for this trade, we would expect to see more coins of the later Ptolemies in Sicily, reflecting the growth of this import trade. Manganaro's other proposal, that Ptolemaic coins were carried back by Sicilians who served temporarily in Egypt, is vague enough that it could perhaps be consistent with the Sicilian assemblage. But the Sicilians he associated with Ptolemy II-the court poet Theocritus, two court ladies from Syracuse, and Hieron, son of Timocrates, who served as epistates of Arsinoe-Koresia on the island of Ceos after 266 (Manganaro 1989, p. 514)-would more likely have returned home laden with fortunes in gold and silver, rather than bringing back bronze diobols. More modest Sicilian adventurers might indeed have trafficked in bronze coins, but the specific evidence cited for Syracusan mercenaries in the Arsinoite nome dates from the reign of Ptolemy III, and the Syracusan cleruchs mentioned by Manganaro were presumably permanent settlers (Manganaro 1989, p. 514). The fuller evidence collected in the Prosopographia Ptolemaica also fails to document an important presence of Syracusans or Sicilians in Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (La'da 2002, pp. 212, 284-285, 289-291).

The chronological framework for Svoronos 610 and Series D can be narrowed somewhat. The Galatian shield that appears on these bronzes, on Series B and C, and also on some precious metal coins is thought to allude to an episode in the mid 270s when Ptolemy II destroyed a band of rebellious Gallic mercenaries and was credited with saving Egypt from chaos in the great pharaonic tradition (Paus. 1.7.2; Callim. Hymn IV.185-187). Bronzes of Series B and C have been found in numbers in excavations in Attica and are believed to have been introduced there during the Chremonidean War (268?-262 BC) (Chryssanthaki 2005, pp. 165-167). The failure of these excavations to yield later bronze types of Ptolemy II (which lack the shield symbol and have a different fabric, with central cavities) is one of the arguments cited in favor of dating his bronze currency reform c. 261/0 (Varoucha-Christodoulopoulou 1965, pp. 225-226; Mørkholm 1991, p. 105; Hazzard 1995, pp. 59-60; Lorber 2005, p. 137 n.15; Le Rider and de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 155-156). However Olivier Picard has suggested that the currency reform should be dated a bit earlier, to 264 or 263, because the Revenue Laws of that date imply a need for the large bronze denominations, especially the bronze drachm, that were introduced via the currency reform (Picard 2003, pp. 30-32). In either case, the hoard record indicates that all shield bronzes were withdrawn from Egyptian circulation in favor of the reformed coinage (Lorber 2000, p. 70; Davesne 1998, p. 57; Lorber 2005, p. 138). Svoronos 610 and Series D, if products of an official Ptolemaic mint, would have to be dated c. 275-264/260 BC. Imitative issues produced at Syracuse could not be dated earlier than their Ptolemaic prototypes, i.e., no earlier than c. 275. On the other hand, their production may not have ended at the time of the Ptolemaic currency reform.

The time frame for the introduction of Ptolemaic shield bronzes to Sicily overlaps the rise of Hieron II and his assumption of the royal title (see Section VII below).

V. Metrology, Manufacturing Technique, And Control Links To Portrait Bronzes of Hieron II

Table IV juxtaposes the control letters and monogram of the Series D bronzes with the control letters, letter groups, and monograms of the major bronze coinages of Hieron II, as recorded by Romolo Calciati (Calciati 1986). (The minor series Calciati 199-202 could not be included for reasons of space, but do not deviate in any important way.) Although Hieron's coinage usually employed symbols in combination with these letters and monograms, the table clearly demonstrates the existence of a single control system throughout his reign, making repeated use of certain letters and consistently excluding others (Beta, Gamma, Kappa, Pi, Rho, Psi). The single letters most consistently used are Alpha, Delta, Nu, Sigma, and Phi. accounting for five of the six letters that appear on the Series D bronzes. The letter Lambda (a possible control of the Series D bronzes) and the NK monogram also appear on Hieronian bronzes. The only inconsistency is the letter Gamma, which is among the letters excluded from Hieron's control system yet is recorded for a single specimen of Series D in Copenhagen (perhaps a doubtful reading?). The affinity of the control system of Series D to the Hieronian system is remarkable and supports the attribution of Series D to Hieron II.

Hieron's portrait bronze coinage (nominally 28mm, 18gm) has been described as breaking with the metrology of earlier Sicilian currency (Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, p. 211 and Tables 1-4, pp. 263-266). His principal denomination closely resembled the Ptolemaic bronze diobol in size and weight, inspiring the suggestion that it was designed to fit in with Ptolemaic coinage already circulating in Sicily (Van Driessche 1988, pp. 70-71 with n.50; Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, p. 217; Kinkaid 1985, p. 128) (Kinkaid erred in claiming that Syracusan coinage was reciprocally acceptable in Alexandria.) A close correspondence is underlined by Hieron's overstriking of Ptolemaic diobols to produce his own coinage, observed in the Morgantina hoard of 1975. Veronique van Driessche pointed out that the bronze coinage of the Mamertines with the types Ares/eagle and Ares/bull also conforms to this metrological system.

The Hieronian portrait bronze issues in question have a left-facing portrait of Hieron II on the obverse and a right-facing rearing horse with armed rider and the name of Hieron in exergue on the reverse. These bronzes come with two portrait types. One, relatively scarce today, shows Hieron laureate and is considered the earlier (Bell 1995, p. 291); the other, more common, shows him diademed. Illustration 8 shows examples of the two portrait types. The horseman bronzes do not always have a letter or monogram control, but when it is present it is placed under the front legs of the horse. This position on the right side of the coin matches the placement of the control letter on many issues of Series D. Illustration 9 shows examples of some reverses of the Series D coins and Hieron II portrait bronzes that share control marks.

Series D Ptolemaic bronzes exhibit a pronounced concave reverse surface that is easily distinguished from the flat surface of most Ptolemaic bronzes. Hieron portrait bronzes, like many Syracusan bronzes of Agathocles and Hicetas, exhibit the concave reverse surface and their resemblance to the Series D types is easily apparent. The manufacturing technique leading to the nearly ubiquitous concave surface on both Hieron and Ptolemaic types is noteworthy evidence the Ptolemaic were produced at mints that also made Hieron portrait bronzes, and not at Alexandria. Many examples of Svoronos 610 (especially those with dotted reverse borders), which we also believe are Syracusan issues, have the flat reverse surfaces usually seen on Alexandrian Ptolemaic bronzes, however the concave reverse on most Series D pieces is shared by some specimens of Svoronos 610 that have the circular reverse borders.

The absolute chronology of Hieron portrait bronzes is uncertain. A statistical calculation based on the specimens found in the Morgantina excavations estimated that the variety with laureate portrait was produced for six years, from 275 to 269, and that the variety with diademed portrait was struck for the remainder of Hieron's reign (Bell 1983). However, the number of control combinations recorded in Table IV for the laureate variant (55 as against 62 for the diademed variant) suggests that the original coinages were similar in volume, and that the present scarcity of the laureate type reflects a poor survival rate, perhaps the result of recoining by Hieron himself. Maria Caccamo Caltabiano, followed by Caroline Lehmler, has proposed a starting date of about 263 BC for the horseman bronzes (Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, pp. 209-210; Lehmler 2005, p. 85). This date is based on historical reasoning: Caltabiano regards Hieron's introduction of his portrait bronze coinage as part of a currency reform that also involved the abandonment of precious metal coinage. In her view, this reform could not have occurred before 263 or 261 and was necessitated by economic difficulties that befell Hieron after a military confrontation with Rome in 264, resulting in the loss of some cities and the imposition of a war indemnity. She reasons that the change from laureate to diademed portrait was probably correlated with some important institutional change, likely the elevation of Hieron's son Gelon as coregent in 240 (Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, p. 217). Production of this coinage then continued through 218 BC.

Harold Mattingly has argued for a later chronology, citing archaeological contexts, hoards, and comparisons with other West Greek and Roman coinages (Mattingly 2000, pp. 42-46). He places great emphasis on the ratio of laureate and diademed horseman bronzes found in the Morgantina excavations (25 : 252) to arrive at a relatively late date, c. 242, for introduction of the laureate horseman bronzes. But as we have seen, the modern rate of recovery for the laureate bronzes is almost certainly not indicative of the volume of the original coinage, which may have lasted as long in production as the diademed horsemen. Mattingly dates the introduction of the latter c. 227, based in part on scanty coin finds in the House of Ganymede and the House of the Official at Morgantina, and in part on an historical argument, that the inauguration of a Roman governorship in western Sicily in that year could have inspired Hieron to advertise his royal status.

As for the supposed revolutionary metrology of the horsemen bronzes, we note that their weight of c. 18 grams is approximately triple the weight of the Kore/bull bronzes with SYRAKOSION on the obverse; Caltabiano and her colleagues found modes of 17-17.4 grams and 5.7 grams, respectively (Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, Tables 1, 3-4, pp. 263, 255-266). A weight of c. 18 grams stands in a 3 : 2 ratio with the Kore/Pegasus bronzes (11.34 grams, according to Mattingly 2000, p. 42). The Ptolemaic diobols, too, could have circulated alongside these coins with a face value triple that of the Kore/bull bronzes and one and a half times that of the Kore/Pegasus bronzes. It is very unlikely that either Ptolemaic diobols (whether Alexandrian or Syracusan imitations) or Hieron's horseman bronzes had the face value of diobols in the Syracusan system.

VI. The Special Case of Svoronos 610 - Two Reverse Border Types

Svoronos 610, lacking a control letter or monogram on the reverse, also exhibits style characteristics of both Series A-C and Series D. Weiser considered Svoronos 610 to be "Alexandrian" in style. The texture of Zeus's hair, arched brow, and the conformation of his mustache indeed follow the Alexandrian model. Yet the youthful portrait, with hair swept back above the forehead and large laurel leaves, resembles or foreshadows the portraits of Series D. The reverse eagle is portrayed in the purely Alexandrian style of Series A-C. Die axes published in SNG Copenhagen and SNG Milano and those of specimens examined in commerce and private collections are 12h. The majority of identifiable Ptolemaic bronze diobol finds in Sicily reported by Manganaro (see Table III, above) are Svoronos 610.

Svoronos 610, however, has two different types of reverse border, an observation not previously reported (see Table V). Illustration 5 shows examples of Svoronos 610 with both types of reverse border. The only examples seen to date of Series D with dotted reverse border are three recently noted specimens of Svoronos 619 from a single reverse die.


  • Type 1 - Dotted reverse border ("Egyptian" border)
  • Type 2 - Circular reverse border ("Sicilian" border)

As we first report here the two types of Svoronos 610 reverse borders, future analyses must determine their relative prevalence, distribution, and die axis distinctions (if any). Svoronos 610 shows a mix of features we classify with Series A-C along with some of Series D. In light of the youthful face with hair swept back from the forehead, extensive Sicilian finds, and duality of reverse borders, we favor the classification of both types of Svoronos 610 as Syracusan along with Series D. The mixed or transitional features of Svoronos 610 argue that it was the first of the Sicilian bronze issues imitating Ptolemaic diobols, the variant with the dotted reverse border preceding the variant with the circular reverse border. This interpretation is further supported by the die axis distribution (Table II. above) in which we see a strong association between Svoronos 610 coins and the 12h 'Alexandrian' die axis. Some examples of Svoronos 610 which have die axes far from 12h are also of style (both obverse and reverse) associated with Series D that is different from the transitional 'Alexandrian' style of most other examples of Svoronos 610.

Almost all examples of Svoronos 610 exhibit a stylistic kinship to the reformed bronze coinage of Ptolemy II. On the reformed bronze coinage, the heads of Zeus and Zeus-Ammon are rejuvenated and idealized, very much as on Svoronos 610, but they retain the small lock of hair that falls forward above the forehead, an iconographic detail characteristic of all Zeus portraits on Ptolemaic bronze issues from Egypt and from official provincial mints. The stylistic kinship may be merely coincidental, but perhaps it reflects some current of influence running between Syracuse and Alexandria.

VII. The Rise of Hieron II and his Production of Imitative Bronze Diobols

As Svoronos 610 and Series D are now identified as coinages of Hieron II of Syracuse, the events of his early career provide the essential context for interpreting these imitative issues. The ancient sources are unfortunately fragmentary and contradictory, so that there is substantial disagreement among scholars about key events and their dates (Hoyos 1998, pp. 31-46).

Hieron was an officer in the army of Pyrrhus of Epirus. As a condottiere in the employ of Syracuse, Pyrrhus brought his forces from Italy and drove the Carthaginians almost entirely from Sicily, leaving only their stronghold at Lilybaeum. He also defeated the Mamertines, a lawless body of discharged Campanian mercenaries who in 289 had seized control of the strategic city of Messana and used it as a base to prey on the towns of Sicily (Diod. 21.18.1-3, 22.1.3). After three years of campaigning in Sicily, Pyrrhus decamped for Italy in 275, leaving a contingent of his army behind. His departure allowed the Carthaginians to reoccupy much of Sicily. The remnant of Pyrrhus' army, at the time estranged from the city of Syracuse, elected two leaders, Hieron and a certain Artemidoros (Polyb. 1.8.3). Hieron gained admittance to Syracuse through the help of kinsmen, overpowered the political opposition, and was accepted by the Syracusans as strategos of the city (Polyb. 1.8.4). This was apparently accomplished by summer of 274 (Paus. 6.12.2). In order to protect his position when away in the field, Hieron formed an alliance with an influential citizen named Leptines, whose daughter he married (Polyb. 1.9.1-3). Next he determined to rid his forces of disaffected veteran mercenaries and, in an odd echo of Ptolemy II purging his armies of mutinous Galatian mercenaries, threw them into battle at the River Cyamosorus near Centuripae and then abandoned them to be slaughtered by the Mamertines while he returned to Syracuse with the citizen units of his army (Polyb. 1.9.3-6). Hieron subsequently restocked his army with newly hired mercenaries loyal to himself (Polyb. 1.9.6).

Around 280, during Pyrrhus' earlier Italian campaigns, the city of Rhegium, opposite Messana, had fallen under the control of a different outlaw band of Campanian mercenaries (Diod. 22.1.2-3). In 270 Rome determined to liberate the city. Hieron aided Rome in its siege by sending ships with grain and perhaps soldiers (Zon. 8.6.14; Dio Cass. fr. 43, 1; De Sensi Sestito 1995, pp. 29-30; Hoyos 1998, p. 31).

Hieron, commanding citizen levies, won his first major victory over the Mamertines at the River Longanus (Polyb. 1.9.7-8; Diod. 22.13.1-6). In the aftermath he was acclaimed king by the Syracusans and their allies (Polyb. 1.9.8). Many scholars date these events to 270 or 269 BC (e.g., De Sensi Sestito 1995, p. 30 with others cited in n.58; Kincaid 1985, p. 108-9). Others, relying on the narratives of Diodorus and Polybius, place the battle of the Longanus in 264 as the beginning of a chain of events that led to the outbreak of the First Punic War (e.g., Hoyos 1998, p. 39).

In 264 a confusing situation arose at Messana. Hieron besieged the city, either following up on his victory at the Longanus or making a new and belated attempt to dislodge the Mamertines for good. The Mamertines were on the point of surrender when a Carthaginian fleet arrived from Lipara. Its commander, Hannibal, tricked Hieron into lifting the siege, then introduced Carthaginian troops into Messana, whereupon Hieron returned to Syracuse (Diod. 22.13.1-8). But the Mamertines apparently tired of their rescuers and sought an alliance with Rome (Polyb. 1.10.1-2). After much hesitation and deliberation Rome dispatched an expeditionary force under the command of the consul Appius Claudius Caudex (Polyb. 1.10.3-11.3). The Mamertines expelled the Carthaginian garrison and invited Appius into the city (Polyb. 1.11.4). The Carthaginians crucified the garrison commander for his failure and blockaded Messana by sea and by land (Polyb.1.11.5-6). Seeing an opportunity to finish off the Mamertines, Hieron reversed centuries of Syracusan policy, allied with the Carthaginians, and laid siege to Messana from a second direction (Polyb. 1.11.7-8; Diod. 23.1.2-3). Appius Claudius attacked and defeated Hieron, who withdrew to Syracuse (Polyb. 1.11.12-15). After driving back the Carthaginians, Appius devastated Syracusan territory and attempted a siege of Syracuse, but eventually gave up and returned to Messana (Polyb. 1.12.4; Hoyos 1998, pp. 100-103).

In 263 two consular armies invaded Sicily under the command of Mn. Valerius Maximus and Mn. Otacilius Crassus, with the evident intention of conquering the island for Rome. After overwhelming Hadranum they received the surrender of numerous other Sicilian towns (Diod. 23.4). The combined forces advanced on Syracuse, but the unease of his subjects caused Hieron to open negotiations. The resulting treaty established a fifteen-year peace and recognized Hieron as king of a truncated kingdom, a narrow strip of coastal Sicily extending only as far north as Leontini, with an additional enclave at Tauromenium, in exchange for a war indemnity of 100 (or perhaps only 25) talents (Diod. 23.4). For this achievement Valerius Maximus celebrated a triumph in 262 and assumed the surname Messalla. The treaty of 263 deprived Hieron of many of the cities he had recently acquired and assured that the Mamertines remained unmolested in Messana (Hoyos 1998, p. 107). Hieron probably did not achieve the status of a formal ally of Rome until 248, the date of his last indemnity payment (Zon. 8.16.2). He remained a loyal friend of Rome for the remainder of his long reign.

Hieron's loss of his territories north of Leontini, considered against the particular distribution of the coins recorded in Table III, makes it very likely that the Ptolemaic diobols "with shield" found near Messina were introduced there in the course of Hieron's military campaigns, thus before 263. This is perhaps also true for the examples of Svoronos 610 found inland around Centuripae, Morgantina, and Herbessus. In contrast, the majority of Series D diobols appear to have been found within the borders of Hieron's diminished kingdom, a clue that they were probably issued after 263. If the movements of the imitative diobols were due primarily to economic activity, we would not expect to find different populations in different parts of Sicily.

The various similarities between the coinages of Ptolemaic Egypt and Hieron II have become a topos of Sicilian numismatics. They follow a tradition of echoes and possible links dating back to the reign of Agathocles, who married a stepdaughter of Ptolemy I, and continuing under Pyrrhus, a protégé of both Ptolemy Soter and Ptolemy Philadelphus. The comparisons involve coin types, legends, metrology, and gold : silver exchange rates (Garraffo 1995; Consolo Langher 1995; Caltabiano, Carroccio, and Oteri 1995, pp. 217, 223, 236-237, 245; Lehmler 2005, pp. 70-71, 84-96).

But iconographic and metrological affinities are not sufficient to explain as the production by a Hellenistic ruler of coinage pretending to be (or perhaps indeed) authorized by a different king. A similar phenomenon was recently discovered in the Cappadocian kingdom, where a series of monarchs, spanning the latter years of the second century to the early first century BC, produced coinage imitating the types of Antiochus VII of Syria and bearing his name as issuing authority (Lorber and Houghton 2006). The Hellenistic period affords other examples of imitative coinages, mainly the ongoing production of gold staters and tetradrachms of Alexander the Great and Lysimachus by various minting authorities. As an example of civic type we cite the Rhodian imitations struck in Thessaly c. 170 BC (Price 1989, pp. 241-242). Other imitative coinages of the Hellenistic period include staters of Corinthian type issued by Agathocles and Hieron II in Syracuse (Castrizio 1995); tetradrachms of Thasos with the types Dionysus/Heracles (Lucanc 1996); and tetradrachms of Side signed by the magistrate KLEYX, perhaps a "frozen" type, rather than an imitation (Arslan and Lightfoot 1999, pp. 34-36).

Except for the widespread production of posthumous Alexanders and Lysimachi, these imitations are highly specific in time and place. The conventional explanation is that they were struck in times of war to pay mercenaries who demanded their compensation in a currency familiar to them. In all instances this interpretation remains a plausible supposition rather than a proven fact. In the case of Hieron II there is one bit of evidence that supports the hypothesis that the imitative bronze diobols were struck for military pay: the reported presence of Syracusan imitative bronzes at Ras Ibn Hani, a Ptolemaic garrison town of coastal northern Syria. Absent other provenances, it is hard to imagine how these coins moved directly from Sicily to Ras Ibn Hani unless they were carried there by Ptolemaic soldiers or by a body of mercenaries who changed employers.

In seeking an explanation for the pseudo-Ptolemaic bronzes of Syracuse, we are hampered by the poverty of the ancient sources relating to Hieron II. The literary record contains no mention of Ptolemaic military aid to Hieron or to mercenaries from Lagid territories in his service. Nevertheless Ptolemaic involvement is not implausible, given Ptolemy Philadelphus' interest in the west and his inherited friendship with Hieron's mentor Pyrrhus. The former interest is attested by Philadelphus' initiative in negotiating a treaty of friendship with Rome in 273 and by the approximately contemporary survey of the harbors and coasts of the western Mediterranean, as far west as the Atlantic, by a Ptolemaic fleet under the command of Timosthenes of Rhodes (Fraser 1972, Vol. I, pp. 152, 522). Early in the third century Pyrrhus spent a year in Alexandria as a hostage. During that year he formed a deep friendship with the first Ptolemy, who honored him with a marriage alliance and in 297 sent him home with ships loaded with troops, food, and money so that he could reclaim his kingdom in Molossia (Plu. Pyrr. 5.1). When Pyrrhus left to campaign in Italy, Ptolemy II stationed troops in Epirus to protect the Molossian kingdom (Hammond 1988). Given the long careers of Hellenistic soldiers, it is possible that some of the original Ptolemaic troops accompanied Pyrrhus to Italy, though Diodorus mentions only Epirotes, who suffered heavy losses in the battle of Heraclea (Diod. 22.6.1-2). In any case, the Ptolemaic coin finds in Italy do not suggest that Pyrrhus was using Lagid currency for military pay (Travaglini 1995).

We can propose several hypothetical situations that might have induced Hieron to issue his pseudo-Ptolemaic bronze diobols.

A. When Pyrrhus left Sicily for Italy in 275, Ptolemy II may have seen an opportunity to cultivate a new protégé in Sicily. Philadelphus could have provided a cash stipend, or have sent troops and provided for their pay. If at some point the subsidy was discontinued, it may have made sense for Hieron to issue coins of Ptolemaic appearance to pay those who had come to expect this coinage. The distribution of the bronze diobols as recorded in Table III may not be consistent with this hypothesis. The coins found inland around Centuripae and Morgantina are examples of the first Syracusan imitative issue, Svoronos 610. Arguably they are to be associated with Hieron's earliest recorded campaign, providing a terminus ante quem for the subsidy from Alexandria. The diobols "with shield" found at Messana are perhaps genuine Ptolemaic issues of Series B-C, or perhaps further examples of Svoronos 610. If the former is the case, it would imply that Hieron was issuing imitative Ptolemaic coinage before receiving subsidies of authentic Egyptian coins, not a very plausible sequence of events. If the varieties at Messana are indeed examples of Svoronos 610, there would be no inconsistency.

B. Hieron's position may have been relatively precarious in the early stages of his career. His issue of imitative Ptolemaic bronze coins could have been intended to advertise the fact that he enjoyed the support of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the wealthiest and most powerful monarch of the day. Hieron's choice of a bronze coinage to carry this propaganda would indicate that the message was targeted at the troops on his payroll, who would have been the first to receive these coins before they entered into general circulation. Messages aimed at the Syracusan political elite would have reached them more effectively if carried on precious metal coinage, or by means of honorary inscriptions, displays of valuable gifts, erection of statues and the other usual means by which Hellenistic Greeks advertised their status and their attachments to powerful benefactors.

C. Hieron may have struck the imitative coins to trick his mercenaries into believing that they were on the payroll of Ptolemy II. If the veteran soldiers distrusted their commander, they would probably have demanded their pay in precious metal currency. The ruse of pseudo-Ptolemaic bronze coins perhaps enabled Hieron to pay his mercenaries in a fiduciary coinage they would not otherwise have accepted. An attraction of this hypothesis is that Hieron is known to have had problems with rebellious mercenaries and to have disposed of them through a devious stratagem. The hypothesis receives a degree of support from the finds of Svoronos 610 at Centuripae and other sites in the same general region. The hypothesis implies that production of the imitative bronzes began before the battle of the River Cyamosorus, but it does not explain why they continued to be issued afterward.

D. The new generation of mercenaries that replaced those who perished at the Cyamosorus perhaps hailed from Ptolemaic territory. Coming from a closed economy where foreign coinages did not circulate, they would naturally have been suspicious of local bronze coinage and may have demanded to be paid in a coinage that looked more familiar to them. On this hypothesis we would not expect to find the imitative diobols in the region of Centuripae. But the recorded finds there are few in number and could conceivably reflect economic circulation rather than military campaigns.

E. Giovanna de Sensi Sestito has suggested that Alexandria had an interest, shared by Syracuse and by Rome, in preventing Carthaginian control of Messana and the straits (De Sensi Sestito 1995, p. 30). According to her reconstruction of events, the Carthaginian garrison was introduced to Messana after the battle of the River Longanus in 269. Ptolemy II might then have helped to finance Hieron's initial attack on Messana in 264, much as he provided aid to Chremonides in Greece to oppose the power of the Macedonian kingdom. Ptolemy's assistance would probably have ceased when Hieron fell afoul of Rome, for the friendship between Ptolemy and Rome would have precluded aiding an enemy of Rome. A sudden withdrawal of Ptolemaic financial support in 264 could have been the specific trigger for Hieron's imitative coin issues. This hypothesis is consistent with the cluster of Ptolemaic diobols "with shield" at Messana, the trail of examples of Svoronos 610 down the east Sicilian coast, and the second cluster of Series D imitations in the south. It does not explain the finds of Svoronos 610 inland, but as noted above, it is not clear whether these should really be associated with the battle of the Cyamosorus.

F. As a variant of the last, we can omit the alleged Alexandrian concern about the Carthaginian garrison at Messana and postulate that Ptolemy simply supported Hieron's effort to expel the Mamertines. The hypothesis is then compatible with dating the battle of the Longanus and Hieron's kingship to either 269 or 264.

All of these hypotheses are speculative. Still, we emphasize that the Syracusan imitations of Ptolemaic diobols are primary documents that can add to our sketchy knowledge of the career of Hieron II, even if their correct interpretation is not presently apparent.

VIII. Conclusion

Series D coins are distinguished from other types of Ptolemaic bronze diobols by artistic style, anomalous (variable) die axes, and (almost always) circular reverse borders. They are found almost exclusively in Sicily. They also share size, weight, die axis variability, and control marks with some bronze portrait coins of Hieron II. These lines of evidence converge to a conclusion that Series D is an imitative Ptolemaic coinage minted by Hieron II in Syracuse. Based on some stylistic characteristics and find locations we also include Svoronos 610 among the Syracusan issues. We identify Svoronos 610 as the earliest Sicilian imitation of the bronze diobols of Ptolemy II.

Svoronos 610 and Series D cannot be earlier than 275 BC, the approximate date for the appearance of the shield symbol on Ptolemaic coinage (Series B and C). The distribution of these varieties as reported by Giacomo Manganaro suggests that Svoronos 610 was in production by or before 264, and that the transition to Series D should be dated no earlier than the siege of Syracuse by Appius Claudius Caudex (later in 264). The distribution of Series D is also consistent with a date of issue after 263, when Hieron's kingdom was reduced in size. The current consensus of the Italian school is that Hieron II introduced his portrait bronzes c. 263. If that date is correct, Hieron's portrait bronzes may have replaced the imitative Ptolemaic diobols of Series D, or the two series may have been produced concurrently for a time. The concluding date of the Series D coinage is uncertain. We have the impression that this is a relatively small coinage, probably confined to just a few years, but its true scope can only be established by a die study.

The attribution of Series D and Svoronos 610 to Hieron II is both justified and provocative. Important questions remain unanswered: Did Hieron II have an actual link to Ptolemy II? If so, what was its nature? Precisely when and why did Hieron begin to issue his imitative Ptolemaic bronze coins? When did their production end? Can we infer the sequence of issues from styles, die axis distributions, and reverse border types? A larger and more detailed record of the finds in Sicily is essential for testing the hypothetical answers to these questions. Careful reporting of new hoards and reanalysis of older hoards in light of our conclusions may help to pinpoint the dating and clarify the purpose of the Syracusan imitations. A die study would give us a better understanding of the scale and structure of the imitative Ptolemaic coinage of Hieron II. Readers who own such coins are invited to submit digital images with weights and die axes for inclusion in a die study.


  • The authors are grateful to Panos Iossif for help with sources.
  • Thanks to Pavlos Pavlou for helpful comments.
  • Thanks to Adam Philippidis for additional Series D type example (Table I. 3. - NK monogram above shield)
  • Thanks go Oliver Hoover for high-resolution photographs of a number of coins in the British Museum Collection.
  • Thanks to Amelia Dowler for providing die axis measurements of a number of coins in the British Museum Collection.


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