View Full Version : Pythagoras & Incuse Issues Outside of Bruttium??

Apr 11, 2006, 08:33 PM
It's my understanding that Pythagoras (or the Pythagorean Cult) was the innovator of the incuse design on Greek coins (see coin below for example), but I'm not certain how firm this assumption is in terms of objective evidence. Does anyone know if this is true? Also, does anyone know of Greek issues featuring figural incuse designs outside of those seen in coinage from Bruttium?


Thanks for any info.


The theory that Pythagoras invented coinage comes from Lenormant. I haven't read the original, here are some brief citations

I believe the theory is
1. Pythagoras' father Mnesarchos was a gem engraver, maybe Pythagoras was one too
2. Coin types of Croton had mystical significance to Pythagoras cult
3. Coin style of Croton so different that perhaps coinage independently invented there

Incuse designs were also used for electrum at Mytilene:

Off the top of my head, other issues with incuse designs:

Byblos - Vulture standing on the back of a ram, and the ram is incuse
Sidon - There is an issue with an incuse goat on the reverse below the chariot
Arados - Stater issue with a galley on the reverse and the port of Arados in incuse below
Tyre - Numerous issue with an incuse owl on the reverse
Samaria - There is an obol issue with two kings on the reverse, one in incuse

Barry Murphy

Thanks guys.

I guess I should have been more specific to denote incuse situations where the overall border of the object, animal, or whatever is impressed, but the internal structures of that impressed object are convex (i.e., in the Kroton stater above the border of the eagle is impressed, but the internal structures like the feathers, beak, and eye are actually raised above the surface).

In the case of the Byblos and Mytilene coins (I'm not certain about the others Barry mentioned), the whole object is incuse or concave to the plane of the coin (i.e., on the Mytilene EL coins the bull is completely concave).

In the case of the completely incuse design, the die would be raised and probably constructed from an impression that then acted as a mold for the finished raised die. It seems like the Kroton example is a more complex mixture of both incuse and raised design and probably had a different die construction process.

I was wondering if the complex incuse type is seen outside of Bruttium (or even in any other coin than the one above).

Warm regards,

I did a little searching on coinarchives.com and here's another example of the complex incuse technique that I found.

I would note that there are a few eagle incuse issues in which the total or simple incuse was done (i.e., all features are concave), and in the example I saw from a prior CNG sale, they posit that the simple incuse issues predate what they term the "dumpy" type or complex incuse style. Why the term "dumpy," I'm not certain...

Ed - It's interesting that the incuse EL example you gave was from Mytilene (c. 521 - 478 BC.). According to legend, Pythagoras left the island of Samos around 540-535 BC, which is fairly close to the island of Lesbos. Though purely speculative, it's quite a coincidence that the incuse issues would crop up in geographical locations and around the known time periods of Pythagoras' travels.


And, here's a good review article by William Daehn entitled, "The incuse coinage of southern Italy," which was printed in The Celator (April 1993).


Interestingly, in the article to support the Pythagoras hypothesis for the Kroton incuse coinage, Daehn mentions that Pythagoras was exposed to coinage from Calymna (c. 545 BC) that had the complex incuse design features (i.e., "an incuse area which takes the shape of the lyre which is engraved in relief within the incuse area." Seltman, Numismatic Chron. 1949, pg. 3).


Attached is a Calymna. The design is not incuse. What is unusual is that rather than the typical incuse square or circle the incuse borders the lyre.

Ute Wartenberg wrote an article "Calymna calumniated : a nineteenth-century misattribution?" arguing for a different city for these staters but I can't recall what she said.

Very interesting, Ed. Super Cool Coin! I bet that one would go for a pretty penny.

The Calymna example is exactly the kind of complex incuse and raised die combination seen on a few issues from Kroton. The "dumpy" eagle internal features are not incuse either, nor are the internal features of the Delphic Tripod seen in the example above.

Calymna is even closer than Lesbos to Pythagoras' birth home on the Island of Samos, so it's probably not that big of a stretch to assume that he may have been exposed to incuse coinage and then introduced the technique in his adoptive home of Kroton.

BTW - here's another example of the Calymna reverse pulled from Kraay & Hirmer, pl. 127, 390 (British Museum piece).

Cogito, your photo is of the same specimen as mine -- yours is just a better photo. Wartenberg's article is in Studies in Memory of Martin Jessop Price. This is an impressive book and Oxbow is selling it for only $40 (list is $150).

Wartenberg says there are three genuine specimens of this coin: BMC, Alpha Bank, and Boston. Also some fakes.

She illustrates other cities with similar incuse technique to the "Calymna", but doesn't consider the Croton style incuse of Italy.

She suggests a "northern" (Thraco-Macedonian) origin.

Sep 24, 2006, 05:46 PM
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