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by Bekircan Tahberer

The history of forgery is of course much older than coined-money itself. The first coins only had obverse designs and the reverses were marked with one or two or sometimes three square or rectangular punches that showed the interior of metal. The punch marks primarily served two aims; first, the flan needed to be pushed down into the obverse die so that it would get the impression from the die. Secondly and more importantly, the punches exposed the interior of the flan so that people could see that it was only made of the metal seen from outside. That practice shows that precious metals used as mediums of trade or some kind of payment before the invention of coinage were also subject to forgery by a kind of plating system. You might have seen many examples of forgery before but I want to tell you about a few extraordinary examples from the 5th, 4th and 3rd cent. BC: bronze copies of silver staters and tetradrachms from my collection. They are obviously ancient work of forgeries with all the patina that only builds up over more than two thousand years.

Figure 1

8.46 grams 20 mm 0.5 mm

The first example is a bronze copy of one of the most famous coins of the antiquity; Athenian tetradrachm. Athens issued enormous quantities of the Athena - Owl tetradrachms to export to the colonies, to finance grandiose building projects in Athens and to cover the disastrous costs of the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century. We come across many of these tetradrachms with test marks which was a common practice merchants applied on coins that are not circulated in their areas and moneychangers or tax collectors applied when large amounts of payments were made to the state. However, we know that Athenian tetradrachms with Athena head, on the obverse and Owl, on the reverse were one of the most abused coinages then and even now. There is no official bronze issue of this type but test marks we frequently see, proves a common silver plating practice. The bronze example here seems to be a barbaric imitation of the early 4th cent. BC This was either made to be plated with silver or to be used directly as bronze in areas where they were not known.

Figure 2

4.58 gram 0.4 mm thickness

The second example is from Kelenderis in Cilicia. Kelenderis, one of the most important cities in rough Cilicia all through history was situated where now modern Aydincik in southern Turkey is. A vitally important naval trade city on the east-west sea-route it began to issue silver coins in the 5th cent. BC. The most important coin subjects were a naked figure riding sideways on horseback and a kneeling goat looking back. We see no bronze issue until the 2nd cent. BC which has a completely different obverse but similar reverse subject. The somewhat cut bronze example seen in Fig. 2 certainly belongs to a time before the city began to issue bronze coinage. It has the same designs as the silver staters struck in the 5th to 4th cent. BC; on the obverse is a nude rider, holding whip and riding horse sideways and on the reverse is a kneeling goat looking back. Since the destroyed fakes didn't circulate it is really hard to learn about them so the few specimens that survived are very important to understand the practice of forgery in ancient coinage. The Kelenderis coin was cut to be destroyed (but not completely) which shows that it was certainly a fake coin. It might also have been made for similar purposes like the previous example: to be plated with silver later (it weighs 4.58 grams as it is now. It could have been 6 to 7 grams as a complete coin. When plated with silver it would weigh up to 9,5 to 10,5 grams which is about a real silver stater weighs) or to be used in payment as a bronze coin ( actually with no value because the city only issued silver coinage and they were the only legal tender then) to foreigners who happened to come to the city and didn't know about the coinage of Kelenderis. It must have been discovered by the authorities and destroyed partly not to circulate and kept as an example and somehow has survived until today.
Figure 3
The third example is a bronze copy of a tetradrachm (?) belongs to Antiokhos I of the Seleucid Dynasty. This is remarkable because it weighs 19.99 grams which is at least 3 grams heavier than the original tetradracms. If it were meant to be silver plated it would have been too heavy to be original when plated with silver (even though they have covered an amazingly thin layer of silver over the base metal) so it must have been made for another purpose. One might think that one or two bronze copies were struck to see how the impression seen on a flan in order not to waste precious metals like gold or silver in experimental mintage. Because we know that die engravers often checked their work while in the process of engraving and when they were finished they would make experimental strikes. However experimental strikes were usually carried out on a softer metal like lead so that the new die would not be defiled much. This Antiokhos specimen must have been produced to fake as bronze.
Figure 4
19.99 grams x 32 mm x 0.4,5mm
Two destroyed coin fractions in fig. 4 and 5 are very good examples to see the workmenship of the ancient forgers. Obviously the bronze (or copper) core of the coin was struck in the form of the coin that was intended to be plated as in fig. 1. Because of its popularity which continued about tree hundred years the coinage of Alexander the Great was among the mostly forged (Fig. 4).
Figure 5 (Note how thinly it was plated with silver)

The last example is a famous stater of Tarsos (Fig.5). The obverse depicts the famous Arethusa of Syracuse while the reverse pictures the head of a helmeted warrior, probably Ares. The abundant examples in various catalogues are an indication of the vast numbers of issue, which is understandable when one considers the military activities of the Persian satrap Datames in Cilicia. All the same, there are too many surviving plated Datames staters as well as plated coins of other satraps in Cilicia. The frequent Greek elements on Tarsos coins of Persian satraps show most probably that they were used to pay to the Greek mercenaries from western Anatolia. Since most of those warriors wouldn't have the time and expertise to figure out if the coins they were paid were forgeries or not , I believe, it was a satrapal policy to produce forgeries. Even though they were once used to deceive people, they are exceptionally beautiful examples of miniature art.