Featured A couple of Aksumites

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by +VGO.DVCKS, Sep 17, 2020.


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    I got these from the last CNG auction, in early May. They helped out with the increasingly long slog involved for anyone who collects this. Here's the first one.

    Aphilas (c. 290- early 4th c. ACE).* AR unit, with gilding on the reverse.
    Obv. Aphilas r., wearing headcloth and earring (most of which is very worn).
    (From 8 o'clock: ) AφIλA [crescent with star] βαςιλI
    ("Aphila Bacili;" King Aphilas.)
    Rev. Profile (Possibly of a son and heir of Aphilas, or even of Ousanas, his successor, as a co-issue; see Munro-Hay's note). Thank you, with gilding.
    (From 6 o'clock: ) IAφιλAς β [crescent with star] Aςιλεγς ("Iaphilas Basileus.")
    (Munro-Hay /Juel/jensen Type 10. Cf. Phillipson, Foundations of an African Civilization, 184-5; Munro-Hay, Aksum, 186-8; "Aksumite Coinage" (In African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia), p. 105, no. 18.)

    Ezana (c. 330-360 CE --again from Phillipson). AR unit, pre-Christian phase of his reign.
    Obv. Ezana rt., wearing headcloth and earring (more visible than for Aphilas).
    (From 8 o'clock: ) HζA [crescent with star] Νλς ("Ezana Basileus;" King Ezana.)
    Rev. Small profile, again with a headcloth (tied in back, like a 4th-c. Roman diadem).
    (From 1 o'clock: ) βαςιλεγς.
    I have to wonder about the religious significance of the crescent and star. There's the obvious Sasanian precedent, with Zoroastrian connotations, but what was happening in this part of the world, in real time? Fleetingly, I thought the motif showed up in Himyarite issues, c. 2nd c. CE, but have never found any confirmation of that.

    *The regnal chronology is from Philipson, Foundations of an African Civilization: Aksum and the Northern Horn 1000 BC - AD 1300 (2012 /2014), p. 82. Munro-Hay (Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity, 1991, p. vii) puts Aphilas more vaguely at the beginning of the 4th century.
    ...And it's like this. Think of the sheer amount of documentation that was permanently desroyed in central and western Europe, over the course of the last couple of 'world wars.' Heck, you could start from the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648. Or even the Hundred Years War, 14th-15th centuries, in which, regarding the scale of destruction, whatever was lacking in military technology was more than compensated by sheer industry.
    This is why it's so much easier, for instance, to do genealogy from the UK than from the Continent. There's just not enough there to start with. This is effectively what happened to the Aksumites. From the 7th century (CE / AD? depends on who you were talking to), as the Sasanian empire, then the Rashidin Caliphate, conquered Alexandria. As succeding Caliphates inexorably occupied or destroyed Aksum's own coastal ports on the Red Sea, the country's entire political infrastructure was forced to migrate farther inland, eventuating in the modern kingdom of Ethiopia. It's a safe guess that vast amounts of primary-source documentation, in MS, whether in Koine Greek or Ge'ez, was lost.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2020
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Very cool!
    Not something I have seen before!
    Not that it is too difficult to do haha...
    Evan Saltis and +VGO.DVCKS like this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Oh, (slap hands) Golly, @furryfrog02, if you do a search on this forum for 'Aksum' or 'Axum' (forget which shows up more often), you'll get Tons of stuff, most of it better than this.
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  5. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Whelp, now I know what I will be doing until I go to sleep tonight haha.
    I really like your first coin.
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  6. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    Nice coins! I love Axumite coinage. Here are some of mine...

    1/8 Aureus ND Aphilus 290-300AD

    1/3 Aureus ND Endybus 270-90AD 00679Q00.jpg 4950f1dfb0070d21a74c12fdaefb2af0.jpg
  7. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Very nice! I have just the common anonymous type of c.350 AD:
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  8. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Those are beauties, especially the first one with its attractive gilding. It's interesting that the gilding seemed to have extended into the field around the legend - I always thought it was central only.

    I picked up my first one of these this year. It's a late issue:
    Wazena, ca. 540 - 570, 17mm

    There's some gilding left in the centre of the reverse - I'm hoping I can gently remove the encrustations there to reveal more of it.
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  9. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Very curious coinage, of which I only have two little coins.

    4450 Axum.jpg

    AE Aksumite Kingdom. Anonymous, ca. 340-425 AD. Obv.: draped bust right, wearing headcloth, BACILEYC. Rev. Cross pattée. TOYTOAPECHTHXWPA. 12.5 mm, 0.76 gr. Hahn, Aksumite, 33.

    4451 Axum Ouazebas co.jpg

    Gilt AE Aksumite Kingdom, Ouazebas, later 4th cent. AD. Obv. Draped bust t.r. flanked by corn ears. Rev. Draped bust right, wearing headcloth. 17 mm, 1.69 gr. Hahn, Aksumite 26.
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  10. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

    I love those Axumites with the gold/bronze combo.
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  11. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    My only one.

    Kings of Axum
    AD 400-500
    AE 14
    O: BAC + ACA, Crowned bust right, holding cross-tipped scepter
    R: +TOV TO APECH TH XWPA, Greek Cross; central punch-hole inlaid in gold, Inscription "May this (cross) please the country."
    Munro-Hay 76, BMC Aksumite 316
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  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I disagree. Most we see are the ubiquitous anonymous cross type with or without the tiniest speck of gold. All Axum coins are interesting. Some get very interesting.
    Negus Armah 600-630 AD (my latest Axumite coin) - I got this one from a local coin store in a town I will never again see while travelling to places I will never again visit.
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  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    A solid Wazena, @Severus Alexander. Best of luck with the cleaning --I don't envy you the task, but presumably you're less clueless about that than I am.
    Munro-Hay and Phillipson both go into what's known about the gilding process, especially in the initial issues of Aphilas. Of this one, Munro-Hay notes that "[a] thin sheet of gold covers the royal bust iinside the inner cricle. Sometimes, if not cleanly applied, the gold spreads in places over some of the letters of the legend." ("Aksumite Coinage," in African Zion (1993), p. 105, no.18.) Phillipson elaborates a bit, still in reference to Aphilas: "[t]hey were the first Aksumite coins to show the highly characteristic and visualy pleasing feaure -- unique to the Aksumite series -- whereby parts of the design were selectively gilded [...]. This neat and careful gilding, evidently applied after the coins had been struck and involving the use of mercury, has not been addequatey investigated but must have been exceeding painstaking, labour-intensive and time-consuming (...). (Foundations of an African Civilization (2012/2014), p. 185. Cf. Munro-Hay, Aksum (1991), p. 188; Aksumite Coinage (1995), pp. 40-1.)
    ...Rats, wish I could find a picture of my Wazena. ...And I had some dim recollection of the process changing in the later, c. 5th-7th century issues, involving some sort of fusing, rather than application of gold foil after the fact. Thought it was Munro-Hay, somewhere, comparing the metallurgical technique to Sheffield steel. But any reference to that is eluding me....
  14. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Congrats on the beautiful pick-ups!

    I chanced upon this one in a mixed bronze lot last year, heavily patinated but the same AR unit as the OP coin - haven't had the guts to attempt cleaning it and possibly destroy any potential gold leaf below

    Axum AE.jpg

    Lot also included a really beat up Ousanas Axum AR.jpg

    The seller had a ton more mixed in with lots, but I wasn't able to win any more as they started to approach what one would pay from a large auction house.
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  15. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Parthicus, that type was three or four of my first. (...Argh, No pictures readily findable.) Munro-Hay distinguishes two variants of this: the originals (Type 52), distinguished by "...well-executed royal busts and finer lettering, or with a second border of the broad type noted for coins of Ezana, and conceivably the earlierst issues date to his reign" (p. 142).
    (Type 51 "is a 'miniature' or copy version of the Type 52 issue, recorded from finds in Egypt and other places," with "flans that are small and thin." Munro-Hay goes on to cite Hahn, citing a numismatist of from the 1920's, asserting that these were "made in the Roman Empire to serve as small change, [...] us[ing] the term 'hacienda tokens'" (ibid.). On a no less irreducibly speculaive level, it might be more attractive to look to the emerging Christian kingdoms of Nubia (northern Sudan) over the 5th and later centuries. Certainly, the imitative ones bear no resemblance to the level of blundering found in 'barbarous' radiates and LRBs.)
    The good news (if you weren't here already) is that your example looks to be the earlier, Type 52 variety, primarily thanks to traces of the double border.
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  16. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Thanks, @Pellinore; two solid examples. The anonymous one looks very much like Munro-Hay Type 52 (right, the original issue).
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  17. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Aksumite coinage and Jewish coinage are two fields that I would like to get to know better. If only there were more hours in a day and money grew on trees.
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  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Mat, that's a solid one! Oddly enough (given the track record), pics of my example are recent enough to be easily findable. COINS, AKSUM, ANON. 5TH C., OBV..jpg COINS, AKSUM, ANON. 5TH C., REV..jpg
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  19. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @dougsmit, not bad! ...In light of what these have been going for lately, Not for a Little Minute!
    Meanwhile, especially for the 99.9% to whom this stuff is new, the threads on CoinTalk are a fine place to start.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Thanks lots, @Finn235. ...The bad news is that those are both good enough to get cleaned.
    And I feel your pain about cleaning. Hope you can find someone who knows what they're doing, for both of them. ...And not for crazy money. For the Aphilas one, the prospect is reminiscent (hyperbole alert: ) of restoring the Sistine Chapel, or Rembrandt's "The Night Watch." Very best of luck. ...If I owned them, I'd pretty emphatically want it done, just by someone who knew what they were about (present company contemptuously included :<} ).
    ...The one time I ever undertook to do anything along those lines was when I got a similar lump of dirt, along with a decent later-4th-c. anonymous AE. On someone's advice, I soaked it in vinegar. And it was Total beginner's luck. It came out as another example, Munro-Hay Type 52, with no patina to speak of; kind of a matte red color. But as such, it was easily VF+. (That's another one I Wish I could find pictures of.) --But No, in your cases, I'd be saying to myself: "Kids, Dont Try This at Home!"
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
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  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @seth77, one thing you could look forward to is the consonance of the archaic Hebrew with the archaic Ge'ez of later Aksumites, especially 6th-7th c. (Right, got into this somewhere; the Ge'ez /Amharic alphabet was based on Syriac, as was the Armenian, as you can see on the medieval Cilician issues. ...Kind of fun that about half a millennium separates each of the three intervals. In terms of cultural transmission, the arts are kind of the checking account; language is more like savings. Slower, and longer-term.)
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