Athenian Weight with Knucklebone & inscription - Stater

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by rrdenarius, May 28, 2020.

  1. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    When was the word Stater used to describe a weight or coin in Athens? I do not know the answer, but the weight below suggests that it was in use around 500 BC.

    The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has an interesting web site on Athenian Agora Excavations ( I found the link looking for information on scale weights. I was surprised when I saw a weight with the inscription: STATER. I do not know the words on the smaller weights. I saw only one Owl in the group, but several turtles.
    knucklebone stater wt agora ascas net.jpg
    Athenian Weight: Stater, Brass, ABOUT 500 BC
    Description: Thick square slab of bronze. The metal with a high lead context. On the top, in relief, an astragal.
    Weight: 795 grams, I could not read the dimensions.
    Latest 6th , earliest 5th c. B.C..

    knucklebone stater and two other wt agora ascas net.jpg Athenian Wts.jpg
    more weights.jpg still more weights one with owl.jpg STATER.jpg

    bronze coin blanks.jpg
    I liked this pic of bronze coin blanks.
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  3. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    That's very interesting. I wonder how this weight was used in relationship to the stater, especially in Athens, where most of the coinage was in tetradrachms, drachms and obols.

    I see a weight with a turtle on top. Was that a weight for the staters of Aegina?

    Another coin, the shekel, had its origins in Mesopotamia, Babylon, as a weight.

    Here's my Old Period Babylon frog weight, who I named Enki, after the Sumarian water god, that equals roughly 1.5 shekels:

    Old Babylonian Old Babylonian Green Stone Frog Weight

    Old Babylonian Period, ca. first half of the 2nd Millennium BC. The frog is superbly sculpted in a green mottled stone (dentridic agate) with white inclusions.

    American Private Collection, acquired 1981. L. 2 7/8" H. 1 5/8" (7.3 cm x 4 cm)..

    Babylonia, old period frog, purchase, Harlan Berk.2 2019.jpg
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  4. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    Interesting frog. What is its weight?

    I checked the link I posted and could not make it to the weights shown above... too many pages. This one takes you to the weights -"&t=&v=icons&sort=rating desc, sort asc&s=63

    The weights above were intended to weigh more than one coin. In Roman weights they would have been called commercial. The design and weights:
    astragal, 795 gr.
    oval shield, 190 gr.
    Tortoise, 126 gr.​
  5. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    The frog weighs 183.9 grams. I was off on the shekel calculation. According to one website,, a shekel in Mesopotamia was equal to 3 penny weight, or 4.65 grams. So, the frog weight is equal to slightly more than 39 shekels in terms of weight.

    I found this information online regarding the shekel in ancient Mesopotamia:

    "Sometime before 2500 B.C. a shekel of silver became the standard currency. Tablets listed the price of timber and grains in shekels of silver. A shekel was equal to about one third of an ounce, or little more than three pennies in terms of weight. One month of labor was worth 1 shekel. A liter of barely sold for 3/100ths of shekel. A slave sold for between 10 and 20 shekels.

    No long after shekels appeared as a means of exchange, kings began levying fines in shekels as a punishment. Around 2000 B.C., in the city of Eshnunna, a man who bit another man's nose was fined 60 shekels. A man who slapped another man in the face had to pay up 20 shekels."
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  6. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I can only partly answer – but Athenians used two different standards - just like we did till recent times

    Attic was for coins (much as we use Troy for bullion)

    Athenian market for all else (like US customary which is English Imperial etc)

    That “stater” you picture is a weight for two Athenian Market minas
    thus 2 x c. 455g = c. 910g

    The full Attic mina (100 coin drachms) was lighter - probably c. 437g

    So - the initial Athenian market mina was approx 105 Attic coin drachms in weight

    The specimen shown looks probably quite corroded to me – hence weighs very low.

    Regarding the frog – sadly there is a load of rubbish on the web about weights. Troublingly so. The Babylonian shekel was c. 500g/60 = 8.33g.

    So it comes out near a rather unlikely 22 shekels. Might be a poor shot at 20 shekels? I wonder if it has a good provenance?

    The Pondera site is getting quite big – my search just now pulled up 367 Athenian weights

    Rob T
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  7. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Very interesting information. It looks like the weight with the turtoise is the Aeginetic standard. The weight is 126 grams, which is exactly 10 staters on the Aeginetic standard of 12.6g (12.57g more specific) each.
    The Oval shield would remind me of Boeotia, but if they were discovered in 500 BC, then Boeotia would still be using the Aeginetic standard, so why the 190g? Perhaps 15 staters of 12.6g?

    Also surprising is that on the drawing it says "STATER" with a Latin R rather than the P for Rho? On the real weight I do seem to only see P rather than R.
    Edit: Seems that R shaped Rho also existed... Didn't know.
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
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  8. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Looks that way - but I think they are actually a set of Athenian market weights. All hitting a rather low version of that one standard. The different symbols go with the denominations - in this case:

    shield = 1/4 stater,

    tortoise = 1/6th stater (elsewhere though tortoise is often used for the 1/4)

    I wish it was an Aegina weight! Nobody ever published any to my knowledge

    We know from the Solon text that 70 Aegina drachms = c. 437g thus c. 6.25g

    So an Aegina 'stater' of 2 drachms was 12.5g. But I have no sure knowledge of the Aegina Mina......

    Rob T
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  9. Aleph

    Aleph Active Member

    The knuckle one is Italian iconography, so perhaps Latin lettering is appropriate.
  10. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Looks like Greek iconography to me. I highly doubt Italian icongraphy is used on an Athenian weight from 500 BC that is found in the agora. Greek language was dominant at that time. I just didn't know Rho was sometimes also written as a R.
    After all, the Italian languages are derived from Greek.
  11. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    Lots of good comments, thanks.

    I am aware that the Old Testament Shekel was a measure of weight. You can tell that by reading the two passages from Exodus below. The temple tax and measures of ingredients for anointing oil were both in shekels. I can not tell the weight in grams from Exodus.

    30:13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.
    30:14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.

    30:23 Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
    30:24 And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:
    30:25 And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.
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  12. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Shouldn't the word STATER begin with a sigma rather than an S?
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  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    According to what I see via Google -- which doesn't make it true! -- the word "stater" actually comes from the Greek for "weigh" or "weight." Is that correct?
  14. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    The shekel weight idea is my own.

    It could possibly been used in some other capacity.

    I have no doubts about the object's provenance. The stone (agate) used has been documented: mesopotamia&f=false
  15. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Wow, what a cool score!
  16. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    It is a sigma, just a variety, and quite common in Attic region. As I mentioned before, the Italian languages are derived from Greek. We shouldn't look the other way around.

    Here you can see the varieties by city state or region:

    Stater comes from histanai, which means "to cause to stand, or to stand in balance", and that word is from ΣΤΑ (sta), which means "to stand, or be firm". So indeed a stater means "weigh".
  17. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Live and learn! Thanks!
  18. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Hmmm, well here is 1/10th of that or 2 Gerahs...

    AR 2 Gerah
    ca 8th -6th Century BCE
    8.8x10mm 1.12g
    ex David Hendin
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  19. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    great piece and from a good collection!
  20. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you. I really lucked into finding this one. Saw it, of course knew the provenance, and snatched it up several years ago.
  21. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Thanks. The best guess is that Athenian market weight was spread round the Mediterranean by Phoenicians, and derives from a standard that arose in the Levant as early as 2,500 BC. So we might guess that a stater weight (of a little under a kilo) came first, applied to goods in common including copper. A silver coin might get its name from being worth a stater weight of copper. This fits somewhat with silver : copper in the 1:100 ballpark. But I stress that is just a guess.

    Rob T
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