Featured Whither the Gamma Nasal?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Apr 24, 2022.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Those who frequent the board are probably aware that I'm a Greek geek, that I groove on Greek grammar, that I love linguistics, that I think phonemes are fun.

    Because of this proclivity, I noticed something I find interesting, and perhaps a few others, such as @dougsmit, will as well: that sometimes coins use a gamma (Γ) nasal and at other times they don't.


    Yeah ...


    In linguistic terminology, a nasal is a consonant that acts like a semi-vowel and which is sounded through the nose. There are two nasals, one made with the lips closed, which is the M sound, and one made with the lips open and the tongue pressed against the hard palate behind the teeth, which is the N sound.

    In both classical and modern Greek, this N sound is represented by a gamma (Γ) when it is followed by a velar consonant (one made by the velum -- the soft palate in the back of the mouth), such as G, K, KS, and CH. Otherwise, this sound is represented by a nu (N). When the gamma (Γ) is used in this way, it is known as the "gamma nasal." This dude explains:

    So, in city names that have a nasal followed by a velar, such as Ankyra and Anchialus, the gamma nasal is used. Read the inscriptions on the following coins from Anchialus. These coins use the gamma nasal (Γ) before the chi (X) in the city name.

    Septimius Severus, AD 193-211.
    Roman provincial Æ 27.2 mm, 10.7 gm, 8:00.
    Thrace, Anchialus, AD 193-211.
    Obv: ΑV Κ Λ CЄΠ CЄVΗΡΟC, laureate and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: ΟVΛΠΙΑΝΩΝ ΑΓΧΙΑΛΕΩ-Ν, Cybele enthroned left, holding patera, resting left arm on drum, a lion reclines at each side of throne.
    Refs: Moushmov 2817; AMNG III 469; Varbanov 213 var. (bust type).

    Gordian III, AD 238-244.
    Roman provincial Æ Pentassarion, 13.30 g, 27.1 mm, 7 h.
    Thrace, Anchialus, AD 238-244.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΑΝΤ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC ΑVΓ, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: ΟVΛΠΙΑΝWΝ ΑΓΧΙΑΛΕWΝ, Nude athlete standing facing, head right, holding palm branch and wreath.
    Refs: AMNG II, 632.3, p. 276; Mionnet Suppl. 2, 136; RPC VII.2, — (unassigned; ID 48982); Corpus Nummorum Thracorum cn.anchialus.4915.

    So far, so good. That's the "proper" way to spell Anchialus in Greek.

    But look at this one from Anchialus. It uses the other letter used to represent a nasal sound, the nu (N).

    Faustina Jr., 147-175.
    Roman provincial Æ 9.06 g, 24.7 mm, 7 h.
    Thrace, Anchialus, AD 147-149.
    Obv: ΦΑVCΤΕΙΝΑ ΝΕΑ CΕΒΑCΤΗ, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: ΑNΧΙΑΛΕΩΝ, Dionysus standing left, holding cantharus and thyrsus; panther at feet, left.
    Refs: AMNG 434; RPC 4525; Varbanov 90; BMC --; SNG Copenhagen --.

    Another case where one would expect a gamma nasal (Γ) is in the city of Ankyra (of which there are two by this name, one in Phrygia and one in Galatia). But the gamma nasal is not used on these two coins; rather, the nu (N) serves this purpose.

    Sabina Ankyra Artemis sunlight.jpg
    Sabina, AD 128-137.
    Roman provincial Æ hemiassarion, 3.83 g, 17 mm.
    Phrygia, Ancyra.
    Obv: CABЄINA CЄBACTH, draped bust, right.
    Rev: ΑΝΚVΡ-ΑΝΩΝ, cult statue of Ephesian Artemis standing facing, wearing kalathos, arms resting on supports and flanked by two stags.
    Refs: RPC III 2541; Sear GIC 1308; BMC 25. 62, 23-24; SNG von Aulock 3433; Lindgren 885; Mionnet 4. 221, 159; SNG Cop --; Wiczay --.

    Faustina Jr Ankyra Ephesian Artemis.jpg
    Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman provincial Æ 19.1 mm, 3.81 g, 7 h.
    Phrygia, Ankyra, AD 147-165.
    Obv: ΦΑΥϹΤЄΙΝΑ ϹЄΒΑϹΤΗ, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: ΑΝΚΥ-ΡΑΝΩΝ, cult statue of Ephesian Artemis standing facing, wearing kalathos, arms resting on supports and flanked by two stags.
    Refs: RPC IV.2, 1727 (temporary); BMC 25.64,35-36; RG 5644; Sear 1774; SNG Cop 142-143; SNG von Aulock 3436; SNG Munich 99-100.
    The gamma nasal is not used in Latin nor in languages that use the Roman alphabet, such as English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Italian, etc. Could this mean that the die-engravers who made the dies were Latin speakers? Possibly.

    But another explanation is that there was no concept of "proper" spelling in antiquity, no orthography. The engravers simply spelled phonetically. They heard an N sound before the K or the X and spelled Αnkyra and Anchialus accordingly.

    Does this observation have any significance? I doubt it. But perhaps some sort of pattern will emerge from repeated observation of many different coins. Perhaps if enough numismatists gather enough data, it will demonstrate some previously unreported linguistic phenomenon.

    So, let's see your coins with a gamma nasal and coins that use a nu (N) when one would expect a gamma nasal.
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  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    My one coin from Anchialus, from Gordian III's reign, does use the "gamma nasal":

    Gordian III with wife Tranquillina, AE 26 mm., 241-244 AD, Thracia, Anchialus [Pomorie, Bulgaria]. Obv. Confronted busts of Gordian III right, laureate, draped and cuirassed, and Tranquillina left, draped and wearing stephane; ΑVT Κ M ANT / ΓOPΔIANOC AVΓ clockwise around; CEB TPAN // KVΛΛINA in exergue; border of dots/ Rev. Apollo standing left, holding patera in right hand; left arm resting on column; ΟΥΛΠΙΑΝωΝ / ΑΓXΙΑΛEωΝ clockwise around; border of dots. RPC Online VII.2 48961; Moushmov 2939 [H. Moushmov, Ancient Coins of the Balkan Peninsula (1912)], Varbanov II 668 [Ivan Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins And Their Values, Vol. II, Thrace (from Abdera to Pautalia) (English Edition) (Bourgas, Bulgaria 2005)], AMNG II 656 [F. Münzer & M. Strack, Die antiken Münzen von Thrakien, Die antiken Münzen Nord-Griechenlands Vol. II (Berlin, 1912)]. 26 mm., 11.91 g.

    Gordian III - Tranquillina Anchialus (Thrace) - jpg version.jpg
    The one coin you show from Anchialus that doesn't use it is from an earlier period, i.e., the time of Faustina II. If one were to take a look on RPC at a large enough number of coins from that city, I wonder if there would be a pattern of the N being used earlier and the gamma nasal being adopted later. Which might fit your theory of Latin-speaking vs. Greek-speaking die engravers. Or not, as the case may be!
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  4. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Great write up! Very interesting:bookworm:
    I did report it:nailbiting:... as a great thread to bring back featuring threads with:)
    I'd never thought of it before. So if I plug my nose and make an M or N sound earal? And if I plug my nose and ears... you know where I'm going.
    It took some searching but, as well, I have 1:
    Gordianus III & Tranquillina
    Gordianus III. (238-244 AD). With Tranquillina. AE 25 Anchialos, Thrace, c. 241-244
    Obv. AVT K M ANT ΓOPΔIANOC AVΓ CЄB / TPANKVΛΛINA, laureate, draped and cuirassed�bust of Gordian III. facing draped bust of Tranquillina. Rev: OVΛΠIAC AΓXIAΛE ΩN , Tyche standing left, holding cornucopiae and patera.AMNG 675.
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  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    I forgot there might be a gamma nasal in Tranquillina! On your coin and on @DonnaML's coin, the engraver uses an N, not a Γ in her name, even when the gamma nasal is used in the name of the city of Anchialus. Very interesting.

    Now I'll have to look at all my Tranquillinas to see if any of them use the gamma nasal to spell her name.
    Ryro and DonnaML like this.
  6. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Well, here are some more Gordian and Tranquillinas from Anchialus and ALL of them spell Tranquillina with the N, even though they use the Γ in Anchialus. VERY interesting.

    Gordian III and Tranquillina Anchialus Athena Seated.jpg Gordian III and Tranquillina Anchialus Athena standing.jpg Gordian III and Tranquillina Anchialus Serapis.jpg Gordian III and Tranquillina Anchialus Zeus.jpg
  7. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    I think it might be a "transliterate from the Latin -NQ as NK" kind of thing. Perhaps they wouldn't use a Greek spelling convention on a non-Greek word.

    Of 21 coins of Gordian and Tranquillina in my collection, 19 have a legible TPANKVΛΛINA, and none of these use the gamma nasal, but only the consonant cluster, NK.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2022
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  9. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    One of the things I'm very fond of is phrases which likely have never before been uttered. "Whither the gamma nasal?" is pure gold!
  10. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...kool article and coins RC, along with coins of @DonnaML & @Ryro :)
    DonnaML, Ryro and Roman Collector like this.
  11. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    This is not surprising. In epigraphy too you can see that Greek language evolves. First of all ancient Greek was a mosaic of dialects: Ionian, Dorian, Eolian, etc. Since the Hellenistic times a common Greek had emerged, the "koine", but professors decided that the classical form of the Greek language would be the Attic dialect of the 5th-4th c. BC. I remember my professor of Greek theme so proud of the translation he had proposed that he said: "I'm more Attic than Lysias !" The legend on the reverse of the Attic owls is AΘE, but in good classical Greek it should be AΘH, for Ἀθη(ναίων)...

    Many people who wrote Greek were not natural Greek speakers, especially in the Near-East. At Qalbloze in Syria there is an inscription dated c. 5-6th c. AD that reads: Ἄνγελος. / ἅγι(ος) / ὁ Χριστός. Note the spelling of Ἄνγελος... Of course the correct spelling would be Ἄγγελος, but many people naturally write phonetically.

    Same in Latin. In Haidra, Tunisia, there is a late Roman tombstone that reads : Seberi/anus requi/ebit in pace / bixit [---] / de[positus ---. They already wrote B for V, like in Spanish they write Pablo for Paulus...
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  12. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Interesting observation! I can add: Whereas AΓXIAΛEΩN and ANXIAΛEΩN occur rather randomly, I have seen at Wildwinds that in connection with the long name "Ulpias Anchialus" exclusively OYΛΠIANΩN AΓXIAΛEΩN is used.

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  13. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Go RC! This thread just got featured!
    As you mightve noticed it's the first thread they've featured in over two and a half months:wideyed:
  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Good overview. I recall being taught that ancient Greek had one primary rule that outranked all others. If it does not sound good, it gets changed. 'Euphony' came up when various word forms placed letter together that just did not sound right to Greek ears. We have that today to some extent with some languages that either prefer harsh, guttural letter or deny their existence to the point that they are not in the alphabet. I never studied Greek dialects and only touched on anything otherer tha 5th century Athens' way of doing things. What the head of the Greek department had to say about New Testament Greek was not repeated in church. The only thing he found worse was modern Greek that simplified pronunciation too much for his ears. I was more interested in the content of the written word than in the sound of the poetry so any details I may have once known have left me.
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  15. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    The spelling Τραγκυλλεῖνα is attested on 3 inscriptions in Bulgaria, and on a 4th one from Romania.


    The spelling Τρανκυλλῖνα is more frequent (24 examples) including Greece.

    My only coin with the name of Tranquillina in Greek has ΤΡΑΝΚΥΛΛΙΝΑ, too.

    Gordien Singara.jpg
    (Singara, Mesopotamia)
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  16. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Interesting. I taught myself (sort of!) the upper-case Greek alphabet so I can read ancient coin legends in Greek (mostly on Roman Provincial coins), but I'm afraid it doesn't help me much in reading lower-case Greek letters. They seem extremely different!
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  17. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    And these are modern lower-case Greek letters! In the 17th c. lower-case Greek texts were printed this way :wideyed: :

    ... and guess what? After some time, you get used to it and you can decipher them. :bookworm:
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  18. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Great article! As if Greek weren't difficult enough, there's the breathy thing. I still use the expression "it's all Greek to me" as an indication of incomprehension. It is probably very old, like "All roads lead to Rome." There are others that came out of ancient times but I can only think of one "When in Rome..." Yes, I know it is sort of off topic, but it's early and I haven't had my coffee.

    Thanks again.
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