Home > History of Wine > Grape Clusters On the Coins of Maroneia

Grape Clusters On the Coins of Maroneia


In this post I continue investigating wine related coins by looking outside of Sicily. The ancient city of Maroneia is located in Thrace at the north-eastern portion of contemporary Greece. The city is named after Maron who is the son of Euanthes or Dionysus. Through out the Greek and Roman periods Maroneia remained famous for its strong wine which smelled of nectar. In the Odyssey, Odysseus subdues the Cyclops Polyphemus with a wine so strong and sweet that it was drunk diluted with twenty parts of water.

But when he had busied himself at his tasks, he again seized two of my men and began to eat them. That was when I went up to him, holding an ivy-wood bowl full of dark wine, and said: “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to follow your meal of human flesh, so you can taste the sort of drink we carried in our ship. I was bringing the drink to you as a gift, hoping you might pity me and help me on my homeward path: but your savagery is past bearing. Cruel man, why would anyone on earth ever visit you again, when you behave so badly?”

At this, he took the cup and drained it, and found the sweet drink so delightful he asked for another draught: “Give me more, freely, then quickly tell me your name so I may give you a guest gift, one that will please you. Among us Cyclopes the fertile earth produces rich grape clusters, and Zeus’ rain swells them: but this is a taste from a stream of ambrosia and nectar.”’

‘As he finished speaking I handed him the bright wine. Three times I poured and gave it to him, and three times, foolishly, he drained it. When the wine had fuddled his wits I tried him with subtle words: “Cyclops, you asked my name, and I will tell it: give me afterwards a guest gift as you promised. My name is Nobody. Nobody, my father, mother, and friends call me.”
From Homer, The Odyssey, Book 9

On his way home Odysseus and his men plunder Ismarus (Maroneia) but spare the shrine of Apollo. Maron presents Odysseus with twelve jars of sweet and unmixed wine as a reward.

Then I bade the rest of my trusty comrades to remain there by the ship and to guard the ship, but I chose twelve of the best of my comrades and went my way. With me I had a goat-skin of the dark, sweet wine, which Maro, son of Euanthes, had given me, the priest of Apollo, the god who used to watch over Ismarus. And he had given it me because we had protected him with his child and wife out of reverence; for he dwelt in a wooded grove of Phoebus Apollo. And he gave me splendid gifts: of well-wrought gold he gave me seven talents, and he gave me a mixing-bowl all of silver; and besides these, wine, wherewith he filled twelve jars in all, wine sweet and unmixed, a drink divine. Not one of his slaves nor of the maids in his halls knew thereof, but himself and his dear wife, and one house-dame only. And as often as they drank that honey-sweet red wine he would fill one cup and pour it into twenty measures of water, and a smell would rise from the mixing-bowl marvellously sweet; then verily would one not choose to hold back. With this wine I filled and took with me a great skin, and also provision in a scrip; for my proud spirit had a foreboding that presently a man would come to me clothed in great might, a savage man that knew naught of justice or of law.
From Homer, The Odyssey, Book 9

Pliny comments on Mucianus who doubted the veracity of Homer’s statement. Mucianus conducted an experiment and found that an even greater portion of water was used to dilute the wine.

With the end of the First Peloponnesian War, through peace between Persia and Athens, Pericles proposed a decree in 449 BC. In what is known as the Coinage Decree all allied Athenian city-states must use Athenian Tetradrachms to the exclusion of all other silver coinage. The mint of Maroneia began producing coins around 425BC. These coins all contain wine related symbols emphasizing the importance of wine in Maroneia’s economy.

The nine coins featured in this post represent the time span of 436 – 348 BC. The two smallest denominations of Hemibol and Obol feature a Gorgoneion on the obverse with the larger denominations featuring a forepart or entire horse. The three smallest denominations Hemibol, Obol, and Tetrobol feature a single grape cluster on the reverse. These single grape clusters are attached to a peduncle, steam, or vine. The two largest denominations, the Stater and Tetradrachm feature four or five grape clusters on the reverse.

There appear to be four main types of grape clusters which roughly correlate with the denomination. First, the three coins from 436-411 BC all feature a similarly shaped grapevine with four or five grape clusters featuring both perky and drooping lateral lobes. Second, the Tetradrachm from 400-350BC appears to be struck from a die similar to that of the State from 386-348 BC. The central stalk of the grapevine is more vertical with four compact grape clusters which are more tapered than having lateral lobes. Third, the Tetrobols feature a single grape cluster attached to a cane with leaves on it. The cluster features two perky lateral lobes. Fourth, the Obol and Hemibol feature a single grape cluster attached to a short peduncle with no leaves. The cluster itself features two drooping lateral lobes. I am curious to determine to what extent these variations are due to the artist who made the die or the varietal which inspired the design. In time I shall gather more images for analysis.

Here are some terms encountered in this post:

  • Gorgoneion is an image of a mask or head.
  • Hemibol is a Greek Silver coin, equivalent to half a Obol.
  • Kantharos is a type of Greek pottery used for drinking. It is characterized by high, looping handles.
  • Kerykeion is a winged staff carried by Hermes.
  • Obol is a Greek silver coin, there were six to a Drachmae.
  • Stater is coin of Macedonian origin, often worth one Tetradrachm in Athens.
  • Tetrabol is a Greek silver coin, equivalent to four Obol.
  • Tetradrachm is a Greek silver coin, equivalent to four Drachmae.

Thrace, Maroneia, Stater, 436-411 BC

Obverse, horse prancing to left; above, helmet to left, MAPON; all within dotted circle. Reverse, ?OS-?HI-O-E?I around square in which grape vine with four bunches of grapes; the whole within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Tetradrachm, 425 BC

Obverse, horse prancing left; above, kantharos, MAPON, all within dotted circle. Reverse, NH-SE-?I-?E around square in which grapevine with five bunches of grapes.

Thrace, Maroneia, Stater, 411-397 BC

Obverse, horse prancing left, crested helmet above. Reverse, BP-AB-EO-S (magistrate) around square in which grapevine with four bunches of grapes; the whole within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Tetradrachm, 400-350 BC

Obverse, horse prancing left, loose rein looped above, small shaggy dog left below. Reverse, E?I K-A??-IKPA-TEOS around square in which grape vine with four bunches of grapes; the whole within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Tetrobols, 398-386 BC

Obverse, forepart of horse left. Reverse, grape-bunch on vine within dotted square border, MA; the whole within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Obol, 398-386 BC

Obverse, facing gorgoneion with protruding tongue. Reverse, MA-PO-N around grape bunch on stem; the whole within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Tetrobol, 398-385 BC

Obverse, forepart of a horse prancing right, MAPO. Reverse, ??-AP-STO-?? around grape-bunch on vine in dotted square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Hemibol, 398-386 BC

Obverse, facing gorgoneion. Reverse, M-A, grape cluster diagonally within incuse square.

Thrace, Maroneia, Stater, 386-348 BC

Obverse, horse prancing left, trailing rein. Reverse, E?I-IKESIO (magistrate) around square in which grape vine with four bunches of grapes, kerykeion to left; all within shallow incuse square.

For those curious I recommend you visit the Ancient Coin Search Engine and read “The Greek Settlements in Thrace Until the Macedonian Conquest”, Benhamin Isaac, 1986.

Categories: History of Wine Tags: ,
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  1. June 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

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