NGC Ancients: An Exciting New Achaemenid Daric Variety

Posted on 1/10/2017

An unexpected “with arrow” variety has come to light.

Starting around 520 B.C. the Achaemenid (Persian) King Darius I (522 to 486 B.C.) introduced a new coinage, initially just as silver sigloi, and later as both silver sigloi and gold darics. His second arrangement was continued by his successors until the Persian Empire finally was toppled by Alexander III ‘the Great’ in the 330s B.C. It is believed that the Persian royal coins were struck at Sardis in Lydia (in western Asia Minor) and that they circulated throughout many parts of the ancient world.

The designs on both the gold and the silver coins were substantively the same, and today numismatists divide these coinages into four primary types. The first (Type I), issued in silver only, features the half-length figure of the Great King (or – as others have suggested – a ‘hero’) holding a handful of arrows. The reverse of this issue (as on all darics and sigloi) bears the impression of a utilitarian incuse punch.

Siglos Type I
Click images to enlarge.

Around 510/505 B.C. Darius introduced a gold daric to circulate alongside the silver siglos and modified the obverse type. This new design (Type II) features a full-length figure of the king in a kneeling-running stance, drawing the string of a bow as he prepares to release an arrow.

Daric Type II
Click images to enlarge.

In 486 Darius died and was succeeded as king by his son Xerxes (486 to 465 B.C.). About this time, the coin types again were modified. The new issue (Type III) features the king in the same kneeling-running stance, but he now holds a bow in his extended left hand and a spear in his right hand. The Type III coins are subdivided into sub-issues (IIIa, IIIb A/B and IIIb C) based on stylistic differences, which further narrows the dating of the various issues.

Daric Type III
Click images to enlarge.

The fourth and final substantive type (Type IV) was introduced in around 455 B.C., and again features the king in a kneeling-running stance, but now he holds a dagger in his left hand (instead of a spear) while retaining the bow in his extended right hand. Like the Type III coinage, Type IV is subdivided into different sub-issues (A, B and C). Types III and IV were struck concurrently throughout the remainder of the 5th and the 4th centuries.

Daric Type IV
Click images to enlarge.

Within each issue the types usually remained unchanged. A notable exception is a rare issue from the early phase of Type IV’s when a small design element was added to the incuse punch (a lion scalp facing, a lion head in profile, a facing helmet). The reason for this is unknown.

Now, we may add to the known corpus of ancient Persian coinage a ‘with-arrow’ variant of the Type III daric, which came to NGC’s attention with the recent submission of these coins. At present it is represented by just two coins, both of which were in the group submitted for grading. These remarkable coins show the typical kneeling-running king holding a spear and a bow, but in this case the king also draws an arrow (coins 1 and 2). Both were struck from the same obverse and reverse dies, and it is interesting to note that the reverse punch die was also used in conjunction with several other darics with different (normal) obverse dies (coins 3-7).

Daric Coin 1
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 2
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 3
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 4
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 5
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 6
Click images to enlarge.

Daric Coin 7
Click images to enlarge.

Microscopic examination confirms that the arrow was an engraved element, and was not merely a die break in a fortuitous position. Since at this point these coins are known from just one obverse die, it probably does not represent a substantive new type, but a variant created by a bored or confused die engraver. Should other examples come to light from different dies, or perhaps in silver, it might merit classification as a substantive new type.

It is possible the arrow was added to a die that – originally – had been engraved in the normal no-arrow fashion; if so, this could be demonstrated by the existence of a daric struck with this die when it was in its original form. Though this is possible, no such coins were present in the group examined by NGC Ancients.

Discoveries such as this are one of the great fascinations of ancient coins, for even with a well-documented and well-studied series like Persian royal coinage, new types and varieties are bound come to light at any time.

Interested in reading more articles on Ancient coins? Click here

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group and Numismatica Ars Classica.

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.