Women and coinage in the Ancient world: Philistis lost in the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum

Published online for a few years (to the great joy of both specialists and aficionados of Ancient numismatics) the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum­­—SNG—database offers a preliminary gateway to a compilation of data that had not been gathered until now. It is accessible at the following link: http://www.sylloge-nummorum-graecorum.org/

Browsing this resource, however, becomes very complex as soon as one searches for monetary coinages featuring women, especially Greek women. We find one reason for this in the referencing system for Ancient coinages, which inherited from old corpora the practice of grouping coinages by reign (from the Hellenistic period) without taking into account the queens who may occasionally feature on certain items as individual portraits or beside their husband. Thus it is difficult to find one’s way around the coinages for one Cleopatra or Berenice, for whom is mentioned, at best, their rank within the dynasty. Out of some twenty feminine names included in the list of “rulers”, most link to Roman empresses, while few refer to Hellenistic sovereigns. To seek them out thus becomes a painstaking process, as is evident from the example of Philistis, wife of Hieron II (308-215) and queen of Syracuse. It is no use looking her up under this name in the long list of “rulers”, for she does not feature in it. She does however appear as soon as one attempts a more general search under her first name “Philistis”, which yields nineteen results from eight different public or private collections. On the front side (obverses) of the coins, she appears alone always veiled and wearing a diadem. A caption accompanies the image on the underside, accounting for her own identity: ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΑΣ ΦΙΛΙΣΤΙΔΟΣ.

Few numismatists have turned their attention toward iconographic types representing women, while they have granted more interest to goddesses, which, admittedly, are more widely represented (see F. de Callataÿ, “La femme et la monnaie”, in La Grèce antique et les femmes. Hélène, Aphrodite, Aspasie et les autres. Catalogue d’exposition sous la direction de P. Marchetti (exhibition at the abbey of Saint-Gérard de Brogne, May 8-November 7, 2004), 2004, pp. 44-50). But the very fact that women occupied such a space in monetary iconography, where they were designated by their own caption, certainly speaks of another reality both in terms of political power. A significant amount of effort is still required before these feminine figures can emerge through a medium where images and captions play on an even field, both for men and women. Let the work begin…

Sandra Péré-Noguès

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