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A Bit of Drunk History Relating to a Spectacular Example of the Amazon Coinage of Soloi (Probably the Finest Known!)

This is a silver stater from the ancient city of Soloi in Cilicia, circa 425-400 BC. The obverse shows an Amazon, nude to the waist and kneeling while stringing her bow. She is wearing bonnet and a gorytos (bow case) is at her hip. Beside her is the facing head of satyr and in exergue is a monogram. The reverse has the inscription ΣΟΛΕΩΝ with a large bunch of grapes and a fly all within an incuse square with a linear border of dots. 

The word “solecism”, meaning a grammatical mistake or absurdity, was invented by the ancient Athenians to describe the Greek dialect spoken in Soloi, which they thought was a corrupt version of Attic. Perhaps the beautiful bunch of grapes on this coin gives us a hint as to why the people of Soloi made so many mistakes in speaking: Pliny records that much wine was produced in Cilicia and Soloi’s standard type of a bunch of grapes implies that some of it was certainly made here!

The Amazons were a tribe of female warriors who supposedly originated in northern Asia Minor. They appear in a great number of Greek legends and were a favorite subject for ancient paintings and sculptures. They supposedly removed their right breasts in order to be better able to throw javelins and draw their bows, but this is never shown in works of art so it seems unlikely to be true. The engraver of this coin got out of the problem by showing the Amazon from behind, with only her left breast visible under her arm. Precisely why she appears on the coinage of Soloi is unknown but it probably relates to a local myth. 

Twiggie, 2016 

Sources and further reading 

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