Thieves Caught Selling Genuine Lydian Stater, Among Earliest Gold Coins
There is an unfortunate reality in the world of high-end collectibles and rare antiquities: Criminals have big incentives to steal and resell these historic items. If there is one recurring theme at the site of ancient ruins, it's that the rubble has surely been combed over by grave robbers and enterprising plunderers before scholars even have a chance to investigate.
Luckily, in some cases, stolen artifacts are still recovered and properly preserved.
The Iconic Lydian Stater
Most scholarship points to the Lydian stater being among the earliest gold coins (and earliest coins in general) ever known to exist. This is supported by the historical record, which suggests that although other cultures may have also independently issued their own coins around the same time (roughly 2,500 years ago), Lydia has a strong claim as the first to do so.
Originally, staters were minted from electrum, an alloy found in nature that is a mix of gold and silver. As metallurgy and methods of production became more sophisticated, staters eventually were made from extremely pure gold or silver.
Lydia was an ancient kingdom located on the western portion of Anatolia, the peninsula known as Asia Minor. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most important geographic locations anywhere in the ancient world, providing a bridge between the great civilizations of Mesopotamia (the "Fertile Crescent" of modern-day Iraq and Syria) and those of the Mediterranean (such as Greece and Rome).
Historians believe that the first emergence of what are considered modern coins occurred in and around this region at the turn of the 7th century B.C.E.
Just to stress what makes a genuine Lydian stater such a big deal, I'll (shamelessly) quote myself on the topic:
For numismatists and numismatic historians, the importance of Lydian coinage is the novel idea that striking or stamping a piece of precious metal with a “State seal” of sorts could confer official status on it as money, indicating the State’s willingness to accept the piece as payment. This is the crucial feature that distinguishes Lydian staters from preceding forms of money and connects them to all subsequent coins.
Antiquities Thieves Pay Steep Price
The Turkish press reported a week ago that a gold stater was recently recovered from thieves by anti-smuggling authorities in Turkey. While it is certainly exciting that the coin is genuine, the problem was that the smugglers were trying to sell it on the black market.
Along with other ancient coins and jewelry, this stater was given to the Izmir Museum of Archaeology.
Stater coins are typically ovular in shape (i.e. like an oval) and feature a design of a lion facing a bull. This symbol became the hallmark of Lydia's King Alyattes and his son, Croesus. The image is crudely stamped on just one side of the coin (with a corresponding counterpunch on the reverse).
They were minted at the kingdom's capital, Sardis. Thus, Lydian staters are sometimes referred to as Sardis staters or Creosid staters.
Criminals and smugglers in the numismatic and rare art industries take a big risk when selling stolen goods because of the potential for a big payoff. Deep-pocketed collectors aren't always as ethical as we would hope, and sometimes are willing to accommodate or abet the theft of an especially desirable artifact, antiquities laws be damned.
The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any product.
Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.