AEOLIS. Demetreion. Circa 450-400 BC. Hemiobol (Silver, 8 mm, 0.45 g, 9 h). ΔHMH-TPIΩ Head of a horse to right. Rev. Head of a nymph to right within square incuse. Naumann E-Auction 30 (2015), 15 (same dies, as 'Greek uncertain'). Naumann E-Auction 53 (2017), 108 (same dies, as 'Asia uncertain'). Of the highest rarity, apparently the third known example. A highly interesting and important issue. Very fine.
While the first two examples of this enigmatic type featured some traces of a legend on the obverse, it was overlooked or omitted by the Naumann cataloguer due to the poor preservation of the coins. Fortunately, our example now provides a clear reading of the ethnic as ΔHMH-TPIΩ. There are surprisingly few recorded places named after Demeter in pre-Hellenistic time, the most famous of which is Demetreion in Phthiotis, the sanctuary of Demeter of the ancient city of Pyrasos (Strabo IX.435). Pyrasos was one of the three cities to found Phthiotic Thebes around the mid 4th century BC in an act of synoikism, in the course of which the mother city was apparently abandoned. On the other hand, a Phthiotic polis Demetreion - presumably located around the old sanctuary of Demeter of Pyrasos - is first recorded in the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax (circa 330s BC), which does not record Pyrasos anymore, and is mentioned several times by later Roman sources. Thus, the coins in question, which are clearly from the classical era, can hardly be assigned to this Demetrieion, all the more as the highly unusual placement of the ethnic on the obverse is decidedly not Thessalian and the coins appear to have a background in Asia Minor. This leaves just two obscure references to a Demetreion in our sources in question, the first of which comes from the late Roman Tabula Peutingeriana, a road-map recording an otherwise unknown 'Demetriu' near Nicomedia in Bithynia, the second from the late Roman or early Byzantine author Stephanus of Byzantium, who mentions a 'polis Demetrion' in Aeolis. Unfortunately, neither of the two sources provides any additional information, but as the coins are very unlikely to be of Bithynian origin, it seems best to ascribe them to the Aeolian Demetreion for the time being, while acknowledging that they may originate from an otherwise unattested place of the same name. In any case, the discovery of a new Greek mint in Classical times is very exciting and shows that even the tiniest coins can carry pleasant surprises.