Skythia, Olbia cast Æ. 525-350 BC. Dolphin without inscription. SNG BM Black Sea 334. 1
The bronze dolphin coinages of ancient Olbia are one of the most interesting bronze coinages of the Black Sea area. They are unique in both shape and format. Olbia Thrace was located in the area of modern Bulgaria and Ukraine and was populated by Greek peoples. It is interesting and quite unusual that the Olbians adopted a casting method and the dolphin shape rather than the traditional round coinage of their neighbors and indeed the entire Greek world. The reason for this is fairly simple. It is common knowledge that even to this day there is a large population of bottle-nose dolphins in the Black Sea and the native peoples would have seen these playful creatures almost daily. Bottle-nose dolphins are the easy to train, playful dolphins that you will see in aquariums and water shows. The Olbians evidently enjoyed the dolphins to the extent that they pattered their coinage after them. There may also have been a religious significance as ancient Greek Mythology places the dolphin, Delphinus, as the “Sacred Fish” which appears as a theme many times in Greek mythology. Once a dolphin helped Poseidon locate the mermaid Amphitrite whom he brought back to his golden palace to be his Queen. As a reward, Poseidon placed the dolphin in the constellation Delphinus. There are many instances of dolphins coming to the aid of sailors in peril so it is not completely unreasonable that they would have patterned their coinage in the shape of their beloved dolphins.
This series was minted from the fifth to third centuries BC and includes many varieties including some rarer issues with legends. Most of the dolphins are rather crudely cast but the better specimens show dorsal fins and eyes as well as a mid fin that runs along the body. It seem the casting method employed was a standard method adopted by the Celts in France who originated in this area. The dolphins were was in a tree connected by the tail, which is why you find so many short examples, the tails were trimmed off in a hurry to finish and get on to casting the next batch. Many premium examples will have a large blob at the end of the tail, which is actually part of the stem or casting tree. Some examples seem to be cast as singles as the tail is quite distinct and well formed which would point to a second form of casting or perhaps, as was the practice of the Celts of France, a second casting was made using an original piece as a copy.
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