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Coin Detail
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ID:     90010120
Type:     Greek
Issuer:     Antiochus I Soter
Date Ruled:     281-261 BC
Metal:     Bronze
Denomination:     Tetradrachm
Date Struck:     A superb coin with a wonderful, idealized portrait of unusually fine style, in high relief
Weight:     17.1X 12 g
Primary Reference:     Barron 118a (this coin)
Photograph Credit:     Classical Numismatic Group
Grade:     De Hirsch 1531
Notes:     Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 120 KF 222 (this coin) From the Spina collection, ex Leu 91, 10 May 2004, 163 and from the collections of D. FÉret, Vinchon, 24 November 1994, 252, C. Gillet, Kunstfreund, Bank Leu/MÜnzen und Medaillen, 28 May 1974, 222, and H. Otto, Hess 207, 1 December 1931, 578, and ex Naville X, 15 June 1925, 698.The types on the coins of Samos relate to the cult of Hera, whose great temple on the island was one of the most famous in the ancient world. The lion’s mask is that of a skin that served to adorn the cult statue of Hera; on the reverse is one of the two perfectly white oxen that drew the sacred cart carrying the goddess’s statue during her festival. While the light gold staters of Kroisos are relatively easy to come by, the fractions are much rarer, especially the sixths. This piece is in every way extraordinary - both well struck and very well preserved. The confronted lion and bull on this coin are age old eastern symbols of power, with the lion being the emblem of the Lydian royal family. The facing heads of Helios on the silver tetradrachms of Rhodes go through quite a stylistic progression over the slightly more than two centuries of their existence. The earlier heads of the late 5th and 4th centuries are fully in the Classical tradition and range from the noble, serene and, often, eerily powerful to insipid and banal. However, the tradition changes when tetradrachms resume in the later 3rd century. On those coins the Helios heads are truly Hellenistic in a very florid and baroque way, with some of the earliest, like this one, being most impressive. Ex Leu 81, 16 May 2001, 310, Bank Leu 7, 9 May 1973, 251 and from the collection of J. Desneux.The coinage of Lycia is characterized by the large number of eclectic designs found on it. The area’s general symbol, the tri- or tetraskeles, appeared on many reverses, but there were an infinite number of obverse types used. A good number were copied from or based on types used in other Greek cities - this one finds parallels in earlier issues from Syracuse! It is one of the prettiest female heads to be found in all of Lycian coinage, and certainly one of the best preserved. From the collection of H. S. von Aulock.It is remarkable how poorly struck so many staters of Aspendos are. Die wear, off-centering, countermarks, and poor engraving are all factors that mar most existing coins. Thus, coins like the present one are really quite uncommon, and help to explain why Hans von Aulock picked it from the many hundreds he was offered during his lifetime. The wrestlers refer to the local games; the slinger would remind the user that the Pamphylians were famous as slingers and were employed as mercenaries in many ancient armies. From the Spina collection, ex Triton VIII, 10 January 2005, 506.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 painting and sculpture (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 and it seems prima facie unlikely). 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 and probably relates to a local myth. From the collection of R. Jameson.There has been a great deal of controversy over the identification of the Ariarathes who struck this coin, but MØrkholm simply must be correct in seeing it as an early issue of Ariarathes IX. He had been placed on the throne of Cappadocia by his father, the mighty Mithridates VI of Pontus who had previously assassinated his own nephew, Ariarathes VII, a son of Ariarathes VI (he also disposed of another son of Ariarathes VI, the unimaginatively named Ariarathes VIII). This early portrait shows the young king with rather idealized features that are somewhat reminiscent of those of earlier Cappadocian kings. However, soon after these early tetradrachms were issued, drachms and, later, tetradrachms were struck bearing a portrait that was much closer in features to that of Mithridates VI, thus making their relationship perfectly clear to all beholders. Ariarathes IX was killed while serving as a commander of his father’s troops in northern Greece. From the Spina collection, ex Leu 81, 16 May 2001, 323.Alexander the Great appears on this coin with some of the attributes of Dionysos, as part of a complex program of imagery that served to identify the conquests of Alexander in India with the god’s own legendary conquests there. The portrait also was meant to remind users of the coin that Seleukos had repeated Alexander’s conquests through his defeat of Chandragupta in 304. The elephant quadriga serves as a reminder of the 500 elephants Seleukos received from Chandragupta as part of the peace settlement in 303. This extraordinary coin comes from a series that also includes some very rare drachms and hemidrachms of the same type. The identification of the figure on the reverse is controversial: is it Dionysos the Conqueror? Is it Alexander with attributes of Dionysos? Is it Seleukos with attributes of Alexander and Dionysos? Or is it a general hero with attributes of all of them? Houghton and Stewart made a very good case for it being Alexander, based on the Dionysiac symbolism used for the portrait of Alexander on the victory coinage struck in Susa ten years earlier (see, above, lot 117). On this coin we can see that the saddle cloth is an animal skin (the tail can be made out waving behind the rider); presumably that of a panther. The horns of the horse immediately recall Alexander’s mount, the famous Bucephalus, thus, seemingly making the identification of the rider certain. Since the publication of 1999, however, Houghton seems to have had second thoughts, and wonders that the rider may well be Seleukos. This is unlikely. The fact that this issue was so limited in size argues against it being the introduction of a new iconographic representation of Seleukos, rather than a reprise of that of Alexander. After all, if it was meant to be Seleukos, why is it never used again? The suggestion that the horned horse is not Alexander’s mount, but the swift horse that carried Seleukos away from Babylon in 315, is equally unlikely because that horse is never said to have had horns and the fact that horned horse heads are often found on some eastern silver and bronze coins of Seleukos I and a few of his successors does not support that attribution. Those heads are surely of Bucephalus, especially since he died and was buried in the east. Clearly, horseman on this coin is Alexander, conqueror of the East, in a pose very similar to that found on the so-called Poros Dekadrachms. He appears on this special issue for the same reasons he appeared on the series from Susa: to recall the deeds of Alexander in the past and associate them with those of Seleukos in the present. This is not only one of the most exciting and historically significant coins minted by the Seleukids, but it also a particularly striking depiction of Alexander. Antiochos I Soter was eldest son of Seleukos I and Apama, granddaughter of Pharnabazos. He was a consolidator and managed to keep almost all of the vast empire founded by his father together, despite revolts and the declarations of independence by the local rulers of Bithynia and Pontus. He founded many cities and sent out colonists throughout his realm. The portrait on this coin, engraved by an artist of great talent in the old Ionian city of Smyrna, shows Antiochos I as an elegant, powerful, and relatively youthful man - an idealized king - despite the fact that by the time it was struck he had to be at least forty-five years old. This type has long been sought after - the inferior piece from the Houghton Collection (NFA XVIII, 1987, lot 289) sold for the then astounding price of $21,000.