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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 107. Estimate CHF28000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF38000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

IONIA, Phokaia. Circa 478-387 BC. Hekte (Electrum, 2.50 g), circa 410. Head of a bearded Persian satrap, undoubtedly Pharnabazos, to left, wearing a Persian tiara bound with an elaborate diadem; behind, seal swimming downwards to left Rev. Quadripartite incuse square. Bodenstedt -. Unique and apparently unpublished, a coin with a superb portrait of the very greatest interest and historical importance. About extremely fine.

This spectacular coin bears what is surely a portrait of the famous Persian satrap Pharnabazos, who was active in the area of the Hellespont during the last years of the 5th century. He first allied himself with Sparta against the Athenians, but later switched sides in the early 4th century. He based himself in the city of Daskyleion, which had been a possession of his family since the 470s. His family was related to the Achaemenid royal house and, interestingly enough, his granddaughter Apama married Seleukos I. We can confidently identify the portrait as being Pharnabazos since it is exactly the same as the one on named silver staters that were issued circa 410, probably in Kyzikos but possibly in Ionia (as BMC, Ionia, p. 352, 12, Kraay/Hirmer 618 and SNG von Aulock 1216). It is fascinating that his portrait should appear on a hekte from Phokaia: the fact that it was hitherto unknown implies that it was originally issued in very small numbers, perhaps as a donative of some kind. In any event, the die engraver who made the die for this coin must have seen the silver staters since he had to have used them as his model. It has been suggested that this head actually portrays a Persian hero, one of the seven companions of Darius, rather than a specific individual, because the headdress is not quite like that worn by a normal Persian satrap. If this were the case the only hero who would be likely to appear on a coin of Pharnabazos would be his own ancestor, Otanes, who was one of the famous seven. However, the great individuality of the portrait argues that it portrays a specific individual: what could be more likely than that what we have is the head of Pharnabazos wearing the tiara of his ancestor? It would both emphasize his family’s role in the great events of the past and show his own present importance.