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The Kestrosphendone - Secret Weapon of the Third Macedonian War

236, Lot: 103. Estimate $100.
Sold for $175. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

THESSALY, Thessalian League. Circa 170 BC. Æ (13mm, 2.13 g). Demetrias(?) mint. Macedonian shield with star in central boss / Kestrosphendone (dart sling). Warren, “Two Notes on Thessalian Coins”, NC 1961, pl. I, 11; Rogers 4 var. (distribution of ethnic); SNG Copenhagen -; SNG München -. VF, dark green patina. Rare.

While Rogers thought that the object on the reverse of this coin was a lyre, Jennifer Warren has argued that it represents a powerful new weapon - the dart sling, or κεστρσφενδόνη - first introduced during the Third Macedonian War between Rome and Perseus of Macedon. The weapon is described by the Achaean Polybius (xxvii, 9), who was taken to Rome as a prisoner following the war: “The form of the dart was as follows. It was two palms long, the tube being of the same length as the point. Into the former was fitted a wooden shaft a span in length a finger’s breadth in thickness. Into the middle of this were wedged three quite short wooden wings. The two thongs of the sling were unequal in length, and the missile was so fitted into the center of the sling that it was easily freed. While the thongs were whirled round and taut, it remained fixed there, but when at the moment of the discharge one of the thongs was released, it left the loop and was shot like a leaden bullet from the sling.” Livy (xlii, 65, 9-10) adds that: “They (the Roman army) suffered particularly from the dart-slings.”

The Macedonian shield supports a connection to Perseus, and Warren offers a compelling insight on the reverse design: “On this Thessalian issue the kestrosphendone would be as apposite as the harpa, the special weapon of his hero namesake, on the reverse of Perseus’ similar Macedonian copper coins”. This type (cf. SNG Alpha Bank 1147-8) also carries a Macedonian shield on the obverse.