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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Extremely Rare Chalkidian League Stater

CNG 87, Lot: 292. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $55000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MACEDON, Chalkidian League. Circa 365-360 BC. AV Stater (16mm, 8.55 g, 9h). Laureate head of Apollo left / Kithara; X-A-Λ-KIΔ-EΩN around. Unpublished. Good VF, underlying luster, obverse a little off center, minor die break behind head. Extremely rare denomination, only one has appeared at auction in recent decades (New York Sale XXV [2011], lot 24; none in the ANS photofile).

Taking advantage of the loosening of Athenian control over the Chalkidike due to the Peloponnesian War, in 432/1 BC the cities of the region formed themselves into a league with its capital at Olynthos. The failure of Athens to break up the Chalkidian League - one of the terms of the Peace of Nikias in 421 BC - as well as a general strategic disinterest in the region, helped to solidify the League's power and position. As a result of this situation, the League began striking silver coinage in its own name. Adopting the local "Phoenician" standard already in use by Olynthos, only tetrobols were minted in any quantity at first, but after about 420 BC, tetradrachms were regularly struck. The very rare issues of gold staters, struck on the Attic standard, are certainly tied to the tumultuous events in the second quarter of the 4th century BC.

The political situation in which the League found itself at that time was influenced by the competing interests of Athens, who had historic ties to the region, Sparta, who constantly sought to check any advance of Athenian power, and the Macedonian Kingdom, which sought to expand its influence over its neighbor to the south. Sparta's defeat at Leuktra in 371 BC, and the subsequent peace, provided Athens with the opportunity to reconstitute the Second Athenian Empire, beginning with the Chalkidike. In 365 BC, the Athenian general, Timotheos, began to conquer territory in the northern Aegean on behalf of Athens. He quickly subdued the island of Samos and gained a foothold in the Thracian Chersonese, from where he could direct his attention to the Chalkidike. With the help of Perdikkas III of Macedon, Timotheos attacked the League and its capital, Olynthos. Although unable to take the capital, Timotheos was successful in quickly capturing a large part of the League's territory. His campaign was so successful that he used the opportunity to attack his erstwhile ally, Macedon, as well. In 363 BC, in addition to the seizing the city of Potidaia, an important Chalkidikan port near the League capital of Olynthos, Timotheos also captured the Macedonian ports of Methone, Terone, and Pydna, located in the Thermian Gulf. For all of his initial success against the Chalkidian League, however, Timotheos was unable to conquer Amphipolis, or solidify his hold over the areas he seized, and eventually abandoned his northern Aegean enterprise in 360 BC. In the years immediately following, it would be Amyntas' youngest son, Philip II, who would achieve what both the Chalkidian League and Timotheos were unable to do - bring the entire region and all of its cities and tribes under one authority. Once accomplished, in 348 BC he dissolved the League.

For what purpose were these extremely rare Attic-standard gold staters struck? Given the regional turmoil at the time, a possible explanation would be that the coins were an emergency issue meant for the payment of local Thracian mercenaries due to a scarcity of silver. Such was the case with Athens when, cut off from its supply of silver late in the Peloponnesian War, it turned to coining gold. Psoma, however, shows that the League regularly struck significant amounts of silver coinage during this period, something that would be impossible if no supply of silver was available. As such, payments to mercenaries probably would have been in the form of the League's silver issues, whose Phoenician weight standard was common throughout the region. At this time, gold was rarely coined in the Greek world, with only the Persian Empire and Kyzikos minting issues with any regularity. Most often gold was struck when necessity required its use, as it had been at Athens. Coinciding as it did with the League's war against Athens, this gold issue (as well as similar extremely rare gold Attic staters issued from the League's then ally Amphipolis) had to be struck not for local consumption, but for foreign recipients who required payment in coinage struck on the Attic standard. Bribes in gold are known to have been a part of classical diplomacy. The Persian Empire tried to affect the outcome of the Peloponnesian War by funneling darics to both Athens and Sparta, and Philip II, once he gained control of Mt. Pangaion, struck coinage on the Attic standard (including staters), which he used to gain control over the Greek city-states (cf. Dem. 5.5). Thus, if the League's staters were not for payments to mercenaries, they most likely were made to acquire influential overseas support through bribes.

The placement of the present stater in the series at Olynthos is uncertain. At the time of the publication of Psoma’s study in 2001, only R-C Groups L, S, T, and W, are known to have staters associated with them. Three other staters, all from the same die pairing, however, remain unassigned, and likely belong to an unrecorded magistrate. The first appeared in B.M. Yakountchikoff, Unpublished and rare Greek coins (St. Petersburg, 1908), p. 8, no. 17, and the second is in the ANS (SNG 468). Unfortunately, the magistrate’s name is not legible on either of these, though the ANS catalog presumed it to be the magistrate Polyxenos (R-C Group R). The third example appeared as lot 24 in the recent New York Sale XXV (5 January 2011; the reverse die link was unnoticed), and although portions are also unreadable, one can clearly distinguish enough -- [ ]-A[?]I-N-[ ] -- to recognize that it cannot be the name of any of the known magistrates. The present piece adds yet another new issue to the corpus of Chalkidian coinage. As this issue has no magistrate’s name, it must be placed prior to Group N. Though Group L has staters, all of the known coinage of that issue features a portrait of Apollo with long hair on his neck. Nonetheless, some groups are known to contain dies of both portrait styles (e.g. Groups I and M). Group L has been dated to circa 365 BC, which is thought to be the time that the Chalkidian League struck its first gold issues, perhaps in conjunction with the Athenian expedition of Timotheos (see Psoma p. 186 and U. Westermark, “The Coinage of the Chalcidian League Reconsidered,” Studies Thomsen, p. 100). An assignment to an earlier issue is not impossible, but the style of the portrait on this coin is more consistent with the later issues of the League. In fact, the facial features and elongated neck are most similar to the stater of group L. In the following group, Group M, the first tetradrachm die has a portrait of Apollo with short hair, but an assignment to that group is unlikely, as all of the reverses feature a tripod as a control mark between the upper struts of the kithara. In sum, it seems most probable that this stater belongs either to Group L, or in a transitional group between Groups L and M.