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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Extremely Rare KUKALIṂ Trite

Triton XV, Lot: 1241. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $45000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of LYDIA. temp. Alyattes. Circa 610-560 BC. EL Trite – Third Stater (13mm, 4.72 g). “Branch” mint. Confronted lion heads; KUKALI[Ṃ] (in Lydian, retrograde) between / Two incuse square punches. Wallace, KUKALIṂ, pl. I, 1-4; Weidauer Group XVIII (unlisted denomination); Traité –; SNG Kayhan –; SNG von Aulock –. EF. Extremely rare, and possibly the finest known.

This rare issue, with the nearly full legend KUKALIṂ, has been the object of much scholarly debate. Weidauer argued that the names WALW or WALWET, and […]KALI[…] or […]KALIL[…], inscribed on the dies of early Lydian electrum coins with opposing lion heads on the die, are not the names of kings but more likely the names of magistrates. To support her thesis, Weidauer cited two hektai (114 and 115), each with the partial legend […]KALIL[…]. Since Weidauer published her study in 1975, other examples have come to light. Of these, one example (Berk 112, 2) provides the fullest form of the legend. Although the last letter is not completely discernible on the coin, it can be reasonably surmised to be the Lydian letter M, based on similar legends appearing on contemporary Lydian seals, and making the full legend KUKALIṂ, translated as "I [belong] to Kukaś" (for a detailed linguistic explanation of how this conclusion was reached, see Wallace, KUKALIṂ, p. 38). The Lydian name Kukaś could transliterated into Greek as Gyges (Γύγης), just as the WALWET could be transliterated into Greek as Alyattes (Ἀλυάττης). As early as J.P. Six in 1890 (NC [1890], pp. 202-15), those coins with the WALWET legend have been attributed to Alyattes, who was king of Lydia between 610 BC and 560 BC. G.M. Browne ("A new Lydian text," Kadmos 39 [2000], pp. 178-9) found it attractive to assign those coins with the KUKALIṂ legend then to Gyges (circa 680-644 BC), a king who preceeded Alyattes and was himself renowned for his great wealth (Arch. fr. 23), and push the date for the origin of Lydian royal coinage back to at least the early 7th century BC.

Wallace, however, has shown on numismatic grounds that the coins with the KUKALIṂ legend definitely cannot be attributed to the Lydian king Gyges. Observing punch links between hektai with the […]KALI[…] legend (Weidauer Group XVIII) and those with the WALWET legend (Weidauer Group XVII), as well as visible signs of wear and damage on these same punches between the two series, Wallace argues that the WALWET and […]KALI[…] issues were roughly contemporary with some WALWET coins were struck before those hektai with the […]KALI[…] legend, and that links also occur between coins with the WALWET legend (Weidauer Group XVII) and those without (Weidauer Group XV).

Weidauer divided the WALWET coinage (Weidauer Group XVII) into two types. Her "Type a" had only a single lion head facing right on the anvil die. S. Karweise has shown that punches used for these "Type a" coins were also used for coins of Weidauer Group XV and "lion paw" fractions that had previously been attributed to Ephesos (S. Karwiese, "The Artemisium coin hoard and the first coins of Ephesus," RBN 137 [1991]). Wallace observed that all of these coins form a compact group of issues and, in general, are much rarer than Weidauer's subsequent Group XVI. He also noted that this closely linked group appears to have been struck at the Lydian capital, Sardes, and that die-linked coins of these types were present in the Artemision Great Basin Deposit (dated to the very early 6th century BC). Wallace suggested that these coins, then, were part of a dedicatory offering made by either Alyattes or, more likely, by Kroisos during the early years of his reign.

Weidauer's WALWET "Type b", showing opposing lion heads on the anvil die, was possibly a very small issue struck at a branch mint, since it shares no links with her "Type a" or her Group XV non-WALWET issue, and there are many punch links within the issue. Weidauer's "Type b" is also punch linked to the KUKALIṂ coinage – itself a very small issue – suggesting to Wallace that these coins were part of a short-lived experiment between Sardes and an otherwise unknown subsidiary Lydian mint. What it did show to him, however, was that the Kukaś of the KUKALIṂ coinage was a close contemporary of Alyattes named Gyges, rather than the earlier Lydian king of the same name. Most likely this Kukaś was a member of the Lydian royal family, since the design for the anvil die may have derived from a royal seal showing opposing lion heads. If these coins were struck by a subsidiary Lydian mint in one of the territories it controlled (cf. Herodotos 1.6.1), then Kukaś may have been its governor, just as Kroisos had been in Adramytion before he became king of Lydia (Nic. Dam. FGrH. 90, fr. 65).