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Research Coins: The Coin Shop

 
731622
731622. Sold For $5750

THRACE, Kings of. Lysimachos. 323-281 BC. AR Tetradrachm (16.92 gm). Lysimachia mint. Struck 281-280 BC. Head of the deified Alexander right, with horn of Ammon / BASILEWS LUSIMACOU, Athena seated left, holding Nike in her extended right hand, left arm leaning on her shield; lion head left above elephant left in inner left field; QE monogram on throne. Müller 55; Pozzi 1169 (same dies); Gulbenkian 899 (same dies). EF. Extremely rare. $5,750.

CNR XXVII, June 2002, lot 28.

This coin is one of the most enigmatic to appear in one of our publications. It is generally agreed through hoard evidence and analysis of the symbolism and style that this coin was struck at the mint of Lysimacheia within the few months between Lysimachos' death at Korupedion in 281 BC and the city's autonomous period that began in 280 BC. During this time the city was first under the control of Seleukos I and then Ptolemy Keraunos, following his assassination of Seleukos. After his death in 280 BC, the city was granted its autonomy under Antiochos I. The mystery is determining under whom this issue was struck and why.

One possibility is that the coin was struck under Seleukos I. The appearance of the elephant symbol on this rare type is the key to this attribution. After Seleukos obtained his 500 elephants from Mauryan King Chandragupta and used them to defeat Antigonos Monopthalmos at Issos in 301 BC, the elephant became a symbol of Seleukos and appeared on many of his coins after 295 BC (see Houghton, Seleukid Coins pg. 3-4). Demetrios Poliorketes even gave Seleukos the slightly derisive epithet "elephantiarch". Save for the single issue to which this coin belongs, the elephant never appears as a control mark on a coin struck in the name of Lysimachos.

There are a number of reasons that would necessitate an emission at Lysimacheia under Seleukos. After occupying Lysimacheia Seleukos began to march his army into Macedon, probably intent on securing its throne for himself. It is likely that preparations had to be made for this excursion, and could have prompted the issue. Also, it could have been struck as a payment to his victorious troops due to their recent accomplishments. There are, however, a few problems with this theory. Although it is not unorthodox for Seleukos to use a Lysimachos-type tetradrachm for the issue, it seems odd in the aftermath of Korupedion that he would place his symbol in such a diminutive fashion upon the coin. Also, Seleukos never employed the elephant as a control mark on his coinage, only as an obverse or reverse type.

In the only article published on this particular issue, Hollstein (SNR 74 (1995)) believes that it was Seleukos' assassin, Ptolemy Keraunos, who was responsible. He argues that Keraunos used the Lysimachos-type coins because he modeled himself as the heir of Lysimachos, and that the elephant symbolized the military power that he possessed. Hollstein dismisses the idea that an absence of other coinage attributed to Keraunos debunks his theory. Nonetheless, this is a valid counterpoint, for, as Hollstein's article even exhibits, Keraunos was involved in numerous other military ventures in an autonomous capacity, but apparently never struck his own coinage. Also, in light of the recent events, the elephant as a symbol would have been more identifiable with Seleukos, and it would also be odd for him to use it while claiming to be the successor of Lysimachos, who was recently killed by the 'Elephantiarch'.

There is a more likely solution to the problem: the issue was struck autonomously by Lysimachia for Seleukos, perhaps as a tribute payment that could have been demanded by him to help finance his upcoming expedition or simply to pay his victorious troops. It would be likely that the mint would have had little time to prepare, so it would justify using the same types they were familiar with, with the addition of a symbol they thought appropriate for the issue. Such an 'autonomous' emission would avoid the problems associated with a Seleukid minting under Seleukos, and also account for the use of the elephant as a symbol on the coin.