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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Gold Double Daric of Mazaios

Triton XIX, Lot: 2073. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $25000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

PERSIA, Alexandrine Empire. Mazaios. Satrap of Babylon, circa 331-328 BC. AV Double Daric (23mm, 17.20 g, 10h). Baaltars seated half-left, head and torso facing, right hand holding long scepter set on ground to right, left hand extended, holding grain ear and grape bunch on vine, upon which stands an eagle right with wings folded / Lion left, grasping the back of a bull recumbent left, and biting into its neck; all in linear square frame within shallow incuse square. F. Holt & O. Bopearachchi, The Alexander Medaillion (2011), note 106 (this coin); ibid. figs. 51–2 var. = Miho Museum, Treasures of Ancient Bactria (2002), 44 a–b var. (rev. type right); Heritage 3026, lot 23179 (same obv. die). For Mazaios’ Cilician silver prototype, cf. SNG Levante 100–6, and for similar local issues of the same type struck contemporaneously with this gold, cf. SNG France (Cilicia) 352–3. Good VF, underlying luster, minor flan flaw and faint double striking, spot of superficial verdigris at edge on reverse. Extremely rare, fourth known of the type and second known with the reverse design to the left.

From the collection of Dr. Lawrence A. Adams. Ex Triton X (9 January 2007), lot 412.

This extraordinary gold issue, unknown until the discovery of two examples in the Mir Zakah II deposit, bears the familiar types used by Mazaios as satrap of Cilicia for his silver staters, but without the usual legend and monograms. Mazaios, a Persian nobleman, had a long and distinguished career. He was appointed satrap of Cilicia about 361 BC, and the region known as ‘Across the River’ (modern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel) was later added to his domain. He fought against the Phoenicians of Sidon who revolted with the support of Pharaoh Nektanebo II and the Greek mercenary leader Mentor. Mazaios later served as the satrap of Mesopotamia and married Barsine, the daughter of Darios III. Mazaios’ absence from the first fighting when Alexander invaded Asia has been explained by the likelihood that he was the satrap of Babylonia at the time and was guarding Darios’ back.

In 331 BC, as Alexander marched into the heart of the Persian Empire, Mazaios obstructed his way with a small cavalry contingent and forced Alexander to take a route leading to Gaugamela, where the massive Persian army had assembled in wait for Alexander on the Persians’ chosen battleground. In the battle itself, Mazaios and his Babylonian cavalry nearly broke Alexander’s left wing, but the flight of the Persian king led to the collapse of the Persian army. Mazaios took refuge in Babylon. Alexander, upon his approach to the great metropolis, announced that Babylon would not be plundered, and Mazaios thereupon surrendered the city to him. Alexander rewarded Mazaios by retaining him as governor, a position he held until his death in 328 BC.

Alexander made Babylon his royal seat, and there established one of his most important mints, where a large quantity of regular 'imperial' coinage was struck, including the impressive dekadrachms. In addition to the imperial coinages, Babylon also produced a substantial group of local coinages, some of which initially bore the name of Mazaios, and it is among these Babylonian issues that the present type is to be placed.

Mazaios instituted two principal local coinages in Babylon, silver ‘lion staters’ and gold double darics (see H. Nicolet-Pierre, "Argent et or frappés en Babylonie entre 331 et 311 ou de Mazdai a Séleucos," in Travaux de numismatique grecque offerts a Georges Le Rider, pp. 285-305). For the 'lion staters’, as for the present type, Mazaios adapted designs from a coinage that he had issued in his earlier days as satrap of Cilicia: the 'lion staters' are modeled upon the ‘Myriandros’ staters with types Baaltars / Lion (SNG Levante 185-188). In gold, Mazaios struck double darics modeled after the familiar darics of the pre-Alexander Persian world, with a figure (Persian king or hero) running right and holding a spear and bow.

The types of the present coin identify the issuer as Mazaios, and the omission of a legend is characteristic of the Babylonian context. Achaemenid gold was routinely issued without legend, as were many of Mazaios’ standard double darics (MIG Type 14 = BMC Persia XX, 1). Although the early ‘lion staters’ are normally struck in the name of Mazaios, some bore neither legend nor control mark (MIG Type 6 = BMC Persia XXI, 2). The present type is to be located alongside Mazaios’ other Babylonian coinages but it is clearly distinct from them. Perhaps it was an initial emergency issue that was later superseded, or perhaps it was a local variation for a special purpose.

The two double darics from Mir Zakah II, among other coins in that hoard, have been condemned by some as forgeries, most notably by Silvia Hurter in her SNR 85 review article (pp. 185–99). The condemnation of these, the two Miho coins, has focused particularly on their style (the epigraphic argument she makes is rebutted by the analysis above). It must be stressed that the style of those two coins is significantly different from that found on the present specimen, which has a style, particularly the reverse, that is very similar to the models found on the Tarsos issues of Mazaios.