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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Ex Gillet, Vicomte de Sartiges, Berlin Königliches Münzkabinett, and Löbbecke

Triton XXII, Lot: 130. Estimate $150000.
Sold for $250000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SICILY, Naxos. Circa 461-430 BC. AR Drachm (19mm, 4.32 g, 7h). Bearded head of Dionysos right, wearing tainia decorated with an ivy branch / Silenos, nude and bearded, squatting half-left, holding kantharos in right hand and resting his left on his knee, tail behind; N-A-XI-ON around; all within shallow concave circular incuse. Cahn 55.1 (V40/R46) = Gillet 484 = Sartiges 110 = H. Dannenberg, Grundzüge der Munzkunde (1912), pl. I, 7 = J. Friedländer, “Die Erwerbungen des Koniglichen Miinzkabinets vom 1. Januar 1877 bis 31. März 1878.” in ZfN 6 (1879), p. 10 and pl. I (this coin); HGC 2, 990; SNG Lloyd 1151 = Weber 1467; Basel 385; SNG Lockett 841 = Pozzi 508; Jameson 674; de Luynes 1063; McClean 2467; Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 13 (all from the same dies). Superb EF, lovely deep cabinet tone. Among the finest examples of the type, with a choice pedigree.

From the Gasvoda Collection. Ex Triton XIX (5 January 2016), lot 44; Leu 81 (16 May 2001), lot 89; Charles Gillet Collection (1972), 484; Vicomte de Sartiges Collection, 110; Duplicates from the Berlin Königliches Münzkabinett (J. Hirsch XXVI, 24 May 1910), lot 81 (acquired by the museum c. 1874); Arthur Löbbecke Collection.

In the Hirsch sale of the Berlin duplicates, this coin received a rare lengthy note:

Euböische Drachme von wundervollem Uebergangsstil. Cabinettstück ersten Ranges. Avers und Revers einzigartig im Raume stehend. Pracht-exemplar, wohl das schönste der bekannten Exemplare und deshalb von grösster Seltenheit. [Euboean drachm of wonderful transitional style. Choice example of the first order. Obverse and reverse superbly well centered and struck. Magnificent example, probably the finest of the known specimens and therefore of the utmost rarity.]

On the day of the sale, the coin hammered at 2225 DM, an exceptional amount for a drachm, and the same price that the Berlin Museum’s Naxos tetradrachm of Cahn 54 type realized in the same sale.

Located on the eastern shore of Sicily in the shadow of Mt. Aitna, Naxos was the oldest of the Greek colonies on the island, founded in 735 BC by colonists from Chalkis in Euboia and Ionia. According to Thucydides (1.100), Naxos established its own colony by founding Leontini in 730 BC, which was soon followed by the foundation of a second colony, Aitne, later known as Katane. Taking advantage of the fertility of the surrounding volcanic soil of Mt. Aitna, Naxos developed an economy of viticulture, and along with Leontini and Katane became very prosperous. This wealth attracted the attention of Syracuse, which subjugated Naxos in 476 BC, removing its citizens along with those of Katane to Leontini. Upon the death of Hieron in 461 BC, the Naxians were reinstated to their original city, and formed a close alliance with Leontini and Katane. During the first Athenian Expedition in 427 BC, Naxos actively provided support to the Athenians, who had sent a large fleet to support the allies against Syracuse. In 409 BC, Naxos sided with Syracuse against the Carthaginian threat to Sicily, but in 403 BC, the tyrant Dionysios of Syracuse turned against the Naxians, destroying the city and selling the women and children into slavery.

The present issue is composed of multiple denominations in silver, and is dated by Cahn to the first few decades after the refoundation of the city in 461 BC. Some theorize that it was struck upon the refoundation as a celebratory issue, but one wonders whether the city had the resources for such a coinage so soon. It could also have been struck somewhat later, after the city had prospered from its trade ties to Kamarina and Leontini, and could afford the requisite silver for such a large output. The types found on the drachms are the same as that on the famed tetradrachms (Cahn 54), and the styles of both are so close that it is likely they were engraved by the same hand. The obverse features Dionysos, the god of the vine. The reverse is also an allusion to wine and the Dionysiac cult, featuring the satyr Silenos. Half-man, half-goat followers of Dionysos, these satyrs were often depicted in an ithyphallic state as they pursued the god’s female attendants, the mainads. Silenos was the oldest, wisest, and most drunken of the satyrs. According to Euripides’ only surviving satyr-play, the Cyclops, Silenos had been forced to attend to Polyphemos, who dwelled in the region of Mt. Aitna, hence providing another reason for Silenos’ appearance on this coin of Naxos.