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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Rare and Intriguing Seleukeia Mint Tetradrachm

CNG 111, Lot: 341. Estimate $3000.
Sold for $2300. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SELEUKID EMPIRE. Alexander I Balas. 152-145 BC. AR Tetradrachm (31mm, 15.74 g, 4h). Seleukeia in Pieria mint. Dated SE 166 (147/6 BC). Head of Zeus right, with full beard and hair arranged in long curls of archaizing form, wearing laurel wreath / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, thunderbolt; ςΞΡ (date) and monogram above, two monograms below; all within laurel wreath with ties to right. SC 1798; Houghton, Tetradrachm, dies A1/P3; HGC 9, 874; DCA 124; SNG Fitzwilliam 5686 (same dies); CSE 409 (same obv. die); Getty Museum 78.NB.374 (same obv. die); Gulbenkian 1711 (same obv. die); Pozzi 2980 (same dies). Good VF, toned, slight roughness, tiny delamination in field on obverse, double struck on reverse. Very rare. One of approximately fifteen known examples, of which at least seven are in museums.

This tetradrachm struck by Alexander Balas is among the most intriguing of the Seleukid series. Unlike the usual royal tetradrachm issues that dominate the series, this coin employs types that are directly related to the city in which it was struck. Seleukeia was well noted for its cult of Zeus Casios, and there are also reports that a thunderbolt cult existed there (Appian, Syr. 58). Moreover, the idealized, Pheidian-influenced portrait of Zeus and the winged thunderbolt had been types struck on municipal bronze issues of Seleukeia from the establishment of the city under Seleukos I.

This novel issue is likely a reflection of the prominence of the city under Alexander. At the beginning of his reign, immediately following his overthrow of Demetrios I, Seleukeia was the first city in northern Syria under his total control. In contrast, Antioch refused to accept him, and struck a series of posthumous coins in the name of Antiochos IV. Without having control of the Antioch mint, Alexander was forced to begin striking coinage at Seleukeia, which had been only a peripheral mint in earlier reigns. Although there is no known event in SE 166 that would give rise to such a special coin issue, the purely civic nature of the types strongly suggests that the city retained a level of high prominence during the later years of his reign.

Fewer than ten examples have appeared at auction in the past 20 years.