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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: CNG 73, Lot: 199. Estimate $300. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 13 September 2006. 
Sold For $300. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

THESSALY, Pharsalos. Late 5th-mid 4th century BC. Æ (9.47 g, 5h). Helmeted head of Athena facing slightly left; flanked by spear and shield / Warrior on horseback right, wearing petasos, holding mace overhead. Lavva 357 (V184/R257); Rogers 500; SNG Copenhagen -; Weber 2913 (same obv. die). Good VF, wonderful light blue-green patina.

From the David Herman Collection.

The Facing Head on Greek Coins
Selections From
The David Herman Collection

CNG is pleased to present the David Herman collection of coins featuring a facing head as part of the coin’s design. David assembled this collection with a view toward creating a broad overview of the type in silver and bronze, and to show its development from the Archaic through the Hellenistic periods among the Greeks, as well as the Celts, Parthians, and Sasanians. Of particular interest is an extremely rare signed tetradrachm of Rhodes (lot 373), several extremely rare fractions, including a litra of Morgantina (lot 64), a hemidrachm of Larissa (lot 186), and two obols of Cilicia (lots 412 and 413), an extremely rare bronze of Metapontion (lot 31).

The Introduction of the Facing Head

First introduced into Greek art as early as the eight century BC, the motif of the facing head had a particularly religious significance. The most common use of the type was that of the gorgoneion, or head of Medusa, severed by the hero Perseus, and adopted by the goddess Athena as the central device of her shield, as well as the aegis (e.g. lots 83 and 286). Depicted with a hideous facing visage, which included wide eyes, protruding tongue, and snaky hair, the gorgoneion had the ability to ward off the evil eye. Therefore, it was also placed on doors, tombstones, and military equipment, locations where such protection was particularly necessary. Perhaps because of its apotropaic character, beginning in the mid-sixth century BC the gorgoneion was included on coinage. Its widespread and long-term use as a design type among many of the Greek city-states as well as contemporary non-Greek peoples demonstrates its popularity, as well as its potentially protective abilities. For examples of gorgoneion as a type, see lots 5, 70, 103, 117, 267, 271, 294, 308, 309, 386, 393, 409, 465, and 469.

By the end of the sixth century BC, other facing head types began to appear on the coinage of western Asia Minor. Kyzikos appears to have been a major mint for these new types for, in addition to an early 1/6 and 1/24 electrum stater, each with confronted sphinxes sharing a single facing head, an electrum stater with the helmeted head of a warrior (perhaps, even that of Athena) and a hekte with the head of a satyr were also struck. Concurrently, Kolophon struck a number of silver denominations, all showing the facing head of Apollo, while an unattributed nearby mint is known for a silver tetrobol with that of Dionysos, and a drachm with the head of Pan was struck at Idyma in Caria (lot 362). Like the gorgoneion, these facing heads may have served some special protective function. The special popularity of Apollo as a type throughout the region, the result of several of his important oracles there, shows further that these early issues may have been struck for religious, as well as economic purposes. Likewise, the view en face is typical of Archaic period Greek art, a fact supported by the numerous kouroi (sculptures) of young men often used as memorials and sometimes believed to be representations of Apollo.

The Facing Head in the Classical Era

Paralleling the development of a more naturalistic posture and style in Greek art beginning in the early fifth century BC, the facing head type underwent similar changes as well. During this period, in addition to those coins which continued to show the head strictly en face (see lots 100-101 for the tête-beche heads of the Dioskouroi at Istros), a new type, that of the facing head slightly-turned (or three-quarter) left or right, was introduced. More localized divinities, in the form of eponymous nymphs and river-gods (lots 68-70, 89) as well as local mythological figures, such as Aktaion (lot 310), or the Trojan hero Hektor (lot 302) began to appear in addition to the Olympians (lots 292 [Zeus]; 194, 264, 265 [Hera]; 397 [Aphrodite]; 106 [Hermes]). Sometime in the 460s BC, the Arkadian Confederation was the first to introduce this new type with a three-quarter facing head of Kallisto on the reverse of its hemidrachms. Nearly two decades later Mytilene on Lesbos struck an electrum hekte and silver obol which feature a similar three-quarter facing head on the obverse. It is possible the head is that of the poet Sappho, the region’s most famous resident, who is certainly shown on a later trihemiobol from the area (lot 311).

It was in Sicily, however, that this design achieved its most expressive phase. Prompted in part by their victory over the Athenians following that city’s disastrous Sicilian Expedition, Syracusan die engravers boldly experimented with the type, producing innovative designs and often signing these masterworks as a proclamation of their skill. Eukleidas, the first of these masters, created a design modelled on the statue of Athena Parthenos, located in the Parthenon in Athens and showing the head of Athena facing slightly left surrounded by dolphins, a conscious echo of the more familiar Persephone type (see lots 84 and 85). This design became the basis for many subsequent issues which appeared throughout the Greek world well into the late Hellenistic period (lots 63, 64, 73, 176, 198, 199, 303, 304, 312, 322, 323, 390). The Arethusa of Kimon, Eukleidas’ contemporary, demonstrates the level of artistry the type could inspire in the hands of a true master (see lot 86 for the type). The numerous copies produced throughout the Greek world during the next half-century attest to the popularity of its design and the mastery of its designer. At Larissa (lots 182-183; 185-187), the “Kimon type” was especially popular. Representing here not Arethusa, but the local eponymous nymph Larissa, it remained the standard obverse type for almost sixty years. A similar contemporary type, struck at Tarsos in Cilicia under the Persian satrap Pharnabazos, attests to the design’s impact on eastern coinage (lots 400-403).

Elsewhere during the Classical period, the three-quarter facing head of Apollo remained a popular type (lots 297, 321). A hemidrachm struck at Amphipolis in Macedon (lot 119), represents one of the earliest Classical examples. At Katane, a composition designed by Herakleidas, a contemporary of Eukleidas and Kimon, equalled the artistry achieved by his Sicilian colleagues. During the reign of the Hekatomnids in Caria (lots 366, 368), the three-quarter facing head of Apollo, the patron deity of their house, achieved a high level of artistry. This head of Apollo can also be found on bronze issues of the Seleukid kings Antiochos II and III (lots 443 and 447), as Apollo was the divine ancestor of the Seleukid dynasty. On the island of Rhodes, the three-quarter facing head of the city’s patron, Helios, was employed. Based on the famous statue popularly known as the Colossus of Rhodes, it became perhaps the most easily recognizable of the facing heads on ancient Greek coinage, continuing well into the Hellenistic period (lots 170, 171, 280, 373, 375-378).

The Facing Head in the Hellenistic Period and Later

Although the issues struck under Alexander the Great and his successors reflected the changes occurring with the rise of the Hellenistic monarchies, the facing head continued to be used as a design type. A number of these show Herakles facing slightly right or left, and, just as the head of Athena reflected the importance of Athens a century earlier, the popularity of Herakles demonstrated the influence of Macedon beginning in the third century BC (lots 298, 387, 388, 407, 408, 468).

Among the Parthians and the Sasanians, the facing head periodically appears well into the early seventh century AD, where the portrait of the monarch replaced the face of the deity. The Parthian kings Vonones II and Vologases V (lots 526-527) as well as the Sasanian kings Ardashir I, as king of Persis (lot 561), and Khosrau II, all had issues struck with their portraits en face. The issue of Khosrau II included the facing head of Anahit as well (cf. Triton IX, lot 1236). While the significance of the facing head type in such a late period remains unclear (possibly a religious or political reference), the use of the type demonstrates its enduring power.