An exceptional didrachm of the enigmatic Sophytos
BAKTRIA, Local Issues. Sophytos, circa 270s or 240s-230s BC. Didrachm (Silver, 22 mm, 7.87 g, 6 h), Attic standard, uncertain mint in the Oxus region. Male head to right, wearing laureate and crested Attic helmet, cheek guards lowered and decorated with wings; on neck truncation, M. Rev. ΣΩΦYΤΟΥ Rooster standing right; above, kerykeion. Bopearachchi, Sophytes 3A and pl. I, 2. HGC 12, -. Jansari - (O1/R-). MGI -. SNG ANS -. Very rare. A spectacular example of this intriguing issue, with a superb portrait of the finest early Hellenistic style and a wonderful reverse. Good extremely fine.

There has been much discussion over the identity and dating of the enigmatic Sophytos, a Baktrian ruler of uncertain origin, whose coinage displays a remarkable blend of various Greek motives with a disctinctly non-Greek name. In the 19th century, Sir A. Cunningham connected the Sophytos from the coins with the Indian ruler Sophytes, who subjected to Alexander in 326 BC in the Punjab. However, the coins are clearly of Baktrian origin, and it has long been observed that the impressive helmeted male heads on the obverse are linked to Seleukos' eastern victory series depicting a helmeted and horned head on the obverse and Nike erecting a trophy on the reverse. For this reason, S. Jansari recently suggested to view Seleukos' and Sophytos' coins as roughly contemporary, i.e. to date the latter's reign to circa 305/4-295 BC. However, he later also states that Sophytos should be dated to circa 315-305 BC, implying that his coinage influenced that of Seleukos, not vice versa.

The latter in particular is so improbable that it need not concern us here (it implies that Sophytos' put his own name on his coins before any of the Diadochi!). Sophytos' coinage is deeply routed in the iconography of the early Hellenistic era, and it seems much more likely that he followed Greek precursors than the other way around. In fact, the reverse type on our beautiful didrachm was clearly copied from the early Hellenistic coinage of Karystos (see BCD Euboia 572). Furthermore, the controls M, MN, and MNA from Sophytos' coinage also appear on a series of Baktrian imitations of Athenian owls, and Sophytos himself issued an extremely rare series with owls on the reverse, rendering his coinage less isolated than one might think.

But how, then, should Sophytos' reign be dated? There are currently two schools of thought, one placing Sophytos at the beginning of the reign of Antiochos I, i.e. to the 270s BC, and the other connecting him to the usurper king Andragoras, i.e. to the 240s and 230s BC. Both of these theories have their advantages and problems, and it is still too early to say which will prevail. In any case, Sophytos' coinage is as enigmatic as it is remarkable. Unnoticed by Graeco-Roman historiography, we know nothing about him except that he must have held a position of power, and had at his disposal both the resources, as well as the artists, to produce a most impressive Greek coinage of the finest style. His name is not Greek, and also not Sophytes, as most scholars believe, for Sophytou is the genitive of Sophytos, not Sophytes. This is further underlined by the appearance of the same name, in the nominative, in the famous Kandahar inscription, where a 2nd century Sophytos, son of Naratos (or Narates), narrates his life story in erudite Greek.
Price: 15,000 CHF


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