The enigmatic Lydian Ifes
Lot 502
LYDIA. Uncertain. Ifes, Lydian usurper (?), circa 450/425-400 BC. Hemiobol (Silver, 7 mm, 0.53 g, 8 h). Youthful male head to left. Rev. 𐤦𐤱𐤤𐤩𐤦𐤪 ('ifelim' in Lydian) Grain of wheat. CNG E-Auction 345 (2015), 322 ('Asia Minor uncertain'). CNG E-Auction 368 (2016), 368 var. (differing obverse, as 'uncertain western Asia Minor'). M. Egetmeyer: Eine neue Münze mit lydischer Inschrift, in: Kadmos 51 (2012), Heft 1, 175-178, illustration 1-2 = Gemini VIII (2011), 98 (misattributed to Salamis on Cyprus). Solidus E-Auction 19 (2017), 105 ('Kleinasien, ungesicherte Münzstätte'). Extremely rare. A fascinating issue of great historical interest. Struck on a slightly short flan, otherwise, good very fine.

Since so many Greek coins were struck in Asia Minor in the Hellenistic and Roman era, it is easy to forget that the Greeks were not native to these mountainous lands and had mostly settled in the coastal plains in the time before Alexander (Plato's famous saying 'like frogs around a pond' comes to mind). Numerous other peoples with their own languages are attested from this time: Lydians, Phrygians, Pisidians, Carians, Lycians, Sidetans, Cilicians, to name just a few. Of these, the most notable to strike their own coins with indigenous legends in the 6th to 4th centuries BC were the Lydians, Carians, Lycians and Sidetans. All these peoples were, however, Hellenized at some point in their history due to ever-growing Greek cultural influence to the degree that they adapted the Greek language and alphabet. We have historiographical and epigraphical records of some pre-Greek languages still being in use by common people in remote areas as late as the early- and mid-Roman imperial time, but the shift from indigenous to Greek coin legends comes much earlier, at the latest in the Classical or early Hellenistic period. In the case of the Lydians, the downfall of their last king Kroisos and the subsequent loss of their political autonomy to the Persians in the late 540s BC meant that only very few later coins ever used Lydian inscriptions. Thus, the emergence of the present issue with its distinct and easily readable Lydian legend 𐤦𐤱𐤤𐤩𐤦𐤪 ('ifelim') was a great thrill to this cataloguer, all the more so when he discovered that M. Egetmeyer had already published a similar example a few years earlier (ex Gemini VIII (2011), 98, there misattributed to Salamis on Cyprus. A few other examples - usually superficially described as 'uncertain Asia Minor' - have appeared in various auctions over the past years.).

Egetmeyer translates the legend 𐤦𐤱𐤤𐤩𐤦𐤪 ('ifelim') as 'I (am [the coin]) of Ifes', or perhaps more simply, 'I (belong) to Ifes'. Unfortunately, we do not know who this Ifes was - the name is otherwise unattested - but the coins date him to no earlier than the second half of the 5th century BC. He might have been a local insurgent, as Fischer-Bossert suggested to Egetmeyer, an influential Lydian nobleman, who perhaps sought to exploit the chaos resulting from the all-encompassing Peloponnesian War to reestablish some sort of Lydian autonomy.

What makes the issue even more interesting is that the Lydian inscription clearly marks the responsibility for the coinage as personal: ‘I (belong) to Ifes’ is a possessive construction known from earlier Lydian seals ('manelim' = I (belong) to Manes) and coins ('kukelim' = I (belong) to Kukas/Gyges, attested on electrum coins of the late 7th and early 6th centuries BC), as well as, in Greek, from the famous ΦAN(NE)OΣ EMI ΣHMA = 'I am the badge of Phanes', which appears on early Ephesian electrum staters dating to circa 625-600 BC. Contemporary (i.e. 5th century) Greek coin inscriptions, on the other hand, are collective and speak of groups of people like a citizenry or a tribe: ΣYRΑΚΟΣΙΟΝ, f.e., translates as ‘[coin] of the Syracusans’. Admittedly, Lydian is a little known language, but clearly Ifes struck the coins in his name, not in that of a wider group of people like 'the Sardians', leaving us to wonder whether the inscription may in fact be deliberately archaized to link the usurper’s coinage to that of his Royal predecessors (or perhaps even ancestors?) and the glorious Lydian past of the 7th and early 6th centuries BC.
Starting price:
100 CHF
Hammer price:
2200 CHF
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Closing time: 27-Feb-21, 14:10:30 CET
All winning bids are subject to an 18.5% buyer's fee.