ARABIA, Eastern. Gerrha/Thaj (?). Series with the name of Shams, circa 230-220 BCE. Tetradrachm (Silver, 28 mm, 16.78 g, 11 h), imitating Alexander 'the Great' (336-323 BCE). Head of Herakles to right, wearing lion skin headdress. Rev. ΛΛEΞΛИΔPOY Shams, beardless, seated left on low throne with back, holding long scepter in his left hand and eagle standing right with closed wings in his right; to left, 𐩦𐩣𐩪 ('s²ms¹' in South Arabian). Arnold-Biucchi 3. CCK 106 (this coin). Of the highest rarity, one of only eight known examples, the second of this variety, of which this is the only one in private hands (the other is in Vienna). A spectacular coin of great historical importance, the earliest and most beautiful of all Alexander-type coins from Eastern Arabia, struck from masterly engraved dies. Tiny flan fault on the obverse, otherwise, good extremely fine.
From the collection of Ambassador Martin Huth, ex Numismatic Fine Arts XXXII, 10 June 1993, 126.
Following an initial study by C. Robin and O. Callot, C. Arnold-Biucchi examined the tetradrachms with full legends of Shams in South Arabian characters in 1990, together with other classes of ‘Arabian Alexanders’. Arnold-Biucchi knew of five specimens in total, three in the Bahrain Museum (from the 1970 Bahrain hoard), one in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and one in the Vienna collection. Huth 106 (our coin) and 106a, and a coin recently offered in Heritage 3083 (2020), 30086, also belong to this class. Only two of these eight coins (the coin in the Vienna collection and this coin) show the throne with a back rest, while the others lack this feature.
After D.T. Potts convincingly established modern-day Thaj in Eastern Saudi Arabia as the site of the ancient mercantile town of Gerrha, Callot’s publication of a revised chronology for the Arabian Alexanders led to considerable progress in the study of these and related coins. According to Callot, Gerrha was already an important settlement on the trade route connecting the Gulf with South Arabia and India when the early Seleukids installed themselves in the north of the Gulf and founded the fortress of Ikaros/Failaka (see p. 154 in the catalogue). Seleukid influence in the Gulf region, however, rapidly declined with the turbulent reign of Seleukos II (246-225 BCE), who was mostly preoccupied fighting the Ptolemies and his brother Antiochos Hierax in Asia Minor. The famous rebellion of Molon in 222 BCE, just after the accession of Antiochos III to the throne (222-187 BCE), unsettled Seleukid Mesopotamia even more, causing a breakdown of control over the traditional caravan routes.
Into this power vacuum stepped Gerrha, becoming the leading regional power and asserting its independence by issuing its own coins modelled on the Seleukid coinage of the Alexander type that provides the name of the local supreme deity, Shams, in full. Other territories under Gerrhaean influence followed suit, with Ikaros/Failaka likely producing tetradrachms and obols with a vertical shin (see lots 2221-2222 above), and two otherwise unknown Arab chieftains, Abyatha (see lot 2235 below) and Harithat, issuing coins with their own names. In this way, a long series of Alexander imitations, most of which were produced in the name of various queens called Abi’el, began to be issued (for a general study of this coinage, cf. Potts, pre-Islamic Coinage and Suppl.; for Abi’el as a female ruler, cf. M.C.A. Macdonald: The ‘Abiel’ coins of Eastern Arabia).
The god, Shams/Shamash, mentioned on the reverse of this wonderful tetradrachm is a solar deity of Mesopotamian origin, viewed as male in Northeast Arabia and female in South Arabia. While Robin, Mørkholm, Potts, Callot, and Arnold-Biucchi held differing views as to whether the seated figure represented this deity, Huth (see CCK, pp. 107-124) takes Mørkholm's and Robin's view, associating this figure with the deity, pointing to the careful balancing of the established iconography with local elements. It is worth noting, in this regard, that the use of Ancient South Arabian (Musnad) writing on eastern Arabian coins - which was also employed for the various North Arabian languages - preceded that of Aramaic on the extensive coinage in the name of Abi’el.