Of the highest rarity and with an exceptional rendering of Homer, the most famous ancient poet
Lot 122
IONIA. Smyrna. Circa 190/89-180 BC. Drachm (Silver, 20 mm, 4.19 g, 12 h), Homereia issue. Laureate head of Apollo to right, with two locks of hair falling down his neck. Rev. ΣΜΥΡΝΑΙΩΝ The Poet Homer seated left, holding scroll in his right hand and scepter in his left. BM 1920,1122.1 = Milne, Drachma, pp. 143-144 and pl. III, 2 (same dies). Of the highest rarity, arguably the finest of a very few known examples. A wonderful coin of magnificent full Hellenistic style, with an exceptional rendering of the most famous ancient poet on the reverse. Tiny die break and a faint scratch on the reverse, otherwise, good very fine.

Ex Nomos 21, 21 November 2020, 196.

‘Sing, Goddess, of the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus’. Thus opens the Iliad, which, together with the Odyssey, is considered one of the greatest works of Western literature, composed by the most famous of Greek poets: Homer. So great was his reputation that other ancient authors often simply referred to him as ‘the Poet’. Despite this fame, ancient scholarship was already rife with contention about Homer’s life and works. Several cities, for instance, claimed to be the poet’s birthplace, many of which were in western Asia Minor, such as Chios, Kolophon, Kyme, and Smyrna. This even became the butt of jokes, as an anonymous poet in the Anthologia Palatina (16.299) asks Homer where he is from, to which the latter replies that he would not tell, as he was sure to earn the enmity of all the other cities.

In the Hellenistic period, and continuing under the Romans, this rivalry took on a new dimension as civic communities would vie with one another culturally through grand building projects, festivals and games. Coinage, it seems, was another way to compete, as several cities produced coins featuring Homer, clearly in order to lay claim to his legacy. These issues ranged from common bronze coins to prestigious silver pieces such as the present coin, showing a delicate rendering of Apollo on the obverse, no doubt in his capacity as the divine patron of the arts, and Homer on the reverse. It reflects Smyrna’s newfound wealth, after Alexander the Great supposedly re-founded the city at the instigation of a dream he had while resting from a hunt in a nearby sanctuary of the Nemeseis.

As for the dating of this spectacular coin, Milne placed it at the very beginning of the Homereia series, which is certainly convincing, as evidenced by the refined style, delicate small lettering, and the lack of a magistrate name (contra the BM online catalogue, which gives an erroneous date of circa 125-95 BC). He suggested a struck date of circa 180 BC, i.e. the decade after the Roman victory against Antiochos III in the Battle of Magnesia in 190/89 BC and the subsequent retreat of the Seleukids from Asia Minor. In fact, it was very likely this epochal event that led the Smyrnaeans, who had sided with the victorious Romans prior to the battle, to start issuing its own independent silver coinage in the first place, after striking royal types in the names of Lysimachos, the Seleukid kings, and eventually Alexander throughout the 3rd century BC.

It is worth noting that the youthful male head to right on the obverse and a seated bearded figure holding a scepter on the reverse bear a great resemblance to the familiar Macedonian Herakles-Zeus coinage, which is certainly no coincidence - perhaps local authorities deemed it necessary to visually align their new civic coinage as closely as possible to the ubiquitous Alexander tetradrachms and drachms, examples of which Smyrna itself had started issuing again in the late 200s BC. As such, the Homereia drachms could easily circulate alongside their royal Macedonian counterparts, ensuring a wide acceptance throughout the Hellenistic world, even among populations not accustomed to Smyrna's brand-new civic silver coinage.
10000 CHF
Starting price:
8000 CHF
Hammer price:
26000 CHF
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Closing time: 27-May-23, 06:00:00 CEST
All winning bids are subject to a 20% buyer's fee.


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