An extremely rare and spectacular tetradrachm from Kyrene
Lot 166
KYRENAICA. Kyrene. Circa 450-435 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 29 mm, 17.18 g, 12 h), Attic standard. Alliance issue with Euhesperides. M-E / [E]-Y Silphion plant with two pairs of leaves and fruits. Rev. KYPA Head of Zeus-Ammon to right, with large ram's horn over his ear and slightly curled beard; all within pelleted circle within shallow circular incuse. BMFA -. BMC p. xlii, 60e and pl. VII, 19 (same dies). SNG Copenhagen -. Extremely rare and undoubtedly the finest known example. A spectacular piece boldly struck from fresh dies, with luster in the fields and an exceptionally detailed rendering of the famous Silphion plant and a magnificent head of Zeus Ammon. The obverse struck slightly off center and with a small scrape on the reverse, otherwise, good extremely fine.

From a European collection, formed before 2005.

Kyrene and its neighboring cities gained their fabulous wealth not least from the export of the silphium plant, which grew wild in the Kyrenaika and was used both for medical purposes and eaten as a vegetable. Growing demand and the over-cultivation of the hinterland eventually led to the extinction of the wild plant, whose appearance we only know from coins, by the 1st century AD. The present issue was struck in alliance with Euhesperides, the most western city of the Kyrenaikan Pentapolis, which appears to have joined forces with Kyrene against the interjacent city of Barke in the turmoil following the downfall of the Battiadae in 440 BC, the Royal dynasty which had ruled Kyrene since the late 7th century BC.

Interestingly, there are further alliance coinages between Barke and Kyrene, as well as Barke and Teuchira, indicating a close network of diplomatic ties among these four cities. This by no means suggests that the relationships must always have been peaceful, as the alliance coinages could also commemorate peace treaties. If Robinson's interpretation (BMC p. xlv-xlvi) is correct that the Zeus-Ammon reverses identify the issuing city, as one would expect, it is notable that the alliance coinages between Kyrene and Barke were issued by the latter, thus showing Kyrene, otherwise dominant, in a junior position. Whether this indicates a lost war remains unclear, but Barke's power seems to have peaked during this period.
20000 CHF
Starting price:
16000 CHF
Hammer price:
65000 CHF
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