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G646 An Exceptional Greek Silver Tetradrachm of Athens (Attica), of Magnificent Style for the Usually Banal Last Issue of Athenian Tetradrachms | by Ancient Art & Numismatics
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G646 An Exceptional Greek Silver Tetradrachm of Athens (Attica), of Magnificent Style for the Usually Banal Last Issue of Athenian Tetradrachms

Attica, Athens


Tetradrachm circa 86-84, AR 16.75 g. Head of Athena r., wearing Attic crested helmet decorated with Pegasus on bowl and small quadriga on visor. Rev. MARKOY – TAMIOY in monograms Owl standing r. perched on amphora inscribed A; all within laurel wreath. Boehringer AMUGS 5, pp. 28-31 and pl. 9, 10 (this coin). Kraay-Hirmer pl. 120, 366 (this coin). Dewing 1653. Thompson New Style 1293a (this coin).

Lightly toned and good extremely fine


Ex Leu sale 13, 1975, 158. Few Athenian coins are as historically relevant as those of 87/6-84 B.C., when the Roman consul Sulla landed his army in Greece to wage war against Mithradates VI, the Pontic king who recently had taken the region by force. Not only are these coins the last ‘ancient’ silver coins struck in Athens, but they are directly tied to historical events, and are mentioned in the ancient literature. The Sullan coinage at Athens consists mainly of silver tetradrachms, a smaller component of silver drachms, and a bronze coinage that today is very rare. The silver coins employ the basic designs of Athenian ‘New Style’ tetradrachms, which in ancient times were called stephanophoroi (‘wreath-bearers’) because the reverse design was enclosed within a wreath. But that is where the similarities end between Athenian coinage and the Athenian-style coinage of Sulla. The style of Sulla’s coins is quite different than their predecessor Athenian coinage, and the symbols and weighty inscriptions that cluttered the reverse field of the Athenian coins are replaced only with two monograms or two trophies. The monogram coins seem to have been the first issue, for which Thompson suggested a starting date of 86 B.C., after Sulla captured Athens. The trophy coins are regarded as the second issue, and presumably were struck shortly before Sulla left Athens to return to Rome. However, there seems little reason to doubt that some of the monogram coins were struck outside of Athens, and for this and other reasons they often have been described as ‘pseudo-Athenian’ coins. Sulla landed in Greece in the spring of 87 B.C., and did not capture Athens for a year. During that period he would have needed coinage to support his army and to conduct a siege. Appian (Mith. V.30) describes how Sulla immediately collected money from the Greeks who supported the Romans against Mithradates. Might not this new fund have been converted into coinage that had a familiar Athenian type, but was easily distinguishable as a product of Sulla? Another source, Plutarch (Lucullus II.2), describes how Sulla’s proquaestor L. Licinius Lucullus was put in charge of coinage on this expedition, and that he did such an fine job that the coins he made came to be named after him: “ was called ‘Lucullan’ after him, and circulated very widely because the needs of the soldiers during the war caused it to be exchanged quickly.” An inscription from Delphi concerning the sale of slaves echoes Plutarch: “...they paid for these in one sum of a hundred and fifty ‘flats’ of Lucullus...” A colloquial description like ‘flats’ would be fitting for Athenian ‘New Style’ coins, which are broad and thin, and would lend themselves to such a nickname.


NAC48, 79

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Uploaded on June 21, 2011