Athens’ Monetary Crisis
|Sale: Triton XII, Lot: 246. Estimate $15000.
Closing Date: Monday, 5 January 2009.
Sold For $67500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
Circa 407/6 BC. AV Diobol (1.43 g, 8h). Head of Athena right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves over visor and a spiral palmette on the bowl / Two owls standing confronted; olive branch between, AΘE in exergue. Fischer 5; Svoronos, Monnaies
, pl. 15, 7-8 = Traité III 21 = Head, HN
p. 373 = U. Köhler, “Über die attische Goldprägung,” ZfN
XXI (1898), pl. I, 5-6; C. Kraay, Coins of Ancient Athens
(Newcastle, 1968), pl. III, 11; Schlessinger 13 [Hermitage], lot 899 = R. Carfrae Collection (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 23 May 1894), lot 7 = Photiades Pacha Collection (Hoffmann, 19 May 1890), lot 529 (same dies). VF, scattered minor dings and scrapes. Extremely rare, one of only five known, and the sole example not in a museum collection.
Four examples were previously known: Svoronos, et al., cataloged the Berlin and Paris coins (the latter also illustrated in Fischer), Kraay cataloged a specimen in Oxford, and the last is the Photiades Pasha coin (now in the ANS, acc. no. 1967.152.273). The Paris and Oxford coins are from one die pairing (A/a), and the Berlin, Photiades Pasha, and present coins are from another (B/b).
In 405 BC, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes wrote The Frogs (οἱ Bάτραχοι), and in 392 BC, he wrote The Assemblywomen (αἱ Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι). Both plays contain pertinent references to the monetary situation in Athens resulting from the Peloponnesian War. In The Frogs, ll. 725-726, the Chorus complains that the current employment of less-than-honorable citizens and foreigners in positions of civic leadership is similar to the city-state's recent use of gold issues and so-called "grievous coppers" (πονήροις χαλκίοις) as currency, and in The Assemblywomen, ll. 815-822, one man complains how a decree of 394 BC, declaring these fourrées suddenly worthless, left him quite literally "holding the bag."
Suffering from a lack of funds late in the Peloponnesian War, Athens struck its first gold coinage, a clear sign of an economic emergency and one documented in the annual Parthenon inventories. In 413 BC, the Spartans captured Dekeleia and thereby cut off Athens from its main silver source at Laurion. By 407/6 BC, the need to raise funds for the city's defense became so desperate that the authorities ordered the melting down of available gold, including seven gold statues of Nike, which subsequently disappear from the inventory. The gold from this, comprising 14 talents, was then struck in six denominations, from staters to hemiobols. Once these coins were struck, the dies were then deposited in an alabaster box in the Parthenon treasury to ensure that they could not be misused (IG II 2.2, 665).
The "grievous coppers" mentioned in Aristophanes have consistently been interpreted as "official" fourrées, struck when the supply of gold was exhausted by 406/5 BC. Numismatists have subsequently attempted to distinguish this specific issue from those fourrées which were fabricated privately. The 1902 discovery of a sizeable hoard of plated tetradrachms and drachms at the Athenian port city of Piraeus provided the largest single piece of evidence in support of the theory that the fourrées Aristophanes mentioned were "official" issues, and not private fabrications. Re-examining the issue in 1996, John H. Kroll (Essays Oeconomides, pp. 139-142) argued that while the direct evidence was not conclusive that the "grievous coppers" of Aristophanes were "official" fourrées, no plausible alternative hypothesis existed, and that the identification of the 1902 Piraeus Hoard with the emergency coinage struck in 406/5 BC was very persuasive. Few specimens of this hoard survive, as much of the material was melted for its silver. Those remaining handful of pieces, all in the Athens Collection, are of identical distinctive condition, coloration, and style, and were struck from a limited number of dies. Kroll also lists four additional specimens that may belong to the emission of 406/5 BC, based on their fabric and a close stylistic affinity with the extant drachms of the Piraeus Hoard.