|Sale: Triton VI, Lot: 499. Estimate $2500.
Closing Date: Monday, 13 January 2003.
Sold For $5750. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
Circa 435-375 BC. AR Tetradrachm (13.01 gm). Head of Zeus-Ammon left / K-Y-P-A, silphium plant with small bud growing off the base. BMC Cyrenaica pg. xi (pl. VII, 9-same dies); Traité III 1814. Good VF, with fine old collection toning. (See color enlargement on plate 8.) ($2500)
Ex Sternberg XXXII (28-29 October 1996), lot 46 (illustrated on front cover); Hirsch 32 (1912), lot 602.
The silphium plant was the badge of the province of Kyrenaika, and its most valuable commodity. According to Theophrastos of Eresos the plant suddenly appeared in Kyrenaika shortly before the first Greek settlers arrived, led by Battus around 630 BC. A species of plant related to fennel or assafoetida, the silphium soon became widely sought after due to its contraceptive properties, as well as its supposed efficacy as an aphrodisiac. Ancient sources such as Pliny the Elder also record its use as a relief for various illnesses, including but not limited to asthma, bronchitis, carbuncles, corns, dropsy, epilepsy, jaundice, mange, opisthotony, pleurisy, quartran fever, quinsy, tetanus, vaginal inflammations, and warts. (see Koerper and Kolls, "The Silphium Motif Adorning Ancient Libyan Coinage; Marketing a Medicinal Plant", in Economic Botany 53(2) (1999), pp.133-143). The Greeks carefully harvested the wild growing plant, which they realized was an endangered species thriving only in a very restricted area. That responsible policy changed upon Kyrenaika becoming a Roman province in the 1st century BC, when greedy magistrates exploited the local resources without regard to future replenishment. By the 3rd century AD silphium was no longer available in quantities sufficient for export, and shortly after had become extinct, or at least was thought to be so.