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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton XII, Lot: 276. Estimate $25000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 5 January 2009. 
Sold For $26000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MYSIA, Kyzikos. Circa 400-330 BC. EL Stater (16.12 g). Laureate and bearded head right; below, tunny right / Quadripartite incuse square. Von Fritze I 197; S.A. Bulatovič, “Kyzikenerstatere aus dem Archäologischen Museums von Odessa” in stephanos nomismatikos, 1; SNG France -; SNG von Aulock -; Boston MFA 1561 (same obv. die); BMC 103; ACGC 965. Good VF. A Classical portrait of great power. Extremely rare.

In the late 5th century BC the Kyzikene electrum began featuring portraits that, based on their individualistic features, must have been representations of actual persons. From the earliest times, numismatists have attempted to assign these portraits to particular people. Suggestions have ranged from Persians, such as Pharnabazos, to Greeks, such as the Corinthian Pellichos or the Athenian general Timotheos. The possibility of a portrait of Philip II of Macedon was the subject of a specialized study by M.R. Kaiser-Raiss ("Philipp II. und Kyzikos" in SNR 63 [1984], pp. 27-54), who linked the portrait on coins of von Fritze type 199 to particular sculptures thought to represent the Macedonian king. Such studies have proven inconclusive, though, and the portrait on the present piece, certainly portraying an aged man with a balding head, is quite perplexing. Bulatovič places this issue circa 400 BC, clearly early in the portrait series, which would preclude both Pharnabazos and Philip II. The head on the sculpture of Pellichos by Demetrius of Alopece, described in a passage of Lucian (Philops 18), with its bald head, fat features, and beard, however, does resemble the portrait on the present coin. Other than a general resemblance, though, such an attribution is speculative. Kraay only notes that, due to the international character of the Kyzikene coinage, these persons were unlikely to have been residents of the city, and, because some are depicted laureate, as here, may have simply been influential dynasts who controlled areas of the Black Sea trade. Nonetheless, these portraits are among the earliest Greek depictions of actual people, with representations that are extraordinary in their vivid, lifelike countenances.