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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 95. Estimate CHF80000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF145000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ISLANDS off TROAS, Tenedos. Circa 550-470 BC. Didrachm (Silver, 8.94 g 9), c. 490-480. Janiform head: on the left, bearded male face to left; on the right, female face to right; both have archaic, almond-shaped facing eyes, both wear a stephane, both share a disc earring with a rosette pattern and a double-curved pendant; and there is a necklace of pearls Rev. tE˜E (retrograde) Helmeted and bearded male head to left, wearing pearl necklace; above to left, inscription; all within incuse square. BMC 8 = Traité I, 630, pl. XIV, 9 var. Extremely rare. Lightly toned and of superb late Archaic-early Classical style; a magnificent coin of great beauty. Slightly porous surfaces, nearly extremely fine.

The early coinage of Tenedos is quite complex. It seems to begin in the last quarter of the 6th century with didrachms that bear a male/female janiform head, very similar to the one on this coin, but, on the reverse, a double axe, a pelekys, and a retrograde inscription giving the city’s name (as BMC pl. XVII, 2 = Traité I, 622, pl. XVI 2 = ACGC 109). The identity of the two faces on the obverse is rather controversial: it might be the mythical couple of Tenes, son of Cycnus the king of Colone, and his young step-mother Philonome, who had an affair and were condemned to be enclosed in a chest and thrown into the sea. They landed on the island of Leucophrys and Tenes became its ruler; the island’s name was then changed in his honor. However, other versions suggest that the two people in the box were Tenes and his sister Hemithea. The ancients were puzzled by the coin types as well: another story suggests that the types refer to an archaic law that condemned adulterous couples to be executed using a double axe! Elsewhere it is proposed that the double axe refers to a pattern found on the shell of a crab that lived in the waters off Tenedos! It is more likely that what we have is probably related to a local cult about which no record survives: by the end of the 5th century, and from then on, the male head wears a laurel wreath, thus, almost certainly indicating that the heads then represented Zeus and Hera.

In any case, this early coinage, with the double-axe on the reverse, seems to have been replaced by a much rarer second coinage, of which the present piece is the finest known. The simple retrograde legend was retained but the axe was replaced by the helmeted head of a warrior (assuming the heads on the obverse are divinities, this could be Tenes; Wroth actually thought that the head on the heavily worn BM example was that of Athena, on the analogy of the contemporary and very similar silver coinage of Lampsakos, which bore a Janiform female head and a helmeted head of Athena). Quite probably the great similarity between the silver issues of Tenedos and Lampsakos is what seems to have convinced the authorities on Tenedos to return to their earlier double axe reverse type, along with a more complete legend, in order to avoid any confusion.

The style of this coin is particularly fine. The heads have fully frontal eyes and the so-called archaic smile is most apparent; yet this coin was clearly produced at the end of the Archaic period, with the female head being very reminiscent of those of Athena found on the Starr Group I issues of Athens, thus dating it to the 490s or 480s BC.