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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 99. Estimate CHF6500. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF9500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

LESBOS, Mytilene. Circa 377-326 BC. Hekte (Electrum, 2.57 g 1). Female head to right, her hair bound up with criss-crossing ribbons Rev. Panathenaic amphora with pointed lid; to left, palm branch; all within linear frame. Bodenstedt -. Apparently unpublished and unique. An important and exciting coin of lovely late classical style. Nearly extremely fine.

The world of ancient numismatics never ceases to provide us with surprises! This piece, apparently completely unknown and certainly unrecorded by Bodenstedt, presents us with a fascinating new pair of types for Mytilene. The reverse bears a large amphora with a lid: its shape is that of a ‘Panathenaic’, so-called from its use to store the olive oil given to winners at the Panathenaic Games in Athens. So, we must be looking at a prize amphora here, a conclusion that is confirmed by the palm of victory that stands nearby. This almost certainly means that the person depicted on the obverse of this coin must be Nike, goddess of victory. The rather sober hairstyle she has is also found on figures of Nike from Terina, Olympia, Kyzikos, Lampsakos and elsewhere. The very specific nature of the types on this coin implies that it was struck to commemorate the victory of someone from Mytilene in the Panathenaic Games at Athens, probably around 350 BC. If this is the case, it may well be that the issue was a very small one, thus explaining its great rarity today. These games took place every four years as part of what was known as the Greater Panathenaia, a festival that began in 566 BC and were, in part, open to Greeks from all over (it was designed to compete in prestige with the festivals in Olympia, Nemea, Isthmia and Delphi). Panathenaic Amphorae are known from c. 566 BC until Hellenistic times, with many 4th century examples being exactly datable since they bear the name of the presiding archon. The only even vaguely comparable piece from Mytilene is Bodenstedt 84, which was certainly struck around the time our coin was. That piece has the head of a nymph on the obverse and a volute krater between two ivy leaves on the reverse; it is also very rare.