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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 119. Estimate CHF50000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF105000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SELEUKID KINGS of SYRIA. Seleukos I Nikator. 312-281 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 17.07 g 6), Ecbatana, circa 295. Head of Herakles in lionskin headdress to right Rev. ΒAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΕΛΕΥΚΟΥ Alexander the Great, his cloak billowing out behind him, riding horse with horns on his head charging to right; he holds a spear in his right hand and wears a helmet adorned with a bull’s ear and horns, and a cuirass; below and behind horse, ΣΩ and two monograms. SC 203 = A. Houghton and A. Stewart, “The equestrian portrait of Alexander the Great on a new tetradrachm of Seleukos I,” SNR 1999, pp. 1-7. Extremely rare, the second example known. Some minor marks in the reverse field and small flan fault on the horse, otherwise, about extremely fine.

This extraordinary coin comes from a series that also includes some very rare drachms and hemidrachms of the same type. The identification of the figure on the reverse is controversial: is it Dionysos the Conqueror? Is it Alexander with attributes of Dionysos? Is it Seleukos with attributes of Alexander and Dionysos? Or is it a general hero with attributes of all of them? Houghton and Stewart made a very good case for it being Alexander, based on the Dionysiac symbolism used for the portrait of Alexander on the victory coinage struck in Susa ten years earlier (see, above, lot 117). On this coin we can see that the saddle cloth is an animal skin (the tail can be made out waving behind the rider); presumably that of a panther. The horns of the horse immediately recall Alexander’s mount, the famous Bucephalus, thus, seemingly making the identification of the rider certain. Since the publication of 1999, however, Houghton seems to have had second thoughts, and wonders that the rider may well be Seleukos. This is unlikely. The fact that this issue was so limited in size argues against it being the introduction of a new iconographic representation of Seleukos, rather than a reprise of that of Alexander. After all, if it was meant to be Seleukos, why is it never used again? The suggestion that the horned horse is not Alexander’s mount, but the swift horse that carried Seleukos away from Babylon in 315, is equally unlikely because that horse is never said to have had horns and the fact that horned horse heads are often found on some eastern silver and bronze coins of Seleukos I and a few of his successors does not support that attribution. Those heads are surely of Bucephalus, especially since he died and was buried in the east. Clearly, horseman on this coin is Alexander, conqueror of the East, in a pose very similar to that found on the so-called Poros Dekadrachms. He appears on this special issue for the same reasons he appeared on the series from Susa: to recall the deeds of Alexander in the past and associate them with those of Seleukos in the present. This is not only one of the most exciting and historically significant coins minted by the Seleukids, but it also a particularly striking depiction of Alexander.