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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Two Artistic Siris Staters

CNG 85, Lot: 265. Estimate $2000.
Sold for $6500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

THRACO-MACEDONIAN REGION, Siris. Circa 525-480 BC. AR Stater (19mm, 9.97 g). Satyr, nude and ithyphallic, standing right, raising left arm, holding tail with right, facing nymph standing left, holding wreath in left hand; pellet between / Quadripartite incuse square, diagonally divided. Cf. AMNG III/2, 9 (Lete); cf. HPM pl. XIX, 23; cf. SNG ANS -; cf. Rosen 155-6. VF, toned, slight porosity, die break on obverse. Lovely archaic style. This variety, with the satyr and nymph in this particular posture, is apparently unpublished.

The satyr and nymph type is one of the more widely occurring designs in early Thraco-Macedonian region. Variations of this type were used at mints from Siris in the northwest to Thasos in the southeast. Similarly, tribes in this region - the Dionysioi, Laiai, Letai, Orreskii, Pernaioi, and Zaielioi - also used this type. They often included their respective ethnic, although some of these tribes replace the satyr with a centaur. Based on the positioning of the figures, there are two major divisions of the satyr-nymph type. The first group, struck primarily at Thasos, shows the nymph held in the arms of the satryr, who carries her off to the right. The other group, struck primarily at Siris, shows the nymph confronted by the satyr. In both cases the appearance of the figures is largely the same: the satyr is presented nude and ithyphallic, while the nymph is dressed in a long chiton with the skirt divided into many long strands. The only stylistic difference between the groups is the appearance of the lower body of the satyr. On the first group, the satyr has the normal legs and feet of a man, while on the second group, in addition to a tail, the satyr has the legs and hooves of a goat. Overall, the artistic style of the scene is wonderfully archaic, and evident not only in the posture of the figures, but also in its minute details. While most of the mints ceased production after about 480/470 BC, Thasos continued to use the type for some time, allowing the scene to transition through an "archaized" phase, and finally taking on a lovely early Classical style by the time production of the type ended there circa 404 BC.

The satyr/centaur and nymph type represents a common theme in Greek mythology: the juxtaposition of the wildly monstrous and sexually-charged with the human. Kraay's view (ACGC pp. 148-9) that the coins where the satyr and nymph are both standing show the nymph seducing the satyr, while the coins where the nymph is in the satyr's arms show the nymph is protesting her being carried off, is contradicted by a close inspection of the coins themselves. In similar scenes of this event depicted elsewhere, the satyr clearly manhandles the nymph, forcibly grasping one of her arms, while the nymph appears in a posture of apparent flight (see, e.g., HPM pl. VII-VIII). Clearly, in both scenes the nymph is protesting the actions of the satyr or centaur, who, in the role of the wild, libidinous creature that he is, is seizing the nymph for his own purposes, driven by his sexual arousal.

This type, with this particular posture, is previously unknown. There are rare staters of Thasos on which the satyr holds his own tail, as on this piece (HPM pl. VII, 2-4), but on the known pieces the satyr holds on to the nymph's raised arm with his other hand, and the nymph never holds a wreath.