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Research Coins: Feature Auction



Triton XV, Lot: 675. Estimate $150.
Sold for $600. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Pherai (IACP 414)

Now partially covered by modern Velestino, Pherai has been settled since Neolithic times. In mythology, it was the home of Admetos, the king whose wife, Alkestis, offered to die in his place. Pherai is also mentioned by Homer. It became important once the port of Pagasai came under its control (either in the late 6th or earlier 5th century BC). There are traces of city walls but actual remains within the modern city are sparse: the fountain of Hypereia, now a pond, was one of the ancient city’s major sights, as was the temple of the city’s patron goddess Ennodia. This was first built in the 6th century BC over a Geometric period necropolis and must have replaced an earlier shrine (earlier dedications have also been found). It was rebuilt and enlarged in the 4th century. Pherai’s power was at its greatest under its tyrants in the first half of the 4th century BC, beginning with Lykophron I. After defeating an army from Larissa in 404 BC, he allied himself with Sparta. He was succeeded by his son Jason, who greatly expanded Pherai’s influence over Thessaly. He dropped the Spartan alliance for one with Thebes, subjugated Pharsalos, dominated Perrhaibia and drew close to Athens. He was assassinated in 370 BC and, after an interregnum under one of his brothers, was ultimately succeeded by his son Alexander in 369 BC. Alexander was extremely active militarily, though often unsuccessful, and was finally murdered by his wife’s brothers. His successors managed to remain in power until they were deposed by Philip II and expelled in 352 BC. However, Philip married one of the women from the house of Jason, Nikesipolis, who bore him, as a half-sister of Alexander III, Thessalonike (she, in turn, married Kassander who named the city of Thessalonike after her in 315 BC). Pherai lost much of its power but remained prosperous through the Hellenistic period, after which it basically faded away until later Byzantine times.

The city’s coinage began with League issues in the 5th century and proceeded to late 5th or early 4th century bronze issues showing the fountain nymph Hypereia or the goddess Ennodia and a fountain spout on the reverse. No coins are known in the names of Lykophron I or Jason, but Alexander’s pride, and overweening ambition, resulted in a remarkable output of coins in his name. These included impressive staters and smaller denominations bearing heads of Ennodia, sometimes combined with what must be equestrian portraits of Alexander himself. After this outburst of coinage, the later issues of the 4th century were quite minor until some extraordinary coins began to appear in the early 3rd century BC. Some very rare silver was produced in the time of Demetrios Poliorketes, and some even rarer pieces, including the unique stater, struck in the 280s or 270s BC. No later coins of Pherai seem to be known.

The plentiful offering of Pherai taurokathapsia fractions that follows does not mean that these coins are common; they are much rarer than their Larissa counterparts. The aim here is to give an overview of all the varieties this collector was able to find in the market over the last twenty five years or so. It is also perhaps worth mentioning that before 1985 there were no such coins in his collection. This is corroborated by the scarcity of Pherai fractions - and all other Thessalian fractions for that matter, except perhaps the fractions of Larissa - in the pre-1980’s auction catalogues and the market generally. Here the order of listing these fractions follows the 1996 corpus of Liampi and they are placed before the larger taurokathapsia denominations. In this the writer is in complete agreement with ASW who not only listed the only fraction he selected before the drachms, but also dated it earlier. See Nomos 4 (10 May 2011) 1300.

THESSALY, Pherai. Late 2nd quarter of the 5th century BC. AR Obol (11mm, 0.96 g, 5h). Head and neck of bull to l., turned to face the viewer, border of dots / ΘE-R-A from l. down r. and circular, head and neck of bridled horse to l., all in incuse square. Liampi, Corpus, p. 107, 2a (V2/R1), pl. 5, 7 (this coin). VF, lighly toned; a well struck and centred coin with just a hint of a die flaw developing at 6 to 7 o’clock on the reverse.

Same rev. die as next coin, lot 676.