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Cabinet W
CYPRUS, Paphos. Nikokles. Circa 325-309 BC

Triton XV, Lot: 1018. Estimate $400000.
Sold for $600000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CYPRUS, Paphos. Nikokles. Circa 325-309 BC. AR Distater (26mm, 21.29 g, 12h). Persic standard. Struck circa late 320s BC or later, perhaps circa 310 BC. Head of Aphrodite to left, wearing an elaborate tiara composed of a mural crown with four towers enclosing a polos ornamented with palmettes and annulets, a disc earring with a triple pendant and a pearl necklace; behind her neck, Π-ΒΑ / ΝΙΚΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ / ΠΑΦΙΟΝ, Apollo, wearing a laurel wreath and nude but for a cloak over his shoulders, seated left on omphalos, holding an arrow in his right hand and a bow, the bottom of which rests on the ground, in his left; to left, laurel branch. BMC pl. XXII, 11 = Traité II, 1326 (Florence, same dies); A.-P. C. Weiss, “The Persic Distaters of Nikokles Revisited,” Studies BCD, O2/R2 b (this coin). Of the greatest rarity, the finest of only four known genuine examples. Attractively toned and with particularly fine representations of both Aphrodite and Apollo. Sharply struck in good silver, well centered and extremely fine.

Previously passed down in the property of a family in Cyprus (present-day North Cyprus), given by grandfather to grandson in about 1962, brought to England by the grandson in 1966 when he moved to the UK.

This is a spectacular coin of great beauty and historical significance. Nikokles was one of the most powerful of the late kings in Cyprus, but he, like all the others, was overthrown by Ptolemy I (Nikokles and his family all committed suicide). This coin falls into a series of Paphiote coins that began with the issues of Nikokles’ father Timarchos, who produced a very rare Persic stater (half the weight of this coin) with a very similar head of Aphrodite, coupled with her familiar, a dove. She was the most prominent deity at Paphos (her sanctuary was famous), and her importance is emphasized by the letters on the obverse: Π[αφου] ΒΑ[σιλισσα] = Queen of Paphos. This is emphasized by the mural crown she wears as well, since it symbolizes the powerful walls of Old Paphos (the city of New Paphos was almost certainly founded by Ptolemy I), of which she was the protectress. On the reverse we find Apollo, the syncretized version of Hylates, a similar god originally worshiped on Cyprus (nearby Kourion, a town not far away from Paphos on the west coast of the island, was famous for its sanctuary to Apollo-Hylates). It has been suggested that the figure on the reverse of this coin represents a statue that was erected in Paphos, perhaps by Nikokles, and that it was later carried off to Antioch where it was used as a prototype for the seated figure of Apollo that appeared on Seleukid coinage. The denomination of this coin, a Persic double stater, is a rare one, but it must have been produced as a prestige object in answer to the lighter Attic weight tetradrachms that had become prevalent in the east - it certainly fits in perfectly with the local system.

Only four genuine examples of this coin are known, including this piece: two are in museums, Turin and Florence, and two in private collections (see Weiss, passim). The fact that only two obverse and two reverse dies are known for this coinage makes it very clear that it was meant to be a special issue (or, perhaps, that an originally large issue was unexpectedly cut short). It must have been struck after the less ostentatious issue of Alexander-type tetradrachms that bore the name of Nikokles in tiny letters along the border of the lion skin on the obverse (Price p. 388 and coins 3118-3123). Those pieces had to have been minted in the late 320s (they appear in a hoard buried c. 317) and it is possible that the more explicitly named distaters were produced shortly thereafter. However, a date in the years shortly before Nikokles’ suicide might fit the evidence even better. He was clearly chafing under Ptolemaic suzerainty at that time (he was negotiating with Antigonos Monophthalmos), and producing such a flamboyant coinage might be seen as a way of emphasizing his own importance. If this were the case it resulted in his downfall, and the clear probability that the Ptolemaic authorities in Cyprus made a conscious effort to demonetize and melt down all the coins of this type they could find; thus helping to explain its enormous rarity today.