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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Extremely Rare Type of Great Historical Interest

Triton XV, Lot: 1436. Estimate $20000.
Sold for $45000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SYRIA, Coele-Syria. Chalcis ad Libanum (under Herodian rule). Herod of Chalcis. 41-48 CE. Æ (26mm, 14.34 g, 12h). Dated RY 3 (AD 43/4). BAΣIΛ H[PΩΔHΣ B]AΣIΛ AΓPIΠΠA around, KΛAYΔIOΣ KAI/ΣAP ΣEBAΣ/TOΣ in three lines in exergue, Claudius standing left, with toga drawn over head (capite velato), between Herod of Chalcis and Agrippa I, each crowning the emperor with a wreath / KΛAYΔI/Ω KAIΣA/PI ΣEBAΣ/TΩ ET Γ (date) in four lines within circle within wreath. A. Burnett, “The coinage of King Agrippa I of Judaea and a new coin of King Herod of Chalcis,” Mélanges Bastien p. 34, pl. 4, Ba (same obv. die); Hendin 1251; Meshorer 361; RPC I 4777. Near VF. A remarkable coin of historical interest. Extremely rare, the third known.

Agrippa had a close relationship with both Gaius (Caligula) and Claudius, in part helping to secure the rule of the latter in the uncertain days following his unexpected rise to the purple by counseling the understandably shaken Claudius and entreating the Senate to support him. Indeed, his relationship with Claudius was sufficiently close that Josephus (Ant. xix. 5.1) records that among the new emperor’s first acts was publishing an edict guaranteeing Agrippa’s kingdom (with the title “great king”) and granting the territory of Chalcis to Agrippa’s elder brother Herod.

We should not, however, interpret the obverse as extolling the role of Agrippa and Herod, who was also in Rome at the time, in cementing Claudius’ succession (in other words, as the brothers symbolically conferring power). Issuing coins with such a message would be an unacceptably vainglorious move on their part. What we are dealing with instead is the representation of a treaty, one mentioned in the historical sources:

He also made a league with this Agrippa, confirmed by oaths, in the middle of the Forum in the city of Rome. (Jospehus, Ant. xix.5.1)

He struck his treaties with foreign princes in the Forum, sacrificing a pig and reciting the ancient formula of the fetial priests. (Suetonius, Claud. 25.5)

This interpretation is confirmed by a counterpart coin of Agrippa (Meshorer 124). On it we find a nearly identical obverse, albeit with the positions of the brothers switched, and on the reverse clasped hands within a wreath and the following legend: “A vow and treaty of friendship and alliance between the great King Agrippa and Augustus Caesar, the Senate, and the people of Rome”. The nearly identical obverse designs of the brothers’ coins, along with the similarity of fabric point to our piece belonging to the mint of Caesarea Maritima (where all of Herod of Chalcis’ rare coins were likely struck).

For further discussion, see the original publication of the type in Andrew Burnett’s article cited above (and see also his interesting discussion of the possible representation of the sacrifice of a pig mentioned by Suetonius on another coin of Agrippa).