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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
91000120

Extremely Rare Chalkidian League Stater

CNG 91, Lot: 120. Estimate $50000.
Sold for $81000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MACEDON, Chalkidian League. Circa 365-359 or 357-348 BC. AV Stater (17mm, 8.61 g, 12h). Olynthos mint. Head of Apollo right, wearing laurel wreath, with long hair in a single plait down the back of his neck / Kithara, star on lower right panel; X-A-Λ-KIΔ-EΩN around. Triton XV, lot 1107 (same obv. die), otherwise unpublished. EF, a couple very light marks in field on obverse. Extremely rare denomination, only three have appeared at auction in recent decades (Triton XV [2012], lot 1107; New York Sale XXV [2011], lot 24; and CNG 87 [2011], lot 292; none in the ANS photofile).


Taking advantage of the loosening of Athenian control over the Chalkidike due to the Peloponnesian War, in 432/1 BC the cities of the region formed themselves into a league with its capital at Olynthos. The failure of Athens to break up the Chalkidian League - one of the terms of the Peace of Nikias in 421 BC - as well as a general strategic disinterest in the region, helped to solidify the League's power and position. As a result of this situation, the League began striking silver coinage in its own name. Adopting the local "Phoenician" standard already in use by Olynthos, only tetrobols were minted in any quantity at first, but after about 420 BC, tetradrachms were regularly struck. The very rare issues of gold staters, struck on the Attic standard, are certainly tied to the tumultuous events in the second quarter of the 4th century BC.

The political situation in which the League found itself at that time was influenced by the competing interests of Athens, which had historic ties to the region, Sparta, which constantly sought to check any advance of Athenian power, and the Macedonian Kingdom, which sought to expand its influence over its neighbor to the south. Sparta's defeat at Leuktra in 371 BC, and the subsequent peace, provided Athens with the opportunity to reconstitute the Second Athenian Empire, beginning with the Chalkidike. In 365 BC, the Athenian general Timotheos began to conquer territory in the northern Aegean on behalf of Athens. He quickly subdued the island of Samos and gained a foothold in the Thracian Chersonese, from where he could direct his attention to the Chalkidike. With the help of Perdikkas III of Macedon, Timotheos attacked the League and its capital, Olynthos. Although unable to take the capital, Timotheos was successful in quickly capturing a large part of the League's territory. His campaign was so successful that he used the opportunity to attack his erstwhile ally, Macedon, as well. In 363 BC, in addition to seizing the city of Potidaia, an important Chalkidikan port near the League capital of Olynthos, Timotheos also captured the Macedonian ports of Methone, Terone, and Pydna, located in the Thermian Gulf. For all of his initial success against the Chalkidian League, however, Timotheos was unable to conquer Amphipolis, or solidify his hold over the areas he seized, and eventually abandoned his northern Aegean enterprise in 360 BC. In the years immediately following, it would be Amyntas' youngest son, Philip II, who would achieve what both the Chalkidian League and Timotheos were unable to do - bring the entire region and all of its cities and tribes under one authority. In 348 BC Philip dissolved the League.

For what purpose were these extremely rare Attic-standard gold staters struck? Given the regional turmoil at the time, a possible explanation would be that the coins were an emergency issue meant for the payment of local Thracian mercenaries due to a scarcity of silver. Psoma, however, shows that the League regularly struck significant amounts of silver coinage during this period, something that would be impossible if no supply of silver was available. As such, payments to mercenaries probably would have been in the form of the League's silver issues, whose Phoenician weight standard was common throughout the region. At this time, gold was rarely coined in the Greek world, with only the Persian Empire and Kyzikos minting issues with any regularity. Most often gold was struck when necessity required its use, as it had been at Athens late in the Peloponnesian War. Coinciding as it did with the League's war against Athens, this gold issue (as well as similar extremely rare gold Attic staters issued from the League's then ally Amphipolis) had to be struck not for local consumption, but for foreign recipients who required payment in coinage struck on the Attic standard. Bribes in gold are known to have been a part of classical diplomacy. The Persian Empire tried to affect the outcome of the Peloponnesian War by funneling darics to both Athens and Sparta, and Philip II, once he gained control of Mt. Pangaion, struck coinage on the Attic standard (including staters), which he used to gain control over the Greek city-states (cf. Dem. 5.5). Thus, if the League's staters were not for payments to mercenaries, they most likely were made to acquire influential overseas support through bribes.

Approximately twelve staters of the League are known. At the time of the publication of Psoma’s study in 2001, only Robinson & Clement Groups L (1 coin), S (1 coin), T (1 coin), and W (3 coins), were known to have staters associated with them. Three other staters, all from one die pairing, however, remain unassigned, and likely belong to an unrecorded magistrate: B.M. Yakountchikoff, Unpublished and rare Greek coins (St. Petersburg, 1908), p. 8, no. 17; SNG ANS 468; and New York Sale XXV (5 January 2011), lot 24. The CNG 87 piece added yet another new issue to the corpus of Chalkidian coinage, belonging either to Group L or a heretofore unknown transitional group between Groups L and M.

The placement of the present stater and the Triton XV stater within the series is uncertain. While the bottom of their reverses is not fully visible, the contour of the lower part of the kithara indicates that it is just above the lower edge of the die, leaving no room for a magistrate's name below the kithara. Although it is tempting to place them in the same period as the CNG 87 stater, pre-dating the magistrate issues, the style of their obverse makes this more difficult. The austere features of the portrait and the long hair depicted in a single plait are unlike all the depictions of Apollo in the known coinage. Nevertheless, the gold denomination was an exceptional one in the series, and it is very plausible that the die engraver of this issue was not involved in the regular silver and bronze issues. The appearance of a subsidiary symbol, a star, on the kithara, may be more helpful in suggesting a placement of the issue in the larger series. The last pre-magistrate group, Group M, also has a subsidiary symbol on the reverse, a tripod. At the same time, Group M also features a variety of obverse styles, with right and left-facing heads, and with long and short hairstyles. As such, it is possible that this stater is from a new group either preceding or following Group M. One other possibility exists. As the star is a symbol of the Macedonian royal house, one wonders whether its appearance here serves as some reference to Macedonian authority? Philip II allied with the League against Athens after the latter declared war against him in 357 BC. This military alliance proved fruitful for both parties, enduring until the 349 BC, and could have necessitated a special issue of staters.