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A Mystery

CNG 91, Lot: 132. Estimate $300.
Sold for $1700. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of MACEDON. Alexander III ‘the Great’. 336-323 BC. AR Tetradrachm (29mm, 16.56 g, 12h). Posthumous issue. Uncertain mint. Struck 3rd century BC. Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin / BAΣIΛEΩΣ AΛEΞANΔPOY, Zeus Aëtophoros seated left; AR monogram in inner left field, HΔ monogram below throne, maeander pattern in exergue. Unpublished. Good VF, toned, some porosity. Unique.

This Alexander-type tetradrachm is one of the most enigmatic. The weight and characteristics of the flan clearly place it in among the 3rd century posthumous issues. The overall style suggests an Ionian mint, and the maeander pattern was almost exclusively used on Alexander type coins from Magnesia (the only other mint to use it, on a very rare civic Alexander, was Priene). The presence of the royal title, however, presents a problem, as no mint in western Asia Minor used it on their Alexander type silver issues at any time. In fact, the particular arrangement of the legends, in parallel to the left and right of Zeus, are only known on Alexander issues from mints along the western Black Sea. At the same time, the small aplustre decorating the throne back was only used on issues of the Black Sea mint of Sinope. The problem with assigning the coin to Sinope, though, is contradicted by the absence of the ethnic of the city, which is used on all of its rare Alexander type tetradrachms, and the presence of the maeander pattern, which has no precedence in any coinage from that city. A final possible attribution is presented by the monogram in the inner left field, which is a very rare monogram in general. No Alexander type coins are known to have this monogram, and it is typically only found on issues of the Arkadian League. The League did strike coinage in the early 3rd century at Megalopolis, a time period that would suit this issue. At the same time, though, the style and positioning of the royal title are not consistent with any Peloponnesian issue, the use of the maeander pattern is unprecedented on any Peloponnesian coins, and we have no evidence that the League ever issued any Alexander type coinage. Thus, certain characteristics of this coin strongly indicate particular mints, the maeander pattern and style for Ionia (esp. Magnesia or Priene), the arrangement of the legend and aplustre for the Black Sea (esp. Sinope), and the left field monogram for the Arkadian League, but at the same time, each of these characteristics are also contradictory to each other.