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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Mazakes as Satrap of Mesopotamia

CNG 91, Lot: 392. Estimate $1000.
Sold for $6500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MESOPOTAMIA, Uncertain. Mazakes. Satrap, circa 331-320 BC. AR Tetradrachm (21mm, 16.64 g, 9h). Imitating Athens. Struck circa 331-323/2. Helmeted head of Athena right / Owl standing right, head facing; olive spray and crescent to left, Θ-like symbol and MZDK (in retrograde Aramaic) to right. Le Rider, Alexander, pp. 214-9, pl. 7, 15; Van Alfen, Owls, Group IV, 91-2 var. (same obv. die, letters not retrograde). Near VF, toned, minor test cut under tone on obverse (present on almost all coins of this type). Very rare.

From a Continental Collection, acquired in the 1970s.

Mazakes is best known as the Persian satrap who took over Egypt after Sabakes fell in battle against Alexander's army at the Granicus, and later handed over the province peacefully to Alexander. Imitative owls in the name of Mazakes have been known for some time, and all were originally attributed to his satrapy in Egypt. However, it was clear that stylistic elements separated the coinage into two general groups. More recent hoards, especially the 1973 Iraq hoard, have shown that one of the groups of imitative owls was certainly not struck in Egypt, but from somewhere in the territory of modern day Iraq. In his analysis of the 1973 hoard, M. Price ("Circulation at Babylon in 323 B.C." in W.E. Metcalf, ed., Mnemata: Papers in Memory of Nancy M. Waggoner [New York, 1991], pp. 63-72) changed the findspot from Iraq to the more specific cite of Babylon, based on anecdotal evidence (p. 63), and gave the series of Mazakes' owls to the city. However, such an assignment has forced numismatists to conduct mental gynmastics in order to rationalize the presence of Mazakes' coins at Babylon (cf. Van Alfen, Owls, pp. 27-33, and Le Rider, Alexander, pp. 215-217, for a summary of the previous research). It is clear that the attribution of the owls to Babylon is almost certainly incorrect, and other find evidenc suggests an attribution to somewhere north of Babylonia, perhaps in Mesopotamia (cf. Le Rider, op. cit., p. 217-219). In any event, this coinage clarifies the historical record regarding the disposition of Mazakes following his hand-over of Egypt, upon which subject the literary evidence is silent. As noted by Le Rider (op. cit., p. 215), one can compare Mazakes to other Persians who peacefully welcomed Alexander to their domains: Mazaios, who handed over Cilicia, was later made satrap in Babylon, and Mithrenes, who surrendered Sardes, was made satrap in Armenia. Also, the Persian noble Amminapes, who met Alexander in Egypt with Mazakes, was later made satrap of Parthia and Hyrkania. Thus, one would expect Mazakes to receive similarly favorable treatment, and likely appointed to some position of authority. Interestingly, Mesopotamia is the only satrapy that is not addressed in the literary evidence when Alexander is organizing his eastern territories. As these tetradrachms of Mazakes are found in that region, and date to the period after Alexander's conquest, it is reasonable to posit that Mazakes was the individual that Alexander appointed as satrap of Mesopotamia. It was also in the adjacent satrapy of Babylonia that Mazaios was allowed to strike a coinage in his name and types (influenced by his prior issues at Tarsos) for local use, and similar issues of local type and weight are known to have been issued at mints thoughout the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates, from the time of Alexander to Seleukos I. Thus, these Athenian type tetradrachms likely constitute a local coinage of Mazakes, struck in Mesopotamia while he reigned there as satrap.