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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Previously Unknown King

CNG 91, Lot: 442. Estimate $10000.
Sold for $16000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

BAKTRIA, Indo-Greek Kingdom. Heliodotos. Late 2nd- early 1st century BC. AV Unit (13mm, 2.71 g, 12h). BAΣIΛE/ΩΣ HA/PΔOTO[Y] (sic), diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right, wearing crested helmet adorned with bull's horn and ear / “Maharajasa Heliyadotasa” in Kharosthi, Herakles standing facing, head slightly right, crowning self with wreath held in right hand and cradling club and palm frond in left arm draped with lion skin; to inner left, pellet above monogram or letter; trace of monogram or letter(s) to right. O. Bopearachchi, “Deux documents exceptionels en numismatique indo-grecque,” Cahiers Numismatiques 48.189 (September 2011), no. I and fig. 1 (this coin illustrated); otherwise unpublished. EF, double strike on obverse. Unique and historically important.

This unique gold coin, struck on a square flan, requires a review of the use of gold coinage among the later Baktrian kingdom, and the addition of a new Indo-Greek king called Heliodotos. Apart from this coin, Heliodotos is attested in a Greek inscription from Kulob in Tajikistan, a region that was then the northern frontier of the Indo-Greek kingdom (for a discussion of the inscription, see P. Bernard, et al., “Deux nouvelles inscriptions grecques de l’Asia Centrale,” Journal des Savants [2004], pp. 333-56).

The military-style portrait on the obverse recalls that of Eukratides I, when it was first used on Baktrian coinage. The reverse, with Herakles holding an additional palm frond, is known on coins of Lysias Aniketos (circa 120-110 BC), and suggests a possible terminus post quem for the reign of Heliodotos. The somewhat blundered legends are even more unusual in that they lack the inclusion of an epithet in the king’s title. All of this, together with the northern location of the inscription, may suggest that Heliodotos was an ephemeral Indo-Greek ruler, who may have ruled in the northern frontier during the Saka and the Yuezhi incursions of the early 1st century BC.