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Extremely Rare Noah’s Ark Medallion

431919. Sold For $24500

PHRYGIA, Apameia (Kibotos). Philip I. AD 244-249. Æ Medallion (34mm, 22.02 g, 6h). M. Aurelius Alexandros II, archiereus (high priest). AVT K IOVΛ ΦΙΛIΠ[ΠO]C AVΓ, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / ЄΠ M A–VP AΛ-ЄΞANΔP/OV • B • APXI • AΠ/AMЄΩN, in right field, Noah and his wife stand in a chest floating on waves and inscribed N[ΩЄ]; they gaze up toward a dove flying right, carrying an olive branch in its beak; on the lid of the chest a raven stands to left; in left field is a continuation of the biblical scene, with Noah, wearing short chiton, and his wife, wearing veil, peplos, and long chiton, standing to left, each with right arm raised in thanksgiving. BMC 182; SNG von Aulock 3510 and 8348; Waddington 5731 (all from the same dies). VF, green patina, minor roughness. Extremely rare and fascinating type.

There is in Phrygia on the dark mainland
A steep, tall mountain; Ararat its name,
Because upon it all were to be saved
From death, and there was great desire of heart;
Thence streams of the great river Marsyas spring.
There on a lofty peak the ark abode
When the waters ceased, and then again from heaven
The voice divine of the great God this word
Proclaimed: “O Noah, guarded, faithful, just,
Come boldly forth, with thy sons and thy wife
And the three brides, and fill ye all the earth,
Increasing, multiplying, rendering justice
To one another through all generations,
Until to judgment every race of men
Shall come; for judgment shall be unto all.”

Orac. Sibyllina, i.320-334

Apamea was home to a large Jewish population, probably since its founding by Antiochos I Soter around 270 BC, and the city’s well-known issues depicting Noah’s Ark (struck under Septimius Severus, Macrinus, Gordian III, Philip I, and Trebonianus Gallus) are the sole ancient coins to depict a scene from the Old Testament. Modern Mt. Ararat, situated between ancient Phrygia and Armenia, has long been associated with the “mountains of Ararat” named in the bible, but the coinage demonstrates that a strong local connection between Apamea and the biblical story was established by the 3rd century.

The city was also known as Kibotos (Strabo, xii.8.13), the Greek word for both “chest” and “ark” (adding to the wordplay, Yaakov Meshorer and David Hendin have noted that the Hebrew word teva has a similar dual meaning). In the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek, Noah’s Ark is repeatedly referred to as a kibotos. While it has been argued that the name Kibotos was given to Apamea due to the local Noah legend, most modern scholars suspect it refers to the city’s trade activity. Apamea was a bustling entrepôt where eastern goods purchased in bulk were packed in the city’s distinctive shipping chests and distributed to Asia Minor’s western seaports (see RPC III 2586 for a coin of Hadrian depicting such chests).

The representation of Noah in a chest-like vessel is certainly not unique to Apamea’s coinage. Noah appears in wall paintings in the catacombs of Rome and, much more rarely, on early Christian sarcophagi, where he is typically depicted standing alone, hands raised in the orans position, within a box or chest (the occasionally-offered suggestion that the vessel is a sarcophagus should be dismissed). Furthermore, the use of a chest for figures adrift at sea has numerous precedents in classical art. Perseus, Danae, and Thoas – to name just a few – were represented in such vessels, the chests serving as a kind of literary and visual indication that the figure(s) in them were adrift at sea. While we might surmise that representations of Noah were influenced by those of Deleukon, who could be considered the Greek counterpart of Noah, extant depictions of this mythological figure are so rare that it seems artists did not have much of a tradition to draw on (see LIMC Supp. 2, p. 483 for a 5th century BC red figure scene showing a bearded male, probably Thoas but alternatively identified as Deucalion, in a similar lidded kibotos).

Apamea’s Noah coinage almost certainly copies a local, prominent work of art, very likely a painting. The repeated appearance of this scene on coins struck over a half a century clearly indicates that both the local Noah legend and the work of art that the coins copy were sources of pride and integral to Apamea’s civic identity. We should not assume that the Jewish population would shun such a scene due to Judaism’s prohibition of graven images. One need only look to the wall paintings in the famous synagogue of Dura, which dates to about the same time as our coin, to get an understanding of Jewish figural and narrative art (and its strong Hellenic influence) in the 3rd century.

Our piece shares an obverse die with coins of the Phrygian cities of Eumeneia, Hierapolis, and Themisonion (see Kraft pl. 34, 44a-d).