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“Bring me the head of the Baptist”
Aristobulus and Salome – Struck at the Beginning of the Jewish War

CNG 103, Lot: 347. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $17000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of ARMENIA MINOR. Aristobulus, with Salome. AD 54-92. Æ (20mm, 5.61 g, 12h). Dated RY 13 (AD 66/7). BACIΛEΩC [APICTOBOYΛ]O[Y] ET IΓ, diademed and draped bust of Aristobulus left / BACIΛI[C-CHC CA]Λ[O]MHC, diademed and draped bust of Salome left. Meshorer 365 var. or corr. (date); Hendin 1257a; RPC I 3840 var. or corr. (same). Fine, brown surfaces, even roughness. Extremely rare, possibly only the seventh known. Recent specimens at auction have hammered between $45,000 and $160,000.

Aristobulus' wife, Salome, was the widow of Philip the Tetrarch and the daughter of Herodias by her first husband, Herod II (known in the New Testament as either Philip or Herod). Although she is unnamed in the Gospels, it has been traditionally assumed that it was Salome – at the insistence of her mother, Herodias – who asked Herod Antipas (who was besotted with his young step-daughter) for the head of John the Baptist in return for her risqué dance for the king. As a result, Salome has become a symbol for dangerous female seductiveness.

The regnal date on this issue has been variously read as 3 (Γ), 8 (H), or 13 (IΓ). As noted in Hendin, p. 275, Frank Kovacs observed that most of the extant examples of this dual-portrait issue are poorly preserved, and the dates are usually illegible or only partially visible; only the year 13 is clearly visible on any of them. Kovacs asserts that the coins reported as years 3 and 8 are likely misreadings of year 13, and the present coin with the clear date 13 confirms that view. The only other issue of Aristobulus with a clear date is a year 17 bronze with the titles of Titus on the reverse. Issues in years 13 and 17 by a client king of Rome would have a pro-Roman propaganda and political value, as those years correspond, respectively, to the beginning of the Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple.