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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Very Rare Zodiac Wheel

Triton XXI, Lot: 124. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $12000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161. Æ Drachm (37mm, 23.78 g, 12h). Zodiac series. Dated RY 8 (AD 144/145). AVT K T A[I]Λ A∆[P] ANTωNЄINOC CЄB ЄV, laureate head right / Two Zodiac wheels, one inside the other, “Aries” at the top, the signs of both coinciding; in the innermost circle, conjoined busts left of Sarapis and Isis (with their typical attributes); not dated. Köln –; Dattari (Savio) 2983 (same rev. die); K&G 35.257 (rev. of this coin illustrated); Emmett 1708.8; Staffieri, Alexandria In Nummis 145 (this coin). Near VF, rough dark brown surfaces. Very rare and elusive type, with the details mostly visible. Better than the Zodiac Wheel type we sold in CNG 102 (2016), lot 768, which realized $7,000 on the hammer.

From the Giovanni Maria Staffieri Collection. Ex M&M Numismatics, Ltd. I (7 December 1997), lot 296; Kerry K. Wetterstrom Collection (Classical Numismatic Auctions XIII, 4 December 1990), lot 157; John Work Garrett Collection (Part III, Numismatic Fine Arts/Bank Leu, 29 March 1985), lot 484k (part of).

The Great Sothic Cycle was a calendrical cycle based on the heliacal rising in July of the star Sirius (known to the Greeks as Sothis) and lasting approximately 1460 years. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, in a Golden Age, the beginning of the flooding of the Nile coincided exactly with the rising of Sirius, which was reckoned as the New Year. Only once every 1460 years did Sirius rise at exactly the same time. Thus, the coincidence of this along with the concurrent beginning of the flooding of the Nile gave the event major cosmological significance by heralding not just the beginning of a new year, but the beginning of a new eon. This event also was thought to herald the appearance of the phoenix, a mythological bird which was reborn every 500 to 1000 years out of its own ashes. According to one version of the myth, each new phoenix embalmed its old ashes in an egg of myrrh, which it then deposited in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis. So important was the advent of the new Great Sothic Cycle, both to the realignment of the heavens and its signaling of the annual flooding of the Nile, that the Egyptians celebrated it in a five-day festival, which emphasized the important cosmological significance.

In the third year of the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 139/40), a new Great Sothic Cycle began. To mark this event, the mint of Alexandria struck an extensive series of coinage, especially in large bronze drachms, each related in some astrological way to the reordering of the heavens during the advent of the new Great Sothic Cycle. This celebration would continue throughout Pius’ reign, with an immense output of coinage during the eighth year of his reign in Egypt, which included this coin type, part of the Zodiac series.