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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Eighth Labor – Herakles and the Mares of Diomedes

Triton XXI, Lot: 155. Estimate $7500.
Sold for $13000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161. Æ Drachm (34mm, 22.62 g, 12h). Labors of Herakles series. Dated RY 6 (AD 142/143). [AVT K] T AIΛ A∆P ANTωNIN[OC CЄB ЄVC], laureate head right / Herakles and the Mares of Diomedes – Herakles standing right, nude but for lion’s skin over his left shoulder and billowing out behind him, holding the mane of one of Diomedes’ mares with his left hand and preparing to strike it with his club held with his right hand; a fallen mare behind him to the left; Diomedes laying prostrate to the right before him on the ground; L ς (date) in exergue. Köln –; Dattari (Savio) 8505 (same dies); K&G –; Emmett 1553.6 (this regnal year not listed in his chart in error, as the reverse of this coin is illustrated on p. 74B); Staffieri, Alexandria In Nummis 159 (this coin). Good VF, dark brown patina with touches of green and red. Extremely rare, and one of the finest known for the type. Emmett lists this types as being struck for just one of Pius’ regnal years, 10, but as noted above, he should have listed it for RY 6 also. Another variant exists with the scene reversed, with Herakles standing left (Emmett 1552), which is known for years 5 and 6.

From the Giovanni Maria Staffieri Collection. Ex Triton I (2 December 1997), lot 731; Walter Niggeler Collection (Part 2, Bank Leu/Münzen und Medaillen, 21 October 1966), lot 736 (CNG’s notated copy of this sale lists M. Ratto as the buyer).

The four mares of the giant Diomedes, king of the Bistones in Thrace, had a nightmarish taste for human flesh. It was Herakles’ task to steal them, and he set about doing so with a cortege including the Lokrian youth Abderos, a beloved of the hero, who in the midst of the story is eaten by the horses. Herakles, according to some renderings, was so distraught that he fed Diomedes to his own mares in revenge. The Thracian town of Abdera was founded nearby Abderos’ grave.