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Hamilcar Barca and the First Punic War

CNG 109, Lot: 1. Estimate $2500.
Sold for $4500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

IBERIA, Punic Iberia. Circa 237-209 BC. AR Quarter Shekel (14mm, 1.86 g, 12h). Laureate male head left; club over shoulder / Elephant standing right. MHC 45–58; ACIP 555; SNG BM Spain 102. EF, toned. Good metal for issue.

In the wake of its defeat in the First Punic War, Carthage modified its coinage, with its extensive gold and electrum series replaced by debased silver and bronze. In contrast, the Carthaginians in Iberia enjoyed access to the rich gold and silver mines on the peninsula, which allowed the Barcids to develop a coinage that served their military and political needs. The obverse and reverse types chosen for this coinage were purely Carthaginian in character, often featuring Tanit on the obverse and a horse, often with palm tree or uraios, on the reverse. In addition to these traditional types, some new, albeit Punic, types were introduced: the god Melkart, laureate, sometimes bearded, and with club, was added to the obverse, while an elephant, sometimes with mahout, and a ship's prow were placed on the reverse. Perhaps the most controversial new types, though, were those that featured a beardless male portrait, sometimes wearing a royal diadem. The initial tendency of numismatists was to view these portraits as being those of the Barcids, but the modern consensus is that the bareheaded portrait is almost certainly a rendition of a young Melkart. A comparison of three different varieties of Melkart in SNG BM Spain (nos. 97, 98, and 103) is demonstrative of their nearly identical features. The diademed portrait, though, is still an enigma, for, unlike depictions of Melkart, these have a distinct aspect of realism to their features, and the diadem itself is difficult to reconcile with the traditional depictions of Carthaginian deities. Although there are numerous series of Punic coinage in Iberia, their specific chronology is uncertain, typically being placed in the period circa 237-209 BC. Likewise, the place of their minting is also unknown, although some, if not most, must be from the capital at Carthago Nova.