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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
11100407

The Double Darics of Babylon

CNG 111, Lot: 407. Estimate $10000.
Sold for $16000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.



PERSIA, Alexandrine Empire. temp. Stamenes – Seleukos. Satraps of Babylon, circa 328/3-311 BC. AV Double Daric (18.5mm, 16.65 g). Babylon mint. Persian king or hero, wearing kidaris and kandys, quiver over shoulder, in kneeling-running stance right, holding spear in right hand, bow in left; ΛY to left, M to right / Patterned incuse punch. Nicolet-Pierre 1; cf. Babelon, Perses 120 (daric); cf. Traité II 768 (daric); SNG Berry 1455. Near EF, underlying luster. Well centered. Very rare.


The mint, date of issue, and purpose for the distinctive “Archer” double darics have been long debated. The types are drawn from the later series of Persian darics, which showed a running figure (often referred to as the Great King) holding a spear and bow on the obverse. In the double daric design, however, the King’s robe has a border of beading along the bottom, and the reverse features a somewhat symmetrical wavy design. Since the late nineteenth century, numismatists who have studied this coinage have generally agreed that they were struck after the death of the last Persian Great King, Dareios III, in 330 BC, based on the commonality of the control marks on these coins that also appear on Alexandrine issues from the Babylon mint. The ending date, at the beginning of the reign of Seleukos I, has not been controversial.

These conclusions remained unchallenged until H. Nicolet-Pierre re-examined the series in her 1999 article, “Argent et or frappés en Babylonie entre 331 et 311 ou de Mazdai à Séleucos” in Travaux Le Rider. There, she argued that, in conjunction with a series of silver staters that shared control marks, as well as the coins’ style and manufacture, she concluded that the double darics were struck in Babylon. The metal analysis of the double darics, however, showed a distinct difference from that of the Alexander type staters struck there, which suggested that they were not intended to circulate together, nor were they struck for the same purpose. Nicolet-Pierre also departed from the prior conventional wisdom that these coins were struck from the time of Dareios’ death, placing their issuance after the death of Alexander in 323 BC.

In a more recent study, G. Le Rider (in Alexandre le Grande: Monnaie, Finances et Politique [Paris, 2003]) challenged Nicolet-Pierre’s revised dating of the series. Her revised dating was based on an earlier study of a hoard of eastern Athenian imitations that she co-authored with M. Amandry. In that study, the co-authors had concluded that the ΣTA MNA found on some of the tetradrachms, also found on some of the double darics, were two names, with the second perhaps being a patronym. As possible candidates for the ΣTA they considered three individuals: Stamenes, the satrap of Babylon from 328-323 BC; Stasanor, the satrap of Drangiana from 328-321 (and Areia from 323), and then satrap of Baktria and Sogdiana from 321-circa 317; and, finally, Stasander, the satrap of Areia and Drangiana from 321 (he disappears from the historical record after 317). Since Nicolet-Pierre thought the double darics marked M-ΛY were the first issue, which must be after Alexander’s death, this eliminated Stamenes of Babylon, and Stasanor during his tenure in Drangiana and Areia. Le Rider, while accepting the possibility of her dating, focused on the MNA portion of the inscription, which he thought may be associated with the same MNA found on the Athena-Eagle coins that traditionally had been assigned to Sophytes and dated from before Alexander’s death. If correct, this would preserve the earlier chronology that favored a series of issues struck by the satraps of Babylon from the Mazaios to Seleukos.

The question of the beginning of the series remained open until the recent analyses of the coinage of Sophytes by B. Kritt (in The Seleucid Mint of Aï Khanoum [Lancaster, 2016]) and S. Jansari (“The Sophytes Coins: From the Punjab to Bactria and Back Again” in NC 178 [2018]), convincingly placed all of the Sophytes coinage after 323 BC. As such, it appears that the later chronology proposed by Nicolet-Pierre is correct. However, her designation of the M-ΛY issue as the earliest is based on a subjective interpretation of the relative chronology of all the issues, some of which do not share exact control marks as they are on any Alexandrine issues, and these, in Le Rider’s view, may be earlier.

With little doubt, the double darics were struck in Babylon, circa 328/3–311 BC, alongside a series of silver staters with which it was connected through the use of common control marks and struck on a local, Persic standard. These control marks also find parallels among the Alexander type coinage, but their different metal content and weight standard suggest that they are products of either different mints or officinae in Babylon. Nicolet-Pierre suggested that the Alexander coinage and the staters and double darics were struck at separate mints (Nicolet-Pierre, p. 302). Such a division of the mint into two workshops under Seleukos I was already identified by the authors of SC (SC I pp. 39-40 and 43–5). As noted by Nicolet-Pierre (with which Houghton and Lorber concur), the mint (or workshop) that produced the coins on the local Persic standard had a special connection to the satrap, which was explicit under Seleukos, whose personal badge, an anchor, became a constant symbol on the coinage produced there. The fact that the coins were struck on the local standard suggests they were meant for some element of the local population, whereas the Alexandrine issues from the “imperial” mint (or workshop), struck on the Attic standard, were meant for payments that circulated in the west, as evidenced by the fact that most of these coins are found in western hoards.

Alexander’s use of distinctly Persian types would seem to be counterintuitive, since it is generally assumed that he would impose his own types and convert the local economy to the Attic standard on his conquered territories. Modern studies of Alexander’s policies, however, show that Alexander was conservative in the way he administered his conquered territories by preserving local customs and norms as much as possible. With few exceptions, local coinages continued to be used for local transactions throughout his empire, and darics remained the common gold currency for the rare cash transactions of this region. The precise reason that a double daric denomination was created, though, remains a mystery. Nonetheless, by using a Persian type featuring Greek letters and monograms, the issue is a visual representation of the marriage of Eastern and Western influences in Alexander’s empire.