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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 227. Estimate $3000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $6000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ISLANDS off TROAS. Tenedos. After 189 BC. AR Tetradrachm (16.76 gm). Janiform male and female heads, the male laureate and facing left, the female diademed and facing right / TENEDIWN, double axe; cornucopiae left, grape bunch right; all within laurel wreath. De Callataÿ, Tenédo -; SNG Copenhagen -; SNG von Aulock -; BMC Troas -. Nice VF, well centered. Apparently an unrecorded variety with grape bunch to the right and cornucopiae symbol. ($3000)

This principal coin type from the island of Tenedos with the janiform head/double-axe is among the most enigmatic of all Greek coinage and has solicited a variety of explanations from ancient observers and modern scholars. The ancient luminary Aristotle considered the type a representation of a local tradition in which an ancient king of Tenedos punished adulterers, one of whom was his own son, by beheading them. Another possibility is that the double-axe represents a form of barter-currency that predated coinage at Tenedos. A possible Minoan connection noted by some scholars would seem to lend credibility to this suggestion. Most, however, have come to associate this civic badge with the worship of Dionysus, as the double-axe is accompanied by grapes; in some cases it is set upon an altar basis, accompanied by two sacred pillars, or is linked to an amphora by a fillet. The wreath enclosing the double-axe is readily explained as the defining feature of the stephanophoric (‘wreath-bearing’) coinages of the Hellenistic age.

The janiform head on the obverse is equally enigmatic. Though the possible religious context of the double-axe as an instrument for the worship of Dionysos makes it tempting to consider the janiform head a composite of a young and old/masculine and effeminate aspects of Dionysos, this must be ruled out because the heads are not wreathed in ivy. More likely, it is a representation of Zeus and Hera, the principals of the Greek pantheon, as the male head is wreathed in laurel leaves, and the female head is wears a stephane.