Islands of Thrace, Samothrace. Didrachm, circa 500-465, AR 6.35 g. ΣΑ retrograde and backwards Sphynx seated l., wearing plumed cap; she raises her r. forepaw and scratches her side with her l. Rev. Quadripartite incuse square. Traité I, 989 and pl. XXVIII, 12. Svoronos, L’Hellénisme Primitif, pl. 17, 15 (this obverse die). Jameson 2441 (this coin). Schwabacher, Fund 1a (this coin).
Estimate: 50'000 CHF
Starting price: 40'000 CHF
Price realized: 57'700 CHF
Of the highest rarity, apparently only the third specimen known and the only one in
private hands. Of magnificent Archaic style and with a delightful old cabinet
tone. Struck on a full flan and extremely fine
Ex Leu-M&M 28 May 1974, Kunstfreund 45; Leu 42, 1987, 154; Leu 81, 2001, 137 and Nomos 6, 2012, 35 sales. From the Kiourpet (Chora on Samothrace) Hoard of 1930 (IGCH 696) and the Jameson collection.
This didrachm is a rare example of the Archaic coinage of Samothrace. The sphinx on the obverse was a mythical composite creature part woman, part lion, and part eagle. Although the model for the Greek sphinx must be sought in the guardian sphinxes of Egypt, the Greek sphinx had a reputation as a destructive monster sent by the gods as a punishment to mortals. The monstrous quality of the sphinx is even indicated by her name, which derives from the Greek verb sphingo (”to throttle”). Most famously, the sphinx was visited upon Boiotian Thebes as a terrible curse. She killed all passersby who could not answer her riddle correctly, until the tragic hero Oedipus gave the correct response and broke her power.
Despite the infamous tradition of the Theban sphinx, one suspects that the prominent sphinx on the coins of Samothrace (and perhaps of Chios as well) have a closer connection to the original Egyptian model and represent protective spirits. On Samothrace the leonine sphinx also may have had some special relationship to the Great Mother (the chief deity of the Samothracian pantheon) who was regularly depicted associated with lions.