Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 181

Estimate: 175'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 140'000 CHF Price realized: 240'000 CHF
Naxos. Tetradrachm, circa 460, AR 17.14 g. Bearded head of Dionysus r., wearing ivy-wreath, hair tied up high in a knot at the nape of his neck. Rev. N – AXI – ON Naked, bearded Silenus, with pointed ears, ruffled hair and long tail, squatting facing, the r. leg raised and the l. folded to the side. The head is turned l. towards cantharus in r. hand, while he supports himself with the l. The tail shows below his r. leg. Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 12 (these dies). Kraay-Hirmer pI. 2, 6 (these dies). AMB 384 (these dies). Cahn 54.26 (this coin).
Very rare and a lovely specimen of this important and desirable issue. Undoubtedly
one of the finest examples of late Archaic die-engraving in Sicily and one of the
most impressive representations on a Greek coin. Struck on a very broad
flan and with a wonderful old cabinet tone, a die break on obverse at
three o' clock, otherwise, extremely fine

Ex J. Hirsch XVIII, 1907, 260; R.Ratto 26 April 1909, “Dotto Numismatico Straniero” 1233; Ars Classica XIII, 1928, 238; Glendining’s 24 November 1950, Ryan 1509; Leu 42. 1987, 105; Sotheby's 26 October 1996, 9; NAC 6, 1993, 75; NAC 27, 204, 98 and Morton & Eden 51, 2011, 42 sales.
This exceptional tetradrachm, the first example of this Naxos issue with the Attic standard, is certainly due to the skill of an extraordinary die-engraver active in Sicily during the first half of the fifth century. This die, of extreme rarity, is characterised by remarkable expressive vigorousness. The obverse shows the bearded profile of Dionysus, facing to the right, with an ivy-wreath and hair tied up high in a knot at the nape of his neck. The ivy wreath, beard and knot break the dotted circle framing the head. The reverse shows the figure of Silenus, squatting naked, his bearded face (like that of Dionysus) turned to the left. The right leg is raised, the left tucked sideways under it, making space for a long, equine tail. The right hand holds up a cantharus (a form of cup especially sacred to Dionysus), with two handles and without a base, while the left hand supports the athletic, muscular body and lends the figure an intimate tension. The iconographic type shared by both sides of the coin, Dionysus' head and the kneeling Silenus, subsequently became widespread at Naxos until the issues (didrachms) of the last phase of the V century. The inspiration of the great Sicilian die-engraver was encouraged by the commemorative value attached to this coin, recalling as it does the return of the Nassians to their homeland following their exile to Leontini, after 461 B.C. We know from Diodorus Siculus, the great historian born in Agirium (one of the most ancient colonies at the heart of Sicily), that Hieron the Syracusan moved the inhabitants of Naxos and Catana to Leontini in 476 B.c.: "Hieron removed the people of Naxos and Catana from their cities and sent there settlers of his own choosing, having gathered five thousand from Peloponnesus and added an equal number of others from Syracuse; and the name of Catana he changed to Aetna, and not only the territory of Catana but also much of the neighbouring land which he added to it he portioned out in allotments, up to the sum of ten thousand settlers [...] And the Naxians and the Catanians whom he had removed from their native states he transferred to Leontini and commanded them to make their homes in that city along with the native population" (Biblioth. hist. XI 49 passim).

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