Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 246

Estimate: 50'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 40'000 CHF Price realized: 220'000 CHF
Kings of Pontus, Mithradates IV, circa 170/169 – 150. Tetradrachm, Sinope circa 169, AR 16.83 g. Diademed head r. Rev. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΜΙΘΡΑΔΑΤΟΥ - ΦΙΛΟΠΑΤΟΡΟΣ / ΚΑΙ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ Perseus, naked but for cloak over his shoulders, standing facing and holding gorgoneion and harpa; in lower inner l. field, monogram. Jameson 2153 (this obverse die). SNG von Aulock 6674 (this coin). Kraay-Hirmer pl. 210, 771 (this coin).
Extremely rare and among the finest specimens known. An elegant portrait of
fine Hellenistic style struck in high relief on a very large flan.
Old cabinet tone and about extremely fine

Ex Leu sale 48, 1989, 209. From the von Aulock and Harald Salvesen collections.

The reverse of this tetradrachm, which may perhaps predate Mithradates IV’s marriage to his sister, Laodike, depicts the hero Perseus. According to Greek myth, Akrisios of Argos cast the infant Perseus and his mother Danae into the sea in a wooden box to escape an oracle that he would be killed by a son of Danae. When Perseus grew to manhood, he was sent by Polydektes of Seriphos to bring back the head of Medusa with the expectation that he would die in the attempt. Medusa had been a mortal woman, but a curse by Athena caused her hair to transform into a mass of writhing serpents and her appearance became so hideous that she turned all who looked upon her to stone. With the assistance of Athena, Perseus obtained from the Hesperides a magic sack, a helmet that rendered him invisible, and an adamantine sword (the harpa). Hermes also loaned him his winged sandals while Athena gave him a polished shield. By looking at Medusa only indirectly through her reflection in his shield, Perseus managed to behead the monster without being turned to stone. Then, after carefully packing the deadly head in his sack, Perseus made his way back to Seriphos. On the return journey, Perseus passed through Aethiopia, where he saved the princess Andromeda from being devoured by a sea monster (ketos) and took her as his wife. Once back in Seriphos, Perseus learned that Polydektes had attempted to rape his mother while he was gone. In repayment for this terrible insult, Perseus did not hand over the head of Medusa, safely in the sack, but pulled it out for Polydektes to see with is own eyes. In that instant the king of Seriphos was turned to stone. The hero then went on to become king of Argos after accidentally killing Akrisios. Perseus appears here, not so much because Mithradates IV wanted to recall the myth of the hero, but because of an old Greek folk etymology that made Perseus an ancestor of the Persians. The Persian Great King Xerxes I (486-465 B.C.) was already aware of this etymology at the time of his invasion of mainland Greece (480 B.C.) and tried to use it to convince the Argives to capitulate. The link between Perseus and the Persians was deeply entrenched by second century B.C. and Mithradates IV, who was himself of Iranian descent, used it to associate the Mithradatic dynasty of Pontus with the greatness of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The irony of using a Greek hero to advertise a connection to an Iranian empire that was frequently in conflict with the states of Greece is palpable. This irony is further compounded by the otherwise conscious Hellenizing of the obverse type and legend: Mithradates IV wears the diadem of a Hellenistic king rather than the tiara of an Iranian ruler, and the reverse legend is entirely Greek in its use of titles like Philopator (”Father-loving”) and Philadelphos (”Brother-loving”). The combination of types and inscriptions on this tetradrachm is wonderfully schizophrenic in the desire to simultaneously tout Mithradates IV as an Iranian scion of the Persian Empire and as a Hellenistic king in emulation of Alexander the Great, the destroyer of that same empire.

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