Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 331





Estimate: 100'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 80'000 CHF Price realized: 220'000 CHF
Kings of Cappadocia, Orophernes usurper circa 160 – 156 BC. Tetradrachm, Priene circa 160-156, AR 16.53 g. Diademed head r. Rev. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ – ΟΡΟΦΕΡΝΟΥ Nike standing l., crowning royal name with r. hand and holding palm branch in her l.; in inner l. field, owl standing three-quarters l. on altar above monogram. In exergue, ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ. Regling, Priene, pp. 8-10, 44-45. Richter fig. 1939. Simonetta 1 (this obverse die). Mørkholm, Some Cappadocian problems, NC 1962, pl. XX, 3 (this obverse die). H. Salvesen, "The tetradrachm of Orophernes," in Nomismatika Khronika 21 (2000), pp. 8-16. Kraay-Hirmer, pl. 209, 768 (this die). EHC 655 (this obverse die).
Extremely rare, only very few specimens known of which this is the finest in private hands.
A realistic portrait of superb style, work of a very talented master engraver. Undoubtedly
one of finest Hellenistic portraits on a Greek coin. Struck in high relief
and with a wonderful old cabinet tone, extremely fine

Ex Hess-Leu 27 March 1956, 320; Leu 20, 1978, 152 and NFA 25, 1990, 178. From a Distinguished Northern Californian Collector and from the Priene hoard of 1870 (IGCH 1323). From the Harlad Salvesen collection.

Desperate to retain her status as queen of Cappadocia, the apparently barren Antiochis presented her husband, King Ariarathes IV, with two false sons, named Ariarathes and Orophernes. These were to be heirs to the Cappadocian throne, but then something unexpected happened. Antiochis conceived and gave birth to two daughters and a son by her husband. Having produced a proper heir (the future Ariarathes V), Antiochis revealed the truth to Ariarathes IV and sent her false sons far away from Cappadocia in order to prevent them from challenging the rights of her true son. The young Ariarathes was sent off to Rome while Orophernes was dispatched to the Ionian city of Priene. Although he lived in luxury at Priene, Orophernes remained desirous of what he had lost. In 163 B.C., Ariarathes IV died and Ariarathes V became king in Cappadocia and soon provided Orophernes with his chance to claim the throne for himself. Concerned to keep his kingdom on the good side of the Romans, Ariarathes V refused a marriage alliance with the Seleukid king, Demetrios I, who ruled in Syria without the sanction of the Senate. Offended by the refusal, Demetrios I plotted to overthrow Ariarathes V and establish Orophernes as Cappadocian king. In 158 B.C., Orophernes invaded Cappadocia at the head of a Seleukid army and forced Ariarathes V to flee. Orophernes’ reign in Cappadocia was brief and unpleasant. He gained a reputation for oppressing his subjects and for executing the wealthy elites of Cappadocia in order to seize their property. He is said to have deposited some 400 talents with the Prieneans as security against a reversal of fortune, which, as it turned out, was just on the horizon. The Senate demanded the restoration of Ariarathes V, but curiously did not insist that Orophernes abdicate. Nevertheless, fear of growing discontent in the Cappadocian army soon caused Orophernes to give up Cappadocia and seek safety in Syria with Demetrios I in 156 B.C. The Seleukid king accepted the failed Cappadocian monarch at his court, but found it necessary to arrest him when Orophernes entered into a conspiracy with the Antiochenes to overthrow Demetrios I. Evidently, Orophernes was not picky about which kingdom he ruled. Cappadocia or Syria did not really matter so long as he had subjects somewhere to squeeze for cash. Although his treachery certainly made Orophernes worthy of execution, Demetrios I spared his life so that he could continue to threaten the restored Ariarathes V with his release. Six years later, Demetrios I got a taste of his own medicine when Ariarathes V and other enemies found their own pretender at the Ionian city of Smyrna and proceeded to use him to overthrow the Seleukid king. What goes around comes around, even where Hellenistic rulers are concerned. Once Ariarathes V was back in power, he demanded that Priene return the 400 talents that Orophernes had drained from the kingdom. Unwilling to give this vast sum to Ariarathes V while Orophernes still lived, and hoping to keep it once he died, the Prieneans refused. In response, Ariarathes V and his powerful ally, Attalos II of Pergamon, attacked the city and plundered it to reclaim the money – with painfully high interest. This coin represents the pinnacle of Hellenistic portrait coinage. Not only is it an extremely rare piece depicting an obscure and dramatic royal personage, but the artistry of the portrait itself is superlative. Looking upon the image of Orophernes here, it is hardly a wonder that the modern Alexandrian poet, C. P. Cavafy (1866-1933), found himself moved to write a poem about the life and adventures of the Cappadocian pretender in response to the coin portrait. The reverse type, depicting Nike crowning Orophernes’ name, is a grand and oft repeated Hellenistic cliché that can be traced all the way back to the coins of Lysimachos (323-281 B.C.), which feature Athena holding a Nike who crowns the king’s name. Here, Nike also serves to visually express Orophernes’ title Nikephoros (”Victory-bearer”) but gives no hint that the Cappadocian pretender was about to drop it. Adding further to the already great interest of this particular coin is the fact that it actually belongs to the 400 talents that Orophernes left with the Prieneans for safekeeping. It is one of only six specimens that were found beneath the pedestal of a statue of Athena Polias during the early excavations at Priene in 1870. Evidently Ariarathes V and Attalos II had not managed to find everything that Orophernes had spirited away. The owl and altar mint mark combined with the treatment of the flan and the high quality of the engraving and composition all suggest that not only did Orophernes deposit his ill-gotten gains at Priene, but he had it coined there too.

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