Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 110   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 50

Estimate: 8'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 6'400 CHF Price realized: 8'500 CHF
The Carthaginians in Italy, Sicily and North Africa. Trishekel, Carthago circa 264-241 BC, billon 18.83 g. Head of Tanit (Kore-Persephone) l., wearing barley-wreath, triple pendant earring and necklace. Rev. Horse standing r.; in the background, palm tree. MAA 43. Müller, Afrique 100. de Luynes 3773.
Very rare and in unusually fine condition for this interesting and seldom
offered issue. Light tone, minor marks, otherwise good very fine
Ex Triton sale XVIII, 2015, 403. From the Georges Bouchereau and Robert Boyer collection.
This Carthaginian trishekel of the First Punic War period (264-241 B.C.) employs much of the same iconography as the preceding trishekel, but it is struck in a billon alloy of silver and copper rather than full silver. This reduction in the silver content reflects the economic and financial hardships endured by Carthage as the war with Rome dragged on for decades without a decisive victory for either side and the indemnity imposed by the victorious Romans once the war came to an end. Debased coins such as this may have contributed to the outbreak of the so-called Truceless War between Carthage and its mercenary army. This conflict, which raged in Libya from 240 to 238 B.C., was sparked by Carthaginian inability to pay the mercenaries their promised wages and attempts to convince them to accept less. The same head of Tanit familiar from the silver trishekel appears on the obverse as does a standing horse on the reverse, but a palm tree now appears behind the horse. This addition is a punning allusion to the Semitic origin of the Carthaginians. Although the Semitic peoples of the Levantine coast called themselves Caananites in their own language, the Greeks knew them as Phoenicians, a name derived from phoenix, the Greek word for ”palm tree.” A related use of palm trees and palm branches to indicate Phoenician origin also occurs on coins struck at the Phoenician mints of Tyre, Sidon, and Arados beginning in the third and second centuries B.C., but the practice seems to have originated with the Carthaginians, who transmitted it back to the Phoenician homeland. The palm appears as an important symbol already on Siculo-Punic issues of the late fifth and early fourth centuries, but only in Phoenicia proper beginning with the autonomous Alexanders of Arados around 265/4 B.C. and then spreading to the more southerly cities in the second century B.C. The early use of the palm tree on Punic coins underlines the deep impact that long exposure to Greek culture in Sicily (and elsewhere) had on the Carthaginians. By the fourth century B.C. they had internalized the Greek exonym for their people and frequently referred to it themselves in their numismatic iconography. This is perhaps not overly surprising when we consider the development of the obverse image of Tanit, which is virtually indistinguishable from Greek Kore-Persephone at Syracuse. The would-be Punic conquerors of Greek Sicily were already thralls to Greek culture. This seems to have been the way with ancient Greek culture. It had an uncanny way of overshadowing and influencing neighboring cultures. By the end of the fourth century B.C. there were few parts of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa that Hellenism had not touched in some form. It even reached into Rome, the city on the Tiber that was destined to defeat Carthage in two Punic Wars (264-241 B.C. and 218-201 B.C.) and destroy it in a third (149-146 B.C.). The Romans also succeeded in conquering all of Sicily (and the rest of the Greek world), which Carthage never had. Nevertheless, very much like the Carthaginians, the Romans too found themselves under the unbreakable influence of Greek culture. By the first century B.C. Roman taste for Greek art and literature was so great that the Latin poet, Horace, could claim that Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (”Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror”). The sons of Dido and the sons of Romulus were not so different after all.

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