Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 110   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 74





Estimate: 12'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 9'600 CHF Price realized: 22'000 CHF
Ptolemy I Soter king, 305–285. Pentadrachm, Alexandria, circa 305-285, AV 17.86 g. Diademed head r., with aegis around neck. Rev. BAΣIΛEΩΣ – ΠTOΛEMAIOY Eagle, with closed wings, standing l. on thunderbolt; in l. field, monogram. Svoronos 204, pl. VII, 5 (this obverse die). SNG Copenhagen –.
A very rare variety. Light reddish tone and good extremely fine
Ex Gemini sale IV, 2008, 267.
After assuming the royal title in 305/4 BC, Ptolemy I began to issue gold coins bearing his own portrait and the inscription ΠTOΛEMAIOY BAΣIΛEΩΣ ('[coin] of Ptolemy the King'). The first issue was a stater of the Phoenician-Ptolemaic standard that showed on its reverse the deified Alexander III in a quadriga of elephants; the next was a pentadrachm (trichryson) that bore on its reverse the eagle of Zeus standing upon a fulmen. The latter issues weighed about 17.8 grams, equal to five Phoenician-Ptolemaic drachms, thus the name pentadrachm. However, in at least some ancient Egyptian documents this gold coin is called a trichryson. One letter, written in 268/7 BC, concerned deposits in a royal bank managed by a certain Stratocles; another letter, composed in 258 BC by Demetrius, director of the mint at Alexandria, was directed to a regional administrator named Apollonius. Both are recorded, translated and discussed by John Melville Jones in Testimonia Numaria (nos. 496 and 497). The texts reveal much about the Ptolemaic monetary system of the mid-3rd Century. Not only do they provide contemporary names for Ptolemaic coinage, but they provide evidence for their relative values. The largest gold coin of the period, the octodrachm, is referred to as a mnaieion and was valued at 100 silver drachms; the next-largest piece then in circulation, the aforementioned pentadrachm, is called a trichryson and was valued at 60 silver drachms. Melville Jones suggests that another gold coin mentioned in Stratocles' letter, a pentecontadrachm, is very likely a gold tetradrachm. Demetrius' letter is especially important, for it makes it quite clear that old, worn or foreign coins were not useful for making payments in Egypt, and that it was not easy to determine their value in terms of new coins. This suggests that only current Ptolemaic coins were acceptable, which made re-coining a common practice. Indeed, Demetrius had re-coined the worn pieces that Apollonius had submitted to the mint. Melville Jones suggests this explains why Ptolemaic gold usually survives in a good state of preservation: the coins did not circulate long enough to sustain heavy wear before they were withdrawn and re-minted. The process netted the government a good profit, which sometimes exceeded ten percent of the value of the old coins. Of particular interest to the coin offered here, a trichryson, is a part of Demetrius' text that notes people were bringing trichrysa to the mint "...so that they may have new (coinage), in accordance with the decree..." It would seem that at about this time an official order had been given to recall the old trichrysa struck under Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II and to replace them with freshly struck gold coins of Ptolemy II. Those coins, presumably, were the mnaieion–octadrachm and its half-denomination, either the four-portrait Theoi Adelphoi issue or Arsinoe II commemorative, as they were the current gold coins at the time of Demetrius' letter.

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