Roma Numismatics Ltd.   |   Auction XVII   |   28 March 2019 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
Online bidding ends:  28 March 2019 10:00 CET

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Lot 387

Estimate: 30'000 GBP   |   Starting price: 24'000 GBP
Macedon, Mende AR Tetradrachm. Circa 430-423 BC. Dionysos, bearded, long haired and wreathed with ivy, reclining on a donkey walking to right, supporting his body with his left elbow, head turned half to right to look over his left shoulder; in exergue, kerykeion and NIΣ / Grape vine with four grape-clusters on a raised square, ΜΕΝΔΑΙΟΝ around; all within incuse square. Noe The Mende (Kaliandra) Hoard, ANS NNM 27 (1926) 93; Jameson 1965; Gulbenkian 416; Kraay-Hirmer 406; Pozzi 789; SNG ANS 350 (all from the same dies); Traité, pl. CCCXVI, 2 (this coin). 17.18g, 28mm, 3h.

Extremely Fine; beautiful old cabinet tone.

Ex Leu Numismatik AG, Auction 71, 24 October 1997, lot 128;
Ex Bank Leu AG, Auction 33, 3 May 1983, lot 283;
From the duplicates of the Cabinet des Médailles de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it was catalogued by Babelon prior to 1932;
Ex Henri de Nanteuil Collection (c. 1925), no. 763.

The coinage of Mende can rightfully boast the most decadent depiction of Dionysos on ancient coinage; the present piece shows us a scene wherein the god reclines luxuriously upon the back of a donkey that carries him along. As Dionysos is borne forwards in procession by the donkey, the viewer is invited to imagine his thiasos, the ecstatic retinue of Dionysos made up of maenads, satyrs and Silenoi as it plays and dances around him. Dionysos props himself up with his left elbow which digs into the back of the unfortunate donkey, while with his other he holds his wine cup aloft in encouragement to his followers. Dionysos himself seems oblivious to the struggle of the animal beneath him whose seemingly stiff legs but proud posture are suggestive of an animal that is uncomfortable with the burdensome deity upon its back, but maintaining its poise admirably. However, one may not be able to describe Dionysos thus. Rendered on this die in remarkable detail and fine style with his head turned to look over his shoulder and three-quarters facing to the viewer’s eye, he appears highly inebriated; his open mouth and vacant expression point to a god whose best faculties have already left the party.

One could hardly conceive of a more appropriate type for this city’s coinage: Mende was a leading exporter of wine, rivalling such other cities as Naxos and Maroneia, and the quality and fame of its wine is well attested in the ancient sources. Thus it is only natural that Mende should have adopted Dionysos as a patron deity; notorious for his wild indulgences and frequent state of inebriation on account of his love of wine, this tantalising scene is at once wholly apt for a city exporting merriment and inebriety, and also a proud statement of the quality of their produce. The implication inherent in the link between the wine Dionysos holds and the vines laden with grapes on the reverse is clear: Mende’s wine is good enough for a god.

The execution of the scene itself could not be more intriguing: juxtaposed we have the epicurean figure of Dionysos given over to indulgence and excess, and that of the humble donkey whose labour makes the god’s comfort possible. The image is a sobering reminder to the viewer of the effort involved in viticulture and wine production, and that for one man’s enjoyment others must work.

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