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Roma Numismatics Ltd
Auction XIII  23 March 2017
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Lot 127

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Estimate: 50 000 GBP
Price realized: 90 000 GBP

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Attica, Athens AR Dekadrachm. Circa 469/5-460 BC. Head of Athena right, wearing single-pendant earring, necklace, and crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves over the visor and a spiral palmette on the bowl / Owl standing facing with wings spread; olive sprig and crescent to upper left, AΘE around; all within incuse square. Fischer-Bossert 11 (O7/R11); Starr 59a; Seltman 450a, pl. 21 (A305/P385); Svoronos pl.8, 13; Vinchon 14 April 1984, Comtesse de Béhague 123 = Rhousopoulos 1965 (all same dies). 42.98g, 34mm, 10h.

Very Fine. Very Rare; weight adjustment ('Stannard gouge') marks.

From the collection of an antiquarian, Bavaria c. 1960s-90s;
Ex private German collection, acquired c. 1960s.

The dekadrachms of Athens have always been regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces in all of ancient coinage, and have ever been amongst the most highly prized possessions of private and institutional numismatic collections. The occasion for the striking of these imposing coins has been a subject of scholarly debate for many years, and several different theories have been advanced concerning the motivation for the striking of such a prestigious issue, and the source of the bullion used. Babelon (Traité II, col. 769-770) and Head (HN, pp. 370-371) both perpetuated a misinterpretation of a passage in Herodotos who said that Athens paid ten drachms to each of its citizens for surpluses from the Laurion mines (7.144.1). They both therefore dated the dekadrachm issue to c. 490 BC, shortly after the Battle of Marathon, a date which has been subsequently shown to be far too early. Robinson (NC [1924], pp. 338-340) proposed the victory at Salamis as the reason for issue, while Regling (Die antiken Münzen), advanced a similar view, suggesting the combined victories of Salamis and Plataea. Only Starr and Kraay (NC [1956], p. 55; ACGC, pp. 66-68) understood the dating to be later than the prevailing views, having themselves reviewed the hoard evidence. It was Starr (Athenian coinage 480-449 BC) who suggested the victory at the battle at the Eurymedon river in c. 469/5 as the reason for the issue. The subsequent discovery of the Asyut hoard in 1968 or 1969, and the Elmali hoard in 1984 confirmed the dating around the mid 460s BC.

Certainly the Eurymedon victory provided both the celebratory occasion and the means to finance such a grand issue of coinage. In either 469 or 466 BC, the Persians had begun assembling a large army and navy for a major offensive against the Greeks. Assembling near the Eurymedon, it appears that the expedition's objective was to move up the coast of Asia Minor, capturing each city in turn, thus bringing the Asiatic Greek states back under Persian domination, and furthermore giving the Persians strategically important naval bases from which to launch further expeditions into the Aegean. Led by the Athenian general Kimon, a combined force of Delian League triremes moved to intercept the Persian force, and taking them by complete surprise, the Persian forces were utterly routed, 200 triremes were captured or destroyed, and their camp was taken along with many prisoners. The spoils were reportedly vast, and such a stunning triumph would have provided ample reason for Athens to strike coins displaying its emblematic owl now standing fully facing, its outspread wings a clear statement of Athenian military power.
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