Estimate: 50 000 GBP
Price realized: 44 000 GBP
Baktria, Sophytes AR Tetradrachm. Uncertain mint in the Oxus region, circa 246/5-235 BC. Attic standard. Head of Seleukos(?) right, wearing laurel wreathed Attic helmet decorated with spiral pattern on crest and eagle wings on cheek-guard, tied under chin / Cockerel standing right; kerykeion behind, ΣΟΦYΤΟΥ to right. Cf. Bopearachchi, Sophytes Series 3A, pl. I, 1; for type cf. SNG ANS 21-23 (drachm); Mitchiner 29 (drachm); Whitehead NC 1943, pp. 64, 1 and pl. III, 7-8 (drachm). 16.81g, 27mm, 6h.
Good Extremely Fine. The second known example of an issue of considerable numismatic interest. A bold and expressive portrait engraved in the finest Hellenistic style.
This portrait, which has all too often been simply assumed to be that of Sophytes himself, is eminently worthy of further scrutiny. It is the work of a highly talented individual, and depicts what should by any account be a great general, helmeted in Attic style and wearing the laurel wreath of a conqueror. Unfortunately the actions of Sophytes, whatever they might have been, were either not recorded or have long since been lost. We cannot therefore determine whether this individual may indeed have performed such deeds as to be worthy of commemoration in such a fashion. In examining the features of the individual depicted on this coin however, it becomes immediately apparent that there are distinct similarities with certain idealised portraits of Seleukos I. It is conceivable that we should see in this portrait not an image of the unknown ruler Sophytes, but an idealised image of the deified Seleukos, as can be found on the somewhat earlier coinage of Philetairos. Those images (cf. in particular Gulbenkian 966) have nearly identical features - in particular the heavy brow, aquiline nose, down-turned mouth and prominent chin.
The historical sources offer us few clues as to the dating of Sophytes' rule. They tell us that Stasanor was satrap of Baktria until at least 316 BC, and that Seleukos reintegrated Baktria into his empire on his eastern anabasis in c. 305. An early date therefore seems highly unlikely. Turning to the evidence of the coin itself, numismatists have correctly observed that the obverse portrait is derived from the similar type of Seleukos on his trophy tetradrachms (SC 174), which should be dated to after c. 301 BC; the presence of the somewhat worn elephant-quadriga tetradrachm in the present group pushes the date even further to the right, and into the third century. Now, the presence of this type in this group along with coins of Andragoras indicates a considerably later date than previously supposed. We have already proposed with good reason that the coinage of Andragoras should be dated to c.246/5-239/8 BC (see lots 325 and 328), and that given the patterns of wear that may be observed upon them, there is sufficient justification to argue for the dating of Sophytes' named coinage to c. 246/5-235, after Andragoras had begun coining but before Diodotos II would have been free to dispose of any lesser regional powers. This turbulent time period has already afforded us a plausible reason for the striking of Andragoras' coinage. It is possible that Sophytes too was prompted to look to the security of his own territory following the effective withdrawal of the central government's influence in that area. Diodotos I too struck his own coinage in Baktria, which while bearing his own portrait on the obverse nevertheless maintained the name 'Antiochos' on the reverse as a token symbol of loyalty. Does Sophytes coinage, with a distinctly 'local' reverse type, seek to achieve the same veneer of loyalty as that of Philetairos and Diodotos by placing the image of Seleukos I, the founder of the Seleukid empire, on his obverse?