Leu Numismatik AG
Auction 13  27 May 2023
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Lot 106

Estimate: 50 000 CHF
Price realized: 100 000 CHF
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KINGS OF PONTOS. Mithradates IV Philopator, circa 155-152/1 BC (?). Stater (Gold, 19 mm, 8.51 g, 12 h), Amisos or Sinope. Laureate head of Mithradates IV to right. Rev. BAΣIΛEΩΣ - MIΘPAΔATOY Hera standing facing, holding long scepter in her right hand and drapery in front of her belly with her left; to outer left, star-in-crescent (Pontic royal badge) above monogram; to outer right, two monograms. Alram 23 = F. De Callataÿ: The First Royal Coinages of Pontus (from Mithradates III to Mithradates V), in: J. M. Højte (ed.): Mithridates VI and the Pontic Kingdom. Aarhus 2009, p. 74-75, O1/R1 = HGC 7, 325 = G. Kleiner: Pontische Reichsmünzen, in: IstMitt 6 (1955), pl. 2, 12 = Mattingly pl. 56, 3 = C. Michels: Kulturtransfer und monarchischer "Philhellenismus". Göttingen 2009, p. 218, Abb. 24 = SNG von Aulock 4 (same obverse die). Of the greatest rarity, the second and by far the finest known stater of Mithradates IV. A tremendously important discovery, with a beautiful portrait struck in very high relief. Struck from somewhat worn dies with some die rust on the reverse, otherwise, good very fine.

From a German collection, formed in the 1960s.

Few Hellenistic royal coinages are as elusive as the issues of the Pontic kings before Mithradates VI (circa 120-63 BC). In fact, in his 2009 article, de Callataÿ recorded fewer than 100 coins in total for the five kings and queens ruling in the century between the accession to power of Mithradates III in circa 220 BC, and that of his great-grandson, Mithradates VI, in circa 120 BC. This meagre numismatic evidence is supplemented by sparse historiographical sources and epigraphical records, leaving much of the early history of the kingdom in the dark, with scholars still arguing over the actual succession of kings and their datings. While we follow Christoph Michels' chronology here, the emergence of a new stater of Mithradates IV is of utmost importance under these circumstances, as it provides further evidence for a gold coinage that was hitherto only known from the unique, but battered and scratched von Aulock example.

Mithradates IV was an unlikely successor to the throne, for he was King Pharnakes' (circa 196-155 BC) brother, not his son. He apparently assumed the diadem as his nephew, Mithradates, later King Mithradates V, was still a minor when his father passed away. We know little of the reign of the fourth Mithradates other than that he supported Attalos II in his war against the Bithynian King Prusias II, that he aligned himself with Rome, as can be deduced from his dedication on the Capitoline Hill (OGIS 375), and that he married his sister, Laodike.

The king's coinage, on the other hand, is of great interest, as it employs some highly unusual iconography. In total, de Callataÿ recorded one stater and fourteen tetradrachms in the name of Mithradates, five tetradrachms for the royal couple combined, and a doubtful stater and a unique tetradrachm in Laodike's name alone. The striking prominence of the Pontic queen in the royal self-representation is undoubtedly modelled on Ptolemaic and Seleukid prototypes, but it also emphasized the dynastic legitimacy of a king who perhaps feared not being accepted as the rightful heir to the throne. Another interesting aspect of Mithradates' coinage are the reverse types, which show Hera on his staters, Perseus on his tetradrachms, Zeus and Hera on the joint tetradrachms with his sister-wife, and Hera again on Laodike's unique tetradrachm. Clearly Zeus and his wife Hera aligned the royal couple with the world of the divine, whereas Perseus referred to the Persian ancestors of the dynasty. Laodike's prominence is further enhanced by the fact that it is Hera who appears on the reverse of Mithradates' staters, not Zeus (but see below on the question of their dating). Last but not least, Mithradates was also the first Pontic king to use epitheta on his coins, namely 'ΦΙΛΟΠΑΤΟΡΟΣ' and 'ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ' ('father-loving' and 'sibling-loving'), following, once more, Ptolemaic and Seleukid role models and propagating the legitimacy of his rule.

However, there is another aspect regarding the royal couple's coinage worth considering, and that is whether Mithradates' two gold staters and Laodike's unique tetradrachm were actually struck posthumously. This theory was first proposed by Kleiner, who argued that the king wearing a laurel wreath instead of a diadem, the universal Hellenistic royal headgear, on his then unique gold stater indicates that the coin was struck by his successor, Mithradates V, and that the same was true for Laodike's unique tetradrachm, which shows her veiled rather than diademed. Tempting as this proposition is, it is ultimately unprovable, and it begs the question why Mithradates V would honor his uncle, Mithradates IV, and his aunt, Laodike, but not his own father, Pharnakes I.

What is certainly true, however, is that the auctioning of this piece not only offers collectors the exciting opportunity to acquire the second - and by far the finest - gold stater of Mithradates IV, it also provides valuable insights into a Hellenistic dynasty that is often underappreciated, with its earlier kings generally being overshadowed by the long and tumultuous reign of the ferocious campaigner, Mithradates VI, Rome's greatest enemy since Hannibal, for which we have far more extensive historiographical evidence. While still a relatively minor kingdom until the late 2nd century BC, Pontos not only retained a high level of autonomy throughout an age dominated by the much larger Ptolemaic, Seleukid and Roman Empires, it also provides a highly interesting case model of an Iranian dynasty tracing its origins back to the Persian Great King Darius I (522-486 BC), while also participating in the multifaceted political communication of the 'globalized' Hellenistic world stage.
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