World Coins

CNG auction offers ancient portrait coin

A silver stater of Lycian dynast Mithrapata reflects the advanced portraiture of Lycian coinage in the fourth century B.C.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

The portraits on coins in the later Lycian series are among the finest of the Classical period, according to Classical Numismatic Group, which sold an example of this artistry in its May 18 auction. 

The silver stater, issued circa 390 to 370 B.C. for the dynast Mithrapata, realized a hammer price of $3,250 against an estimate of $3,000. The buyer’s fee is either 19 or 21 percent, depending on bidding method.

Mithrapata appears on the reverse of the coin, while a lion graces the obverse.

The Lycians were among the earliest people to attempt depictions of their rulers on coinage, though their initial attempts in the later fifth century B.C. “were innovative, but static, idealized forms lacking individual characterization,” the auction house said. “Over the next half-century, however, the style progressed significantly toward realism, culminating in the issues of the dynasts Mithrapata and Perikles in the early-mid 4th century B.C.”

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The images of Mithrapata show the ruler with distinctively elderly features that, according to die work by Leo Mildenberg cited by CNG, actually reflect the dynast’s changing age as the coins progressed, “reflecting the realism that had been captured in these issues.”

Coins of Perikles, Mithrapata’s successor, continue this trend, but also have two innovations that set them at the pinnacle of classical portraiture, the firm said. On these later coins, the portrait is moved to the obverse of the coin, “emphasizing the importance of the individual.” And, secondly, the portrait is not in the traditional profile, but in a dramatic facing position, having “obviously [been] influenced by Kimon’s facing Arethusa-head coinage at Syracuse.”

Neither Mithrapata nor Perikles wears the typical satrapal headgear, suggesting that they may have declared their independence from the Persian king. However, design revolution in the Lycian coinage ended when Maussollos of Caria invaded the region circa 360 B.C. 

The example in the CNG auction is Good Very Fine, according to the auction house.

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