Arkadia, Arkadian League - A Classical Masterpiece

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One of the great rarities of the late Classical coinage of Greece, and a true masterpiece of Greek numismatic art. One of only twelve staters of the Arkadian League known to exist outside public collections.

After the Boeotian victory over the Spartans at Leuktra in 371 BC, an anti-Spartan democratic movement arose in Arkadia in the central Peloponnesos. By 369 BC a confederacy of most of the Arkadian city-states was established, and, under the auspices of the Boeotian leader Epaminondas, a city was founded by combining five pre-existing neighbouring villages. This new urban centre, Megalopolis, became the capital of the short-lived Arkadian League and, like Messene, a fortified buffer against Spartan power in the Peloponnesos. Though it experienced difficulties with its constituent communities, Megalopolis developed into the largest city in Arkadia and exerted a strong
influence in the Peloponnesos.

This brief series, struck at Megalopolis from just 3 sets of dies, were produced by one of the great engravers of the mid 4th century; he almost certainly undertook work for the sacred mint of Zeus at Olympia, and surely also inspired the engravers of Philip II of Macedon.

The head of Zeus has been thought to have been taken from Leochares' statue of Zeus Brontaios (the Thunderer) in Olympia, a city the League had conquered in 365 BC. As they had no experience of organizing the games themselves, the Olympics of 364 BC were organised by the Arkadians' allies the Pisatans. To pay their troops the Arkadians melted down gold dedications from the sanctuary in order to produce an emergency series of gold coins, of which only a few genuine examples survive (as BMC p. 76, 1 and pl. XVI, 8). During the Olympic festival of 364 the Eleans mounted an assault on the sanctuary of Olympia, as a result of which both the Arkadians and Eleans were forced to withdraw. A treaty was signed with the Eleans, under which the Arkadians would return Olympia, but retain the territories of Lepreo and Lasion. Zeus figures on this coin no doubt as a reminder of the Arkadian claim to the sanctuary, as well as representing the Arkadian Zeus Lykaios (wolf-Zeus) whose sanctuary was on Mount Lykaion and who had a major temple in Megalopolis as well.

According to the accepted dating, these staters comprised a short series struck from Spring 363 until July 362. Thereafter the League dissolved into two factions, respectively centred on Megalopolis and Mantineia, who fought on opposing sides at the Battle of Mantineia for Thebes and Sparta. The result was a victory for Thebes, though their brilliant leader Epaminondas was mortally wounded while fighting in the front line of his army. With his loss and the utter defeat of Sparta, the stage was set for the Macedonian conquest of all Greece under Philip II.

Arkadia, Arkadian League AR Stater. Circa 363-362 BC. Bearded, laureate head of Zeus Lykaios left / Young Pan reclining upon a rocky outcrop, his mantle spread beneath him, Pan's head three-quarters facing, in his right hand a lagobolon (a throwing club for the hunting of hares), a syrinx propped against the rocks below; in the left field, the monogram of the Arkadian League; OΛVM in small letters upon the rocks. Gerin 3–12 variant (dies 1/– [unlisted reverse die]); BCD Peloponnesos (Megalopolis) 1511 (same dies); SNG Copenhagen –; BMC 49; SNG Fitzwilliam 3851 (same obverse die); Gulbenkian 532 (same obv. die); Seltman, Masterpieces of Greek Coinage 48b = Weber 4259 (same obv. die); Traité pl. CCXXIV, 2 = Mionnet II pg. 244, 7 (same obv. die). 12.21g, 25mm, 1h.

Extremely Fine. Extremely Rare.

Ex Nomos 2, 18 May 2010, lot 97 [incorrectly listing rev. die c];
Ex Triton VIII, 11 January 2005, lot 329.