Crete, Aptera - Signed by Pythodoros

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The stunningly beautiful obverse female portrait is that of Artemis Aptera (or Aptara as inscribed on the coins, a local form of the Cretan Artemis Diktynna), the patron goddess of the city. Before her image in small characters proudly appears the name of the artist Pythodoros, a master die-engraver who also worked at Polyrherion on the equally beautifully styled female head which has been defined as that of Britomartis, ‘sweet maiden’ in the Cretan dialect. Also identified as Artemis Diktynna, Britomartis in Cretan myth was caught in a fisherman’s net (diktyon) while trying to escape the advances of Poseidon, and was the subject of several Cretan coin types inspired by a statue then attributed to Daedalos, who was reputed to be the father of Cretan art (cf. Le Rider pp. 114-6, 3-6 pl. 28, 19-38; Svoronos 15-16, pl. 26, 4-5; Traité pl. 261, 25; BMC 1-2). Both images are very much influenced by the Sicilian school of die engraving as epitomised by the celebrated artists such as Kimon, Phrygillos, Eukleidas, Euainetos and Eumenes. The reverse type is of no less mythological and historic interest; the warrior in question is Apteros, called Ptolioikos, a title literally meaning ‘dweller in the city’. He is shown saluting a tree, a scene which can be interpreted as a rendering of what must surely be a now lost myth concerning the oiktistes or founder of the city.

The fine remains of the ancient polis of Aptera or Aptara (IACP 947), the modern Palaiokastro, are situated near the Minoan site of Megala Chorapia on the south side of Suda Bay, the safest anchorage in Crete throughout Greek, Venetian and Ottoman times, and which is today an important NATO naval base. Eusebius informs us that the city was founded by an eponymous hero, Apteros in the year 1503 BC (Chronicon 44c). The first historical mention of Aptera dates from the 7th century BC when a contingent of archers is reported to have fought along with Spartans in the war against Messene (Pausanius, Description of Greece IV 20, 8).

Various attemps in antiquity were made to explain the city’s name: notably, that it was the site of the song contest of the Muses and Sirens. In this story the latter lost their wings in a fight that ensued after their defeat (Stephen of Byzantium sv. Aptera; ‘aptera’ = ‘wingless’). The city’s name most likely derives from one of the epithets of Artemis, Aπτερα (cf. Inscriptionis Cretae 2), similar to that of the statue in the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis at Athens, which later took on the name of Nike Apteros, meaning ‘wingless’ Nike.

From the fourth century BC Aptera produced coins on the Aiginetan weight standard, but by later Hellenistic times it gradually declined in favour of its powerful neighbour Kydonia and was finally absorbed by Rome in 67 BC.

Crete, Aptera AR Stater. Signed by Pythodoros. Circa 4th century BC. Α[ΠΤAΡΑΙΩΝ] around head of Artemis Aptera to right, with hair elaborately curled upwards around a stephane ornamented with palmettes; she wears an elaborate crescent and solar-disk pendant earring with three drops and a pearl necklace; to right in smaller letters the artist’s signature: ΠΥΘΟΔΟΡΟΥ / Warrior hero Apteros, called Ptolioikos, standing facing, his bearded head left, wearing crested helmet and cuirass, holding in his left hand a spear and shield decorated with a sunburst, his right is raised towards a sacred fir tree in left field; ΠΤΟΛΙΟΙΚΟΣ around. Le Rider, Monnaies crétoises, p. 36, 269-70, pl. 9, 11-12; Svoronos, Crète, p. 15, pl. 1, 10 (same dies); BMC 1, pl. 2, 3 (same dies); BMFA Suppl. 108 (same dies); LIMC VII/1, p. 588, VII/2, sv. Ptolioikos 2 (same rev. die); for the engraver’s signature see L. Forrer, Notes sur les signatures de graveurs sur les monnaies grecques, Bruxelles 1906, pp. 277-284. 11.78g, 24mm, 12h.

Extremely Fine. Extremely Rare. Of exceptionally fine style and quality, and among the finest of the very few known examples.

From the Eckenheimer Collection.