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Description:

Kyrenaika, Kyrene AR Didrachm. Koinon issue, circa 250 BC. Diademed head of Zeus Ammon right / Silphium plant with four leaves; ibex horn in upper left field, KOI-NON across fields. BMC 1; SNG Copenhagen 1275. 7.81g, 21mm, 12h.

Good Very Fine - exceptional for the issue. Fine style. Iridescent toning.

Ex Numismatica Ars Classica 84, 20 May 2015, lot 757.

Kyrene was founded in 631 BC by Dorian settlers from Thera and their leader Battos, as instructed by the Delphic oracle. Around a hundred years later as the city grew in prosperity to rival even Carthage, Kyrene began issuing silver coins of archaic style on small, thick modules. Virtually all of the coins of Kyrene display the badge of the city and the principal source of its wealth - the silphium plant.

It was described as having a thick root, a stalk like fennel, large alternating leaves with leaflets like celery, spherical clusters of small yellow flowers at the top and broad leaf-like, heart-shaped fruit called phyllon. The plant was valued in ancient times because of its many uses as a food source, seasoning for food, and, most importantly, as a medication. Perfumes were made from the flowers, the stalk was used for food or fodder while the juice and root were used to make a variety of medical potions.

Aside from its uses in Greco-Roman cooking (as in recipes by Apicius), the many medical applications of the plant included use to treat cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, aches and pains, warts, and it has even been speculated that the plant may also have functioned as a contraceptive, based partly on testimony from Pliny.

The plant only grew along a narrow coastal area, about 125 by 35 miles. Much of the speculation about the cause of its extinction rests on a sudden demand for animals that grazed on the plant, for some supposed effect on the quality of the meat. Overgrazing combined with over harvesting and climate change led to its extinction. Pliny reported that the last known stalk of silphium found in Kyrenaika was given to the Emperor Nero as a curiosity. The city never recovered from the extinction of its principal export, and economic decline combined with a series of devastating earthquakes led to the abandonment of the city in the 4th Century AD.

Kyrenaika, Kyrene AR Didrachm. (rxiv287)

Price: £4,912.00

  • US $6,475.49
  • EUR €5,506.35
  • AUD $8,278.69
  • CHF 6,377.74
  • CAD $8,177.50
  • (Rates for 23/10/2017)
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