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Macedon, Mende AR Tetradrachm. Circa 425 BC. Dionysos, bearded, wearing himation and holding kantharos, reclining to left on the back of a donkey standing to right; before, a crow standing on branches to right / Vine with four bunches of grapes in a linear square; ΜΕΝΔΑΙΟΝ in a shallow incuse square around. Noe, Mende 62 (same dies); SNG Lockett 1345 (same reverse die); SNG ANS 337 (same obverse die). 16.86g, 26mm, 7h.

Near Extremely Fine. Rare.

Ex Dr. Busso Peus Nachf. 384, 2 November 2005, lot 189;
Ex Münzen und Medaillen 88, 17 May 1999, lot 133;
Ex E. Bourgey, 13 June 1952, lot 81;
Ex L. Hamburger, 11 June 1930, lot 12.

This, the most decadent depiction of Dionysos on ancient coinage, shows us a scene wherein the god reclines luxuriously upon the back of a donkey that carries him along. As Dionysos is borne forwards in procession by the donkey, the viewer is invited to imagine his thiasos, the ecstatic retinue of Dionysos made up of maenads, satyrs and Silenoi as it plays and dances around him. Dionysos props himself up, perhaps giddy with inebriation, with his left elbow which he digs into the back of the unfortunate donkey, while with his other he holds his wine cup aloft in encouragement to his followers. Dionysos himself appears oblivious to the effort of the animal beneath him, whose posture implies a quiet and composed nobility of spirit as it bears its godly burden without complaint; this is juxtaposed with the somewhat undignified pose of Dionysos himself who, though his face is set with an apparently serene and typically static archaic dignitas, seems decidedly unbalanced and at risk of losing his precariously fastened modesty.

One could hardly conceive of a more appropriate type for this city’s coinage: Mende was a leading exporter of wine, rivalling such other cities as Naxos and Maroneia, and the quality and fame of its wine is well attested in the ancient sources. Thus it is only natural that Mende should have adopted Dionysos as a patron deity; notorious for his wild indulgences and frequent state of inebriation on account of his love of wine, this tantalising scene is at once wholly apt for a city exporting merriment and inebriety, and also a proud statement of the quality of their produce. The implication inherent in the link between the wine Dionysos holds and the vines laden with grapes on the reverse is clear: Mende’s wine is good enough for a god.

The execution of the scene itself could not be more intriguing: juxtaposed we have the epicurean figure of Dionysos given over to indulgence and excess, and that of the humble donkey whose labour makes the god’s comfort possible. The image is a sobering reminder to the viewer of the effort involved in viticulture and wine production, and that for one man’s enjoyment others must work.

Macedonia, Mende AR Tetradrachm. (rxv106)

Price: £15,384.00

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  • (Rates for 24/04/2018)
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