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Islands off Ionia, Chios AR Tetradrachm. Circa 375-350 BC. Pherekles, magistrate. Sphinx seated left before standing amphora surmounted by grape-bunch; all on raised circular disc / Quadripartite incuse square with vertical striations within each quarter; ΦEPEKΛHΣ across horizontal band. Baldwin, Chios -; cf. 62-78 (different magistrates); Mavrogordato Class β, 49 var. (this magistrate not listed); Pixodarus 32 = NFA 16, 214. 15.08g, 22mm, 11h.

Near Extremely Fine; excellent metal quality for the issue, and engraved in extraordinarily fine style. Extremely Rare, only the second known example bearing this magistrate's name, and among the finest known specimens of the entire series.

From the A.F. Collection, Germany.

Chios was one of the original twelve member states of the Ionian League and was, at the end of the 7th century BC, one of the first cities to strike coinage, quickly establishing the Sphinx as its civic emblem. Chios’s ability to play a pivotal role in the League was made possible by the fact that it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world during the Archaic and Classical periods, prospering through maritime trade and the production and export of local wine. The Chians were very active in the establishment of overseas trading posts, most famous of which was Naukratis in Egypt, which has been shown by archaeological evidence to have had a prominent Chian presence. It appears that in the early Archaic period Chian traders were invested in the transit of goods between Asia Minor and mainland Greece, a trade that was centred on luxury items manufactured in the Near East which became popular in mainland Greece around this time, this being facilitated both by Chios’ favourable geographical position, and by possession of one of the largest merchant fleets in the region. Large-scale export of wine appears to have begun in the early 6th century, and the quality of this wine was particularly excellent, such that it quickly became renowned throughout the Greek world. By virtue of their existing trade connections, the Chians were able to easily promote this wine abroad and trade it on a comparatively large scale. Both of these pillars of the Chian economy are represented on the present coin type along with the principal device of the city.

As the civic badge of the city, the sphinx is known to have been used on pottery stamps, coin weights, headings of official decrees and gravestones of Chians abroad, and as the principal device of their coinage it was employed for a period of approximately eight hundred years - a great span of devotion to their emblem that no other Greek city can match. Constantinos Lagos (A Study of the Coinage of Chios in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods, Durham PhD Thesis 1998) suggests that what may have begun as mere custom, might eventually have been enshrined in local law, such is the adherence to the design. Its significance is more difficult to discern. J. Mavrogordato (A Chronological Arrangement of the Coins of Chios, 1918) reasserted an old association of the Sphinx with the rites of Dionysos, which “with its hieratic attitude... as an attribute of Dionysus enjoining silence in respect of his mysteries, or as a guardian of the temple’s treasures, there is nothing of the commercial element about it.” Yet he acknowledges that with the addition of the amphora and the grapes, the “business interests of an essentially mercantile community were clearly brought into notice”, which suggests that if indeed the Sphinx ever held any religious significance, this was soon replaced with a notion of the sphinx acting as a guardian of Chian commercial interests, an association that later becomes clearer still with the permanent depiction of the sphinx with one paw raised protectively over a bunch of grapes, or an amphora, or the prow of a ship. This protective aspect of the sphinx is not well attested in mainland Greek mythology, but owing to the Chians close links with Egypt, it is likely that the Egyptian aspects of the sphinx as a protector were more recognised on Chios; the appearance of what has been called the ‘lock of immortality’ with Egyptian roots, rendered as a tendril or plume on very early Chian sphinxes lends weight to this theory.

Islands off Ionia, Chios AR Tetradrachm. (rxv147)

Price: £20,512.00

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  • (Rates for 24/04/2018)
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