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Description:

Gaul, Massalia AR Drachm. Circa 150-130 BC. Draped bust of Artemis right, wearing stephane, bow and quiver over shoulder; ligate HE to right / Lion standing right; MAΣΣAΛIHTΩN above and below, ligate HE to right. Depeyrot, Marseille 38/3; SNG Milano 19. 2.48g, 16mm, 6h.

Good Extremely Fine. Exceptionally good style and condition for a coin of Massalia, and one of the finest surviving coins of that city.

Ex private Californian collection;
Ex Triton XV, 3 January 2012, lot 1020;
Ex Parsy, 15 April 2008, lot 191.

Founded in around 600 BC by Greek colonists from Phokaia, Massalia was one of the first Greek ports in Western Europe. Thucydides notes that the Phokaian colonisation project was opposed by the Carthaginians, whose fleet was defeated (Peloponnesian War 1.13.6). A second wave of colonists arrived in about 540, when the mother city of Phokaia was destroyed by the Persians. At its height, in the 4th century BC, Massalia had a population of about 6000 inhabitants on around fifty hectares surrounded by a wall, and the city boasted a large temple of the cult of Apollo of Delphi on a hilltop overlooking the port and a temple of the cult of Artemis of Ephesus at the other end of the city, hence the latter’s prominence on the city’s coinage. The drachms minted in Massalia are found in all parts of Ligurian-Celtic Gaul; the city’s traders ventured into France on the rivers Durance and Rhône, and established overland trade routes to Switzerland and Burgundy, reaching as far north as the Baltic Sea. Between 330 and 320 BC, while Alexander was conquering vast swathes of the known world and expanding the Greeks’ knowledge of the fabled lands to the east, the mathematician and navigator Pytheas set out on an expedition by ship into the Atlantic visiting England, Shetland, and Norway, where he was the first scientist to describe drift ice and the midnight sun.

The city prospered greatly on account of its favourable position between Gaul and the Roman Republic; as an important trading link between the two, the city maintained its independence until shortly after the date at which this issue is believed to have been produced, when Massalia was faced with an invasion by the Allobroges and Arverni tribes, prompting the inhabitants to enter into an alliance with Rome. Legions under Q. Fabius Maximus and Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus defeated the Gauls at Vindalium in 121, and in return Rome received a strip of land through Massalian territority upon which was built the Via Domitia, a road to the Roman possessions in Spain. Massalia continued to flourish under Roman protection until 49 BC when it joined the losing side in the war between Caesar and Pompey.

While all the coins of Massalia show a distinct Celtic flavour in the style of their engraving, and consequently vary in aesthetic merit from crude to the sublime, the present specimen represents a perfect blend of Celtic and Hellenistic influences that has resulted in dies of truly remarkable beauty.
More impressive still is the condition in which this piece has survived, having been nearly perfectly preserved - despite the scale of production of the coins of Massalia, they are seldom found in such high grade.

Gaul, Massalia AR Drachm. (rxvi2)

Price: £4,102.40

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  • (Rates for 17/10/2018)
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