An archaic tetradrachm of Athens, or is it a tridrachm? A coin with an interesting history.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by robinjojo, Jan 21, 2021.

  1. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    During my wanderings around the various websites selling ancients, who are lying in wait to spring offerings that tantalize and drain the budget at the same time, I saw this newly offered tetradrachm on MA Shops. I took the bait, of course, like a none-too-bright carp.

    The coin arrived yesterday. This is a tetradrachm of Athens, attributed to the period of 485-480 BC, a period the precedes and includes most of the second Persian invasion of Greece by King Xerxes I.

    This example has a very low weight at 13.03 grams. Even by archaic coinage standards, which seem to tend to fluctuate more than later coinage, this coin has a weight beyond outlier range. I do have a couple of examples in the upper 15 grams range, but none, until now, at 25% below tetradrachm standard (I'm using 17.4 grams).

    Now, the coin has a healthy deposit of silver oxide (it's very dark), but no corrosion, filing or test cuts (which normally do not affect weight). It really is a solid coin struck on a narrow, "dumpy" flan typical of the period.

    At 13.03 grams, this coin, in terms of weight, would qualify as a tridrachm, based on the Attic standard of 4.33 grams per drachm, or 3.009237875 drachms for this coin. Since coins were commonly weighed, and tested, I would assume that this coin would be valued at three drachms, not four, based on weight. I cannot see any reasonably responsible merchant accepting something so low in weight as anything else.

    There is another fold to this story. This coin was part of a coin collection of Shlomo Moussaieff (1925-2015), a famous, some might call infamous, Israeli/British collector and seller of mainly antiquities, as well as a seller of jewelry to the rich and powerful. He specialized in Greek and Roman antiquities found in the Levant and Egypt, especially anything related to Biblical times. He died in 2015 and his collection was sold at auction through Goldberg and other other houses.

    Here's a link that covers his colorful and controversial life:

    So another interesting question arises. Was this coin obtained by Moussaieff from a source in the Middle East? It seems, based on what I saw on the Internet, the coins sold and auctioned were Greek and Roman coins, some very rare, from the Levant, especially Israel and surrounding environs. At 13.03 grams this coin is within shekel weight range. Could this coin have been produced locally?

    There is another possibility. There is a theory that the Persians, once they occupied Athens and seized her treasury, produced coinage at the mint, using the dies available, to take back to Persia. Could this be one of the coins, assuming that this theory has any validity? Could the low weight be attributed to the Persians' lack of knowledge of Attic weight standards, or were they totally indifferent?

    The finally possibility that comes to mind is that the coin was produced at a time of high coin production volume, produced in haste as the massive Persian army advanced on Athens and the city was being evacuated, following the defeat at Thermopylae, when adherence to coinage weight standards was not a high priority.

    This coin has been assigned to the Seltman Groups E and F by the seller, Dr. Busso Peus Nachf.

    Tetradrachme ø 20mm (13,03g). Um 500/490 - 485/80 v. Chr. Vs.: Kopf der Athena mit attischem Helm n. r. Rs.: ΑΘΕ, Eule u. Olivenzweig im Quadratum incusum. Seltman Gruppe E und F; HGC 4 1591. Dunkle Tönung, s-ss

    Attica, Athens

    Tetradrachm, 20mm, 13.03 grams, 500/490 - 485/80 BC: Head of Athena with Attic helmet to the right. Rev .: ΑΘΕ, owl and olive branch in quadratum incusum. Seltman Groups E and F; HGC 4 1591. Dark tint, Fine-Very Fine.

    D-Camera Athens tetradrachm.1 archaic 485-480 BC Shlomo Moussaieff Selt E  13.04g  01-21-21.jpg

    So, yet another puzzle. What are you opinions?

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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    Interesting, could it be an imitative coin issued by the middle eastern states, I know the Himyars from Yemen minted a lot of ‘Athenian’ coins!
    +VGO.DVCKS and TuckHard like this.
  4. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    The Yemen owls was my first thought, too. I ran a search for silver coins around robinjojo's size, all the Yemen owl imitations seem pretty degenerative compared to this example here.
    JayAg47, +VGO.DVCKS and robinjojo like this.
  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    I'm with Jay & TuckHard, it looks like an ancient copy.
    +VGO.DVCKS and robinjojo like this.
  6. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    I also think that the coin is minted outside of Greece. Just Greek influence, so the weighing standard does not follow Athenian's.
    +VGO.DVCKS and robinjojo like this.
  7. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Simple. Trade with the Olmecs...


  8. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I tend to agree. Such an underweight coin would not be accepted in Athens or anywhere else that adhered to the Attic standard.

    The fact that it has no test cuts indicates, to me, that it circulated in a region where a 13 grams coin was accepted, and I think that region was the Levant, Arabia and Egypt. That's my guess.
    happy_collector and +VGO.DVCKS like this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    No, Honest, even from here, the style, all by itself, is Yelling imitation. The Himyarite issues, noted by @JayAg47 and @TuckHard, are good for demonstrating the geographic range of where this might have come from, whether it's Himyarite or not.
    ...But I'm betting money I don't have on its being an imitation, from ...Wherever. As such, Very cool.
  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @robinjojo, for what it's worth, I think you nailed it.
  11. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Alegandron likes this.
  12. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I must say there is a certain familial resemblance.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Alegandron like this.
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