Philip II and Alexander III on One Coin!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kirispupis, Oct 25, 2021.

  1. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    I truly had no intentions to pick up an electrum coin. As I've explained before, I have a regimented system of only picking up coins from the time of Philip II, Alexander III, or the Wars of the Diadochi. So, when going through the Greek coins in auctions, I typically admire the first few such coins for their beauty, then scroll past them.

    But this one made me pause. Philip II (Zeus) and Alexander III (Herakles) referenced on one coin? Oh oh. Time to double check on that bank balance.

    Mytilene, Isle of Lesbos. circa 332 BCE
    Electrum. 10.5mm, 2.57g, 12h
    Aulock 1711. Bodenstedt 103. HGCS 5/1029(R2)
    ex CGB
    (yes, the photo sucks. I'll take more time for a better one over the weekend, but for now I'm too excited to not post)

    Mytilene had some history of supporting the Macedonian kings. In fact, this isn't the first coin to depict the Zeus image made so famous on Philip II's coins (see Bodenstedt 101c and Aulock 1710 among others). In a huge stroke of luck to Alexander, his top enemy in the field, Memnon of Rhodes, died during a siege of Mytilene. It's believed that these coins were minted just after the Persians were ousted again in 333 BCE.

    The electrum coinage of Mytilene is varied. It certainly seems that altering dies to fit the current political climate was a common practice. For example, earlier issues depicted the same Athenian owl as made famous on some of their tets and decadrachms (see Bodenstedt 105). Others referenced both Athens and Persia (see Bodenstedt 71).

    So, it wasn't completely out of the ordinary for Mytilene to mint such a coin. Still, from what I found, only two coins in history referenced both Alexander and his father on one coin. There's this one, and a slightly less rare obol from Cilicia (SNG Levante 198).

    The exact rarity of this coin is difficult to say. Bodenstedt stated there were five known copies, with three different dies on the obverse and three on the reverse. Clearly there are more than that. enumerates 11 sales within the last 18 years. Five of those were from Leu and three from Lanz (but the latest was 2007). Based on Bodenstedt's previous comment, I'm guessing there are 20 to 25.

    Two personal observations from looking at this coin and the others sold in the past years.
    1) The centering seems to be bad across every one. Not a single coin looked perfect. While it certainly must have been difficult to center such a tiny coin, and off-centered Mytilene hekte are common, this series seems to have a lot more mistakes than normal.
    2) In my opinion, the die with Herakles looks rougher than that of Zeus.

    I therefore wonder whether this coinage was minted in a hurry. My suspicion is a die study would find some overlap between the previous Zeus issues above, and this series. Another explanation is a loss of mint workers during Memnon's siege. The replacements weren't as skilled in centering these tiny coins, so they made more mistakes.

    Regardless whether these were minted in a hurry, they weren't produced for long. Alexander supposedly put an end to Mytilene electrum production around 330 BCE, and afterwards they switched to the well-known Alexander tets. As I understand, this was therefore likely the last electrum coinage from Mytilene. While Alexander usually stopped independent coinage in his territories, there were exceptions. For example, many cities in Ionia minted small coinage during this time. However, electrum coins probably posed too great a threat to his silver tets, so they had to stop.

    For me, it's rare to pick up issues from cities vs specific rulers. I would go crazy trying to collect every single city that was impacted by Alexander the Great or the Diadochi, so I only pick up those who played a crucial part or those named after major players. Mytilene meets neither criteria, but by their stunning move to reference both Philip II and Alexander III, I didn't need to think long about the purchase.

    Feel free to show your Mytilene or electrum coins!
    Voldemort, Pavlos, robinjojo and 21 others like this.
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  3. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

    R U kidding me!?
    That is an AMAZING coin!!!
    El from Lesbos at that specific time with these prolific leaders of men...

    Here's mine of the type. Please don't be concerned with the different metal alloys from obvs to revs ;)

    Seriously though, amazing acquisition:cigar:
  4. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Very cool coin,@kirispupis!! Good call. Your bank account will recover :D.

    [scribbling on my want list]


    LESBOS, Mytilene
    521-478 BCE
    EL hekte, 10.5 mm, 2.6 gm
    Obv: forepart of winged boar right
    Rev: incuse head of lion left; rectangular punch behind
    Ref: Bodenstedt Em. 10; HGC 6, 935; SNG von Aulock –; Boston MFA 1678; BMC –
    Voldemort, Pavlos, robinjojo and 17 others like this.
  5. kirispupis

    kirispupis Supporter! Supporter

    Here's another take at the photo. The coin is pretty dirty ("Patine de collection" according to the seller), but I prefer not to clean it.

  6. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter Dealer

    A tremendous find! It's not "dirty" at all. It's glazed with antiquity. :)
    Roman Collector, TIF, ominus1 and 3 others like this.
  7. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Looks wonderful @kirispupis! The electrum coins of Lesbos are really pretty and there is a lot of variety (just look at the hekte from @TIF!). Hope to get one some day.

    Here some coins from Lesbos:
    Lesbos, Mytilene. 3rd-2nd centuries BC. AE Tetrachalkon.
    Head of Zeus-Ammon to right.
    Reverse: M-Y/T-I Terminal figure of Dionysos facing on prow; grapes to left.
    Reference: BMC 134. HGC 6, 1048.
    7.8g; 18mm

    Islands off Mysia, Lesbos, Methymna. AR Tetartemorion. Circa 500/480-460 B.C.
    Facing head of Silenos.
    Reverse: Quadripartite incuse square.
    Reference: Hauck & Aufhäuser 14 (1998), 75. Leu Web Auction 11 (2020), 859.
    0.31g; 6mm

    Lesbos, Mytilene. AR Hemidrachm, Circa 450-350 B.C.
    Laureate head of Apollo right.
    Reverse: MYTI. Lyre.
    Reference: SNG Copenhagen 376-7; HGC 6, 1044.
    PeteB, Johndakerftw, Bing and 3 others like this.
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