Featured They called him 'The Besieger'...

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Only a Poor Old Man, Feb 9, 2021.

  1. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    My one year anniversary in Coin-Talk is fast approaching. In a couple weeks it will be a year since I discovered this wonderful site that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of coin collecting. In fact I purchased my first coin this time last February, so it is a year proper since I started collecting ancients, even though I hardly knew at the time it would turn into a full-time hobby. It has actually come to the point that I can comfortably call it an obsession, but I am not here to point any fingers. I am fully to blame as I always had the tendency to surround myself with beautiful things. As I am writing this, I can hear the voice of Angela Gheorghiou singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca in my stereo, and I realise that we are a privileged few, for we have chosen to become guardians to treasures of humanity which is exactly what these ancient coins are. They are not our belongings, we are simply their custodians, making sure that we safeguard them for the generations to come. Or maybe I am just trying really hard to excuse myself for wasting valuable resources onto non-essential things like coins during a time of global crisis... Nope, after some careful thinking I am sticking to the 'custodian of art' reasoning (I haven't tried it on the missus yet)!

    From early on in my collecting habit I decided to go for quality rather than quantity. At least to the degree I can afford, as quality is far from economical. I wanted to get a really special coin to mark my anniversary, so I picked one of my 'grail' coins, one that has been in my wish-list for a while. I spotted it on a seller's listings a few months back, and I have been saving for it ever since. To say that my saving effort was a success would be a blatant lie, but I had to finally get it as somebody else would spot it sooner or later and grab it from under my nose. You see good quality Demetrius Poliorketes tetradrachms with a 3-digit price tag are not exactly abundant.


    So, why this coin? I love Hellenistic portraits and this one is among the best of them. The coin shows some minor surface wear and some minimal loss of detail, but it is well-centered, the legends ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ are legible and overall it is a perfectly fine example to me. But the main attraction was always going to be the man depicted on the coin. Hands down, one of the most fascinating personalities of antiquity. And it is almost criminal that if you were to go out there and ask a hundred strangers if they know of Demetrius 'The Besieger' (that's what 'Poliorketes' means), you would struggle to get any positive responses. I am equally guilty to that, as prior to my coin collecting days I could not really tell you who this guy is. Everybody has heard of Alexander the Great or Antony and Cleopatra, but there are other historical figures of equal importance and a fascinating life worthy of a Hollywood adaptation. Yeap, you guessed it right, it is write-up time!

    Demetrius is one of the 'diadochi', a Greek word meaning 'Successors' that refers to the successors to the vast empire that Alexander the Great left upon his death. Even though he was not one of the original contenders, he is regarded as one of them due to his importance and to the fact that he interacted with all of them being the son of Antigonus I (the one-eyed). Alexander died on June the 10th of 323 BC. He did a right cock-up of a job naming his heir, thus ensuring a follow up of a series of unfortunate but fascinating historical events followed by equally fascinating coins from the personalities that tried to make his empire their own. The main starting candidates were Alexander's mentally challenged brother Philip Arrhideus and his unborn son Alexander IV, while an array of his former generals took turns in becoming regents or satraps to parts of his empire. As one can imagine, it did not take long to get to a full-on civil war where Alexander's former generals fought each other for supreme rule.

    I am not going to attempt to describe the wars of the diadochi as it would be pure madness. It would take a skilled writer great effort to convey such a complex story in an understandable and organised manner, and I am simply not such a thing. Let's just say that Demetrius's father Antigonus was one of the main protagonists, alas not one with a happy ending. The following Youtube channel has done a fine job describing the events in a series of videos. Here is the first one:

    Demetrius got to the front-line of the story when his father entrusted him with the command of the Antigonid army's cavalry. He participated in many of the battles of the diadochi wars learning from his mistakes, and when he was only 22 he was assigned to defend Syria from the advanced armies of Ptolemy I. He was a competent commander despite a mixed bag of defeats and successes. Some of those defeats though were quite important and led to losses of vast chunks of Antigonid territory to Seleukus I. His luck turned when he focused his efforts on the Greek mainland and led a powerful fleet to free Athens from the rule of Cassander and Ptolemy. He won his first nickname 'Soter' (savior) as the Athenians were quite happy to see him kick out their oppressors. He then used Athens as a base from where his fleet had some decisive victories against the forces of Ptolemy, with the conquest of Cyprus being the most important. Things were starting to look up for the Antigonids again.

    (The siege of Rhodes - Cassell's illustrated universal history / Wikimedia Commons)

    One of the defining chapters of his life, and the one that earned him the title 'Poliorketes', started in 305 BC. Earlier on his way to Cyprus he had asked for the assistance of the Rhodians, a request that was denied. After the conquest of Cyprus and a brief participation in his father's campaign against Ptolemy in Egypt, he decided that he had to teach Rhodes a lesson, but the real underlying reason was that he was worried of the possible naval assistance they might provide to Ptolemy. The prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful siege that followed earned its place in history as one of the most fascinating military engagements of its kind. Demetrius ingenuity was evident from a series of astonishing siege engines he created, including a 55 metre long battering ram and a 38 metre tall siege tower nicknamed 'The Taker of Cities'. The siege lasted over a year and eventually Demetrius was called back by his impatient father. A peace agreement was reached where the Rhodians promised that they would maintain neutrality and would not assist Ptolemy. Despite the positive outcome, it was still a resounding defeat for Demetrius. The Rhodians assembled the bronze, iron and other equipment the besieging army left behind and used it to construct a magnificent statue of the God Helios which became to be known as the 'Colossus of Rhodes' one of the seven wonders of antiquity. A very-well made animated video describing the siege in detail can be found in the same Youtube channel:

    Demetrius returned to Greece were his lavish lifestyle and overspending caused him great bother. He would party non-stop and engage in involuntary coitus with anyone and everyone regardless of age or sex, something that scandalized the Athenians who realized that Cassander wasn't such a bad ruler after all. There is a famous story of a young handsome Athenian that chose to throw himself in a cauldron of boiling water rather than succumb to Demetrius' advances. Luckily for the locals, the great moment of judgement arrived in 301 BC when Demetrius traveled to Asia to assist his father against the unified army of Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleukus in the decisive battle of Ipsus. It was a return to the earlier father/son tactics where Demetrius would lead the cavalry on the right flank of the Antigonid army. Unfortunately horses are not fond of elephants, and Seleukus had plenty of those, creating an impenetrable barrier that Demetrius was unable to cross, thus rendering his forces immobile. The Antigonid phalanx was left exposed and was battered by the allied forces including thousands of arrows and javelins that hid the sun from the sky. In one of the last tragic moments of the diadochi conflict, Antigonus perished in the middle of his phalanx while hoping and waiting for his son's assistance that never came. Demetrius escaped from the battle to Ephesos with a few thousand troops, but it was effectively the end of the Antigonid empire and the climax to the diadochi conflict.

    Demetrius returned to his Athenian stronghold, but the locals were not pleased to see him back and forbid him from entering the city. After a brief blockade, Demetrius gained access but he decided to spare Athens and the local populace. In another victorious twist he murdered the son of Cassander and declared himself King of Macedonia. He initially maintained good relations with his neighbor Pyrhus the King of Epirus and managed to remain King of Macedon for a few more years, but eventually Pyrhus allied himself with Ptolemy and Lysimachus who interfered in internal Macedonian disputes and Demetrius was ejected from the throne in 288 BC. Running out of allies and troop numbers, he resorted to a form of guerrilla warfare in Asia where he finally had to surrender to Seleukus when the last of his troops abandoned him. Despite his son's diplomatic efforts, he remained in captivity and died three years later. His legacy remained strong though, as his descendants held to the Macedonian throne for many years to come.

    This was a remarkable man with no shortage of failures and character shortcomings, but one that has nevertheless earned his place among the Pantheon of great generals. His coins are as interesting as him, having issued numerous types throughout his reign. Show me your Poliorketes coins, or any others associated with his times and the diadochi wars.

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  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    A beautiful coin and a wonderful write-up. It's difficult to believe that you only started collecting ancient coins a year ago!
  4. Mammothtooth

    Mammothtooth Stand up Philosopher, Vodka Taster

    Yes, very well done
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  5. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    A drachm:
    Demetrios I Poliorketes. 306-283 BC. AR Drachm (4.0 gm, 1h, 18mm). Uncertain mint in Euboia. Struck circa 290-287 BC. Obv: Diademed and horned head right. Rev: Poseidon Pelagaios standing left, right foot on pile of rocks; an ΑΓ ligate monogram in outer left. Newell 154a; Weber 1257.
  6. Alegandron

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

    Great writeup! Very nice coin. And, welcome to the ANCIENTS VIRUS! Lotsa fun.

    I have several of the Diadochi, but I believe this may be the only one from this guy.

    AE 15mm
    Demetrios I Poliorketes
    294-288 BCE
  7. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    A small bronze:
    KINGS of MACEDON. Demetrios I Poliorketes. 306-285 BC. AE (13mm; 1.40 gm; 2h). Uncertain mint in Asia Minor. Obv: Nike, blowing trumpet and holding stylis, standing left on prow of galley left. Rev: Poseidon Pelagaios standing left, preparing to throw trident; BA to left; to right, monogram above Δ (legend, control mark); HGC 3, 1031 var. (same). Cf Newell 62; cf. AMNG III pg. 181, 7; SNG Copenhagen__; SNG Alpha Bank__. Black patina. A major auction house writes: "This bronze bears the canonical types found in the ubiquitous early tetradrachms of Demetrios. The issue is missing from most collections, and this variety appears to be unpublished in the standard references."

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Only a Poor Old Man, please let me second @DonnaML. Only a year? Stunning. ...Nope, just Stunning. You're already one of the most reliably informative posters here. Honest, that's just, pretty phenomenal.
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  9. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Thank you for your kind words. When I do a write up I am fully aware that English is my second language and it is probably full of mistakes. Thankfully CoinTalk members are too polite to point them out.

    For me the happiest side-effect of coin collecting is that it allowed me to reconnect with history. Every coin is attached to an important historical civilization or personality/event and researching the coin allows us to indulge into the associated history in such detail that we never experienced in school. And it doesn't have to be a fancy tetradrachm, you can equally achieve this with a humble Byzantine copper. The physical value of the coins is only important as far as the ability to acquire them is concerned, and this is whether we like it or not attached to the real world. I was hit with a rather big and unexpected home-maintenance bill yesterday that demolished my coin budget for the months to come. It takes reality to burst the coin bubble sometimes. So no more tets for a while, but hopefully a bronze or two will be possible.
    svessien, PeteB and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Only a Poor Old Man, your English is easily as good as that of 98% of Americans I know, present company emphatically included! :<}
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  11. Pavlos

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

    Amazing coin and very nice write up! Thank you for sharing.

    I don't have any Demetrios coin to share, but talking about the siege of Rhodos, I do have a coin of Rhodos that was struck during a siege. Not during Demetrios, but during Mithridates. I still wanted to give it a share. The Rhodians seem to be real good at defending their island.

    Rhodos, Caria. AE, Emergency issue during the Siege of Rhodos, ca. 88 B.C.
    Radiate head of Helios right.
    Reverse: Ρ - Ο Rose; headdress of Isis to left, thunderbolt to right.
    Reference: BMC 321; SNG Cop. 856.
    14.62g; 28mm

    This coinage was struck during Mithradates VI's failed six-month siege of Rhodes in 88 BC. Unable to produce enough silver for military expenditures, the Rhodians resorted to a fiduciary bronze coinage.
  12. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Right, all the way forward to the siege of the Knights Hospitallers, this was a place where people knew how to withstand a siege.
    Only a Poor Old Man and DonnaML like this.
  13. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Great write up, great coin , many thanks.
    Maintenance bills suck. :hungover: I tell my wife ancient coins are a good investment o_O

    Here's my Demetrius Tet:

    P1150356 (2).JPG
  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

    Very nice coin and essay. Thanks.
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  15. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Great write-up on an interesting ruler.

    Here is my only one, a tiny AE with a prow:

    Macedon - Demetrios I Poliorketes - AE head & prow Apr 2020 (0).jpg

    Macedon Æ 13
    Demetrios I Poliorketes
    (c. 306-283 B.C.)
    Salamis Mint (or Tarsos?)

    Helmeted head of Athena (orDemetrios?) right, with bull's horn / Prow right; BA above, aphlaston to left, [monogram] and X below.
    (1.79 grams / 13 x 10 mm)

    Attribution Note:

    Mint attributed to Salamis or Tarsos. Obverse head either Athena or Demetrios?

    Confusing array of citations from online sources:

    Newell, Demetrius 40 (or 48?)
    SNG Cop. Macedonia 1192
    Sear Greek 6775 variety.
    SNG Alpha Bank 954-5.
    Curtisimo, ominus1, Andres2 and 9 others like this.
  16. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    Happy one year! LOVE the coin, the man aaand the writeup.
    Former CT buddy @ominus1
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
    Curtisimo, ominus1, svessien and 10 others like this.
  17. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Demetrios I Poliorketes Ar Tetradrachm Amphipolis Mint 294-293 BC Obv Nike alighting atop prow left
    Rv. Poseidon nude standing left brandishing trident. Newell 94 Hoover HGC 3 1012f 17.16 grms 25 mm Photo by W. Hansen demetriospoli2.jpeg This coin calls attention to the naval success at the Battle of Salamis fought in 306 BC near the city of Salamis Cyprus. During this campaign Demetrios was beseiging the city of Salamis which was at that time a Ptolemaic possession. Ptolemy sent a relieving force consisting of something like 140 warships and 100 transports with some 8000 troops. Demetrios managed to destroy most of this relieving force sinking somethin 80 ships capturing another 40 as well as most of the transports. Both obverse and reverse of this coin pay homage to this event. What is most noteworthy about the obverse of this coin is its similarity to this monument IMG_2561.JPG IMG 0728.JPG Both pictures are mine taken during trips to the Louvre in 2014 and 2016. I am still not happy with either photo so I may have to go back (to go back to Paris what a sacrifice);). It seems likely that this coin would have some connection with this monument though what that connection is.... is really unknown.:banghead: Currently there are three battles contending for why this monument was commissioned. However none of them are anywhere near Samothrace. Oh well someday I must go back to further delve into the mysteries of the Victory of Samothrace. :)
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
  18. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting article, @Only a Poor Old Man! The linked videos were also educational. Thanks!

    @Terence Cheesman, nice photos! I have enjoyed this book, and recommend it to you based upon your interest in the Winged Victory of Samothrace:

    winged victory book.jpg

    Here's a small replica of this outstanding Hellenistic statue with, at its base, a couple of Hellenistic coins that were struck a few decades after the original was created (drachms of Demetrios I Soter and Antiochus VII Euergetes).

    Curtisimo, ominus1, PeteB and 7 others like this.
  19. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    You are right, the Rhodians were doing a marvelous job defending their island. And a siege wasn't always a bad thing as in a true sense whatever didn't kill them, made them stronger. They became more powerful after surviving the Demetrius siege. Rhodes was going to be my summer destination in 2020, but Coronavirus put an end to that. It is still my hopeful destination for 2021, but with those new virus strains and the whole mess of Hotel quarantines and other measures in place right now, I am beginning to doubt if it will happen.

    That is an excellent coin, and of all of Demetrius' tets, it is my favorite design. And how silly of me, until you pointed it out, I never made the connection between the depiction of Poseidon and Nike on his coins and his naval victories. It makes sense if you think about it!
  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    "You are right, the Rhodians were doing a marvelous job defending their island. And a siege wasn't always a bad thing as in a true sense whatever didn't kill them, made them stronger."
    Sorry for getting off point, @Only a Poor Old Man, but that line of Nietzsche always elicits the paraphrase: 'Whatever doesn't kill me only makes me stronger. ...Until it kills me.'
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  21. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Excellent post.

    Demetrios's career reminds me of Enoch Powell's gloomy
    dictum "All political careers end in failure "


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