Coins from thousands of years ago being auctioned

Art Daily
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Marc Antony & Divus Julius Caesar. AR Denarius (3.62 gms), Military mint traveling with Antony in Cisalpine Gaul, 43 B.C. NGC EF, Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5. Die Shift. Est: $1,000-$1,500.
Marc Antony & Divus Julius Caesar. AR Denarius (3.62 gms), Military mint traveling with Antony in Cisalpine Gaul, 43 B.C. NGC EF, Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5. Die Shift. Est: $1,000-$1,500.

SANTA ANA, CA.- The fascinating world of ancient coins offers both exceptional, handmade artistry as well as intriguing, poignant touchstones to larger-than-life characters of the past. Now, beginner coin collectors and seasoned numismatic pros alike have the chance to own ancient history via Stack’s Bowers May 2020 World Collectors Choice Online Auction on May 13 at 10 a.m. PT.

On account of the seemingly endless array of coins issued throughout antiquity, the field can seem rather daunting to the beginner. Additionally, there may be the notion that such coins are inherently cost prohibitive and many times more expensive that their more modern counterparts. However, many of these rarities can be had for as little as $200, which makes them the perfect choice for those just starting out in numismatics.

In Stack’s Bowers upcoming Collectors Choice Online auction, one will encounter numerous ancient delights, primarily emanating from the Greek (circa 6th to 2nd centuries B.C.) and Roman (3rd century B.C. to 4th century A.D.) cultures.

The former tends to focus much more on artistic and creative flair, as each city within the Greek world tended to issue their own currency. As such, the coinage from each of these cities served a purpose of civic pride, with indigenous and/or important plants, animals, and deities taking a prominent role on the front or back of the coin. One such rather popular example would be the coinage from the ancient Italian city of Tarentum—the modern city of Taranto having been constructed upon its ruins. Tarentum’s founding dates to the late 8th century B.C., when a colony was established there by a Greek man, Phalanthos, who had come from the famous city of Sparta.

As it was common for citizens to add a bit of mythos to their tales, the foundation story eventually merged Phalanthos with the mythological character Taras, said to have been the son of Poseidon, god of the seas, and a water nymph. Since Taras was associated with the dolphin (it rescued him after he fell from a ship during a storm, and he rode it safely to shore), the dolphin, rather accordingly, became associated with Phalanthos.

When Tarentum began striking their coins, their great founder took a star role on the backs of the coins, where he is depicted riding this lifesaving dolphin to safety. Owing to this fabled story along with the great artistry featured in the elegant design, these nomoi (nomos, the main unit used within their currency system, being the singular) have always been a popular type within any collection of ancient coins. Furthermore, they are even highly desired in the jewelry trade, as they serve as excellent centerpieces in pieces such as necklaces. Five such examples of these “boy and dolphin” types are featured in the auction and, despite their age and great level of preservation, are still rather affordable, with estimates in the $200-$400 range—quite a bargain for a silver coin nearly 2,300 years old and which corresponds roughly to the size of a U.S. nickel (albeit twice as thick).

Looking now at the Roman coins, one will see a much more “formulaic approach,” with admittedly a little less in the way of artistry, but much more in the way of historic allure. Names such as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and (Caesar) Augustus are well known to many even if you didn’t major in history. These famous (and, in the instances of some, infamous) personalities allow timeless stories to leap right off from the table.

Mark Antony, the right-hand man of the great Julius Caesar, had coins struck under his authority following the assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C. In the case of this example, struck just a year later in 43 B.C., Antony had his rugged countenance placed upon the front, while the back was saved for his slain friend, the dictator Julius Caesar.

The aftermath of Caesar’s assassination threw the Roman world into chaos, with rival factions competing to fill the newly created power vacuum. Antony was one such claimant, while another was Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted heir, Octavian. Later, the world would remember him by the name of (Caesar) Augustus—the first Roman emperor—but during these early, chaotic years, he was locked in a tenuous at best “friendship” with Antony. Another coin in this sale portrays them as such, with Antony once again taking a prominent, forceful role on the coin’s front, and Octavian—20 years Antony’s junior—displaying youthful, boyish features on the back.