Morton & Eden

Auction 124  –  26 - 27 September 2023

This auction offers live bidding  |  Sign up now
Morton & Eden, Auction 124

Important Greek Coins - The Collection of a European Connoisseur

Part 1: Tu, 26.09.2023, from 11:00 AM CEST
Part 2: We, 27.09.2023, from 11:00 AM CEST
Pre bids are accepted until:
Part 1: Mo, 25.09.2023, until 6:00 PM CEST
Part 2: Mo, 25.09.2023, until 6:00 PM CEST


‡ Kings of Epirus, Pyrrhus (295-272 BC), gold stater, struck at Syracuse, c. 278 BC, head of Athena right wearing crested Corinthian helmet adorned with griffin on the bowl, triple-drop earring and beaded necklace; behind head, small owl; below truncation, A, rev., ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΠΥΡΡΟΥ, Nike walking to left bearing oak-wreath and trophy; in left field, thunderbolt, 8.52g, die axis 4.00 (Wealth of the Ancient World 105, this piece; de Luynes 1894, same dies; Giesecke pl. 23, 1, same dies; Gulbenkian II, 910, same obverse die; Basel 522, same obverse die; Buttrey, “The Morgantina Gold Hoard and the Coinage of Hicetas”, NC 1973, pl 2, 43), extremely fine and very rare, of superb Hellenistic style Exhibited: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (1983); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1983); Detroit Institute of Arts (1984); Dallas Museum of Art (1984). Provenance: Charles Gillet collection, Kunstfreund sale, 1974, Bank Leu& Münzen und Medaillen, 28 May 1974, lot 240; S. Weintraub collection; Nelson Bunker Hunt collection, part I, Sotheby’s New York, 19 June 1990, lot 98; European Connoisseur collection (formed before 2002). Note: The three Samnite Wars, ending in 290 B.C., had seen Rome grow to become the dominant force in central Italy, powerful and confident enough to begin extending their influence to the south to rival the wealthy and highly-coveted Greek colonies of Magna Graecia (southern Italy and Sicily). These cities had been settled centuries earlier by Greek migrants and had come to exercise control over the areas around them, ‘hellenising’ many of the native peoples who had lived there and maintaining close ties with their Greek cousins on the mainland. Accordingly, when the Greek-speaking citizens of Tarentum fought back against the encroaching Romans by attacking a fleet of theirs off the coast of the city, and consequently found themselves at war with them, it was to the old world that they turned, and specifically to the king of Epirus, Pyrrhus. He duly accepted and sailed across the Adriatic in 280 B.C. The Romans had never fought against a Hellenistic army from the eastern Mediterranean, nor had they faced elephants (which Pyrrhus had brought with him), and while they were tested in the important battles of Heraclea and Asculum, their ability to draw up a seemingly limitless reserve of troops meant that they could keep fighting, while Pyrrhus’ losses had been so great as to spawn the phrase ‘Pyrrhic victory’: Plutarch records that Pyrrhus’ witty reply to someone congratulating him on victory at Asculum was “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” (Life of Pyrrhus 21.9). At this point, he heeded a request from Greek inhabitants of Sicily to save them from Carthaginian expansion; his campaign there, beginning in 278 B.C., ended with further attritional victories. A final return to Italy in an attempt to finish the war there failed, and in 275 B.C. he sailed home, broken, to Epirus. This long expedition created a fascinating body of numismatic material, with the long-standing mints of Magna Graecia issuing a variety of exquisite coins on Pyrrhus’ behalf and many, such as this, in his name. Interestingly here, the die-engravers of Syracuse chose to emulate the gold staters of another champion of the Greeks from the mainland, the recently deceased Alexander the Great. As a nod to the Epirote king, though, these engravers modified the reverse type to have Nike hold a wreath not of laurel, but of oak leaves, to refer to those leaves at the oracle of Zeus in Dodona, Epirus, whose rustling was interpreted by priests to reveal the sayings of the god.

Estimate: GBP 150000-200000

Question about this lot?


Starting price 120'000 GBP
Estimate 150'000 GBP
Place a pre bid  (2 days left)
Bid live
Feedback / Support