Description

    The Mighty Mithradates

    PONTIC KINGDOM. Mithradates VI the Great (120-63 BC). AV stater (21mm, 8.47 gm, 12h). NGC MS 5/5 - 4/5. Dated Pontic year 209 (89/8 BC). Diademed head of Mithradates right, with wind-blown hair / BAΣIΛEΩΣ MIΘPAΔATOY EYΠATOPOΣ, stag grazing left; star and crescent to left, ΘΣ (date) over AX monogram to right; all within ivy wreath. De Callataÿ pg. 4 (D5/R8). SNG BM Black Sea 1028. Cf. SNG Copenhagen 233 (date). Exceedingly rare. A remarkable Hellenistic portrait, sharply struck on a broad flan.

    Mithradates VI was a consistent thorn in the side of Rome for several decades. Soon after inheriting the throne of Pontus, Mithradates displayed an ambition his small kingdom could not contain. Observing growing resentment to Roman greed, he portrayed himself as the leader of resistance against Rome's suffocating hand. He launched a five-year war against Rome in 88 BC by invading Asia Province and massacring 80,000 Italian civilians. This led to a vigorous response led by the Roman general Sulla, but on the verge of victory, Sulla was forced by political turmoil at home to sign a treaty restoring the pre-war status quo. A decade later, Mithradates launched another attack on the Roman protectorate of Bithynia, but was repelled by general Lucullus. His career finally concluded in 63 BC when, defeated by Pompey the Great, he was besieged in Panticapaeum by his own rebellious son and forced to commit suicide. After failing to kill himself via poison (to which he had become immune by taking small doses over many years), Mithradates induced a loyal Gallic officer to slay him.

    Mithradates' gold coinage falls into two groups: A mass mintage of gold staters imitating the types of Lysimachus of Thrace from more than two centuries earlier, and a much smaller and more carefully produced issue of dated gold staters with his name and portrait. The imagery deliberately evokes the memory of Alexander the Great, depicting himself as a semi-divine conqueror with flowing, windswept hair. These rare and desirable coins represent the last great example of Hellenistic portraiture in gold, and as such are highly prized.




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    April, 2017
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