A Stunning SICULO-PUNIC Tetradrachm, circa 320-300 BC

Very few coins are, literally, breathtaking. The above coin is breathtaking. It sold at a Stephen Album Rare Coin auction for well-over its conservative estimate, and deservedly so, on January 20, 2022. It is most reminiscent of the slightly better example of the same type (also Jenkins 161) that sold for slightly less (8500 CHF, approx. $8,485) in Leu Numismatik’s 2019 Auction 4 as Lot 178.

Siculo-Punic AR Tetradrachm, c. 320-300 BC, People of the Camp mint, 17.00g.  Jenkins-161.  Numismatik Leu Auction 4, Lot 178 (2019).   Realized 8500 CHF on 4000 CHF Estimate.
Siculo-Punic AR Tetradrachm, c. 320-300 BC, People of the Camp mint, 17.00g. Jenkins-161. Numismatik Leu Auction 4, Lot 178 (2019). Realized 8500 CHF on 4000 CHF Estimate.

In the final decade of the fifth century BC, the Carthaginians launched a series of invasions of Sicily, conquering much of the western half of the island. The Carthaginian presence lasted for a century and a half, until Rome’s victory in the First Punic War obliged the Carthaginians to withdraw.

During their occupation of Sicily, the Carthaginians struck an extensive coinage for the purpose of financing their military operations and the maintenance of garrisons. Many of these coins were “military issues” and, surprisingly, labeled as such (i.e., as “camp” issues). The obverse and reverse types of the coins in the military series are mostly influenced by Sicilian prototypes, particularly those of Syracuse. The obverse of the Siculo-Punic Tetradrachm of which I am writing was inspired by the Syracusan AR decadrachm c. 400 BC signed by Euainetos. As noted by N.K. Rutter in Greek Coinages of Southern Italy and Sicily (Spink, London, 1997), it was copied by the Carthaginians because “… the reference to a Syracusan coin-type would have meant something to a Greek mercenary” (p.157).

G. Kenneth Jenkins studied these issues in his Coins of Punic Sicily (Parts I-IV, 1971-1978), and noted that the camp mint, once it was operating in Sicily, was most probably located in Lilybaion (Part III, p.11). This proposed location for the camp mint has been the object of debate for years and other locations have been proposed. For instance, Ian Lee, surveying the literature and reexamining the evidence for the earliest Punic coinage in Sicily, more recently concluded that the camp mint was located at Entella (LEE, IAN. “Entella: The Silver Coinage of the Campanian Mercenaries and the Site of the First Carthaginian Mint 410-409 BC.” The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), vol. 160, Royal Numismatic Society, 2000, pp. 1–66, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42668259).

Siculo-Punic Tetradrachms, such as the one sold by Stephen Album Rare Coins, were ultimately destined to pay Greek mercenaries. The tetradrachms’ visual familiarity combined with its being struck to the Attic weight standard (c. 17.2 g.) rather than the Phoenician weight standard (c. 14.3 g. to the shekel or tetradrachm) usually used by the Carthaginians would have made it the perfect mechanism for payment to its intended recipients. [See Visonà, Paolo. “CARTHAGINIAN COINAGE IN PERSPECTIVE.” American Journal of Numismatics (1989-), vol. 10, American Numismatic Society, 1998, pp. 1–27, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43580385, p. 4, for discussion regarding adoption of Attic weight standard due to military exigency].

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