Tetradrachm, magistrate Akesios circa 360, AR 12.64 g. B – A / P – K / A – I Silphium plant. Rev. AKE – ΣIOΣ Facing head of Zeus Ammon, with his eyes wide-open and his hair flowing behind him on each side. BMC 32 and pl. 36, 8 (this obverse die) and p. clxxvii, 32 and pl. 47, 8 (this reverse die). Traité 270. Jameson 2137. ACGC 1076. cf. New York sale XXVII, 2012, Prospero, 629 (this obverse die).
Very rare and possibly the finest coin of Cyrenaica in existence. A portrait of enchanting
beauty, the work of a very talented master engraver, perfectly struck and centred on a full
flan. Lovely old cabinet tone. Weakly struck on obverse, otherwise extremely fine
Ex Leu 22, 1979, 180 (illustrated on the cover page) and DNW A11, 2011, 2017 sales.
The types of this tetradrachm celebrate the two most famous exports of Cyrenaica: the cult of Zeus Ammon and the silphium plant. The latter is thought to have been an extinct variety of giant fennel and was used in antiquity for seasoning and medicine. Silphium grew only on a narrow coastal strip of the Cyrenaica and was used as a cure for a variety of ailments including cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, general aches and pains, and even insanity. However, it has been suggested that the plant may have been most desired for its use as a contraceptive. Overharvesting and excessive demand led to the extinction of the plant in the first century AD—the last stalk of silphium was reportedly sent to Nero (AD 54-68). Zeus Ammon had an important oracular shrine at the Oasis of Siwah that was catapulted to fame when Alexander the Great made a visit and was hailed as son of the god. Zeus Ammon was essentially a native Libyan deity syncretized with both the Egyptian fertility god Amun and Greek Zeus. He is regularly distinguished from other forms of Zeus by his ram’s horns—a feature borrowed from the iconography of Egyptian Amun. The facing depiction of Zeus Ammon on the present tetradrachm is brilliant in its execution and wonderfully preserved. The deep staring eyes of Zeus Ammon seem to beckon the viewer to come closer and ask a question for the oracular god to answer.