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Silver tetradrachm of Orophernes


Weight: 16.390 g
Diameter: 33.000 mm

Gift of A.O. Clarke

CM 1870-4-7-1 (BMC Orophernes I)

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    Silver tetradrachm of Orophernes

    Hellenistic, 159-157 BC
    From Cappadocia, Turkey; found in the Temple of Athena at Priene, modern Turkey

    A rare portrait coin of a Hellenistic king

    The minor Hellenistic kingdom of Cappadocia, in the east of modern Turkey, was riven with dynastic quarrels in the second century BC. After the death of King Ariarathes IV in 163 BC a struggle for the throne broke out between two of his sons, Ariarathes V and Orophernes. During these times of uncertainty, in which Rome was ultimately required to mediate, Orophernes deposited 400 talents of silver (about ten tonnes) with the citizens of Priene for safe-keeping. The citizens of Priene felt such loyalty to Orophernes (or perhaps they simply felt entitled to the money) that they fought a war to protect it.

    In 1870 the British traveller A.O. Clarke visited the site of Priene and while wandering in the ruins of the Temple of Athena, discovered a coin lying in the remains of the cult statue-base. Returning later with two Greek masons and some crow-bars, he lifted the stones under the statue base and found more coins and some jewellery. It is possible that these objects formed part of a votive deposit placed under a new or refurbished statue provided by Orophernes.

    The coin depicts a portrait of Orophernes on the obverse (front) and a figure of Nike holding a wreath on the reverse with the legend, 'Of king Orophernes Nikephoros'. This specimen, one of only nine known, was presented to the Museum by Clarke.

    R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic royal portraits (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988)

    O. Mørkholm, Early Hellenistic coinage (Cambridge University Press, 1991)


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