982432. PHOKIS, Delphi. 5th century BC. AR Tridrachm (25mm, 18.26 g). Two rhyta (drinking vessels) in the form of ram’s heads; above, two dolphins swimming toward each other; ΔAΛΦ-I-KON in small letters below; all within beaded border / Quadripartite incuse square in the form of a coffered ceiling; each coffer decorated with a dolphin and laurel spray. Svoronos, Delphi 18, pl. XXV, 34 (Berlin) and 35 (Paris = Kraay & Hirmer 461); BCD Lokris 376 = Asyut 242 (this coin). EF, lightly toned. Well centered and struck. Extremely rare and of the greatest artistic, historical, and architectural importance. (POR) From a private American collection. Ex BCD Collection (Numismatica Ars Classica 55, 8 October 2010), lot 55; Asyut Hoard of 1968/9 (IGCH 1644), 242. The tridrachms of Delphi are among the most historically interesting and important of all Greek coins. Prior to the Asyut find the type was known by only two coins in Paris and Berlin, as well as a fragment from the Zagazig Hoard of 1901 (IGCH 1645); now there are at least 11 examples, of which this is amongst the finest (of the seven from Asyut, five have test cuts):
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Asyut 239 – Triton XV (3 January 2012), lot 5 (Private European collection – the only other uncut example) Asyut 240 – Prospero Collection (Baldwin’s, 4 January 2012), lot 4 (Private Middle Eastern collection) Asyut 241 – Leu 81 (16 May 2001), lot 199 (Private Munich Collection) Asyut 242 – BCD Collection (Numismatic Ars Classica 55, 8 October 2010), lot 376 (the present example) Asyut 243 – British Museum Asyut 244 – ANS 1971.195.1 Asyut 245 – Leu 76 (27 October 1999), lot 112 (Private Asian collection)
The fact that almost all the known examples were found in Egypt suggests that the unusual weight standard might have been chosen specifically with Egyptian trade in mind. The obverse type is a direct reference to the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479, when a great deal of treasure, including silver vessels, was taken by the Greeks. These two rhyta were certainly from that booty and must have been brought as a dedication to Apollo in Delphi (rams were sacred to Apollo, along with dolphins). The reverse of this coin is also very unusual: it is not a normal quadripartite incuse but, rather, clearly shows the stepped coffering known to decorate ancient ceilings, particularly those of prestigious buildings like that of the Temple of Apollo. The dolphins that ornament these coffers make the identification sure as they are a play on both the name of Delphi and on the fact that Apollo himself could appear in the form of a dolphin.