The Ancient World Collection
Kingdom of Bithynia, 94-74 BC





Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) BITHYNIAN KINGDOM Nicomedes IV, c.94-74 BC
Design Description: Bithynia Tetradrachm
Item Description: AR Tetradrachm Bithynian Kingdom eagle on fulmen. Yr.208. rv Zeus w/wreath+scepter;
Full Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Ancient World Collection
The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

The location of ancient Bithynia was highly strategic - northwestern Asia Minor, bordering Paphlagonia to the east, Mysia to the west, and Phyrgia to the south. Bithynia's rugged, mountainous interior descended into fertile coastlines providing access to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and the Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea), as well as the important waterway connecting them, namely the Bosporus Strait. As such, the realm repeatedly came under diplomatic and military scrutiny of other ancient states. In mid 6th century BC, Bithynia fell under the sway of King Croesus and his Lydian Kingdom. The Bithynians eventually regained independence, and managed to retain it, even against the late 4th century BC marauding Macedonians led by Alexander the Great. Bithynia continued to prosper under its distinguished rulers, notably King Nicomedes I, who founded the great city of Nicomedia in mid-3rd century BC.

Around the turn of 1st century BC, the influential and strategic Bithynia came under pressure from its rapidly growing rival, the Pontic Kingdom. In 90 BC, Pontic King Mithradates VI supported an uprising that forced Bithynian King Nicomedes IV to flee his court and seek protection within the Roman Republic. The Romans, who considered Mithradates VI their greatest enemy and valued Bithynia's strategic nexus, restored Nicomedes IV to his throne. Nicomedes IV tried to return the favor by warring against Mithradates VI, only to face defeat and seek Italy's refuge once again. Several years later, Nicomedes IV was re-restored to the Bithynian throne, in accordance with negotiations between Rome and Pontus.

Within this tumultuous period, probably 90-89 BC, unknown Bithynian artisans struck this interesting tetradrachm. The obverse presents an unusual, whimsical portrait of Nicomedes IV that is somehow best appreciated at the coin's actual scale. The King's lips form a sly smile beneath his prominent proboscis, his flowing hair barely contained beneath a diadem. In contrast, the reverse motif is portrayed in traditional, classical style: Zeus Stephanophorus, attended by an eagle perched on a thunderbolt, accompanied by an inscription to provide pedigree. Both obverse and verso employ very fine Hellenistic details that emerge upon further contemplation.

Like this coin's obverse, Nicomedes IV apparently had an eclectic side. In 80 BC, he hosted the visit of an ambitious young Roman named Julius Caesar, who was interested in raising a fleet and promoting his future political career. During his stay (and at least one additional sojourn), Caesar enjoyed Nicomedes IV's hospitality such that rumors surfaced of an affair with his Hellenistic host. Although bisexuality among Romans was acceptable and even commonplace, there were rules; allegedly, Rome's future dictator played the submissive role in the relationship, normally reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers. The rumors grew into elaborate stories wherein Caesar donned enticing nightgowns and powdered and perfumed himself like a courtesan. Caesar became the butt of his enemy’s jokes, for example he was disparagingly hailed as “Queen of Bithynia.” Such wild accounts were likely exaggerations, and perhaps even complete fabrications. Expectedly, Caesar denied the specific accusations, although he certainly established a lasting bond with the Bithynian royal family, and acted as their supporter in Rome.

Although the exact details of the relationship remain uncertain, Nicomedes IV thought fondly of Caesar and Rome, even to his deathbed. With his final royal act in 74 BC, he bequeathed them his entire Bithynian Kingdom.

Coin Details: BITHYNIAN KINGDOM, Nikomedes IV Philopator, 94-74 BC, AR Tetradrachm (31.5 mm, 16.55 g, 12h), Dated 208 BE (90/89 BC), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, Reverse: Zeus Stephanophoros standing left, to inner left, eagle standing on thunderbolt above monogram above HE (date), References: Callatay p. 63; RG 40; HGC 6, 646; DCA 445.

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