By David Vagi – Director, NGC Ancients ……
The ancient coins in the Alexandre Carathéodory collection were mainly Greek and Roman issues.
Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha, a towering figure of the 19th Century Ottoman Empire, was introduced to the study of ancient coins in 1878, by chance, while serving the Ottomans as a diplomat in Berlin. While there he met the French diplomat William-Henri Waddington, a man who ranks high among the numismatic scholars of the 19th Century.
From that point onward Alexandre Carathéodory began to assemble his own collection of coins throughout what remained of the 19th Century. All the while, he was in active service to the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul-Hamid II (1876 to 1909).
His accomplishments in government were numerous, a fact made all the more extraordinary because Alexandre Carathéodory was Greek. He was born in Constantinople, a member of the aristocratic Phanariote family, and began his career studying law in Paris. These studies, and his remarkable intellect, led to a long and distinguished career. He served the Ottoman Empire as a translator, an ambassador to Rome, a commissioner in Berlin, and twice as Governor-General of Crete. Furthermore, he was the only Greek ever to hold the exalted position of Ottoman Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The ancient coins in the Alexandre Carathéodory collection – at least those that had survived intact until recent times – numbered about 630 pieces. A significant percentage of these likely were acquired while he reigned as Prince of the Island of Samos, from 1885 to 1894.
All were dispersed at public auction, where they were consigned by one of Alexandre Carathéodory’s great grandsons, who had inherited the group from his mother. It is remarkable that a collection such as this had remained intact for more than a century, especially considering how most (if not all) of the collector’s descendants had long since emigrated from Turkey.
The ancient coins in the collection were mainly Greek and Roman issues, as well as a few Byzantine coins, and some issues from Near Eastern empires and early Islamic states. Most every coin was base metal, billon or silver, though there was one gold coin (a posthumous quarter-stater of the Macedonian King Philip II, who ruled from 359 to 336 B.C.) and one of electrum (a third-stater of the Kings of Lydia, struck c.610 to 546 B.C.)
Of particular importance are the coins from the Greek island of Samos, where Alexandre Carathéodory reigned as Prince for nearly a decade. One can imagine how this segment of the collection was formed, with many residents of the island bringing their stray finds to the local Pasha.
Many of the Samos coins were of Greek production from the 6th to the 2nd Centuries B.C., but an equally impressive number had been issued by the Romans from the 1st through the 3rd Centuries A.D. The Roman issues are especially rare, and to find such a concentrated accumulation is remarkable.
Coins from other Greek islands, including Rhodes, Chios, Lesbos, Crete and Cyprus were also included in the collection. From mainland and Peloponnesian Greece there were also a number of coins, including issues of Athens, Olympia, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth and of the Kings of Macedon. To these we may add the occasional piece from North Africa – ranging in origin from Carthage to Alexandria – and a solitary piece from Judaea: a prutot of King Agrippa I (A.D. 37 to 44).
The Roman coins covered a similarly broad range of time, from the late Republic (including issues of Brutus and Marc Antony) through the 4th Century A.D. As expected, they include coins of Imperial denominations, as well as those struck at provincial Greek mints operating under Roman oversight. The Byzantine issues, less numerous, spanned principally the 6th through the 12th Centuries CE.
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