NGC Ancients: The Ancient Coin Collection of Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha (1833-1906)

Posted on 3/8/2016

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.

This silver hemidrachm of the early 2nd Century B.C. was struck for use in Elis,
the region of Olympia, home of the ancient Olympic Games.
Graded NGC Ancients Ch F
Click images to enlarge.

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.

This silver drachm was struck at Cnossus, on the island of Crete, sometime in the early 3rd Century B.C.
The reverse shows the famous labyrinth of the mythological Cretan Bull.
Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group
Click images to enlarge.

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.)

In the 3rd Century B.C. this bronze was struck for use on the Greek Island of Lesbos.
Graded NGC Ancients Ch XF
Click images to enlarge.

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.

The collection included this silver stater of Camirus, a city on the Greek island of Rhodes,
issued in the early years of the 5th Century B.C. Its obverse shows a fig leaf.
Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group
Click images to enlarge.

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.

This diminutive silver obol was struck in the 4th Century B.C. at Selge in Pisidia, in modern southeastern Turkey.
Graded NGC Ancients XF
Click images to enlarge.

Struck on the island of Samos c.400 to 350 B.C., this small bronze shows a facing lion’s scalp, vigorously engraved.
Graded NGC Ancients XF
Click images to enlarge.

Also from the island of Samos, this large bronze was issued by the Roman Emperor Gordian III (A.D. 238 to 244)
some 600 years after the previous coin. It bears a portrait of the young emperor.
Graded NGC Ancients VF
Click images to enlarge.

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).

Among the last Roman coins in the collection was this billon nummus of Maximian,
who ruled part of the Roman Empire from A.D. 286 to 310. It was struck after his abdication in A.D. 305.
Graded NGC Ancients XF
Click images to enlarge.

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 A.D.

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