RPC I 5436 - Knidos, Caria, 1st Century B.C.

16520. Bronze AE 32, RPC 5436 (1 example known to RPC, attributed to Livia, 2nd example and corrected to Demeter in supplement), F, countermark VF, Knidos mint, 17.192g, 32.1mm, 0o, 1st century B.C.; obverse veiled and diademed bust of Demeter right [holding poppy], oval countermark of Cleopatra VII? right; reverse KNI..., Nike advancing left with wreath and palm; rare

RPC notes a previous incorrect attribution to Thessalonika for a similar 15.35g coin, noting:  “The coin is unlike coins of Thessalonica. Its large size and rev. type might suggest the influence of Rhodes. Presumably a legible specimen will one day be found…Neutron absorption analysis:  Cu 82.97, SNG 4.53, Pb 14.41.”  The partial legend (KNI…) connects this issue to Knidos, an important harbor very close to Rhodes.

There are no coins of Knidos in RPC I or II, but BMC Caria lists several Dionysus obverse types 1.05 to 1.1 inch bronzes of the first century B.C., presumably the same denomination.  The full ethnic is KNIDIWN

BMC plate xvi #4 and 5 share this countermark which BMC tentatively calls “Aphrodite?”  BMC 90-91 notes a smaller (0.75 inch) bronze with the Head of Athena right, wearing crested helmet.  The reverse has “Nike advancing left, carrying wreath and palm,” just as this larger type does.

Between the partial ethnic, large size, shared countermark and shared reverse type an attribution to Knidos is certain.  The 1st century BC date eliminates the attribution of the obverse as Livia.  Rather, the veiled and diademed female was intended as Demeter.

RPC I Supplement corrects the RPC attribution noting a more complete example as Mabbott Collection #1715 with complete magistrate name.  Poppies are visible before the bust, confirming the attribution to Demeter, not Livia or Hera.  RPC I Supplement adds, “The Mabbott catalogue gives the date as 100 BC; without a fuller study of the coins of Cnidus, the only way of dating would still seem to be the analogy of fabric with coins of Rhodes, of the first centuries B.C. and A.D.; see now D. Salzmann, ‘Unedierte Bronze aus Knidos’, SM 172 (1993), pp. 85-7.”

BMC calls the countermark “Aphrodite?” but there are several key differences between the female head on the countermark and the usual Aphrodite busts on coins of Knidos. BMC notes that “It has been thought that the head of the goddess on this and other later tetradrachms of Cnidus are memory copies from the famous statue by Praxiteles; but it may doubted whether the divergences do not counterbalance the points of resemblance.” These tetradrachms show a goddess with classic, divine features. In any event, Aphrodite was pretty. By comparison, the countermark is not-so-pretty, with a large nose and chin. The mouth is down-turned. The hair is in a bun behind the head. The down-turned mouth, melon coif and large nose are features of Cleopatra VII.

Countermarks of similar heads are known on coins of c. 40-30 BC from Chalkis, Laodicea, Antioch, Selucia and Damascus All are cities which were under the control of Cleopatra.

Knidos was further from the sphere of influence of Cleopatra. However, she did spend time in the region. Theocr., Idyl. xvii, 66 notes that the Ptolemies specially favored the port of Knidos, a Carian peninsula approaching the island of Rhodes. Cleopatra and Marc Antony spent considerable romantic time together in the area. It is said that Marc Antony sent ships to the Nile to retrieve sand for a beach. The beach is known as Cleopatra’s Beach.