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See the $6-million face


A 2,000-year-old Greek gold coin has smashed the world record price for an ancient coin sold at auction.

The “Panticapaeum stater”, from near Kerch in Crimea, realised $6 million (£4.8 million) at a Numismatica Ars Classica sale in Zurich, Switzerland on May 18th – 19th.

Panticapaeum was founded by ancient Greek colonists around 800 to 700 BCE. Their city thrived, and this extremely high-quality coin, minted around 340–25 BCE, is evidence of a rich, powerful regional capital.

Ruins of Panticapaeum in Crimea

Staters were made across the ancient Greek world between the 8th century BCE and around 50 CE. They were usually silver, adding further to the rarity and attraction of this coin to buyers.

The previous most-valuable ancient coin (a $4.4 million “Ides of March” coin commemorating the death of Julius Caesar) was sold with faked provenance and was handed back to the Greek Government in March.

There are no such doubts around the Panticapaeum stater. The coin was in the Hermitage museum in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) when, in 1934, Stalin allowed its sale as part of a push to fund Soviet industrial development. French industrialist Charles Gillet bought it.

Arturo Russo, co-director at Numismatica Ars Classica, said: “This is a sign the whole market for numismatics is flourishing, and is especially strong for ancients at the moment.”

Bidding on the coin opened at around £890,000, with an estimate of close to £1,121,000.

A griffin over a head of grain on the reverse of the record-breaking Greek coin.

The coin is gold, showing a satyr on the obverse face and a spear-wielding griffin on the reverse. The satyr is a mythological figure known for their outsized love of life. This one is probably memorialising Satyros I, a Greco-Sythian Crimean king whose reign – 432 to 389 BC – helps to date the coin.

Alongside its age, this coin had many attractions for buyers.

It is rare. Most ancient coins of this quality and age are locked away from buyers in museum collections.

The style of decoration, with the satyr’s head in three-quarter profile, is also unusual.

It is extremely high quality. The craft skills to produce the engravings are obvious even to non-expert eyes.

The coin has gone to a private buyer.

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