Cistophoric tetradrachm, struck by Augustus in an uncertain mint in Provincia Asia (Pergamum?), soon after 27 BC, which depicts the Sphinx with raised wings seated to right. Exceptional example, from the collection of “un diplomate étranger”, i.e. viscount Louis de Sartiges (1859- 1924). Though Suetonius informs us the Sphinx (the mythological creature whose riddle was solved by Oedipus) was the personal badge of Augustus, appearing on the signet ring he used to seal diplomatic papers and private letters, it rarely is used on his coinage. Aside from an issue of Athenian bronzes probably struck for one of his visits in the 20s B.C., the Sphinx otherwise appears only on aurei, denarii and cistophori from an Eastern mint usually identified as Pergamum. In each of these cases the Sphinx coins would seem to reflect the presence of the princeps in the region. The aurei are of particular interest, for they can be associated with the pre-emptive campaign of his son-in-law Tiberius in Armenia against the ambitions of the Parthian King Phraates IV. Augustus had come to the region from 21 to 19 B.C., eager to deal with Phraates and to reform administration in the Eastern provinces. Augustus must have chosen the Sphinx because of its reputation as a guardian spirit and a heraldic badge. Both attributes had been associated with the Sphinx ever since its origin, traceable in Egypt and Mesopotamia to the 3rd millennium B.C. However, it was also a fierce creature that often is depicted as killing humans. Pliny notes that the sinister aspect of its character convinced Augustus to abandon the Sphinx, which he replaced with the head of Alexander the Great.
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