Its key export was the resin of the enigmatic silphium plant used in antiquity as a seasoning, perfume, aphrodisiac, medicine and perhaps even a contraceptive. So important was the plant to the local economies of Cyrene that it appeared on most coins minted there.
This silver tetradrachm, a large coin worth four drachma, dates from c.430BC. To one side is the bearded head of Zeus Ammon facing right wearing a large ram’s horn and a diadem. To the other is a view of a silphium plant looking like some sort of giant fennel.
A ‘very fine’ example of a rare coin, it has an estimate of £5000-6000 at Baldwin’s sale of British and World Coins at 399 Strand on October 6.
The author Pliny mentions that silphium was worth its weight in silver when it was still available, though by his time it had long been extinct. The final stalk of silphium was supposedly presented to the Emperor Nero as a curiosity.