309/8-265 BC

                AR Obol (0.72 g, 12mm, 1).

      Mint: Sparta.
      Struck: Circa 265 BC.
      Obv: [no legend]
                Head of Herakles right, wearing lion's skin headdress.
      Rev: [no legend]
                Club with four knots; five-rayed stars flanking.
      Ref: Grunauer group II, 3 var. (V-/R2) corr. (rays on star);
                BCD Peloponnesos 839 (same rev. die).
      Pedig: Ex BCD Collection (not in LHS sale).

Notes: Areus I was the first Spartan king to issue coinage. Two issues were struck, the first of Alexandrine tetradrachms in Areus' own name (Grunauer group I), and a second of obols of the present type. Both issues are dated following Areus' successful defeat of Pyrrhos in 272 BC, a time when Areus was successfully reshaping Spartan importance in the early Hellenistic era. While some authors, such as Cartledge, believe his choice of Alexandrine types reflects the king's attempt to present himself as equal to the other Hellenistic kings, particularly the Antigonids of Macedon, it is more likely due to the overall common use (and acceptance) of Alexandrine type coinage in international trade during this era. This is most evident in the contrast of types between the tetradrachms and obols: the tetradrachms, most likely used for international trade, used Alexandrine types, while the obols, most likely used for local trade, retained the Herakles obverse but adopted a purely Lakonian reverse type. In any event, the scarcity of these coins today reflects a limited issue of coinage that stands in contrast to the idea that the coinage served an overt propaganda purpose.

Areus was the first great Hellenistic king of Sparta, and his victory over Pyrrhos earned him international recognition that Sparta had lacked since the great defeat at Leuktra in 371 BC. This event catapulted the Spartans into a prominent position in the Chremonidean alliance that soon developed against the Macedonian king Antigonos II Gonatas. This alliance was instigated at the urging of the Athenian Chremidones (whose oration directly named Areus as an ally), and though contained many Greek poleis, the primary partners were Athens, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Sparta. This alliance led to a series of conflicts between 267 and 261 BC, that were a disaster for the allies. Early in this conflict, in 265 BC, Areus was defeated and killed while attempting to break through Gonatas' garrison at Corinth to link up with his Athenian and Egyptian allies to the north. Arues' death struck a major blow to the Spartan resurgence in the Hellenistic era, which waned until the exploits of Kleomenes III nearly a half-century later.

While Sparta's later civic and Achaian League issues are relatively abundant today, her regal coinage is very rare. Only three kings, Areus, Kleomenes III, and Nabis, issued coinage, of which only the tetradrachms and bronze of Kleomenes are not particularly rare today. Areus' coinage is extremely rare, with only four tetradrachms and less than 20 obols remaining. Regarding the obols, Grunauer's reverse die 2 is incorrectly placed in her corpus, within a series of obols with six-rayed stars.