CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
 

FOR CENTURIES, THE narrow Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from the toe of Italy has been a crossroads of history.

The town of Rhegium[1] (or Rhegion, today Reggio di Calabria) located on the Italian side of the Strait, was one of the first Greek cities in Italy, founded by colonists from Chalcis in the eighth century BCE. Cities of this region competed vigorously during the fifth and fourth centuries BCE to create coins of enduring classical beauty, and the silver tetradrachms of Rhegium stand as some of the finest – and most highly valued – products of the ancient engraver’s art.

Anaxilas

Bruttium, Rhegium; 480-466 BCE, Tetradrachm,
Bruttium, Rhegium; 480-466 BCE, Tetradrachm, 16.51g. SNG ANS-626. Obv: Charioteer driving biga of mules r. Rx: Hare running r.Issue of Rhegium with the hare is many times rarer than the similar issues of Messana. Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. > Buy or Bid Sale 189 25 March 2014 Lot: 62 realized: 800 USD

In 494 BCE a man named Anaxilas became tyrant of Rhegium. In ancient Greek, a tyrannos was a ruler that “owed his power neither to his royal descent nor to a constitutional appointment and was not bound by any laws (Jones, 236).”

Messana. 478-476 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (24mm, 16.96 g, 5h). Charioteer driving biga of mules right; leaf in exergue / Hare springing right. Caltabiano B1 (‘Barbarous’; same dies as illustration); SNG ANS –; SNG Tübingen 605 (same dies); Weber 1412 (same dies); HGC 2, 779. Near EF, toned.Estimate: $200.

Among his actions, Anaxilas captured the seaport of Zancle on the Sicilian side of the Strait and renamed it Messana (today Messina, Italy). And when his team won the mule cart race in the Olympic games, Anaxilas commemorated this victory on coins issued in both towns that he controlled[2]. The reverse of the coins depicts a leaping hare, supposedly because Anaxilas was proud of having introduced this prolific animal to Sicily for the benefit of hunters. The coins of Messana are considerably more common than those of Rhegium[3].

Lion Mask Tetradrachms

A major change in the design of the classical tetradrachms of Rhegium began about 460 BCE.

RHEGIUM  Tetradrachm, about 460-450 BCE
RHEGIUM Tetradrachm, about 460-450 BCE. AR 16.58 g. Lion mask facing. Rev. RΕCΙN (retrograde) − ΟS (retrograde) Iocastes, bearded and nude to the waist, seated l. on diphros, holding scepter with his r. hand, his l. hand resting on the seat; whole in laurel wreath. Herzfelder 86,32 (these dies). Grose 1860 (these dies). Rare.Estimate: 2500 CHF. Hess-Divo AG > Auction 329 17 November 2015 Lot: 16 realized: 5,000 CHF (approx. 4,928 USD).

Struck to the “Attic” (or Athenian) weight standard of about 17 grams, these chunky coins probably represented several days’ pay for a skilled worker. The obverse bears a dramatic “lion mask” within a dotted border–the head of a lion viewed from above, with prominent ears and sharply engraved tufts of hair forming the mane. This ancient emblem appears on coins of the Aegean island of Samos. The lion mask became the symbol of Rhegium after Anaxilas helped some exiles from Samos to seize control of Zancle. The Samians struck coins with a lion mask before Anaxilas evicted them and renamed Zancle as Messana in 490 BCE. Rhegium adopted the symbol and continued to use it even after the sons of Anaxilas were driven from power in 461 BCE.

The reverse of the coin bears a bearded seated male figure of uncertain identity, surrounded by a laurel wreath. Some sources describe him as Iokastos (or Iocastus, or Iocastes), a legendary founder of the city. Others identify him as Apollo, although that god is seldom depicted bearded in Greek art[4].

Tetradrachm circa 450-445, AR 17.35 g.
Tetradrachm circa 450-445, AR 17.35 g. Lion’s head facing. Rev. RECI – NOS Apollo Iocastus seated l. on a stool, himation over lower limbs, holding scepter in r. hand and resting l. on hip; all within laurel wreath. Jameson 452 (these dies). C.C. 34 (these dies). Kraay-Hirmer pl. 98, 282. Herzfelder 1. Historia Numorum Italy 2477. Very rare and undoubtedly the finest specimen known. The prototype of the entire series and a masterpiece of archaizing style perfectly struck on sound metal, lightly toned and Fdc Estimate: 90000 CHF. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 48 : 21 October 2008 Lot: 19 realized: 320,000 CHF (approx. 277,152 USD).

A magnificent coin sold in a 2008 auction for 320,000 Swiss francs (then equivalent to $277,152); apparently the highest price ever paid for a Rhegium tetradrachm. The bearded, muscular seated figure on the reverse is identified as “Apollo Iocastus”. The coin is described as:

“Very rare and undoubtedly the finest specimen known. The prototype of the entire series and a masterpiece of archaizing style perfectly struck on sound metal[5].”

This beautiful auction catalog, “A remarkable selection of Greek Coins”, is prized by collectors. By “archaizing style” the cataloguer meant that the engraver was trying – with great skill – to duplicate the look and feel of coins of the previous century. Money is conservative!

Rhegium. Tetradrachm circa 445-430, AR 16.63 g.
Rhegium. Tetradrachm circa 445-430, AR 16.63 g. Lion’s head facing; in field r., bunch of grapes. Rev. Apollo Iocastus seated l.; r. hand holding long staff and l. resting on hip. Herzfelder 35. Historia Numorum 2483. Rare. Wonderful iridescent tone and good very fine. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 100 29 May 2017 Lot: 1038 realized: 3,750 CHF (approx. 3,851 USD).

A rather worn example of the same type, graded “Good Very Fine” of a slightly later date, brought just 3,750 Swiss francs in a 2017 sale[6]. This type is distinguished by a tiny cluster of grapes in the obverse field, its meaning uncertain. The slim seated figure on the reverse appears more youthful.

Bruttium - Rhegion Tétradrachm - (425-420).
Bruttium – Rhegion Tétradrachm – (425-420). Very rare in this quality, excellent centering, good metal. One of the best examples known 17.27g – Herzfelder 59 (D34/R49) – SNG Lockett 650. Maison Palombo > Auction 18 17 November 2019 Lot: 12 realized: 40,000 CHF (approx. 40,375 USD).

A tetradrachm dated to c. 425-420 BCE, described as “Very rare in this quality”, brought 40,000 Swiss francs (against an estimate of 12,000) in a 2019 European auction[7]. The lion mask on the obverse is especially ferocious, with a piercing expression and deep grooves on the muzzle. Beneath the seated figure on the reverse is a small coiled serpent, reinforcing his identification as Iokastos since ancient sources record that this legendary figure died from snakebite.

A New Design

About 420 BCE there was a major change in the design of Rhegium’s tetradrachm. The seated figure of Iokastos on the reverse was replaced by a laurel-crowned androgynous head of Apollo. Note that the side with the lion mask is still the technical obverse, struck by the lower die in high relief, while the side with the head is the reverse, struck in lower relief by the upper die.

Bruttium, Tetradrachm, Rhegion, signed by the engraver Kratesippos on the reverse,
Bruttium, Tetradrachm, Rhegion, signed by the engraver Kratesippos on the reverse, c. 420-415/0 BCE; AR (g 17,32; mm 24; h 12); Facing lion head; dotted border, Rev. ΡΗΓΙΝΟΣ laureate head of Apollo r.; at l., olive sprig; below the chin in two lines of small letters partially retrograde, ΚΡΑΤΕΣΙΠΠΟ. Herzfelder 63; HNItaly 2494; SNG Copenhagen -; SNG ANS 657. Rare, cabinet tone, minor flattening on the obverse, extremely fine. Bertolami Fine Arts – ACR Auctions > Auction 19 11 November 2015 Lot: 95 realized: 10,000 EUR (Approx. 10,728 USD).

On one rare die, the engraver proudly carved his name in tiny letters below the god’s chin: ΚΡΑΤΕΣΙΠΠΟ (“Kratesippos”)[8]. This is the only Rhegian coin that bears an engraver’s signature, and nothing else is known about this gifted artist. The lion mask on the obverse, possibly engraved by a different hand, is more stylized; a deep central groove furrows the lion’s forehead, and the mane appears as a sort of ruff, arched around the top of the coin.

A recent European sale of a similar unsigned coin struck a few years later indicates how strong the competition for tetradrachms of Rhegium has become. Described as “A portrait of superb style struck in high relief and a lovely light iridescent tone”, with “an unobtrusive die-break, otherwise good extremely fine”, this coin brought 34,000 Swiss francs (against an estimate of 30,000) in October 2020[9].

Destruction and Rebirth

The powerful city of Syracuse, near the southern tip of Sicily, came into conflict with Rhegium after 399 BCE.

Syracusan tyrant Dionysius I (ruled 407-367 BCE[10]) besieged Rhegium without success in 390, returning to starve the city into surrender in 387. In accordance with the brutal norms of ancient Greek warfare, Rhegium was demolished, its leading citizens executed, and the survivors sold as slaves.

About 356 BCE, Dionysius II (ruled 367-357 and 346-344 BCE[11]) refounded the city with new settlers. The coinage of the restored city retained the traditional lion mask obverse, but the head of Apollo on the reverse was rendered in a radically different “Hellenistic” style.

Bruttium. Rhegium. c. 356-351 BCE. Tetradrachm,
Bruttium. Rhegium. c. 356-351 BCE. Tetradrachm, 17.31g. (2h). Obv: Lion’s scalp facing, eyes looking to left. Dotted border. Rx: ΡΗΓΙΝΟΣ Laureate head of Apollo facing to left. Dotted border. HN Italy 2501. Herzfelder 115 (D71/R97), Utterly and completely magnificent coin. Mint State. Gemini, LLC > Auction VII 9 January 2011 Lot: 73 realized: 130,000 USD.

The left-facing profile portrait head of Apollo, cut in high relief, is remarkably sensitive and lifelike. No longer gathered in a bun at the back of the god’s head, a riot of long curls tumbles down his neck. His laurel wreath has three rows of leaves, rather than the usual two. A “Mint State” example, described as “utterly and completely magnificent”, sold for $130,000 (against an estimate of $85,000) in a 2011 New York auction.

Rhegium Tetradrachm circa 320-300, AR 16.80 g
Rhegium Tetradrachm circa 320-300, AR 16.80 g. Lion’s head facing. Rev. ΡΗΓΙΝΩΝ. Laureate head of Apollo l.; in field l., monogram YE. Gulbenkian 148 (these dies). Jameson 2410 (these dies). Kraay-Hirmer pl. 100, 290 (these dies). AMB 230 (this coin). Herzfelder 117. Historia Numorum Italy 2502. Extremely rare and among the finest specimens known of this intriguing issue which is the last tetradrachm minted at Rhegium. Perfectly struck in high relief and of impressive Hellenistic style. Lightly toned, virtually as struck and almost Fdc Estimate: 45000 CHF. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 48 21 October 2008 Lot: 21 realized: 50,000 CHF (approx. 43,305 USD).

This design continued for generations on the coinage, with gradual evolution. On an example dated circa 320-300, the lion mask seems gaunter and “scruffier”, with sunken eyes. The lion’s ears, which are so prominent on most Rhegian tetradrachms, are nearly hidden by tufts of mane. The dies are still cut with amazing care and precision, but the coin is struck off-center on a ragged underweight blank, suggesting that quality control at the mint had deteriorated over time. “Extremely rare and among the finest specimens known of this intriguing issue…,” this coin brought 50,000 Swiss francs (against an estimate of 45,000) in a 2008 auction[12].

The Last Tetradrachms

Rhegium Tetradrachm circa 300-280, AR 17.29 g.
Rhegium Tetradrachm circa 300-280, AR 17.29 g. PHΓINOΣ Laureate head of Apollo l., long hair falling in curls over the neck. Rev. Lion’s head facing. SNG ANS 676. Historia Numorum Italy 2501 (these dies). SNG Lloyd 700 (these dies). AMB 229 (these dies). Herzfelder 115bis. Historia Numorum Italy 2501. Very rare and possibly the finest specimen known. A wonderful Hellenistic portrait of enchanting beauty perfectly struck and centered. Lovely light iridescent tone and good extremely fine. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 82 20 May 2015 Lot: 33 realized: 50,000 CHF (approx. 53,282 USD).

The very last tetradrachms of Rhegium are considered the most beautiful by many numismatists. A cataloguer enthused:

Very rare and possibly the finest specimen known. A wonderful Hellenistic portrait of enchanting beauty perfectly struck and centred[13].

The style of the dies suggests that they were cut but the same master engraver who designed a famous silver tetradrachm and gold stater for the Syracusan tyrant Agathocles (ruled 317 – 289 BCE)[14].

When King Pyrrhus of Epirus came to Italy to fight the Roman Republic in 280 BCE, Rhegium sided with Rome. A force of Campanian mercenaries, hired to defend the city, revolted and massacred the citizens. Ten years later the Romans wiped out the treacherous mercenaries and restored the city to its survivors, but Rhegium never resumed coinage as an independent state:

“[I]t must have suffered severely, and does not seem to have again recovered its former prosperity. Its name is hardly mentioned during the First Punic War, but in the second, the citizens distinguished themselves by their fidelity to the Roman cause, and repeated attempts of Hannibal to make himself master of the city were uniformly repulsed (Smith, n.p.).”

Collecting Rhegium

On the CoinArchivesPro database, which records over 1.7 million recent auction sales, a search for “Rhegium AND Tetradrachm” produced 121 hits (but some of these were listings for coins of other cities in which the cataloguer only mentioned Rhegium in passing).

Narrowing the search to “Rhegium AND Tetradrachm and Lion” refined the list down to 95 hits, with about 10% being repeat sales of the same coin. Even low-grade examples typically sell for thousands of dollars. Rare coins in high demand, the lovely tetradrachms of Rhegium present a challenge for collectors with very deep pockets.

The standard reference work cited in almost every catalog listing is Hertzfelder (1957) in French, and long out of print, so this series is overdue for an up-to-date numismatic study.

* * *

Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Calabria#History

[2] Harlan J. Berk Sale 189, March 29, 2014, Lot 62. Realized $800 USD.

[3] CNG Electronic Auction 302, May 8, 2013, Lot 32. Realized $475 (estimate: $200).

[4] Hess-Divo Auction 329, November 17, 2015, Lot 16. Realized CHF 5,000 (about $4,926; estimate: CHF 2,500).

[5] NAC Auction 48, October 21, 2008, Lot 19. Realized CHF 320,000 (about $351,354 USD; estimate: CHF 90,000).

[6] NAC Auction 100, May 29, 2017, Lot 1038. Realized CHF 3,750 (about $3,851 USD; estimate: CHF 3,500).

[7] Maison Palombo Auction 18, 17 November 2019. Realized CHF 40,000 (about $40,375 USD; estimate: CHF 12,000).

[8] Bertolami Fine Arts Auction 19, November 11, 2015, Lot 95. Realized €10,000 (about $10,728 USD; estimate: €5,000).

[9] NAC Auction 120, October 6, 2020, Lot 242. Realized CHF 34,000 (about $37,154 USD; estimate: CHF 30,000).

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysius_I_of_Syracuse

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysius_II_of_Syracuse

[12] NAC Auction 48, October 21, 2008, Lot 21. Realized CHF 50,000 (about $43,305 USD; estimate: CHF 45,000).

[13] NAC Auction 82, May 20, 2015, Lot 33. Realized CHF 50,000 (about $53,282 USD; estimate: CHF 50,000).

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agathocles_of_Syracuse
 

References

Herzfelder, Hubert. Les monnaies d ‘argent de Rhegium. Paris (1957)

Kraay, Colin. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. New York (1976)

Larizza, Pietro. Rhegium Chalcidense: la Storia e la Numismatica. Roma (1905)

Melville Jones, John. A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins. London (1986)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 1: Europe. London (1978)

Seltman, Charles. Greek Coins. London (1955)

Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek & Roman Geography. (1854)
 

LEAVE A REPLY

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.