Ancient Coins of Syracuse By Joël van DamOwner, Joëlnumismatics, for MA-Shops.com ……
 

A Powerful and Flourishing City

It’s not tough to find a topic to write about when there are so many fascinating and beautiful coins available. There is so much inspiration for my blogs but also a lot of inspiration for collectors among all those great coins!

This time I saw a piece on MA-Shops that really got me. It was a decadrachm minted in Sicilia, Syracuse during the reign of Dionysios I The Elder and signed by Euainetos. It was minted approximately in the year 400 BCE and it is a real piece of art. Like The Night Watch (1642) from Rembrandt van Rijn, The Starry Night (1889) from Van Gogh or the beautiful frescoes painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Please check it out at the link below.

Ancient Coins of Syracuse

400 BC Syracuse – Dionysios I the Elder

137,500.00 US$

  • Weight: 42.78 g
  • Catalog: Dionysios

405-367 BCE – AR Decadrachm with signed dies of Euainetos. The signed dies are made by the artist Euainetos.

Obv: Charioteer, in flowing chiton and holding goad and reins, driving racing quadriga left above, Nike flying right, about to crown charioteer with wreath in exergue, panoply of arms: cuirass between two greaves, with Phrygian helmet to right. Rev: Head of Arethusa left, wearing wreath of reeds, triple-pendant earring, and necklace ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ above. Around, three dolphins swimming, while a fourth makes dorsal contact with neck truncation below, EYAINE

And a bonus coin – this time a tetradrachm:

Tetradrachm Syracuse 317-289 BCE

1,980.00 US$

  • Weight: 17.10 g

NGC certificate number: 2048209-016

The History of Syracuse

The history of Syracuse is very interesting.

It was founded in 734 BCE by colonists from Corinth in Greece. Syracuse grew into a powerful city that, at its peak, could compare itself with the biggest cities in the Mediterranean region like Athens or Carthage. Athens tried to conquer Syracuse but failed dramatically in 415 BCE. Syracuse flourished because of the wealth obtained by trade and by the city’s own grain production. This wealth was used to beautify Syracuse in many different ways.

The wealth also developed their own culture, which was reflected in their beautiful coins. But every success story has an ending and this also applies to Syracuse.

In a conflict between arch-rivals Rome and Carthage, Syracuse sided with Carthage. Rome was not amused and conquered Syracuse in 212 BCE. The city perished fast after this defeat. Rome looted the city and took all the art and valuables to Rome.

Decadrachm c. 405-400 BC Syracuse, Double Signed Kimon

97,000.00 US$

  • Weight: 41.15 g
  • Catalog: Jonkees-3

Double Signed by Kimon, 406-367 BCE.

Obv: Quadriga left, driver crowned by Victory, armor in exergue. Rev: Head of Arethusa wearing pearl necklace with “K” signature on headband; surrounded by four dolphins representing that Syracuse was originally an island. Second signature signed “KIMON” on dolphin beneath Arethusa. Formally NGC 3762307-001.

This is one of the most famous and desirable coins in the entire Greek series. The head of Arethusa is utterly breathtaking. When held in the hand, the stunning high relief of the head of Arethusa mesmerizes and inspires you.

The Athenian Standard

Syracuse started to mint coins in the decade between 520 and 510 BCE. They copied a coin from northern Greece; this coin was first attributed to Olynthus but there are some doubts about this attribution. Syracuse not only copied the design (a quadriga) but also the weight standard, which corresponds to the Euboean stater and the Athenian tetradrachm. The smaller denominations of Syracuse also reflect the Athenian standard. The ratio of four drachms per stater and six obols per drachm is the same as in Athens.

Even though it was introduced to the coins of Syracuse through imitation, the iconography of the quadriga is, ironically enough, perfectly suited to the Syracusans. First, the ruling class and later the tyrants of Syracuse saw themselves as wealthy and important men. They could afford expensive things and enjoy expensive hobbies like horse racing. Some tyrants like Hieron I and Dionysios I were themselves famous horsemen that won competitions at the Olympic games. It is for this reason that we frequently see the four-horse chariot or other scenes involving horse and rider on the reverse of coins from Syracuse.

Tetradrachm 440-430 BC Syracuse, Second Democracy

2,425.00 US$

  • Catalog: SNG ANS 189

Charioteer driving quadriga right; above, Nike flying right, crowning horses; in exergue, ketos right)(Head of Arethusa right; four dolphins around. 17,38 gram, 25 mm.

Coin Iconography

The iconography of the coinage of Syracuse also includes, as was standard in ancient times, gods and other mythical figures. The deities, demigods, and other figures were, of course, strongly associated with the city and its legends.

For me, the coins of Syracuse are special because of their high level of artistry. They were minted with real care and precision – only perfection seems to have been good enough. There is no doubt that these coins were made by real artists, and sometimes the coins are signed by said artists.

And I think those artists and Syracuse itself deserve all the honor they can get. Isn’t it awesome that you can own such a piece of art?

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