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The “Dolphin Rider” Coinage of Tarentum: Stack’s Bowers Ancient Coins

The “Dolphin Rider” Coinage of Tarentum: Stack's Bowers Ancient Coins

By Jeremy BostwickSenior Numismatist & Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers ……

An ever-popular collecting motif on ancient coins, the “dolphin rider” types represent an extremely important iconography for the coinage of Tarentum, the city upon which modern Taranto, Italy was built.

Tarentum was founded in the eighth century BCE during a period of Greek colonization, whereby oikistes were sent forth from various Greek cities to establish footholds in the Italian peninsula, which resulted in that area being referred to as “Magna Graecia”.

According to tradition, the Spartan Phalanthos founded Tarentum in 708 BCE and, as was the case with the founders of many of these colonies, he was celebrated as a cult figure following his death. Given the rich mythologies that were seemingly omnipresent in the ancient world, however, there was a rival, competing explanation for the city’s founding.

Some attributed the civic beginnings instead to Taras, the legendary son of Poseidon and Satyria, a local nymph. In this mythos, Taras falls from his ship during a storm, and is miraculously rescued and brought to shore by a dolphin. On these shores he would establish Tarentum, which was named after him.

At some point, it would appear that these two foundation stories were merged; Phalanthos gained Poseidon as his ascribed father in a case of mythical patrimony and his arrival in Italy was not by boat, but instead astride a dolphin. In essence, much of the fantastic lore surrounding Taras was retained, with the mortal Spartan substituted in name.

Starting in the very late sixth century BCE, Tarentum began issuing coinage paying tribute to this figure and reiterating the dolphin as a crux of the foundation story. Though numerous denominations were struck over the ensuing three centuries, the most iconic was that of the nomos, a silver coin equivalent to two drachmai. Corresponding roughly in size to U.S. nickel—though somewhat thicker—these coins were a staple in regional trade. A vast quantity were struck owing to the fact that Tarentum was one of the most populous cities in the world around 500 BCE.

Today, these nomoi are among the more popular and sought after types with collectors and jewelers alike on account of their interesting iconography. Our May Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction offers five such nomoi—the first five lots of the sale—presenting an excellent opportunity to add this classic, iconic type to a collection.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions for our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money (until May 29) as well as our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show (until June 9), both taking place in August. Our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction will be in June. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today at 800-458-4646 or by email at [email protected] and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

Stack's Bowers
Stack's Bowershttps://stacksbowers.com/
Stack's Bowers Galleries conducts live, internet, and specialized auctions of rare U.S. and world coins and currency and ancient coins, as well as direct sales through retail and wholesale channels. The company's 90-year legacy includes the cataloging and sale of many of the most valuable United States coin and currency collections to ever cross an auction block — The D. Brent Pogue Collection, The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, The Joel R. Anderson Collection, The Norweb Collection, The Cardinal Collection, The Sydney F. Martin Collection, and The Battle Born Collection — to name just a few. World coin and currency collections include The Pinnacle Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection of World Gold Coins, The Kroisos Collection, The Alicia and Sidney Belzberg Collection, The Salton Collection, The Wa She Wong Collection, and The Thos. H. Law Collection. The company is headquartered in Costa Mesa, California with galleries in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Offices are also located in New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Hong Kong, Paris, and Vancouver.

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