Sicily, SYRACUSE. c. 510-485 BC

Sicily, SYRACUSE. c. 510-485 BC

35,500.00

AR Tetradrachm, 16.97g (23mm, 5h). SVRA Slow quadriga driven r. by clean-shaven charioteer, wearing long chiton and holding reins in each hand. Rev. Head of Arethusa l., hair curling back from forehead with dotted parallel lines, within circle sunk at centre of a swastika developed from the quartering of an incuse square.

References: SNG Lloyd 1277. Boehringer 27. Rizzo pl. XXXIV, 1-2

Grade: Near EF, lightly toned, a scratch below the exergue on the rev. and some faint double striking on the horse’s head and hind quarters but a very attractive and well struck obverse. (gk1250)

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Sicilian coinage first began in the final decades of the sixth century, probably around 530/25 B.C. It made its first appearance at four mints: the Chalcidian colonies of Zancle (later named Messana), Himera, and Naxos, and also at the city of Selinus, a colony of Megara Hyblaea. Despite the common Chalcidian heritage of three of these cities, the coinage of each was strikingly different from the others the standards in use at Zancle, Himera, and Naxos were based on a third of the Chalcidian stater, while the Selinunte didrachm was of Attic-Euboic weight; the reverses of both Himera and Selinus employed incuse squares divided into alternately raised and sunken triangles, while Zancle used a schematised pattern with a cockle shell in the centre and Naxos used a two-type design. Thus when Syracuse followed its Sicilian neighbours and began striking its own coinage c. 510 B.C., it is not surprising that they chose to follow no one, decidedly taking their own unique path. The first coins minted at Syracuse were tetradrachms, struck on the Attic standard of approximately 17.20g. The obverse type was of purely Syracusan origin, and depicted a male charioteer driving a quadriga with the city ethnic above. The style is severe with sharp relief planes and recall the style from certain early Macedonian mints (indeed, as a rule, hoards of Sicilian coins are not found outside Sicily, yet hoards containing coins from Acanthus in Macedon have been found at Syracuse). This was the period before the tyrants, a time when Syracuse was ruled by an oligarchy of wealthy citizens. These ruling aristocrats would have enjoyed equestrian pursuits, especially the great chariot contests at Delphi and Olympia, and it is therefore thought that the chariot design reflects these interests. The reverse of the very first tetradrachm issue is a simple four-part incuse square design, the sections divided by thin crossing lines, and was copied from the same Acanthian (and perhaps other Macedonian) tetradrachms that served as inspiration for the obverse. Soon after this very rare first issue, the reverse was modified to include a small central medallion containing the head of Arethusa, a local fountain goddess, facing to the left, her strong and logical archaic features of characteristically Dorian style. The superimposition of a medallion on the reverse had already occurred at Athens, the coins of which apparently served as inspiration for this design element appearing at Syracuse. Throughout the fifth century, Syracuse continued to prosper and the city soon came to predominate over the regional affairs of Sicily. The unique chariot type and the tetradrachm denomination of Attic standard first adopted at Syracuse would, in time, become the principal type and denomination throughout the whole of the island, and was even widely copied by the Carthaginians at their Punic mints during the fourth century B.C. (This write-up was taken from a NAC 96, October 1996, lot 1020).