Exceptional Syracuse Decadrachm

The Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio world and ancient coin auction to be held this August in Chicago is a cornerstone event for the ANA World’s Fair of Money. To build anticipation Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio will highlight an interesting and high-value coin every week up until the auction starts in August. This week we feature an ancient coin with a pedigree that is near and dear to us — the Lawrence R. Stack Collection of Ancient Greek Coins. Mr. Lawrence R. Stack, of the famous Stack family, is one of our Senior Numismatic Experts. In addition to its exceptional pedigree, the coin is of particularly high artistic quality. The city of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily situated off the coastal toe of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, was the most important city in Magna Graecia. Syracuse was a major power in the ancient world, and during the fifth century B.C. rivaled Athens in size. During the Magna Graecia period when Syracuse exercised the most power, there were a series of tyrants who ruled with varying degrees of autocracy and cruelty. This period saw short times of democracy and oligarchy as well. Dionysius I was regarded as a cruel yet effective tyrant, who ruled through his “personal guard” of mercenaries, essentially a private army loyal only to him. This strategy would later be used by the Roman Imperators, and would lead to the downfall of that Republic. Dionysius I achieved great success in his wars of conquest across Sicily and southern Italy, and opposed the encroachment of Carthage in Sicily. This particular coin was minted during the reign of this prominent Greek tyrant and commander.

The decadrachms of Syracuse are widely considered to be among the finest pieces of numismatic art. The Syracuse engravers Kimon and Euainetos led the period of high artistry in ancient numismatics; this coin is attributed to Euainetos, despite being unsigned by him. The obverse and reverse designs for Syracuse most commonly depict the water nymph Arethusa and a quadriga on the other side. The nymph Arethusa was a maiden who became the desire of a river deity. He pursued her through the woods until she beseeched Artemis, the moon goddess, for aid. Through divine intervention Arethusa was transformed into an underground stream and directed to emerge as a fountain on the island of Ortygia, the historical center of the city of Syracuse. The quadriga design honored the tyrants of Syracuse. These men were abundantly wealthy, would frequently host chariot races and typically sponsor multiple teams within each race. These highly prestigious contests were great public relation events that boosted the reputation and esteem of the autocrat of the city, as more often than not one of his teams achieved victory in the race.

This particular coin displays a quadriga being pulled by galloping horses driven left by a female charioteer leaning forward with a kentron in right hand and the reins in left hand. Nike (Greek goddess of Victory) appears flying above the horses heading right and attempting to crown the charioteer. A heavy exergual line appears, separating the quadriga and various military implements, including an aegis, greaves, helmet and spear. The reverse design bears the head of water nymph Arethusa. She is depicted facing left wearing a wreath of barley, a necklace and ornate earrings. The detail found in the curls of her hair is truly astonishing. The Greek ethnic for Syracuse appears only partially behind her head. Four dolphins appear around her head and a small scallop-shell (which is turned up) is found behind her head. The quality of metal used for this piece is outstanding. This coin displays even slate grey toning and is truly beautiful to behold; do yourself a favor and make sure you view it in person!

Look for this and other ancient numismatic rarities in our upcoming August ANA World’s Fair of Money sale. Preview this coin along with the rest of our auction this July at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. Our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction is still open for further consignments of world and ancient coins as is our 2014 August Hong Kong auction. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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